John the Baptist features prominently during Advent as he prepares the way for Jesus’ arrival at Christmas time.
We don’t hear much more about John’s life other than he is soon arrested because of his criticism of the Royal family of King Herod. No doubt John would have felt disillusioned about his predicament. Jesus was the one promised and sent by God who was going to set Israel free from tyranny. He was the one they were all waiting for. John even recognised that in order for Jesus to do this that he must step down and give him room – “I must decrease so that Jesus can increase”.
Maybe this is why John was so brazen in his criticism of Herod knowing that Jesus had now arrived. But never would John have thought that his life would end up the way it did – imprisoned and now his head on the chopping block – literally.
John, feeling a little disillusioned calls his disciples to himself and asks them to go to Jesus just to double check that he had his facts correct about him. They go to Jesus with the question – are you the one we were expecting or should we be looking for someone else. You can understand why John might be having doubts given his situation. And you could understand why John’s disciples might have continued the doubts after coming to collect his body after he had been beheaded. Maybe you’ve been in John’s situation – not literally – but maybe you’ve had some doubts about whether Jesus really is the one or should you be looking for someone else. Should life be better? Should life reflect more our faith and dedication to God?
How can we be sure that Jesus is the one and that we should not be expecting another? St Paul today answers that in several ways to reassure us that it’s not about our experiences but about God’s plan for us that has been in place long before we were even born. The first thing Paul says is that God does indeed have a plan for us and it has been in place longer than we realise: He says God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Did you hear when that plan first began? Before the foundation of the world.
While this world looks like it is out of control at times – while it looks like God has no control at times – we are reassured that God who created and formed the world knows it all. And that he has blessed us in the heavenly places and chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Let’s not for one moment think that God is not in control even if it looks like he is not. Surely it seemed that way to John the Baptist.
The next thing Paul tackles is about who we are. Identity is a major issue in our world today whether it’s to do with gender, sexuality or status. Paul says that God has destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. And Paul talks about how much he loves us as his children. He has adopted us according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. God has adopted us as his very own children and Paul says that God holds nothing back from us. He says that he lavishes his love and grace on us. And as his children God has guaranteed us an inheritance. And that inheritance is that he will gather us up and place us into our heavenly home.
Maybe at times it doesn’t feel like our life has any purpose. That we are just not getting anywhere in life.
That we are on the road to nowhere. But Paul says we have been marked with the seal of God’s promise by giving to us his Holy Spirit. And this mark of the Holy Spirit is our “pledge of our inheritance” to the praise of his glory. And with that pledge it means that no one can challenge or contest that inheritance. This really is incredible to digest especially when you look in the mirror and wonder what on earth could God possible love about me. But the difference is that what God sees and what we see are 2 different things.
God sees himself as we have been created in God’s image. In fact Paul says in Ephesians 2 – we are God’s masterpiece.
How comforting and reassuring that God has chosen us. We don’t choose whether or not we are of value to God. The world doesn’t choose whether or not we are of any value. God has chosen us – and he chose us from before the formation of the world.
I wouldn’t choose me – but thank God, literally, God chose me. And he chose you. Our greatness is not prepared for this life. In fact after Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him to assure him that everything was going according to plan Jesus tells the crowd that greatness is not achieved here in this life but in the life prepared for us in heaven. Jesus says:
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
John was a great prophet here on earth, none greater – but the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is still greater than he is because that is where true greatness is achieved. As Christians we can indeed achieve greatness in this life time. We can be successful. We can be well respected. But, as John discovered, that greatness can also be removed by the very ones who gave us that greatness. Many have experienced their worldly greatness ripped away from them as businesses struggle because of lockdowns. As people lose their employment and sadly some even their homes and marriages because of the stress. But with God, the greatness he gives us is signed, sealed and delivered by the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.