In this week’s gospel reading John the Baptist was questioned by the religious authorities about his identity. They wanted to know if he was claiming to be the Messiah or one of the prophets. John told them no, and said, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
John, of course, was referring to Jesus as the one who was far more important.
At that point in time, John had been preaching and baptizing for quite a while; Jesus had yet to begin His ministry. John already had many devoted followers, while Jesus had none. If John had wanted, he could have capitalized on his momentum and become the big cheese among religious reformers.
But those thoughts never even occurred to John. He was not motivated by pride and power, he was motivated by truth. And the truth is, Jesus was the real Messiah, the Son of God.
The identity of Jesus is the key. If He was just another in a long line of itinerant street preachers, however attractive His teachings and philosophies might be, then there is really not much to get excited about. But if He is who He claimed to be—the Son of God and the Savior of the world—and if He really did what the Bible claims He did—die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and rise from the tomb on the third day—then He is by far the most important figure in all of history.
I remember watching a show many years ago on The Discovery Channel titled, “The Riddle of The Dead Sea Scrolls.” The program explored the theories of Dr. Barbara Thiering, an Australian historian. Dr. Thiering claimed to be on a quest to uncover the “historical Jesus,” and she systematically offered naturalistic explanations for all of the prominent miracles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels.
Dr. Thiering discussed the Virgin Birth, changing water into wine, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. In each case, she offered what she believed really happened, minus any miraculous elements. Essentially, she said the Gospels were written with supernatural fables added on to make the stories more interesting.
Although Dr. Thiering came across as someone who approaches the subject with an open mind, willing to follow wherever the evidence leads, the fact is, her research was rigged from the start. She could have drawn no other conclusions, regardless of the evidence. This is because her most basic philosophical assumption about reality is: “Miracles simply cannot occur.” Therefore, there must be some other natural explanation.
It all goes back to basic worldview questions. Is our universe a closed system of exclusively natural phenomena? Or does a supernatural realm exist somewhere outside of our natural world? Is it possible for supernatural events (miracles) to occur occasionally in our natural domain? Or is there a naturalistic explanation for everything? Do we really have a soul? Or have we been misled by an unlikely arrangement of complex electro-chemical activities in our brains? Did God create mankind? Or did mankind, out of fear and ignorance, create the concept of God?
These questions are crucial because if, as Dr. Thiering sincerely believes, miracles cannot happen, then the identity of Jesus doesn’t matter. However, the fact is, miracles CAN happen, because God is real and supernatural.
So, please don’t make the mistake Dr. Thiering made. Jesus was not an ordinary guy who had fantastic fables added to his story years after his death. He is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose from the dead to give us eternal life. John the Baptist embraced this truth, and we must embrace it, too.