Jesus came to accept the punishment for the things we’ve done wrong so that we can be forgiven and freed and reconciled to God, but He also came to show us what God is like. When we begin to study Jesus, we realize that God is not the big guy in the sky waiting for us to slip up so that He can drop the hammer on us, but rather He is a God who loves us, delights in us, includes us.
And we know this because over and over Jesus hung out with all kinds of “undesirables,” showing us that there is no such thing as an undesirable in the eyes of God. In fact, the people that were least like Jesus, liked Jesus, and Jesus liked them. And this gives us hope that He likes us too, even when maybe we don’t like ourselves.
There’s a saying that you can’t truly understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Jesus had an uncanny ability to empathize with people. So every time we try to walk in each other’s shoes, try to understand and empathize with each other, our capacity to love expands, and we become a little more like Jesus: more patient, more tactful, more gentle, kinder, less judgmental, less cynical.
For the next several weeks we’ll put ourselves in the shoes of different people who encountered Jesus. We’ll see real people like us: people from different backgrounds, heritages, and family dynamics; people with real issues, real struggles, real questions, real hopes, and real dreams. And we hope you will be as captivated as we are by the way Jesus meets them right where they are, the way he loves them, encourages them, challenges them; the way He sees deep inside and speaks right into the dark crevices of their soul, and hopefully, each week we will walk away changed, as they were.
What is one thing that you find intriguing about the way Jesus lived?
Flip-flops represent the type of person who is a simple, creative, outdoor-loving, non-conformist free-spirit. That would certainly describe a guy known as John the Baptist. Like Jesus, he died when he was around 30, cruelly executed by a corrupt politician. There’s not much written about him, but prior to the arrival of Jesus, this flip-flop wearing desert-dude may have been the greatest man who ever lived.
His resume may not be as impressive as others. He never really led anything, never conquered lands or enemy armies, never wrote a best seller, never won an Oscar or Nobel Prize, and he certainly didn’t have the look that typically reflects greatness.
Some folks who’ve read through the Bible might disagree and say, “No way, what about Abraham? Moses? David? Daniel? Elijah?”
Have a volunteer read Luke 7:28.
So, what was there about John that elicited that kind of praise from Jesus? What’s it take to live a stellar life? Who or what measures true success? What defines legacy? How do you become “great” in Jesus’ eyes? Well, let’s slip our toes into John’s flip flops and maybe we’ll learn.
How do you define greatness?
John just tried to be who God made him to be. He saw himself as one of a kind, but not in a prideful or rebellious way. He embraced his originality. He was comfortable in his own skin. John was a very unique character in a lot of ways, starting with his birth.
So John had a pretty unique birth, but then again, aren’t they all? Whether you were born in a hospital, at home, in a bathtub, on a boat, or in the back seat of a taxi, your birth was unlike anyone else’s, because YOU are unlike anyone else.
Have volunteers read Psalm 139:13-16.
Here’s the deal, we’re all one-of-a-kind, limited-edition models. God created you uniquely, and he takes great delight in watching you be you. He loves your noes, your lips, your eyes, your hair (or lack thereof. He loves your acne, your wrinkles, your bulging biceps, your love handles, your voice, your walk, your laugh…. He loves you, the one and only you, His marvelous workmanship, and there’s no one quite like you.
John Ortberg says, “When you allow the Holy Spirit to work inside of you, you don’t just become holier, you become you-ier.” You become God’s best version of yourself.
What are some of the positive things that make you unique? What are some of the good things people notice in you or notice you for?
John was certainly a unique individual, a non-conformist, and certainly a big contrast to the religious leaders of the day. They were dressed in the finest apparel, and John was dressed in simple thrift store clothes. He was a strong, weathered, outdoor guy who ate a low carb, high protein diet. He probably had crazy long hair and maybe even a few tattoos. He was counter-cultural and unique in just about every way, and he had a unique calling on his life.
Have a volunteer read Mark 1:1-5.
John was the messenger that had been prophesied. He pointed people back to God and paved the way for Jesus. We all have different gifts, abilities, personalities, opportunities, and roles to fill. During this season of your life you might need to be a great mom, dad, son, brother, mentor, neighbor, sister, daughter, husband, wife boss, employee, coworker, entrepreneur, taxi-driver, store clerk, welder, machinist, pilot, teacher, student or CEO.
Wherever you find yourself, God is calling you to use the unique gifts, talents, ability, and personality He has given you to make an impact on the lives of others.
What are some ways you can use the unique way God has wired you to serve and love others in the roles, situations, and places you find yourself every day?
Lots of people were curious about this radical dude from the desert. He was saying fresh, eye-opening, challenging, hopeful things that no other religious type was saying. He was authentic, and people were drawn to that. When word gets out about him, all these corrupt, power-hungry, hypocritical religious leaders start showing up in the crowds, and when they showed up, John didn’t hold back.
Have a volunteer read Luke 3:7-14.
