Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 30 November 2014
For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
Character of the Xmas Story Series – John (1)
John the Baptist – born at the same time as Jesus – was the forerunner of Jesus and he was a remarkable man (preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins) but – from the beginning – he was clearly second to Jesus. He was not – he was not ever going to be – the main man. The Bible says about him:
Mark 1:2-3: It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” – “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
John 1:6-8: There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
John acknowledged himself:
John 1:23: John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Mark 1:7-8: And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John 3:30: He must become greater; I must become less.
How easy is it to be John the Baptist? How easy is it to be second to another man? Do you want to be second in charge? When you were a child, were you dreaming about being Zorro (the masked vigilante) or his servant Bernado? [Isn’t it true? Most of us would not even have known the servant’s name.] [Cf. Batman or Robin.] As a girl, who would you want to be in the Chronicles of Narnia – Lucy or Susan, her sister?
There’s not much glamour in being second or third or fourth. Even in the church, we name the people on the very top – Billy Graham, Reinhard Bonnke, Heidi Baker [Martin Luther] – (we give them a lot of credit) – and we almost completely ignore and forget the team around them. So when young seminary students (and not so young pastors) dream about making it in ministry, who do they want to be – Bill Graham or the person next to him whose name and function they do not even know? It’s hard to come second! In the Bible, John the Baptist rates a mention – a few verses here and there and a summary of his work – but it is all about Jesus, the main man.
Yet, what would the world be without those that are willing to serve as helpers, preparing the way for someone else? In the Lord of the Rings saga, who would you have wanted to be – Frodo Baggins or Samwise “Sam” Gamgee? Maybe you don’t care about being be a Hobbit. Aragorn or Legolas are taller and move (fight) more gracefully but what would be your Hobbit choice – Frodo or Sam? Why? [Allow the congregation to give some answers.] Frodo carries the ring of all-consuming power that needs to be destroyed and protected against falling into the hands of evil. He has this task and Sam is his helper. Most of us would like to be the one that saves the world (the one that Sam calls “Mr Frodo”) – not the side-kick that … and dreams about going home to the Shire.
Sam himself knows his lesser role. Show movie clip.
Frodo and Sam Clip 01
Sam knew that one day the story that would be told would be about “Frodo and the Ring” and Frodo being the most famous of Hobbits. Sam was not jealous – he did not mind – but Frodo corrected him and he was right. Maybe later generations will miss the importance of Sam but Frodo would not have gotten far with his mission without him – without Sam the Brave.
Frodo and Sam Clip 02 and 03
Without Sam’s courage (charging the giant spider and then orcs in a tower rescuing Frodo), inspiration, sacrifice, loyalty, perseverance – together with taking care of Frodo’s basic needs (whether he had slept enough or had eaten enough) – the ring would not have been destroyed and the world would have been lost. How important was Sam but – clearly – he was second to Frodo? Could you handle being a Sam in your family, at work or here in this church?
Most people struggle with taking a backseat. Here is a testimony from Kris Vallotton. He is a high profile author and ministry leader. As a church, we have studied his “Supernatural Ways of Royalty” in 2011 and went to his conferences – some of our women just recently (this year in Brisbane). He is gifted in the prophetic, has a business background, is successful in getting projects off the ground and oversees multi-layered ministries and staff. This is what happened earlier in his ministry:
Kris Vallotton with Bill Johnson: The Supernatural Ways of Royalty, Shippensburg: Destiny Image 2006, p137-138: Many years ago the Lord convicted me of the cohabiting attitude that I had toward Bill Johnson. Bill has been my senior leader and pastor for more than a quarter of a century. He is one of the most amazing men I have ever known and I have a deep respect for him. One night the Lord revealed my heart toward Bill. Although I had served him well and had done my best for him, I never had any intention of staying with him forever. I wanted to be the Man, the Boss, the number one guy and I was using Bill to get there. The Lord said to me, “You’re always talking about covenant but you haven’t made one with your senior father! You are serving him to benefit yourself, not for his benefit. I want you dedicate the rest of your life to serving him.”
Wow! I was undone. I realized then how much I didn’t want to be in submission to someone. All my trust issues began to surface. Did I really believe that if I gave my life to serve Bill that he would reciprocate the relationship? More importantly, did I trust that Jesus could give me the desires of my heart while I was the servant of another man? Could I live with Bill getting credit for things that I accomplished because people saw Bethel as “Bill’s church”? Did I want to spend my entire life living in the shadow of a famous man? My false heart was unmasked. Yuck,Yuck,Yuck!
The conviction grew day by day until I could no longer stand it. I couldn’t just have a message, I had to be the message. I needed to make a change in my life but it was a battle.
Bill and I were doing a men’s retreat together in Orangeville, California, right at the height of my tension. It was tough, and to make matters worse we were riding in the same car together all the way there. On the way there we hardly talked which isn’t unlike Bill (he is very quiet), yet it was a minor miracle for me. I was afraid to talk because I wasn’t sure what might jump out of my mouth. Finally I couldn’t take it any longer. Bill was driving and I looked over at him and I blurted out, “I covenant to spend the rest of my life serving you. One of the main goals of my life from this day on is to make sure that you accomplish all that God has given you to do with your life and I will stay with you until I die.”
I thought I was going to pass out, because I had such a deep revelation of what I had just done and I am a man who keeps my word. Bill glanced over at me and said, “Thanks.” I think Bill thought I was verbalizing something I had always carried in my heart because I had served him for so long, but that wasn’t the case. Those words have changed my life. I have come into a whole new level in God since then. My ministry has exploded and my finances have more than doubled. In fact, this book is a result of Bill encouraging and promoting me. He even called Destiny Image and arranged for them to read my manuscript.
This transition from concubine to covenant must take place so that the Church once again can be “The Family of God.” The mark of true royalty is the ability to lay down our lives in covenant with others for the sake of the kingdom. As the Church truly becomes a family and gives birth to sons and daughters, expressing the covenant we have with the groom, the foundations of our cities will be rocked. This will cause a dramatic contrast between the world’s lust and God’s love! At last the world will receive what it is longing for – the supernatural, unconditional love of the Father who loves us as sons and daughters. It’s about time that we give them the real thing!
Twenty-five years he had been with Bill Johnson (his pastor) but – for all of this time – despite the warm relationship – despite the shared journey – despite his recognition of Bill’s gifting and leadership – despite the personal growth that had come to him through his ministry – Bill Johnson was just a means to an end for Kris Vallotton. Kris was just waiting for the time when he could jump off and – with the right resume as someone that had been with Bill – become his own boss man, the number one guy in the ministry. It was an uncomfortable time of facing the truth but Kris didn’t want to be in submission to anyone, didn’t want to share the credit of good ministry with the Senior Pastor Bill who would get the lion-share of acknowledgement (It’s not so bad when he gets the lion share of criticism), didn’t want to be in the shadow of anyone.
This was in Kris’ heart and he didn’t like it because he was preaching the opposite from the pulpit in their church. He was preaching about committing yourself to the church family, giving your heart to one another, be in covenant with one another – loyalty and love and belonging to one another and everything. Yet, he himself did not live up to these ideals but was rather an ambitious second man using Bill Johnson and the community for his own ends – ready to walk away as soon as something better came his way (the top spot).
Then, Kris Vallotton did something that is very rare. He dealt with what was in his heart and he committed himself (pronouncing the words publicly) to be second to Bill Johnson for the rest of his life. He took an amazing step that changed his life and Bill (not knowing what was going on) simply said: “Thanks.”
It would have been very easy for Kris to reach his ambition – become the number one person himself. From a distance, I think that he is more gifted than Bill Johnson in significant – ministry-building – areas. I have the impression that he is more a people person. He is gifted in organizing and bringing up an organization. For instance, he was the head of their Ministry School of the Supernatural which spawned offshoots all around the world. He is a good teacher – able to systematize and spell out what makes their community tick (see “The Supernatural Ways of Royalty”, various manuals) – and people are attracted to the prophetic gift because it’s awesome. Kris can give words to people – “read the mail” of people that he has never met before – while Bill doesn’t operate in the “word of knowledge”. He gets revelation for preaching and hears the “still small voice” but he doesn’t have Kris’ (continuous) prophetic stories and encounters. Kris could have moved on but he didn’t. He recognized his call to be second. [See 1 Corinthians 12:28: “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets …”]
Likewise, John the Baptist could have easily been the main man in the ministry. In fact, he was. He was in the unique position that he knew himself to be second to someone that was not even on the job yet. For years, John was on his own – touching an entire nation with his message of repentance and his baptism for the forgiveness of sins. For years, there was no one else but John – he was the only voice (top billing at every conference ministering with power) – which – to many minds – made him the top man. People were so impressed by him that they were ready to place all their hopes in him: “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah” (Luke 3:15; see also John 1:19-28).
