The idyllic breeze played in the branches of the trees that provided shade for the multitudes that stood along the river’s edge. Beneath a cluster of palms, women sat and listened as their children played quietly in the grass beside them. An unearthly silence engulfed the crowd.
It had been the talk of the surrounding countryside now for a while. At first a few of travelers had noticed him standing along the river’s bank. He was dressed in an odd manner – a sort of hairy skin that he had made into clothing. His beard was long and untrimmed and his hair fell down at his shoulders.
He looked very strange standing there all alone dressed in such a manner. In this lonely wilderness area they had been a little frightened by his presence. They walked by secretly hoping that if he were dangerous they could get away unharmed.
A Voice in the Wilderness
Suddenly the silence had been broken as he called out to them. They quicken their pace and pretended not to notice, but he had called out all the more. Just as they were preparing to run, something the stranger said had arrested their attention. Keeping their distance, they paused for a moment to listen more closely. As if drawn by a cosmic magnet, they turned cautiously around and walked toward him to see what he wanted.
As he spoke their hearts had began to burn within them. Could what this man be saying really be true? Could it really be happening after all these years and generations of waiting? Yet, there was something within his piercing blue eyes and the tone of his voice that compelled them to believe.
They knew there had not been a prophet in their nation for 500 years. The prophet Malachi had predicted that, before the coming of Messiah, Elijah would come. Isaiah had foretold that a voice of a prophet would be heard crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. Had they come face to face with Elijah reincarnated? Or, if not, was this a man that had received Elijah’s anointing? They wondered. All that they knew was that they were so deeply moved as he spoke that tears began to stream down their faces as they thought of their sin and rebellion against God.
Repent and Be Baptized
“What must we do to be ready to receive the Messiah?” they had fervently asked.
“Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins!” the prophet had responded. Throwing aside their traveling cloaks they walked down with him into the Jordan river and were baptized.
That had been a few months ago and now everyone had heard about John the Baptist. Whole cities were flocking out to hear him preach and to be baptized by him. The roads had been crowded with thousands who had come to hear him preach. And now, high and low, rich and poor, hung upon his words. As the Baptist’s fiery discourse burned into their dark hearts, it seemed as though God Himself were speaking, revealing all the wickedness and cruelty within. Eyes brimmed over with tears as men, women and children prayed and confessed their sins. They began forming a long line and moved down to the river to ask the prophet to baptize them.
John and Andrew had been following John the Baptist ever since the prophet had first called them aside to preach to them in the wilderness. Day after day they had watched the multitudes increasing as thousands had received the baptism of repentance.
There was a great sense of expectancy among the people, for whenever John preached he always said that he was preparing the way for the Messiah. Where was the Messiah? People wanted to know. When would He appear? Could it really be that He was among them as The Baptist had said? Every day John and Andrew searched eagerly through the new crowds that had come to hear John preach. Sometimes they thought their hearts would break from longing.
Andrew and John where talking about Messiah and when He would appear when they noticed some commotion going on as the Baptist was being questioned by a Pharisee. “If you are not the Messiah or Elijah, why are you baptizing people?” he asked.
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but there stands One among you, whom you do not know; He is greater than I and I am not worthy to untie His shoelace.”
As John continued to preach a young Galilean about thirty years of age began moving closer to the riverbank. No one took notice of him. He was just another person waiting to be baptized. As he stepped into the river bank John suddenly looked up. Never in all the thousands he had baptized had he seen someone like this. Purity, love, goodness and nobility shone on his face. There was something strangely godlike about him. Never had John been in the presence of such holiness. As he asked for baptism John refused. “Oh, no, you must baptize me,” replied John.
The young Galilean responded, “No I must be baptized to fulfill all righteousness.” At last John agreed. As he gently lowered him into the river and back out again, something very unusual happened. The heavens were opened and John saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him. A voice from heaven spoke saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The crowds watched in amazement as John stood staring up into heaven.
Behold the Lamb of God
The next day John the Baptist was standing with John and Andrew when he saw Jesus walking along the river bank among the crowd. He pointed to Him and cried out with a voice that resounded through the air and sent chills down everyone’s spine, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!”
