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My Cousin, My God

In the Bible, each of the Gospels introduce the reader to a man named John the Baptist. John is the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and since Elizabeth is a relative of Mary’s, a relative (cousin?) of Jesus.

In the Gospel of Luke, which has the fullest account of John the Baptist, the reader sees that John’s birth story parallels Jesus’. An angel announces the birth of each, songs are sung about the birth of each, and the mothers rejoice together over their miraculous births (Elizabeth’s because of her age, Mary’s because it is the Son of God).

Great pomp and circumstance surrounds the birth of each. In fact, no matter how distant of relatives Elizabeth and Mary might have been, it is such a significant beginning for their children that one has to believe both of these children grew up hearing the words spoken about them.

Perhaps Zechariah’s song (Luke 1:67-79) became John’s nighttime lullaby, and Gabriel’s revelation became words of assurance echoed by Mary and Joseph to Jesus as he was growing up.

When we later encounter John as an adult, he has lived the words spoken over him at his birth – he is a man of austerity with a powerful message. As people flocked to his wilderness outpost, he challenged them to repent of their sins for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. His message was urgent, his words sure, his demeanor humble.

In fact. his message was so powerful that people who encountered him wondered if he was the Messiah, the one sent to save Israel and the world. And in the midst of this ministry, Jesus appears.

John’s cousin. The other one who had a song sung for him at birth. And this is how the Gospel of John recounts this meeting:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look; the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

And then John utters a perplexing line:

“I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

I myself did not know him. Commentators say that this was not a case of not knowing who Jesus was biologically, but rather not knowing the true identity of Christ as the Messiah.

Really? Rationally, my mind has a hard time comprehending this. And yet, as I ponder it in my heart, it seems to make more sense than my mind can make of it.

I have to believe that John grew up hearing the story of his conception and birth, of the great promises made about him and all of the things said about his cousin Jesus. But his heart was not ready to accept this truth. He had heard it over and over, perhaps so much that it became nothing more to him than an empty promise.

And then one day, after years of ministry in the desert, after years of preparing the way for the Messiah, his heart caught up with his mind, and his eyes were opened to Jesus, his cousin, the kid whom he had played with under olive trees so long ago, was indeed the one he had been preparing for.

What faithfulness – to spend a life of ministry teaching others about some belief that was more ethereal than actually real – that on one day, a day like any other, he saw his cousin not just with the eyes of his mind, but also with his heart.

I imagine a smile of amazement creeping slowly onto John’s face, his head shaking at the incredulity of it all, and Jesus approaching him not just as family, but as his Savior.

What an embrace that must have been, there on the banks of the Jordan.

I wonder how often I look at Jesus through the eyes of my mind, forgetting to look with my heart as well. I want to be one who prepares the way for Christ in this world, but is my understanding of who I think he is getting in the way of who he really is?

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Categories: Christianity, Church, Jesus
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  1. July 6, 2011 at 2:37 PM

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