John the Baptist was a voice crying out of the wilderness requiring all who heard him to question the source of his message, heaven or earth. The conflict the Jews faced, when considering John the Baptist, was a conflict between Religion and Hearing the Voice of the Lord. John the Baptist produced fruits befitting a sent-one (apostollos).
When someone emerges out of nowhere, not wearing the robes of a priestly ranked member of authority, and instead having an unshaven and untidy look about him, are your eyes so blind that your ears cannot hear the voice of the Lord? John the Baptist came in this fashion, wearing only camel hair, and a leather girdle around his waste, having been raised on locusts and wild honey from boyhood, in hiding in the wilderness. All who viewed him were required to choose to accept or reject the truth he offered. Those who accepted his truth were prepared to receive Christ’s teachings that came soon after. Consider the attributes of the Sermon on the Mount, with John the Baptist in mind, and you might have a clearer description of a role model to pattern your life after, so that the beatitudes can belong to you too.
3 Nephi 12:3-12
“3. Yea, blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4. And again, blessed are all they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5. And blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6. And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.
7. And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
8. And blessed are all the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9. And blessed are all the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
10. And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11. And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake;
12. For ye shall have great joy and be exceedingly glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.”
It is absolutely clear that John the Baptist fit each and every one of these descriptions: he was poor in spirit, he did mourn, he was meek, he hungered and thirsted for righteousness, he was merciful, he was pure in heart, he was a peacemaker, he was persecuted for Christ’s name sake, and men reviled and persecuted and spoke evil against him falsely, until his death by beheading. Although his life is not the standard dream role model in our day, the Lord said of him, “…among those that are born of women, there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” The Lord also labeled him, “…a burning and shining light.”
Joseph Smith gives us a warning for seeking exactly the opposite of John the Baptist:
“34. Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
35. Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—”
John the Baptist had his heart on the things of heaven. He was a voice crying out of the wilderness requiring all who heard him to question the source of his message, heaven or earth. Today, our circumstance of judging the matter is no different than John the Baptist’s day. We must discern the Voice of the Lord to filter through the many messages the world is broadcasting. Your heart is that filter. You see what you want to see, and you hear what you want to hear.
The conflict the Jews faced, when considering John the Baptist, was a conflict between Religion and Hearing the Voice of the Lord. There is a significant difference between Religion and Spirituality (hearing the Voice of the Lord). Someone who is religious can attend meetings, pay their tithing, partake of the sacrament, attend temple services, sing hymns, and do their home/visit teaching, …but NOT have a connection to the heavens to receive revelation and personal guidance. Likewise, someone can have revelations upon revelations, and yet not follow the tenets (the main principles/beliefs) of a religion. You’d think that having the best of both worlds would be the ultimate best, but that would not be true. If you are lukewarm, you will be accepted by men, by spit out by God.
Personal Experience: I was surprised to learn that Religion and Spirituality most often don’t get along. The idea seems conflicting, but I have experienced them both. Both my wife and I were raised as Mormons, attending our meetings, taking sacrament, endowed in temple ceremonies, and following the prescribed tenets of the church.
However, when we finally sought a personal relationship with Christ, seeking to come into His presence in the flesh, we approached things very differently. Rather than going through the Religious Motions, we made a serious effort to study the scriptures, fast, pray, attend the temple weekly, ponder our studies, …and adjusted our actions to align with what we understood.
Interestingly enough that’s when church became really exciting, temple attendance had meaning and instruction, and the chaos in my life parted like the Red Sea for Moses. We became real contributors to the lives of our friends and ward members. We thought that Religion and Spirituality were one and the same, if the religion was the true religion.
I quickly discovered that when religion and spirituality conflict, something’s gotta give. You can’t increase in spirituality, without threatening the tenets of religiousness. Questioning the Bishop’s doctrinal understanding, despite it being the truth, is labeled “apostasy,” because it differed from the man wearing the symbolic robes of the priesthood, the suit and tie, sitting above everyone else for them to follow. And that resulted in the necessity for the Bishop to literally cast my wife and I out, for approaching the podium to bear testimony of Jesus Christ.
The Jews of Christ’s day were the religionists. John the Baptist preached the truth of the words of Christ, having had a spiritual connection with the heavens. Although religion was intended to promote spirituality, when it comes time for spirituality to take the drivers seat, religionists can’t seem to let go of their religious power! And the Jews beheaded John the Baptist and crucified Christ as a result.
The Greek word “apostollos,” is where we get the word apostle. It literally means “one that was sent.” It described someone who has been in the literal presence of the Lord, in the flesh, who was sent by Christ to deliver a specific message. It was the quality of the message that identified them as one who was sent. The quality of the message wasn’t it’s ability to pull your emotional heart strings, to make you cry, or to inspire (like a Rocky movie). It was the ability to give light, where there was once darkness, thus forever dispelling the darkness in you. In our day of marketing, motivational speeches, and Super Bowl commercials, we have no idea how to identify a true “sent-one.” John the Baptist provides a great example. He lived the life of God’s sent-one:
3 Nephi 13:25-34
“25. And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, takeno thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26. Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27. Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28. And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin;
29. And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these.
30. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, even so will he clothe you, if ye are not of little faith.
31. Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32. For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
34. Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof.”
John the Baptist produced the fruits described above. He was one that was sent. He was an apostle of the Lord, in the literal sense of the word. Consider those you give your trust to, and compare them to likes of John the Baptist, to see if what you give your loyalties to are religionists or apostollos. Your evaluation must give weight to the words of Christ first, and then to what you hear of the voice of the Lord, through one claiming to be his servant.
Conclusion: If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, …then those of you who claim to believe in God ought to be studying to see the patters in scriptures of yesterday, so that you can recognize a servant of the Lord today. The fruits of those that are sent stand in great opposition to foolish and vain repetitions of religiousness, and in total alignment with a personal connection to the voice of the Lord. Having the words of Christ in your heart produces in you the ability to identify the Lord’s servant, even when he comes dressed in rags, like John the Baptist. Your ability to know the servant, by hearing the voice of the Lord in his words, will result in your personal entrance into the presence of the Lord, while in the flesh.