Friday, April 8, 2016

Staying The Course

A word on John the Baptist:  Originally published on Thursday, March 31, 2005

Staying The Course

Out recently is a film entitled, "Simon Birch." It is about a 12-year-old boy who was unusually small and deformed at birth. In fact, he never grew taller than 3 feet, the size of, well a young boy. Because of his physical and emotional peculiarities, he was disliked and rejected by many. Even his parents hardly paid any attention to him at all. In the town, only a few liked Simon, and sadly, he killed one of them by accident. To make matters worse, it was the mother of his best friend, Jake. What made Simon different, is that he dared to ask questions and to expect answers, even from adults. He was unafraid. Above this, Simon believed that all human beings had a purpose in being alive, a purpose that God designed them to fill. Simon not only believed this about others, he believed it about himself, and would share it whenever he felt the conversation prompted it. Simon wanted to please God. So to say that Simon was an unusual fellow was an understatement.

For most of his short life, Simon searched for his purpose. Waiting and watching, he spoke of it always. When Simon discovered that Jake was attending church with his mom, Simon asked to visit with them. Enjoying church fellowship, and being close to God, Simon was unafraid to rebuke the Reverend out loud when he was wrong-- even in the middle of the service. Naturally the Reverend was embarrassed and humiliated and therefore didn't like Simon for this. And so Simon got into trouble for the childish pranks his classmates pulled.

Simon and Jake used to go swimming together where they would practice holding their breaths and of course they competed with one another to see who could hold his breath the longest. Simon had the uncanny ability to hold his breath for a long time under water. Each time they went swimming, Simon tried to hold his breath longer than he did the last time. This ability proved to be an asset, for one day, it saved lives. While on an outing with 4 and 5-year-olds, the bus they were in riding swerved to avoid hitting a deer.  Out of control, the bus careened off the road, down the embankment, and into the river. The force of the current drove the back door open, and the bus began to sink. Panic-stricken, children started rocking themselves out of fright, banging on the windows, and crying. Some were even screaming. Pandemonium reigned, as the bus driver opened the front door and escaped underwater. All thought they would drown. Only Simon remained calm. Standing on a seat, he shouted to the children "shut up, and listen!" And they did. Because Simon had been kind to them and was about their height, they trusted him. Stronger than they were, Simon was able to force open a window, get under them, and push them out one by one. At last, one boy was left, but he caught hid foot under the seat. Simon, holding his breath, submerged and was able to free the kid.  However, Simon began to sink with the bus in the icy cold winter waters of the river.  Adults arriving on the scene found out what happened and that Simon was still on the bus. Swiftly they took action, rescued him and took him to the hospital.  Simon did revive and was able to talk, but was far too weak. One by one his classmates and best friend, Jake, visited. Simon told them that he was ok and ready to die, that he was at peace because he had fulfilled his purpose and could now go. Trying to reassure them, Simon told them not to be afraid and sad, because God had a purpose for each of them too, and that when it was time, each one would know it. Bidding them good-night because he was tired, he died.

The moral of the film is that God prepared Simon for "such a time like this." God could use Simon because Simon was willing. Like Simon, John the Baptist, although awkward, was willing. Being a Nazarite, John lived by strict lifestyle principles. According to Mark 1:6, "And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey." Unfashionable, John did not partake in the trendy styles of consumption. "John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4). Furthermore, John lived in the wilderness and was not frequently seen in the towns or cities. He seemed to be like what we would refer to as a cave man. He may have been unpolished and unmannerly, and was probably dusty and sweaty, to say the least. According to the book of Mark: John the Baptist was unafraid to preach the truth to whoever would listen, and that included the wealthy and the powerful. Needless to say, straight truth is usually - how shall we say- unappreciated. So perhaps like our film character Simon, he was tolerated by the religious types.

John and Simon were forthright.  However, John, according to Mark 1:7, was humble. He preached: " cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." He understood that Christ's mission would supersede his, and responded by saying, "... I indeed have baptized you with water: but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost" Mark 1: 8. Known throughout Judea as one who defied the authorities with a message of righteousness and truth, John called Sin by its name and was unafraid. Today we may conclude that John was politically incorrect, not that there existed such a thing at that time, but just the same had we heard him, we might have found him offensive.

From his birth, John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit. John was the one of whom it was said, "As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" Mark 1: 2, 3. Simon Birch, although a film character, epitomized a life filled with the Spirit. Like John the Baptist, his mission was to prepare the way that others might see God, and have life eternal. Like John the Baptist, he was not deterred by challenges or difficulties. They both kept the faith, enduring till the end.

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