Andrew and John could scarcely believe it. The words rang through their soul. While others in the crowd looked puzzled at John’s comment, the meaning seemed to burst upon both Andrew and John simultaneously – the Messiah! “Quick!” Andrew yelled to John, “Don’t loose sight of him! Let’s go!” They both began pressing through the crowd with their eyes upon Jesus. “We must not loose sight of Him now,” they thought. Ever since they had first heard John speak they had been determined that they would find the Messiah and follow Him wherever He went.
They made their way over to the place where Jesus was walking away from the multitudes and out toward the hillsides and began following close behind Him trying to catch up with Him. It was then that Jesus turned around and saw them following and asked, “What are you seeking?”
As they looked into His face waves of love began to sweep across their souls. Although almost completely overwhelmed with the awesomeness of the moment, Andrew finally found words to ask, “Master where are you staying?”
“Come and see,” Jesus answered. So they followed him to the place where He was staying and heard Him teach concerning the kingdom of God.
Soon Andrew had brought his brother Peter and friend Philip to Jesus. Philip was so enamored with Jesus that he went out and found his friend Nathanael resting under a a fig tree. “Nathanael, we have found Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus, the Messiah!”
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, He said, “Here is an Israelite in whom their is no guile!”
“How is it that you know me?” asked Nathanael.
Jesus answered and said, “Before Philip called you I saw you sitting under the fig tree.” In amazement Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the son of God and the King of Israel!”
Jesus answered him and said, “Nathanael, do you believe because I said I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than these. You will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Sacrifice vs. Obedience
After Jesus had begun his ministry and had called his disciples to him, a rich young ruler came to him and asked, “Master, what must I do to have eternal life?”
“If you will enter into life,” Jesus responded, “keep the commandments. Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor thy father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself.”
“I’ve kept all these things from my youth up. What more do I lack? “ the young ruler asked.
“Sell everything you have and give it to the poor and follow Me.”
But the young man who heard the saying went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.
Since that time thousands have come to Christ like John and Andrew, Philip and Nathanael and have fallen at his feet worshiping him as Messiah and Lord. To them the heavens have been open. And there have been thousands who have come and heard like the rich young ruler.
If Jesus had only given them a list of rules to follow or asked them to do some great thing they would have gladly done it. Instead what he asks takes from sinful men much of the power of self-determination and throws them back upon the sovereign good pleasure of God. He asks for everything that men and women hold dear asking that they forsake all and obediently follow Him. He makes no concessions.
The idea that Christ will pardon a rebel who has not given up his rebellion is a thought foreign to the teaching of the scripture as well as to common sense. How absurd to think that the One who said, “Be holy for I am holy,” would have followers who love sin and hate the ways of righteousness. The promise of cleansing and forgiveness is always associated in the scriptures with repentance.
To the harlot who came seeking forgiveness Jesus pronounced: “Your sins are forgiven,” and admonished, “go and sin no more!” To teach of salvation without repentance is to produce a multitude of deceived religious professors who erroneously believe themselves to be “saved” when, in fact, they are still in the the bond of iniquity, the gall of bitterness, and the stranglehold of the devil.
Men and Women of Destiny
Thousands have turned from Him because they will not meet His conditions. He will admit no one by compromise. Everyone must decide if he will take Christ as Lord now or meet Him as Judge then. Every man, every woman holds their future in their hand. Everyone is a man or a woman of destiny. Everyone chooses which way his soul shall go and, as he chooses, destiny waits on the nod of his head. As he chooses hell enlarges itself or heaven prepares another mansion.
Silently, terribly the work goes on. Each one decides whether he will hear or ignore the Voice of invitation. Unknown to the world, perhaps unknown even to the individual, the work of separation takes place. He will not argue, nor put Himself on trial again. But the morning of the Judgment will confirm what each man and woman has decided in the twilight.1
Another fact that is equally as awesome is that while men and women alone hold the power to choose their destiny, they cannot come to God and believe savingly upon Christ whenever they feel like it. They cannot come without the Spirit’s invitation. No man can come to God unless the Spirit of God has drawn him.2 Once so drawn and invited, the choice lies in man’s free will. Herein lies the gravity of those who would turn that Invitation away and would silence the Voice of the Spirit of God to their heart, for there is no guarantee that there will ever be another one.
