Who Am I?

There are two questions that we spend our lives trying to answer, and no they are not… Is there a God and will I live forever? The answer to both those questions are Yes and it depends. No, the question we first seek to answer is…Who am I? Those three words are possibly the most sought-after question of all time. From the moment of our creation, in the instant that we become self-aware, we pursue this question. It concerns us from our first hour until our last, it concerns us more than what we will eat or drink, whether we will marry or how much money we make. It’s more important to us than our family and friends. It defines us…Who am I? We constantly seek out our place in the world…we study, and we attempt different things. We sample the many different vintages that a lifetime offers our palettes…only to find that what was once sweet has turned bitter, so we continually reinvent ourselves because either we’re not happy with who we are, or we grow beyond what we were. After all familiarity breeds contempt, even Jesus was susceptible to this most human of malady’s. Throughout this lifetime process of trying to figure out who we are the other question that concerns us almost as much as the first…right behind it, so very close behind this question is the other most important question we want to know…do others know whom I am? Does the world recognize my importance? We want to know that we are important, that what we say and do has meaning and that others recognize that in us. This need for recognition is what tends to get us in so much trouble and don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to want others to understand us, as humans we have a fundamental need to be understood, by our loved ones most especially but also by society in general. It’s important to know where we stand in our community. Are we important to the community, will we be missed if we leave, what would happen if I got sick, or went to jail? Would anyone care and what does this have to do with John the Baptist and Jesus? When we read todays scripture there are several questions that we need to ask but the most important ones are Who was John the Baptist to Jesus; and how was Jesus known to the community? When we start the scripture it’s right after Jesus sends out the disciples and He is continuing His ministry around Galilee and even though He is unsuccessful in his hometown Jesus has become very well known in the surrounding areas. In fact, He has become so well known that even the Tetrarch of Galilee has come to know the name of Jesus. Tetrarch simply means ruler of a quarter and Herod Antipater or Antipas as he was known, was the ruler of a quarter of what was left of Israel and fancied himself a king and wanted that recognition, and this desire for recognition would eventually cost him all that he had. Still, Jesus had made a name for himself and 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason, these powers are at work in him.”  This sounds kind of funny coming from a devout Jew, but two things are important here and the first is, at this time there were many different beliefs about the soul among the Hebrew people and reincarnation or transmigration of the soul was fairly common which is why others said, “It is Elijah.” And still others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” The second thing to remember is that Herod was not a good Jew, he was not devout. Herod played at piety and followed the laws only in so far as they benefited him and his wife. Still like any politician, he survives by the will of the people and John the Baptist was liked and respected as a prophet among the people just as Jesus is becoming liked and respected and that is why Herod is concerned and mistakes Jesus for John. 16 But Jesus when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Notice that Herod is convicted by his deeds. Herod is terrified that his earlier rash decision has literally come back to haunt him. Herod is having an Identity crisis only it’s not…who am I, it’s who is Jesus? Is He John or Elijah? Is He priest, prophet, mystic, or con artist. Fortunately for us it’s none of the above. Although I think that we sometimes have difficulty answering that question too. We tend to pray to Jesus as if He was an App on our phone. Well people it’s time to update your App because it’s not about us. It’s about the kingdom of God and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Only in Jesus can we find redemption, only by repentance can we find Jesus and only through Jesus can we be reconciled to God. John new this and Herod suspected. Our problem is not with…Who Am I? Our problem is with… Who… God… Is and our own desire for recognition? You see we envy God and His power and glory and majesty in heaven, so we try to copy it here on earth. Naturally, we fail. We fail to repent of our sins because so often we fail to recognize them as sins. Often, we don’t realize it until someone or something forces us to recognize our failure for what it is. That’s what happened to Herod and why Herodias became enraged at John because he dared to point to the mud on her sandals forcing Herod to face his own sins. Herod knew the law and that it was a sin to marry your sister in law, it was considered incest, and we won’t even get into the obviously unhealthy relationship he has with his stepdaughter Salome. All these things conspire to force John’s arrest For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. I feel just a little bit for old Herod because I can sympathize with him, we go to church on Sunday and hear a good sermon and get to feeling good and holy and we repent, Hallelujah Lord, Amen Brother. We get the fire of the holy spirit going and then we get home and there’s our cross waiting for us. Our Herodias spurring us on, telling us to kill the Baptist because he dares to point out our sins. There’s our Salome, beguiling us, tempting us, appealing to our baser nature, enflaming our desires and inviting us to make a rash decision. Together their siren song, seduces us away from God and that’s when we start letting our human nature take over, the same nature that got us kicked out of paradise in the first place. The sad thing is that we seek out those opportunities, “an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. Wow! Talk about beware what you ask for, beware what you promise. Sometimes all we see is the opportunity and we fail to comprehend the final cost. We are so focused on who we are, that we fail to envision what we will become if we pursue our live apart from God. John the Baptist understood these things. He like Jesus preached repentance, repentance for our sins. John said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” [Matthew 3:2] John primed the people to hear the message and Jesus would continue that simple message that would eventually change our world. It was John who said “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. [Matthew 3:11] And it was John that understood the most important lesson about who he was…who I am? The most important lesson from this scripture is that Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” [John 3:30] Today I want you walk away with a few questions and a challenge. The questions…What do I do when the sins of envy, hatred, and jealousy are seeking to take control? How am I known? What does it mean to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ? How does repentance look in my daily faith journey? And are there blind spots that cause me to operate as if I were King Herod? Finally, I want you to pray about your identity and your reputation. What are you known for in our community, and how are you sustaining and growing your faith?

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