One of my ulterior motives to leave home and travel across the world to America was to find the meaning of life. Growing up, I was not satisfied with life. Later, I discovered I was not alone. Every teenager and young adult has an innate desire to figure out the meaning of life. Everyone has a hero’s journey. Some people discover their destiny sooner, but others take a lifetime.
In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl discourages people from pursuing happiness, but if you pursue the meaning and purpose of life, you will find happiness. I would argue that if happiness is the ultimate outcome of meaning, then the pursuit of meaning is equivalent to the pursuit of happiness. However, knowing that the pursuit of meaning is the path to happiness is helpful.
What’s the meaning of life, then? Initially, the meaning of life comes from usefulness. The Burmese describe an unuseful person as someone who “consumes rice and cumbers earth.” ဆန်ကုန်မြေလေး (San Gong Myay Lay). It means a person who knows only about eating and pooping is useless to society. To be called a person who “consumes rice and cumbers earth” is probably the biggest insult in the Burmese language.
We notice even children want to be useful. They want to help their parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. They feel proud each time they find themselves useful. As we grow up, we want to be more useful. Some want to become doctors because helping people to stay healthy is the most meaningful profession. Some become teachers to develop leaders for the future. Some want to be firefighters to save lives. Some become engineers to make life easier.
As we grow mature, our search for meaning becomes deeper. We begin to question our destiny. Why am I here on earth? Is there a divine purpose? Is there more to life than what we have achieved trying to achieve? Is there more to life than accumulating possessions, pleasure, power, and prestige? Jesus said,
“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mk 8:36).
That’s a good question. Are we climbing a ladder only when we get to the top to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall? Maybe we should lean the ladder against the right wall before it’s too late.
Dr. Edwin Friedman said the meaning of life comes from knowing what you believe and what you want to die for. If you know what you want to die for, you know what to live for.
In fact, from the moment we are born, we are headed to the grave. As Benjamin Franklin said, there are only two certainties in life, “death and taxes.” Since we know we are dying for sure, why don’t we die meaningfully? That is our destiny. In fact, our destiny is predestined from the foundation of the earth.
John the Baptist is one of those who is clear about his destiny and is willing to risk his life to fulfill it. Jesus’ disciples also discovered their destiny and gave their lives for it.
So, today, we will explore the meaning of life and discover what we want to die for by studying the life and mission of John the Baptist. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is from the Gospel According to John 1:6-8; 19-28. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. (Jn 1:6-8; 19–28).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
First, I want to ensure you know two Johns are involved in this story—John the storyteller and John the Baptist. John the storyteller is the youngest disciple of Jesus, and he is writing about John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. He said,
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” (Jn 1:6).
John, the storyteller, says John the Baptist was sent from God because he was in the prophecy of Prophet Isaiah. Isn’t it fascinating to know why you are here on earth and that God sent you here? Knowing that will make a huge difference in our meaning of life.
Will it be nice that someone can say you are sent from God? In fact, you are from God. After the resurrection, Jesus said,
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Jn 20:21).
That’s John’s version of the Great Commission. This sending applies not just to the disciples but also to you and me. That gives you the greatest meaning of life because you are not living a manmade purpose but a divine purpose. To know that you are sent from God is a dream life to die for.
If knowing what you want to die for is so crucial for human emotional health, as Dr. Edwin Friedmand said, you’ve got one from Jesus Christ. Now, we can reword this verse to talk about you:
“There was a man or woman sent from God, whose name was Sam, Sophie, Connie, Tom, Lucy, George, Kathy, Andrew, Jack, Ann, Mike, Kay, Nany, Harold, and everyone in this congregation and every believer in the world.”
As a believer, you no longer have to wonder who you are and what’s your meaning of life because you are sent from God.
It’s not just others saying who John was; he knew who he was. That’s even more beautiful. The religious leaders sent delegates to check him out and asked him who he was, wondering if he was the Messiah. They wanted to know because they believed the Messiah was a threat to the Roman Empire, the stability of their occupation, and the security of Judiaism religion.
He would overthrow the Roman Empire and restore the kingdom of Israel. If John was the Messiah, they would put him away as soon as possible because the Romans threatened to shut down the religious institution if they couldn’t prevent the potential rebellion.
Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said. (Jn 1:22-23).
