O, Me, Of Little Faith

Lately I’ve been noticing the invisible people in Bible stories. Recently, it was a whole crowd who had previously managed to elude my view.

Who were these people? These ones who came out to the wilderness to hear John the Baptist, to repent of their sins, and to be baptized? In all my years reading God’s Word, my focus has always been on John but now, I wondered about all of these.

They’re mentioned in all four gospels, this nameless, faceless throng so affected by the words of this wild prophet, this precursor to Christ, this way preparer, this path straightener, this son of Elizabeth and her husband.

Matthew describes them this way, “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” (Matthew 3:5 ESV)

Mark makes it sound like quite a crowd when he says, “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Mark 1:5 ESV)

Luke describes John’s back and forth with the crowd and says they were “in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ,” (Luke 3:18 ESV).

John describes a similar back and forth between John the Baptist and a contingent sent from the Pharisees with questions about who the prophet was. (John 1)

Who were these crowds so aware of their need for a Messiah, so ready to hear a message about their sin, so eager to confess, so public with their repentance?

Too often I consider my modern faith superior to the crowds surrounding Jesus and yet, here were throngs of people who understood their lives were wrong and needed transformation. Here were people following a prophet who didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear but what God told him to speak. A prophet who bluntly pointed out their sin and instructed them to change, to die to themselves, to make themselves ready for Jesus.

He wasn’t selling them on the coming Messiah. He wasn’t creating a safe place for them to hear the Lord. He wasn’t validating their strengths or affirming their seeking hearts. When they came to him, he told them their lives were all wrong and needed to be different – and they responded.

It brings to mind visions of Billy Graham Crusades – people responding to altar calls – flooding down auditorium stairs to kneel and pray at the foot of the podium. Throngs in the South dressed in white on sunny Sundays filing down to the river to be baptized in Jesus’ name. Revivals in South Korea, the Philippines, Nigeria, hidden China.

These visions create conflict in our spirits, do they not? We who have been conditioned to be suspect of the crowd, of trends, of the mind of the masses. We who have known that those who travel in crowds are subject to hive mind, to lemmings’ risks, to be led to slaughter like sheep.

And yet, is that distortion an enemy scheme to blind us to the waiting crowd?

Because, here they are, this invisible mob flocking to John to confess and repent. This straightforward, no punches pulled preaching resulted in – well – results. A people prepared to receive Jesus. Our forefathers and foremothers – the crowd who leapt together off the cliff into fuller life.

Of course, there were those standing with them who had come with ulterior motives, out of curiosity, to scope out the phenomenon, to exploit the moment. The gospels record them, too, and John’s plain message that they have no business entering the waters unless they are ready to confess and repent. Do we allow these modern Pharisees to silence us, to turn our eyes from the crowd waiting for Jesus?

O, me, of little faith. When I look at a crowd – my community, my country, my generation – I work from a modern playbook and devise ineffective ways to appeal to them on Jesus’ behalf – so I can say I tried without risking my head.

I ignore the gospel truth that my work is to prepare the way. People don’t seek a cure for something they don’t know afflicts them.

The truth is that the crowd is still there suffering with a vague notion that something isn’t right. To address it they buy things or make things or part ways with things that no longer bring them joy in hopes they will find a worthy god in consumerism, industrialism, minimalism. They seek their god in other humans, or they give up god and escape until death arrives.

And we know the truth as surely as John that the path they seek lies through confession and repentance in preparation for Jesus, but we value our heads more than love so we devise cloaked messages hoping someone will stumble into the truth.

Maybe, though, we can speak our generation’s language and still state prophetic truth. Maybe we could sit with our neighbors around a fire or at the island in our open concept kitchens and share our dilemma.

“So, you know I follow Jesus. I’ve been struggling lately to figure out how to talk with people about faith without sounding like a jerk. The prophets of the Bible plainly told people to confess their sins and repent. That message resonated with me once. It also resonated with crowds of people through time – people who felt their lives weren’t right no matter what they tried. People who felt deep down they were meant for more than the life they were experiencing. People weighed down with secrets sins and the fear they would be found out. What comes to mind for you when I mention confession and repentance? Have you found everything you’ve been looking for in life?”

I don’t know. I’m no John the Baptist. My faith is small, but maybe I can muster enough courage to ask a question.

Because the reality is, there is, among my generation, another crowd (maybe the last crowd) waiting for someone to speak the truth. And whether I see them or not, God tells me they’re there.

I’ve posted daily prayers on Facebook since the start of the pandemic and have collected those posted during our initial confinement in this free download for all of you who’ve asked. Feel free to download a copy today and share as God leads. Praying through a Pandemic

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  1. Deb Kreyssig says:

    Amen Lori. When we share the Gospel in Haiti, we keep it simple. The straight up, we are all sinners and need a Savior, Gospel. We want people to understand they must accept Christ and His work on the cross to have eternal life in Heaven. We also encourage them the time is now! Life is so uncertain. In agreement with God’s heart, we want that none should perish (2Peter 3:9). We never want to distort the truth so we stick to what is already perfect, God’s Word.

  2. Charla says:

    Such sweet fellowship through truth’s conviction. Thank you for your obedience (even when you feel you “faith is small”), Lori.