This is a guest blog post by Jessica Cleveland. Jessica is a third year high school English teacher with a passion for writing. I enjoy storytelling and hope that others are blessed through my words. Jessica attends Pleasant Hill Baptist church along with her father (Jerry), mother (Darlene), and brother (Jeremy).

Unless you have a passion about something-- whether it is a sport, giving back to your community, or some other various outlet-- none of the following is likely to make any sense to you.  I haven't written seriously in two years, but I have been fighting the cravings since the New Year started (I really don't know who I am anymore... losing weight, working out, getting married-- what's next year bringing me?!).  So until I can wholeheartedly commit to keeping a faithful blog, this medium will suffice.  People still blog, right? On MySpace?  I'm getting old. 

Some thoughts that needed to surface after reading over the Gospels recently:

First of all, don't you wish God had desired for the authors of the Bible to be blessed with artistic abilities so that you could physically see what all of these exciting people looked like?  One of my favorite stories and some of my favorite verses come from the first chapter of John.  I have always loved reading about John the Baptist for some reason.  I'm not sure if it's because he is involved in my favorite Bible story or if it's because he is described as being so fascinatingly odd that I would loved to have simply been part of one of his many crowds that instantly gathered whenever he began to speak.  I try to picture it all unfolding and I can't help but try to imagine what he would have looked like.  I have a strong feeling that he was unkempt; not dirty, but definitely more rugged than the majority of the crowds that followed him.  Other books detailed his habits of surviving off of locusts, honey, and water.  That's it.  (John was "eating clean" before it was cool.)  There were no fatted calves, no fancy feasts; he didn't dine in the homes of the Pharisees... he survived on the bare necessities because, quite simply, he had work to do.  I am fascinated by the fact that he never attempted to appear wealthier than he was or elevate himself as a great prophet or leader.  He didn't have to.  People were naturally drawn to him.  It wasn't about the fame for John.  It wasn't about the recognition, the bewildered stares that he must have received from some; he wasn't looking to shock or entertain anyone.  He was on a divine mission; he was ordained from birth to spread the message about the Son of God's arrival.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be a part of one of those crowds?  To sit there and listen to this long haired, bearded man in some sort of camel hair and leather outfit talking about a Messiah...  if I had been there, would I have walked on by and called him crazy?  Would I have listened?  Or would I have been like all of the other religious leaders that simply could not wrap their brains around this man and his message? I wonder if John ever grew even the teeniest bit tired of all the questions from those leaders-- their doubting eyes, stern expressions, attempts at trapping him or causing him to trip on his own words.  The book of John describes a specific example of the nitpicking, interrogation, and trick questions John was continuously subjected to:

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  He answered, “No.” 22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”  23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”  24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:19-27, NIV)

I'm sure John's response completely infuriated those who sought to quiet him, but he would not be silenced.  I have this perfect mental picture of the next few verses-- I'm not kidding whenever I tell you that if I ever learn to paint with any amount of talent, I will paint the next scene exactly as I'm about to describe it.  Picture this:  John, unkempt and unshaven, has been speaking for hours on this particular day.  The usual crowds have followed him and are listening intently.  I like to think that at this very moment, there were probably some new (or even old) Pharisees hovering near John, just waiting for him to slip up so that they could end this never-ending source of anger, discomfort, and fear in their eyes.  Suddenly, John stops speaking and an unsettling murmur slowly sweeps the crowd as they all notice that something has obviously caught his attention.  Even the Pharisees and religious leaders area little surprised at his abruptness-- what is this “insane” wilderness man going to do next?  I can see John waiting in stunned silence for a few moments-- moments that probably seemed like an eternity to John-- as he wonders if what he is seeing is real or if he is suffering from the exhaustion of preaching in the blistering heat for hours?  Or perhaps he has simply waited, yearned for and dreamed of this day for so long that he is afraid to accept that he is actually seeing these events unfold before him. John’s heart leaps and his stunned silence is broken:

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God,who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29, NIV)

Is that not the most beautiful thing you have ever read?  Can’t you just see John’s eyes filling with tears of joy upon the realization that his mission is being fulfilled just as he had always known it would be?  I know that there are so many different translations of the Bible, but the greater majority of them end this particular verse with an exclamation point.  I know, leave it to the English major to notice dorky things like punctuation.  I truly think this was by design; John didn’t just shrug it off in front of the crowd with an “I told you so; I’m not crazy” mentality.  No way-- John YELLS it.  “THIS is the ONE!  THAT’S HIM!!!  Don’t you know who this is--can’t you see?  This is the LAMB-- the One who will pay the price for ALL!!!!!!” I can’t help but imagine that John and Jesus had this incredible moment of mutual recognition and a connection after John’s words were spoken, even from a fairly long distance since the scripture notes that Jesus was walking toward him as John was excitedly explaining this man’s identity to the likely bewildered crowds… (Jesus doesn’t actually respond or say anything until he requests to be baptized; you have to flip back to Matthew 3 for the full description of that account).

John continues to describe his first encounter with the Man he had tirelessly awaited for so long (at some point after the baptism):

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1:32-34, NIV)

If that doesn't make your heart fill with awe, I don't know what will.  It doesn't matter how many times I read these verses; every time John finally sees the phsyical evidence --the Messiah-- and comes to this moment of realization that he has been fulfilling his role as God intended in the story of the world's Savior, I feel as if I could literally burst with emotion.  So what's the point of all of this?  Well, on a personal note... John teaches me that I shouldn't be afraid to be that weird one in the crowd; he teaches me to expect and even welcome those taunts and trick questions.  John doesn't focus on those petty things in front of him; his focus lies far across the jeers/lies/rumors/laughs/crowd.  John's eyes are locked on his Savior; the Savior Who is most definitely looking right back at him.