Pastor Dale E. Austin Mark 1:1-8
Personality cults have existed as long as human beings have roamed the earth. We easily become fixated on some charismatic individual, and soon lose sight of their message. Political despots have depended upon this; if a would-be dictator can mesmerize his audience, he can win their support, even when reasonable people would very likely reject him – if they took the time to examine the dictator’s words more closely.
Charm wins out.
But it can also happen when an individual is not seeking personal fame or glory. People simply cling to the charismatic individual, accepting every word as gospel or law. Even in spiritual circles it can happen. Look at the large followings garnered by some well-known spiritual leaders. To those masses, when it seems that their leader utters nothing which is untrue, it’s forgotten that these charismatic individuals, too, are human.
Such was the plight of John the Baptist. He wasn’t seeking fame or notoriety. He wanted no glory for himself. He knew his place, his role in the overall plan which God was placing into motion. He was to be the forerunner, the harbinger who would get the world ready for the true Messiah who was soon to come.
Again and again, John tried to convince the people that he was not the expected Messiah, but some refused to listen. Yes, as the herald who was to announce Jesus’ entry into ministry, his position was a prominent one. But John was still not the central character in this newly unfolding drama. John’s challenge was to help people find the right focus for their attention – Jesus himself.
Some would listen – and become Jesus’ disciples. Unfortunately, there were others who would still cling to John, as though he were their savior. John worked hard to make Jesus the focal point of his message. His call for people to repent and to turn from their sins was all meant to help them get ready for Jesus. Jesus is the focal point of the gospel, as he remains the focal point of our faith even today.
The one to whom John the Baptist pointed is the same one to whom the great spiritual leaders of our own time point, as is the same one to whom our own lives should point at all times.
Still, despite the best efforts of some people, personality cults develop around them. It’s not what they want or ask for, any more than John did. But it happens. All that anyone can do in such a situation is to keep pointing to the real focus for our attentions, and to keep directing people toward Jesus, hoping that they’ll catch on.
We need to be aware of when our own focus is shifting away from Jesus and onto some charismatic individual. If we’re hooked more on the individual than on Jesus, the person has become more important than the message. And our focus is fuzzy. At the same time, we need to be alert to the telltale signs that the individual may be encouraging this personality cult. Does he seem to thrive on the attention. Does she enjoy the limelight? In his constant touring and writing, is he promoting God or himself?
Genuine evangelists will always point away from themselves and toward Jesus. Such was the focus of John, in spite of the efforts of so many to build a cult around him. If someone’s overall message does not point us in Jesus’ direction, then their purpose is questionable at best.
Advent is a time to remind ourselves that our focus is in Jesus, not in the individuals who point us toward him. Those individuals are not our Savior. The child in the manger is. The adult Jesus, who teaches us and guides us is.
He is the focus of our adoration and praise. He is the focus of our worship throughout the year. During Advent, we are invited to refocus our lives on the true Messiah, the one and only Savior, Jesus.