After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized —John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.
“Who do we believe?”
There was John baptizing people at Aenon in Samaria of all places and there, not far away, was Jesus also baptising people. Which of these baptisms would be the one which would really purify the participants from their sin? Was the question (or was it just a comment?) being asked in anger or confusion or bewilderment? Whatever was behind the comment it arose from what must have looked like a very odd situation. John had never claimed to be doing anything other than preparing the way and yet here he was still baptising people with water, presumably still promising (as Mark tells us) that the one who was to follow would baptise with the Holy Spirit. And there was the one who it was claimed was the one who was to follow, seeming to be doing much the same thing – baptising with water.
Who do we believe?
This might be thought of as the first ecumenical dilemma – two seemingly similar people making the similar claims about sin and grace and these didn’t even seem to have different practices!
I am told that there are 42,000 Christian denominations worldwide and denominational membership of Church Together in Britain and Ireland is in excess of 50.
Who do we believe?
John’s answer to the Jew was to talk about Jesus’ direct link with heaven enabling him to testify to that experience in the earthly context of his time and place. By association and acceptance those who believed in him would have eternal life. It occurs to me that for John and those first century seekers the answer to the question was somewhat clearer with Jesus only a few miles down the road. In 21st century Britain the question is somewhat more complicated. As a church and as individual Christians we have a responsibility; First, to seek to know Jesus better, through reading, exploring together and prayer.
Second, as we work alongside people of all faiths and none to reflect the Jesus we have come to know in the context in which we find ourselves.
Third, never to presume that we can fully answer the ‘who do we believe?’ question, only that we can share with others as we seek to deepen our faith.
Gracious God, we are often bewildered by the variety of Christian denominations we observe different practices and theology we ask, who is right, who is doing it the way you would like? Guide our reading, help our explorations, enable us to discern what is important and to identify those things we share. Lead us as we seek to deepen our understanding, develop our relationship and walk with you throughout our lives. Amen
Val Morrison is an elder in Hall Gate URC in Doncaster.
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