When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn't evade the question. He told the plain truth: "I am not the Messiah."
They pressed him, "Who, then? Elijah?"
"I am not."
Exasperated, they said, "Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something—anything!—about yourself."
"I'm thunder in the desert: 'Make the road straight for God!' I'm doing what the prophet Isaiah preached."
Those sent to question him were from the Pharisee party. Now they had a question of their own: "If you're neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why do you baptize?"
John answered, "I only baptize using water. A person you don't recognize has taken his stand in your midst. He comes after me, but he is not in second place to me. I'm not even worthy to hold his coat for him."
These conversations took place in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing at the time.
Whenever something new comes along people are slow to adopt it. There is fear in the new. Particularly when the new challenges old assumptions.
This has always been the way and will probably always be the way.
John was doing something new. He was baptizing and calling people to repentance. He was inviting people to prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah. The religious leaders and scholars had their presuppositions about what this was supposed to look like and who was supposed to do it. John definitely didn’t fit that picture. Neither would Jesus.
We love comfort. We embrace complacency. There is something gratifying about sacred cows and “the way we have always done things.”
The thing is, when we get stuck in the “old” we are unable to embrace the new wine, so to speak.
Jesus talked about how we can’t put new wine into old wine skins. Why? Because whatever it is that is emerging now won’t fit into the old structures.
At the same time there is a danger in our day and age where “new” is often embraced for the sake of being “new.” That’s not what John and Jesus were doing.
John and Jesus were embracing the old, the foundational, the deeper principles. You could say they were holding fast to the eternal and infinite while letting go of the finite. They were not doing new for the sake of new. They were doing something new because the old simply wasn’t the fullness.
This is how the story of God works. It unfolds organically over the ages. Each new chapter is written based on what has come before it. It grows and develops and is refined. As we mature in our humanity we see more clearly the deeper principles, the things that matter most. As we refine our understanding of who God is and what God is doing in the world we refine the structures and methods. We also look back at older structures and methods and see what needs to be held on to and further developed.
Ken Wilber, who writes about the development of humanity using spiral dynamics, talks about our need to include and transcend. This means that we take what is good and move forward to what is next. We build on the good foundations and release those things that are unhelpful.
When we take those steps from the old into the new it is very scary for many people. The things that so many hold onto as being “necessary” are not. Typically it is the things that they believe they can control or have power over.
I saw a post this morning from Jon Acuff on Twitter:
I think he’s on to something. We are afraid of the new. We are afraid of what’s coming.
In John the religious leaders saw something new coming and they were afraid. In Jesus they experienced the new and tried kill it.
How are you responding to what’s coming? How are you responding to the challenges of the new in your life? Are you responding with fear or are you responding in faith?