Yet, John never failed to declare publicly that he was second to the one coming after – a distant second: “…But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie …” (Luke 3:16). How hard would it be for you to remain second when you could be first – easily?
For Kris Vallotton, it was not hard to see the grace of God on Bill Johnson and – for this reason – it was within reason to commit himself and be second to this man. However, put yourself in John’s shoes. When the time came, how could he submit to Jesus? They were second cousins of the same age and John was always – at least from what was visible to everyone – miles ahead of Jesus. John was filled with the Spirit of God from the womb while Jesus was not. [At family gatherings (as they were growing up), John always moved in greater spiritual power than Jesus.] The Spirit of God for ministry only came upon him at the age of thirty after John had laboured – had been a national figure for years. Then – at first – Jesus was not so different from John. Why then should he have made way for him? To others, they almost seemed to be in competition:
Matthew 3:1-2: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” / Matthew 4:17: From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
John 4:1-3: Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John – although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Maybe today we encounter the same dynamic when senior leaders are succeeded by young people growing up in their own ministries. Can a leader yield and acknowledge the greater call of someone that used to be in the church’s own Sunday School (when you remember the snotty nose and teenage attitudes)?
Yet, John did not waver:
John 1:35-37: The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
He was on the lookout for the main man. He had the humility to see the greater calling on the man when he came:
John 1:32-34: Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
Are you on the lookout for someone that will come after you and be greater than you? This is how it is going to be because the kingdom of God is growing which means responsibilities become greater and demands become greater. (For instance, it will be harder to run an outreach tent with 20,000 people attending rather than 150.)
Did Samwise Gamgee, Kris Vallotton and John the Baptist miss out on anything by being second to another man? No, not at all! On the contrary, they came into the fullness of their calling. Sam shared the adventure of a life-time and co-saved Middle Earth. Kris Vallotton – under the spiritual covering of Bill Johnson and with his active assistance (contacts and network of relationships) – began writing books and travelled the world (impacting even us here in Toowoomba). John the Baptist reached immense heights as a person with Jesus himself saying: “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]” (Matthew 11:11). There is fulfilment, destiny and success in being second to another – to find your place in a team.
Would you still struggle in letting someone else be first? The easiest way to overcome any feelings of jealousy, selfish ambition and pride is to do what Jonathan did in the Bible. He was the son of the king (Saul) but he knew that a shepherd boy (David) – new to the palace but with the Spirit of God on him – would be the next king instead of him. Jonathan knew that he would be second to this man even though he – as the king’s son – should have been the heir to the throne (and he had qualities of courage and leadership). Yet – (contrary to his dad, the king) – he found it easy to yield his place to David because he chose to love him. [Sam loved Frodo.] Love those that are placed above you – parents, councillors and teachers – and it will be easy to submit because “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). [This is how fathers and mothers do not become jealous of their achieving children.]
1 Samuel 18:1-4: After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself … And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.
John was second to Jesus but did you know that even Jesus was not the main man – at least not in the absolute sense? I am talking here about the time when he walked this earth in human form. Following him, no one is ever on top – ruling everyone else according to their own good pleasure. Everyone – without exception – no matter what position they hold anywhere – is always second:
John 4:34: “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” / John 5:19-20: Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. / John 6:38-40: For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” / John 12:49-50: For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. / John 14:31: … I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me.
Mark 14:36: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Jesus – the Son of God himself – while he was here on earth – was always – remained – second to the will of his Father in heaven and he remained second to the needs of all the others – ultimately serving all of us with the sacrifice of his life on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. The higher God elevates a person, the more this person will have to learn to become and be second to everyone else. [Any parent can tell you that you come second to the toddler and their needs. Cf. any leadership position (organizing and running a BBQ or even your own wedding).]
I come to a close. John the Baptist was a remarkable man. Like no other, he knew and embraced his position as being second to someone else. There are ranks of people (in the family, government, military and also the church). Therefore, could you be second to another person? This morning, learn to say “yes” because even the very people on top anywhere always remain second – first of all to God and then in service to others. Yet, there are fulfilment and great callings in being second. Where has God placed you? Serve there. Amen.