Marks of God’s Chosen
A.W. Tozer points out that there are certain “marks” by which we can perhaps distinguish or recognize those whom God is calling. “There are certain persons who, though still unconverted, are nevertheless different from the crowd, marked out of God, stricken with an interior wound and susceptible to the call of Christ to a degree others are not.“3
What are these marks? They are, first of all, a deep reverence for divine things. Not everyone has this for although many may be honest and decent, they may never possess this mysterious feeling of awe in regards to God and truth. Those upon whom God has laid his hand seem to display a great moral sensitivity. They are “men of earth, finished and finite clods and proof against every call of the Spirit.”
Most people are apathetic to matters of heart and conscience. The person in whom God has begun a work has become sensitive to matters of good and evil, displaying a moral discontent. While most of mankind has struck a truce with their conscience and are living it up in sin, the one that God is concerned with has turned sour on the world and the pleasure of sin. When this is accompanied by a consuming spiritual hunger, salvation stands at the door and makes ready to knock.4
A Knocking Christ
It is unto those that Christ stands knocking at the door, issuing an invitation. But it is not an invitation without conditions. What are the conditions of discipleship? Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.“5
Can this be right? Would Jesus lay down such severe conditions for those who would follow Him? He not only can, He does. Self denial – if anyone would be saved he must be delivered from the chains by which self has bound him – and cross bearing.
The cross that Jesus spoke of was not some pretty thing to hang around your neck or to use to make a nice pair of earrings. It was not some beautiful ornament to adorn the top of a steeple or the front of an altar. It was rather a place where men were slain. It was an instrument of death which was its only function, for no one was ever taken off a cross alive. It was on a cross that a living man was fastened to groan and writhe in pain until death silenced him. The cross cared not for peace. Its only purpose was to end its opposition as fast as possible. It won by defeating its opponent. That is the cross and it is nothing less.
And after that Jesus said, “And follow Me.” The cross was and is not only death to an old life but the beginning of a new one. It is at the place of self-denial and cross bearing that a life of sin and slavery are ended and a life of holiness and spiritual freedom begun. It is a place of open heavens. It is a place where “faith runs on tiptoe to keep pace with the advancing light.“6 It is the place where a man or woman ceases to sit on the throne of the heart with tinseled crown and all the pride of a reigning Caesar, and places there instead the King of Glory to be loved, adored, waited on and obeyed.
When the apostles went out and preached after Christ was raised from the dead, they went out and preached His message, and what they preached was the cross. Wherever they went revolutionary power went with them. Their message upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether. It laid hold of the life and brought it under obedience to Jesus. Its aim was that the individual, through the power of God, would be wholly transformed into the image of Another.
A New Reformation
This and nothing less is true Christianity. The Bible teaches in the last days men will be “haters of the cross.” As Tozer observed, “A shallow and worldly leadership would modify the cross to please the entertainment mad saintlings who will have their fun even within the very sanctuary; but to do so is to court spiritual disaster and risk the anger of the Lamb turned Lion.
To submit to the cross is to submit the whole pattern of our lives to be destroyed and built again in the power of an Endless Life. The cross will cut into our lives where it hurts worst, sparing neither us nor our carefully cultivated reputations. It will defeat us and bring our selfish lives to an end. Only then can we rise in fullness of life to establish a pattern of living wholly new and free and full of good works.
The changed attitude toward the cross that we see in modern orthodoxy proves not that God has changed nor that Christ has eased up on His demand that we carry the cross; it means rather that current Christianity has moved away from the standards of the New Testament. So far have we moved indeed that it may take nothing short of a new reformation to restore the cross to its right place in the theology and life of the church.“7
1 AW Tozer, “Salvation Walks the Earth,” The Set of the Sail, (Christian Pub., Camp Hill, Penn.) pp 40-41.
2 John 6:44. 3 Tozer, Ibid. pp 142-143. 4 Ibid. 5 Matt. 16:24.
6 Tozer, “Salvation Walks the Earth,” p 43.
7 AW Tozer, “The Cross is a Radical Thing,” The Root of the Righteous, pp 63-64.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved