Saturday, July 2, 2016

Being a person sent by God

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John (John 1:6).
John here is speaking about John the Baptist, the forerunner who prepared the way of the Lord and saw that Jesus of Nazareth was the one to follow upon it. This John was a man sent from God, a person whose life and whose calling was not dictated by a self-made decision of autonomous reason. Rather than deciding for himself what sort of a life he would live and what use he would make of his time on earth in pursuit of his own interests, John's life was characterized in terms of the will of another: he was sent from God, and this is how people would remember him unto the ages of ages.

Rather than being self-made, John's life was meaningful in light of the activity of God. Because he was sent by the Creator to prepare the way for the promised Messiah, John's life was meaningful and valuable, and no one can deny the role that he played in the fulfillment of the promises of God. Indeed, Jesus himself said that no greater prophet had risen than John who would baptize sinners out in the river. And God, in his grace, did not forget John's name, nor was he indifferent as an individual to God. On the contrary, God knew his name and called him by name: his name was John, and he was known by God personally and sent on this mission.

In this short verse, I think we find embodied the concerns and the wishes and dreams of anyone who loves God and wants to serve him. In any case, this is certainly how I feel about my own life and my own service. I want to know that I am a man sent from God -- that the way I spend my time is in fulfillment of a divine calling and sending, that I am not acting as a free agent but rather that I belong to the army of the Lord and am serving him faithfully. Only in that way can my life really have any meaning. What good is a life lived however pleasantly, however well fulfilled I might consider myself to be, if at the end I hear these dreadful words: I never knew you (Mt 7:23)? So long as God exists, so long as there is a judgment -- and if God exists, there must be one -- it is pointless at best and unforgivably irrational at worst to try to live one's life apart from him. The end result can only be a separation from the God you refused to know, to spend eternity in the dark meaninglessness of sin. My goal is a different one; my desire is to hear these words: Well done, good and trustworthy slave... enter into the joy of your master (Mt 25:21).

Not only does a servant of God wish to be sent by God, but he also wishes to be known by name. It is a great calling to be sent by God to perform his service in the world, but it is an even greater calling to know that you are not merely an anonymous servant, one chosen randomly out of a hat. On the contrary, God knows John by name, and he knows you by name as well. Your whole past, your life, your history, your secrets and desires and hopes and wishes and dreams are all well-known to God: before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account (Heb 4:13). And I wish to be known by God by name. I want him to say to me: Steven, you did very well; come now and rest from all of your labors.

Of course, there are many persons who served God whose names do not live on throughout the ages just as John the Baptist's name has remained with us. It is alright, however, to be forgotten by people, so long as one is remembered by God. And if we serve him faithfully and do his will, rather than our own, then he too will remember us. Listen to what he says: I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers (Mt 7:23). It is the evildoers whom he forgets; not those whose efforts went underappreciated by those around them.

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