John The Appetizer

White Trash Baby
July 3, 2011
Let’s Pray First
September 21, 2011
John2
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, Illustrated by JAGO
Zondervan, Zonderkids, Grand rapids. MI, 2007. pg 202-203 

 

Grace Age: 2 years 8months
Following the advice of Lon Solomon, one of our favorite pastors, we have been sowing the seeds of the Gospel in Grace early. I’m amazed at her desire to read her Bible stories over and over. She spends long periods of time flipping through her Bible, studying the pictures and “retelling” the stories. Not too long ago Grace pointed at her little Bible and asked: Mama, what’s his name? John the Appetizer?
How is it that kids have the power to make us belly-laugh and say the most profound things in the very same breath?! After the moment of laughter and profound shock I decided to do a little research on “appetizers.”
In the dictionary I found them described as: “A stimulating foretaste,” “used to simulate the appetite or desire to eat,” “an indication that more is to come.” Luke 1:76 says of John: “For you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” If we take the metaphor of a relationship with Christ as one that feeds our souls then indeed, John the Baptist gave us our “appetizer” to the Gospel— a taste to whet the appetite and prepare us for more.
The tradition of serving appetizers before a meal can be traced back to Ancient Greece and Rome where guests would be served an array of small dishes like sea urchins, garlic and wine sop, seasoned eggs, olives and assortments of cheeses, fish and sausages. (1) The purpose of such tradition has not altered much over the centuries. Serving an appetizer illustrates the host’s care for their guests, setting the stage in preparation for more. The appetizer is part of the meal, but a separate course, essential to the guests in preparation for the main attraction, but not the main attraction itself. John the Baptist made it clear in his ministry that he was the forerunner, not the “One.” His job was to prepare people’s hearts. John described his role as the “appetizer” in Luke Chapter 3:15-16
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John’s ministry was “essential to yet distinct from the ministry of Jesus.” (2) His baptisms were to be an outward sign of an inward change. But John could only give the token of Baptism by water. He could not bring people to actual repentance, and he could not forgive their sin. Only Jesus could Baptize with the fire of the Holy Spirit—the true cleansing of the heart. Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Bible describes the difference between John and Jesus in this sense: John would baptize by water, symbolic of washing away the dirt on the outside. Jesus would baptize by fire, symbolic of clearing away the dross from within the way fire can melt down metal so that it may be cast in a new mold. (3) Essentially John’s ministry points the way to Jesus, the way appetizers point the way to the main course in a meal.
John and Jesus preached a similar message, yet with different emphasis. John’s preaching focused on the coming judgment and need for repentance. In Luke 3:8 John chides: “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance.” Personally, I like The Message translation of the Bible on this passage. It says:
When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin….. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.” The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?” “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.” Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?” He told them, “No more extortion – collect only what is required by law.” Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail – and be content with your rations.”
(Luke 3:7-14, The Message)
Repentance is the necessary preparation of our hearts for the Gospel. Before salvation the soul must be completely leveled. Repentance means “to change direction.” The “fruits of repentance” are seen in a new life that shows a real “change of mind” or “change of direction.” John describes for us what that change of life will look like: mercy, generosity, good stewardship and compassion for others. But John only tells us that repentance is first necessary, and what that “change of direction” will look like when it is done. It is Jesus who’s preaching gives us the direction to go— to Him. He is “The way, the truth and the life” no one comes to the Father but through Him. (John 14:6) Jesus is different from every other prophet ever to walk the earth. Not only because he was God in the flesh, but because he dose not say: “I lead the way” He does not say “I show you the way” he says “I AM the way.”
Repentance preached by John is our appetizer, though many of us would call it a bitter appetizer to swallow. Yet when we take that morsel into our mouths, while we find it wretched, we also find it does not taste quite as bad as it looks, or as it ought, because it is followed by the next course: a serving of the sweet taste of salvation. So many people never come to Jesus and enjoy the deliciousness of soul satiating salvation because they simply refuse to swallow the truth of their personal sin. As believers we do have that one defining moment of coming to the Lord, where we fully admit our sinful nature and our need for Him. What a divine moment that is, but in truth our Gospel Transformation does not end there. We are SAVED but not complete. If we are to truly grow, then the rest of our lives will be a series of “meals” of repentance and salvation with each “meal” nourishing our spirit, growing us up, and drawing us closer to Christ.
One interesting quote I came across about appetizers said this: “[D]awdling over small servings of many different dishes, sharing tidbits and discoveries… bonds friends together in a very emotional way. In fact, the very word “companion” comes from the Latin com panis, or “with bread,” meaning the person you share meals with — friendship defined by dining…” (4) Would it be such a bad idea to think of our life with Christ in this way? As a series of meals, dawdling over small dishes and sharing with our Lord tidbits and discoveries each day of where we fall short and need to repent, thus bonding us to Him in a deep emotional way? Friendship with Jesus defined as “soul” food.
Jesus is referred to as the “bread of life” and the “living water.” He is the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. He is the ultimate dining companion. In him you will find a depth of love and friendship beyond compare. One very sweet tidbit I found as I was researching was the Chinese appetizer “dim-sum” is literally translated “to touch the heart.” Hmmmm.
I say, my friends… FEAST! Your hearts will be touched, transformed and every hunger of your soul deeply satisfied.
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul!
(Isaiah 55:2)

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(1) The Food Time Line: http://www.foodtimeline.org (Appetizers) A history of food and food traditions.
(2) Who’s Who in the Bible, Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. Pleasantville, NY, 1994 (p. 233)
(3) Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible: Luke Chapter 3
(4) “Bite-Size Cuisine,” Eve Zibart, Washington Post, Sept. 4, 1998 (p. N26)

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.