Quoting Prophet Isaiah, he stated who he was. Can you quote the Bible to say how you are? Sure, you can, at least after listening to this sermon. The sending of you is written in the Bible, known as the Great Commission.
Just as John was sent from God as the forerunner of Jesus Christ, you are sent from God as the post-runner of Jesus Christ. He was the voice crying out in the wilderness; you are the voice crying out in all nations. He made straight the way of the Lord; you also make straight the way of the Lord for his second advent. John claimed Prophet Isaiah said about him; you claim Jesus said about you. Your mission on earth is summarized in these verses:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18–20).
If that sounds complicated, John’s version of the Great Commission is simpler.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21–23).
This passage shows that your mission on earth is to deliver grace. Even though you are given the authority to retain sin, Jesus expects you to be the agent of forgiveness. You might wonder, if he wants us to deliver forgiveness, then why he gave us the power to retain sin?
The answer is that without the power to retain sin, you are just a robot to forgive sin. You forgive because you have no choice. Your forgiveness is genuine only when you have the choice not to forgive. When you don’t forgive, they may go to hell. That means God gives you a lethal weapon and expects you to keep it in its sheath. That’s what grace is about. It’s simple but not easy. It’s not easy to keep your lethal sword in it’s sheathe without using it.
There are many people on earth burning with guilt in their hearts and looking for forgiveness consciously or unconsciously. A guilt-ridden person cannot find the meaning of life. As you deliver grace, you are also delivering meaning because they will join you on the Great Commission of delivering grace.
Legend has it that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle experimented on how many people have skeletons in the closet. So, it posted a newspaper advertisement that said, “All is discovered! Fly at once!” Several prominent people disappear the next day.
Mark Twain also told this story. A father was looking for his son, who had left home after a dispute with him. He waited for him to come home, but he never returned. Later, he heard his son was in Spain, so he went to Madrid, checked into a hotel, and posted an ad in the newspaper, saying, “Paco, all is forgiven. Come home. Meet me in front of the Madrid hotel.” (I’m retelling it in my own words; the original may be different.)
He posted the ad without realizing Paco was a popular name in that region. The following day, a large group of young men named Paco came standing in front of the hotel to reconcile with their father. Using this poignant story, Mark Twain wants you to know how many people out there in the world are hungry and thirsty for forgiveness.
John the Baptist address this issue by crying out in the wilderness, inviting those who were guilt-ridden to come to him for the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We have the same mission. The difference is he went before Christ, and we go after Christ.
We must remember that this grace comes from Jesus, not us. We are just messengers, slaves, servents, stewards or witnesses. John said,
He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” (Jn 1:6-8)
He was able to testify to the light because he knew he was sent from God. It says, “so that all might believe through him.” As you deliver grace and mercy, you testify to them so that all might believe through you. You evangelize by delivering grace and forgiveness. How did John do that?
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. (Jn 1:24-26a).
As we discussed last week, there are two Baptisms: baptism with water and baptism in the Holy Spirit. Just as John was commissioned to baptize with water, Jesus’ followers are also commissioned to baptize with water. Baptism of the Holy Spirit comes from Jesus himself. That is sanctification, which involves pruning and purifying you to become holy or a saint.
As we deliver grace, mercy, and forgiveness, we introduce them to Jesus Christ, who is grace upon grace, who will sanctify them to become a saint.
There is one more thing we can learn from John the Baptist. Everything about him speaks humility. He knows who he was and also knows who he was not. He dressed simply and ate simply. He also said he was not even worthy of untying the sandals of Jesus.
Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” (Jn 1:26b-27).
Despite his humility, Jesus regards them as the greatest man in the world. Jesus said,
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.” (Mt 11:11).
It looks good in God’s eyes, even though it doesn’t look good in human eyes. John knew what he wanted to die for, and we know he was later beheaded by King Herod. It was an awful death. It doesn’t look greate in human eyes. Jesus was crucified, and it was an even worse way of dying. They were not afraid of death because they had a mission worth dying for and knew the greater rewards are on the other side.
The question is not how awfully they died but how meaningfully they lived. Would you rather die nicely without living meaningfully, or would you rather die however it may after living meaningfully? Jesus has brought us the greatest meaning for living.
Remember, you are sent from God, and your name is “fill your name in the blank.” It’s a life to die for! So, let’s receive it and live it meaningfully.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.