Twelve Apostles' Church Eastleigh

Speaking truth

Brethren, grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore, it is said, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”  (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is He who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)  And His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:7–13

At that time, when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulon and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:12–17

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God, Amen.

What can we say, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, of John the Forerunner?  The Lord himself calls him the greatest born of women.[1]  He is the pinnacle of the prophets, the Baptist of the Lord, the herald of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Forerunner of God.  The Lord, quoting the Prophet Malachi, says of him,

Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.[2]

The Forerunner spoke truth to power.  When Herod the tetrarch took his own brother’s wife, John told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her,”[3] and he was imprisoned and eventually executed for this statement of truth.

Dear brothers and sisters, are we willing to speak the truth?  Are we willing to stand for truth in the face of power?  Do we stand behind and with those who are speaking the truth?

It is not enough, dear brothers and sisters, to merely assent to truth, to proclaim it with our lips while denying it with our actions.  The Apostle James speaks about this in his Epistle,

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.[4]

We could rephrase this last sentence, “Thus also, truth by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  The Forerunner was a man who let his actions demonstrate the truth of his word.  We must do likewise; we are not to speak of the plight of the homeless without ourselves making an effort to alleviate their hardships nor are we to speak of the sin of abortion without offering help to women who find themselves in an unmanageable situation.  For us, speaking the truth goes hand-in-hand with acting the truth.

The Forerunner John is for Judea what Elijah is for Israel.  John and Elijah, or Elias, are shown as being of a spiritual lineage by Christ who said “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.”[5]  When they are coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John ask the Lord,

“Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.  But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.”  Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.[6]

In order to better understand John the Forerunner it is necessary, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to consider the Prophet Elijah.  We must delve, brothers and sisters, into the Old Testament that the New can be revealed more fully to us.  The Prophet Elijah’s story[7] is an exciting account of faithfulness to God in the face of widespread apostasy and placing of hope in the wrong things — perhaps we have much we can learn from him about our days.  I strongly recommend reading it, perhaps together as a family, that we all may come into closer contact with the saints.

The twelve tribes of Israel were united as one Kingdom under King David but because his son Solomon did not keep God’s covenant and statutes the Kingdom was divided under Solomon’s son, Rehoboam.[8]  The ten northern tribes, under Jeroboam, formed the northern Kingdom of Israel whereas David’s grandson Rehoboam remained King, in the south, of Judah.  The northern Kingdom of Israel did not remain faithful to the Lord and it was to this Kingdom that the Prophet Elijah was sent by God.

Dear brothers and sisters, do you remain faithful in your lives of faith?  Do I?  Do we allow division between our working lives, our family lives, our religious lives?  When we see division do we turn and repent to the Lord that we may be united or do we continue?  The Kingdom of Israel did not fare well, because of their division from the kingdom in the south and their following false gods, particularly Baal, they were annihilated in a little over two hundred years by the Assyrians, sold into slavery never to return.

Nevertheless, the Lord sent prophets to the northern Kingdom that they may return to faith in the living God, chief among them Elijah.  Elijah challenges the King Ahab for his faithlessness in following his wife Jezebel along with her god Baal and, likewise, John challenges Herod the tetrarch.  Elijah comes before the Lord from the cave[9] and John from his mother’s womb.[10]  They are both provided with food from God in the wilderness[11] and were both of a fiery temper.

Yes, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we can learn much from John and from Elijah about how to speak, and act, truth: we would do well to study their lives and ask them for help in our lives.  Yet theirs is not the only way to speak truth and this is revealed to us in today’s short Gospel reading.  The Lord heard of the arrest of John in the south and so withdrew to the north, to the land of Galilee, of the former land of the northern Kingdom of Israel.

“The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, across the Jordan,” cries out the Prophet Isaiah, “Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”[12]  And the light has dawned upon them.  The Lord withdrew from the conflict around the arrest of John and came to preach the Gospel where he would be free.  He waited until the arrest of John so that his would not be a rival to the Forerunner, he speaks with the same words as John so that his is shown as the continuation: “Repent!”  The Lord shows the uttermost respect for his kinsman and we, likewise, should show the uttermost respect.  He is the return of Elijah, preaching repentance to the people that they may turn away from the idolatry and worship the living God.  John the Forerunner is our champion, offering us encouragement along the way that we may believe in God and follow his commandments.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how does the Lord want you to speak truth?  How does he want me to do so?  Our truth is expressed most perfectly in our actions, in our love for our neighbours whom we see everywhere, and we must be willing to express the Truth of the Gospel to all the Lord sends us.  We express it and we love.  Ours is not to condemn others but to point them towards the Lord that they may have life and have it in abundance.  We may do this by the intercessions of John, the Friend of the Bridegroom, we may come to a closer relationship with Christ.  Remember, too, the Old Testament — the Forefathers, the Patriarchs, the Law, the Prophets — that they may be an example to our lives of Faith, that we may be encouraged by Elijah and all the prophets to turn towards the Lord whenever a slight deviation occurs that we may be worthy inheritors of them.

That we may come to true knowledge of the one God and Father, through his beloved Son by the power of the Holy Spirit and remain faithful to them, Amen.

[1] Matt. 11:11, Luke 7:28.
[2] Matt. 11:10, Mal. 3:1.
[3] Matt. 14:4.
[4] Jas. 2:15–17.
[5] Matt. 11:13–14.
[6] Matt. 17:10–13.
[7] See 3 Kg 17:1–4 Kg 2:11.
[8] See 3 Kg 11:1–12.
[9] 3 Kg 19:13.
[10] Luke 1:41,44.
[11] 3 Kg 17:6, Matt. 3:4.
[12] Is. 9:1–2.