My hometown of Harrisonburg, VA is home to James Madison University. It is a small college town located in the Shenandoah Valley about a four hour drive from here. I remember visiting Harrisonburg around 2011-2012. My parents live in an old Victorian house near downtown Harrisonburg. When I go home I like to walk downtown to Court Square. The Courthouse, First Presbyterian Church, the church I was raised in, and several restaurants are located there. There is a nice stone gazebo with a water fountain in the center of it. When I am home I like to go down to that Greco-Roman style gazebo to pray and study the scriptures. This particular time I visited I remember there was a man camping out at the water fountain. I thought he was a homeless man. It was a public space so I didn’t really mind. But he struck up a conversation with me. It turned out he was an academic of some sort, perhaps a retired college professor. He wasn’t homeless. Instead he seemed to be the sole member of the Occupy Harrisonburg movement.
For those of you who may not remember Occupy Wall Street was a movement in 2011 that formed in the wake of the financial collapse and the Great Recession. It started when protestors Occupied offices on Wall Street in New York City demanding that people address income inequality and financial reform. The movement spread through several major cities. It isn’t really active anymore because while it caused a lot of commotion it lacked the power to get anything done. The movement lacked any stable leadership or coherent policy and thus it fell apart. By the time I met this man in Harrisonburg the Occupy movement was already dying out. In any case the man was too late, college students had already occupied much of the town. The man was a lone voice crying in the wilderness. And while it does take a level of moral courage to stand up for what you believe in it takes more than courage to form a movement it takes power.
The founder, and as far as I know the only member of the Occupy Harrisonburg movement, reminded me a little of John the Baptist in today’s passage, seeing as how they were both lone voices, one crying out in the wilderness of Israel, the other camping out at Court Square in Harrisonburg, VA. The beginning of the Gospel of Mark tells us a little about who John was. He was the one sent to fulfill the Prophecy of Isaiah 40, to make the way straight for the coming of the Lord. He proclaimed a Baptism of Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He had a large following of folks coming from all around to be baptized, confessing their sins. He was clothed with camel’s hair, wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. So in a way he was a bit of a survivalist perhaps like the T.V show host Bear Grills. He baptized Jesus, who Luke tells us was John’s Cousin. He didn’t baptize Jesus because Jesus had sinned, but so Jesus could identify with us as human beings. All the Gospels agree that Jesus’ baptism was the beginning of his public ministry and the point at which the Holy Spirit empowered him for that ministry. When Jesus came up from the water he saw the heavens torn open and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven and said, “ You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1).
Scholars debate exactly what John stood for, because his movement died out, probably because he got his head cut off. Yet, it should be Jesus, who’s life and teachings are forgotten to history, since his death was far more public, humiliating, and defeating, than John the Baptist’s execution was. It would be like if the founding Fathers had lost the revolutionary war, been executed by the British, and yet the American colonies still claimed their ideas were great ideas. If we were still part of the British Empire no one would remember the name of George Washington. If we did we would see him as a failure and a traitor. In the eyes of the world Jesus lost, in one of the most public and humiliating ways possible. And yet, today millions of people follow Jesus, more than that they worship him as God. What power could create such a movement? It is the same power that Herod is afraid of in this passage. He mistook Jesus as John raised from the dead. He knew that such miracles as Jesus performed were only possible through Resurrection Power.
The Good News: When we embrace Resurrection Power the King Herod’s of this world will fear the church
- Resurrection Power is the power of the Holy Spirit
- The Holy Spirit gives us power to control ourselves
- The Holy Spirit gives us power to empower others
First, we see that Resurrection Power is the power of the Holy Spirit. Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached about the importance of repentance or turning from your personal sin and the sin of the nation to follow God. Both John the Baptist and Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God or as Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven
All the Gospels make clear that the difference between John’s ministry and the ministry of Jesus is the coming of the Holy Spirit. To quote John talking about Jesus, “After me comes he who is mightier than I , the straps whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down to untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” We as Christians believe that God is Trinity one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We as Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is the person of God that helps us experience and understand God.
The Holy Spirit is a lot like free samples at Costco, Sam’s Club, or other bulk discount clubs. My Father is a big fan of the Costco in our hometown. And the best thing about a membership at Costco, in my humble opinion, is not the discount prices and buying in bulk, but the free samples. Free samples allow you to taste and see what you are buying. They give you an experience of the product so that you know it is worth investing in. Of course, the samples are not free, you have to pay for a membership in the club. But the free samples encourage you to buy more, explore more, invest more into Coscto. You may never be able to see or buy everything that is in Costco. Some, like myself, may lack the height to reach some of the shelves. But the entire store is available to you if you are a member.
Likewise, in spiritual life, the Holy Spirit is the gift or guarantee that we receive as part of membership into Christ’s body. But the best part about going to Costco when I go home is I don’t pay for a membership. My Father has a membership for the whole family. Likewise, the Father has paid for our membership for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosover believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. The Holy Spirit is the free sample of eternal life. He doesn’t tell us everything about what God is like. But he gives us enough to know that God’s promises are true. He allows us to taste and see that the Lord is good.
Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is the person and power that raised Jesus from the dead and that power lives inside of us.
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11). Mark puts this story right after Jesus sends out his disciples to juxtapose the power of Jesus’ ministry against the powerlessness of John’s ministry. Within us is the same power that defeated the grave. What does the Holy Spirit give us power to do? The Holy Spirit Gives us power to control ourselves. The Holy Spirit Gives us power to empower others.
First, the Holy Spirit gives us power to control ourselves. I think it fair to say that in fantasy, science fiction, and the super hero genre, the power of mind control is considered to be a magical or super power. In the movie series Star Wars even the good Jedi use the power of the Force to trick weak minded opponents into doing what they want, which is perhaps the dream power of every parent as well.
The Holy Spirit is like the force in that He is real. Yet, he is not at our command nor does he give us the power to control others. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to control ourselves. He does so by reshaping us on the inside so we become more like Christ. The changing of our character is what Christians call the fruit of the Spirit. As Paul says in the book of Galatians, “ the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its desires and passions.” (Galatians 5:24).
As we look at John the Baptist in this passage we must wonder if he was actually in control of himself. I don’t know what John had planned but I am pretty sure his plan wasn’t to die at a guys birthday party and a little girl’s dance recital. I don’t know John but I am pretty sure that wasn’t his plan. Yet, he spoke out of turn and he lost his head over it. How many of us in our lives say something in the moment, do something in the moment, thinking it is a good idea at the time, and we lose our heads over it. And we want that other power of time travel to go back and undo what we did, but we can’t, and we feel regret, and we feel helpless. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t resurrection power. And part of that power is the ability to control ourselves.
Now you may respond, “Well Pastor Jesus got out of that one but we have a cross in the front of the church for a reason. Apparently, Jesus messed up because he got crucified.” Well, unlike John, Jesus planned to get crucified. He predicted his death and resurrection three times. He entered Jerusalem on a donkey and cleansed the Temple, fully knowing these actions would get him crucified. He had a plan to accomplish something that no ordinary man could accomplish. To die and rise from the dead as a ransom for many. Though many tried to trip him up in fulfilling his mission Jesus would not be trapped. Jesus being crucified was not a result of a mistake, an error in judgment, or a failure. It was part of Jesus plan. Jesus said this about his life, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17)
The fruit of self control is the ability the Holy Spirit gives us to make the right decision in the moment when we haven’t had time to prepare, when we haven’t had time to plan, where there is no president, when all the options seem like bad options. The fruit of self control is God’s Will empowering our wills to do God’s will without knowing exactly what His Will is in every situation. That doesn’t mean we will always get it right. It doesn’t mean we will always be able to get out of difficult situations like Jesus. But in a world where people who have all the power in the world are undone by their own lack of self control, the one who has control over him or herself has a distinct advantage in navigating life. The fruit of self control is a greater superpower than any ability to control other people.
Finally, the Holy Spirit empowers us to empower others. I think today’s text shows us that John’s ministry was inspiring, while Jesus’ ministry was empowering. It shows us the difference between natural and spiritual charisma. When we say that someone is a charismatic leader what we tend to mean is that they have a way of inspiring a crowd and convincing them to do things of their own free will. But generally, that person’s charisma is limited to that person. The magic is not transferrable to other people. For example, you may have a charismatic pastor whom a church has a boom in membership under. But when that pastor leaves or dies that church is generally left in the lurch, and ends up shrinking. This is a sign that the growth was really about natural charisma rather than spiritual charisma. God can use natural charisma. The Bible makes clear that John was a preacher with natural charisma that God used to prepare the way for Jesus. He more or less preached hell fire and brimstone and people were coming out of the woodwork to get dunked in a river, which shows you John the Baptist was a pretty convincing Public speaker. But the Bible is also clear that John Baptized with water and not with the Holy Spirit. His ministry was inspiring but not empowering. So when Herod chopped off his head John’s disciples were left in the lurch.
But spiritual charisma is different. Because spiritual charisma isn’t about the natural abilities of that person but about the power of God given to that person by Jesus. How can you kill a movement when the leader is Jesus the author of all life (Acts 3:15)? You can’t. And that is why Herod was trembling in his shoes. Not because Jesus had an army, but because he was the power of life itself. The amazing thing about spiritual charisma, as Jesus sending out the disciples suggests, is that it is transferrable. As Paul said to his beloved disciple Timothy, “ For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self control. “ (2 Timothy 1:7). And that is my prayer for you today. That the Lord would reach out his hands and say this is my Son with whom I am well pleased, this is my daughter with whom I am well pleased, that he would rest upon you and give you gifts, not your talents, not what is in your flesh, but gifts, not for you, but for the common good, to build up his body (1 Corinthians 12:7). That we may not be afraid. That when the King Herod’s of our lives come before us that they would tremble, at the power at work within us, that they would tremble at Resurrection Power.