Sometimes to be truly great you have to courageously say or do things that are not popular. This doesn’t mean doing what some Christians have done and attacking people who don’t know Jesus. (You’ll notice John’s harsh statements were to the religious folk.) You have to speak courageously with wisdom and love, but sometimes you do have to speak up and say things that are unpopular, things that might invoke some pretty harsh criticism, unfounded accusations, and slander, even dangerous opposition.
John not only exposed the religious leaders as phonies, he also spoke God’s truth to a very high ranking political figure, and it ended up costing him his life.
Sometimes truth isn’t easy. It might get you in trouble. But to run from a difficult conversation that could help somebody, to stay silent when injustice abuses the innocent, is not the way of love, and it’s not the way of greatness.
Have a volunteer read Hebrews 4:12.
Every time we open our mouth, it ought to be filled with grace, knowing that all of us stand in need of it, but every time God’s truth is spoken it does something beyond our control. It lands in different ways on different hearts, and hopefully when we speak God’s truth, it pierces our own hearts as well.
When is a time you had to speak a difficult truth to someone else?
When is a time you’ve had to be on the receiving end of a difficult truth? What did the other person do to help you receive that difficult message?
John didn’t have an easy life. He had to deliver a unique message, in his unique way because he was a unique, one-of-a-kind limited-edition, created by God for his good purposes. And so are you! When you are the best version of yourself, God smiles as He sees you on the path to greatness.
Have a volunteer read John 3:22-28.
There was something else that made John great in Jesus’ eyes. He didn’t see himself as the greatest in his own eyes. It’s easy to turn, “You be uniquely you” into a self-centered attitude that says, “Hey, I gotta be me. That’s just the way I am, so deal with it!” There’s no humility—no greatness—in that.
Truly great people are lousy self-promoters. John’s words are powerful and a model for us, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Right before Jesus would be arrested and crucified, he was hanging out with his closest friends, and they start arguing about who was going to be the greatest when Jesus set up His kingdom.
Have a volunteer read Matthew 20:25-28.
Not so with you. Jesus says, don’t be self-serving, glory-seeking self-promoters like everyone else. Then He was crucified to show us what it means for the strong to serve the weak, the big to serve the small, the great to serve the lesser.
How can you point people to Jesus rather than keeping the spotlight on yourself?
The third thing that made John great, another characteristic of truly great people, is that he lived in such authentic community with God that he could be honest with God. When John is imprisoned, he just gets real honest with Jesus.
Have a volunteer read Luke 7:19-23.
When you have an ongoing authentic relationship with God, you can ask Him or tell Him anything. You can bring your doubts, your fears, your anxiety, your pain, your frustration, your confusion and just be honest with Him. In fact, he wants us to do just that.
Doubt and distrust are two different things. Distrust says, “God, I don’t think you can do it.” Doubt says, “God, I trust you, but I could use a little reassurance right now. I’m scared. The cancer sucks. The job loss frightens me.” When life gets tough—as it does and will for all of us—you can be honest with God like John was, because truly great people can stand strong knowing eternity is theirs.
What can you do to develop a more honest relationship with God?
John was willing to live a life so full of purpose and passion that if he had to die for the kingdom of God, he was okay with that. He reasoned, if Jesus, the Lamb of God, was going die for him, make a way to heaven for him, then there was no way he could hold back the intensity of his love and gratitude. If we could interview John in heaven right now, he would assure us that following Jesus with wholehearted devotion is absolutely worth it and that he’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
The final chapter of John’s life plays out like a lurid soap opera or an episode of Dateline, complete with tangled relationships, lustful passions, political intrigue, drunken decisions, violent murder, and unresolved guilt.
Herod was a Jewish politician who oversaw this particular geographic region in the Roman Empire. Herod had dumped his own wife and stolen his brother’s wife. John speaks into the moral corruption, calls Herod—the so-called leader of God’s people—out. So to shut him up for a while, Herod throws him in prison.
While Herod didn’t appreciate the hard truth, he was intrigued by John’s deep character and courage. There was something about this flip-flop wearing desert-dude that Herod kinda admired. Herodias on the other hand, couldn’t stand him. Her attitude was, “Who does this long-haired, locust eating, camel-skin, hippie freak think he is, telling royalty how to live?”
She wants to kill him, but can’t pull it off without Herod’s approval. Her chance comes on Herod’s birthday. They throw a big party. The wine was flowing, and his daughter comes in a does some kind of sexy dance that gets Herod and his buddies excited. So when he is turned on and tanked up this creepy man says…
Have a volunteer read Mark 6:23-29.
You say, “What a tragic end.” To be sure, it appears to be, but when John’s disciples came and got his body, John had already slipped out of his flip flops and into eternal life.
When you unconditionally trust God, when you know that the death and resurrection of Jesus have made a way for you to live forever, then you can live like you’ll die tomorrow and die knowing you’ll live forever. When you no longer fear death, you no longer fear life. You’re free to take faith-filled risks, to step out courageously and live with passion and boldness.
In what area of your life do you need to take a risk for God?