Folks flocked out to see him, a seeming wild man, with grasshoppers caught in his teeth, his uncut and unkempt beard flying as he railed against injustice and Herod. He was a “can’t miss” spectacle in the wilderness, a magnetic attraction. After years of prophetic silence God seemed to be thundering once again through an Elijah-like voice.
Inevitably he was questioned “Are you the promised Messiah?” and he has a most startling reply, “If you think I am wild and radical, you haven’t seen anything yet! There is one coming that I do not compare to! I baptize with ordinary old water, but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire!” (I think he always talked with exclamation points) It was moment like the one where David danced before the Lord and his first ex-wife Michael complained that he was embarrassing her, and he replied “If you are embarrassed by this wait until you see what I will yet do! I will be more undignified than this!”
I remember movies of the life and ministry of Jesus. John was always portrayed as a wild undomesticated prophet boldly proclaiming the imminent activity of God. Jesus in comparison was much more acceptable a character. He was tamer somehow. He was ‘Jesus meek and mild’, but John himself knew better than these film directors. He knew that Jesus, like Aslan, is no tame lion. Here at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry he is introduced in comparison to John.
One of the books I revisit often is “Mere Discipleship” by Lee Camp. It reminds me of the radical person that Jesus is and the radical person he is calling me to be. It seems to me that I so often ‘domesticate’ my Christianity, so as to tame the Lion of Judah. Jesus becomes so identified with me and my concerns that his wild nature gets lost in the process. My concentration on me and mine, by which I blend seamlessly with my culture, prevents me from a wild radical life like unto his.
Even evil men love those who love them, but Jesus calls me to love my enemy. He calls me not to love riches but rather love the unlovely. He calls me out of a life of ‘self-protection’ into one of radical self-giving.
John was a wild man, a man of exclamation points, but Jesus makes John’s wildness pale by comparison and I am absolutely blanched! I much more identify with Peter outside the judgement hall, denying that I even know him. This is why it so important that this wild radical Saviour baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Without this co-equally untame Spirit I can but despair of my natural meekness. There is an ancient prayer that says “as much as without Thee we are unable to please Thee”. I need the immediate presence of God in order to attempt the radical life of discipleship but as James reminds me “You have not because you ask not”.
Daily dependence and everyday commitment to God’s will and God’s way are necessary if I am to be freed from the restraints of conformity to this world and experience the transformation necessary to walk with my wild Redeemer.