We think it's safe to say that the unapproved theme of this year would have to be 'READY OR NOT.' From the beginning of the year we have been thrust into a life that we didn't expect, didn't ask for and certainly wouldn't wish to live through again. The point being, that we haven't had enough time to sort out our ducks and place them row by row. It's happened, it's happening and it will happen; without our consent, without our foreknowledge and sometimes without us even knowing what's going on even while we are in the thick of it. So, as followers of Jesus, how in the world are we set apart when it feels like we are actually part of the herd?
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear"
From Matthew to Revelation this phrase is either spoken by Jesus or quoted by someone who is referring to something Jesus said. This phrase (variations of the same) shows up 14 times in the New Testament and always came originally from Jesus. We start with this simple phrase because as we all know, this phrase has nothing to do with ear hygiene and everything to do with our hearts. It's an important step in any form of preparation for things which are and are to come as children and heirs of the Most High God. When Jesus uses this phrase as a preface to something He is about to do or say, He is calling out something within each one of us. He is appealing to our spirit as opposed to our soul or our body. He is drawing our attention to a point that we need not miss out on. Yes, we know this is some basic understanding, one that causes most of us to silently lament as a 'duh moment'; but trust us, we wouldn't be bringing it up unless there was a point.
Matthew 3 is our introduction to John the Baptist. A man who placed himself in a wilderness (by choice) and made enemies with those who were most highly esteemed and regarded in the religious communities of those days. A man who looked like a fool to those who knew nothing and who was the biggest threat to those operating within a type of power and natural authority in the land. John was a man of preparation, as it says in verses 2-3 in Matthew 3 (NIV), "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way- a voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for Him." So it's truly fitting for us to learn how to prepare for everything from the man who's life calling was to prepare the way for Jesus to enter the earth for the first time.
What some may call an odd way of living, John the Baptist saw as fending off his natural inclinations and the social norms of his day, in exchange for the fullness of God. Ok, so, he wore a camel hair robe and ate bugs and honey; we think that the fact that this was important for the writer of Matthew (ahem, Matthew) to point this out is the bigger head scratcher! Ultimately, he exemplified a no compromise, unusual and intolerant lifestyle that not so surprisingly, became a magnet for those looking to become baptized by his hands. Why the fame? Because he didn't want it, he didn't ask for it and whether people showed up or not, let's face it, he would have been baptizing anything that moved. He chose anonymity as his brand and he stuck pretty tight to that brand. His dedication to the spirit of God was unmatched and word of his divine power and authority was spreading faster than the rumors of his clothing designs.
The Baptist and his lifestyle (as wild as it was) pointed all those who looked upon him toward a metamorphosis of the ways of life that dominated the times in which he lived and ultimately translate equally to the times in which we now live today. His entire message summed up in one word "REPENT!" is the Greek word "Metanoeo" which means a change or alteration of the mind or thought life. This is an important notation because he isn't shouting at people the way that the guy with a karaoke machine set up shop on the busiest street corner in downtown Huntington Beach during the summer, after a surf competition on a Saturday night is doing. He isn't proclaiming a turn or burn ultimatum, he is directing people toward locating ears to hear, so that the ears of their hEARts would be ready for change- and just who was that change? We know the story. We are the story.
Incase we haven't cracked open the back of the Bible yet, Jesus is coming back to earth. We know that we are the generation that is going to see this happen. Did we just write that out loud? Yes. This is happening READY OR NOT and we exist in this Unusual Place to make sure that as many people as we can reach, are ready. How do we accomplish this? The same way that John the Baptist prepared the people and the same way that Jesus helped many to clear out their ears (hearts) in order to hear (with their spirit). This is the same message; we need to be people of a different mind, a different heart, of different thoughts and of a different way of doing life (even in the year of our Lord 2020).
Mark 4:24-25 (NLT)
"Then he added, "Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given- and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even that little understanding they have will be taken away from them"
Heaven and earth are ramping things up. The heat, the fires, the spiritual activity, the rage, the hopelessness, the masks, the fear - all of these things and more yet to come are barreling down the usualness of humanity. Jesus Himself said that in the days of His return the spirit of Elijah/John the Baptist would come upon His people to prepare the way for His second and final coming. What does this mean to us? Are we ready to take on that radical, unusual mindset of an outlier maniac and begin to set our feet in the mud as we stand our ground against the Godless existence of our social structures? Are we ready to step into the inward/upward call of being a voice of God in the wilderness of this generation? Well, what exactly does this entail? Good question. Simply and literally, it involves speaking what God says about THE TRUTH, about His unfailing LOVE and His heart conquering affection for all humans, even (and especially) in their worst conditions. See, without the camel hair suit and the bugs drenched in honey stuck to our mouths, we can ALL easily take up the mantle of serving humanity a great big helping of good news in the middle of a world gone callous about a God, named Jesus, who loves them in the very center of their pain, heartache and confusion. Fear not, all of us who are cringing inside at the prospect of carrying the weight of such a gargantuan responsibility - RELAX, as Jesus said in Luke 21:15 (NLT) "For I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you."; so consider that 'burden' lifted, it will be easier than we think, all that is required is obedience.
Matthew 11:11-15 (GWT)
"I can guarantee this truth: of all the people ever born, no one is greater than John the Baptizer. Yet, the least important person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. From the time of John the Baptizer until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful people have been seizing it. All the prophets and Moses' teachings prophesied up to the time of John, If you are willing to accept their message, John is the Elijah who was to come. Let the person who has ears, listen!"
When we combine our ears to hear with the transformation of our mindsets (or our repentance) which leads us to seeing straight through the smoke, the corruptions, the LIES and the deception; it shines a light on the need to prepare our generation for the joyful return of a Savior that many humans have yet to embrace (through the ears of their hearts). So for us Jesus followers, we must be willing to embrace that same sense of urgency that compels us to prepare ourselves to be the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness. As did our favorite Baptist, John we must prepare and make straight right down the middle of the hearts of people, the path for our Messiah. The heat outside is NO MATCH for the heat of a passionate people who have pulled out the threads that have been added to the TRUTH of His Word, in exchange for an everlasting understanding of the God who IS and IS TO COME. That's hot.