John for one was Zechariah's son, and Zechariah served as priest in the temple. Priests led comfortable and well to do lives, being supplied all their material needs and given special favors by the community as per Old Testament directives.
John should have been priest, too, being son of Zechariah. But John gave it up and chose to be an obscure prophet living in the wilderness catching locusts for dinner and risking bee stings just to enjoy a handful of honey. That's beside wearing only camel's hair and a leather belt all his life.
Why this radical simplicity?
I see it as Kingdom signature. A kind of "company logo" or characteristic mark of the Kingdom. Kingdom people literally care for nothing in this life. Jesus said that the cares of this world bothered only pagans who "run after these things." Jesus and John lived like birds of the air that neither sowed or reaped or stored in barns. Yet all their needs were met by the Father.
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We often take this gesture for granted---why Jesus lived the kind of life he lived. I have never heard sermons or preaching about Jesus' austere simplicity or ascetic lifestyle. I have heard a lot of prosperity preaching, though. It probably reflects how most churches and pastors fear being the least.
By living it out his entire life, Jesus practically stressed its importance. He did it to make some kind of a Kingdom "fashion" statement. He called attention to his spartan lifestyle by the way he lived and prioritized it in his teaching: "Blessed are the poor in spirit." He emphasized how Kingdom people do not wear fine clothes and aren't impressed by posh palaces.
He boasted about John: "A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces." [Matthew 11]
Reading it again and again, I feel that Jesus somewhat belittled people who wore fine clothes and lived in palaces. People probably thought Jesus was sour-graping because he was poor and probably envied the rich. But actually, he was just being true to his Kingdom origins, his Kingdom propensities. In the Kingdom, fine clothes, money, possessions, fame and palaces really mean nothing. They aren't worth running after.
What people value highly is detestable in God's sight. [Luke 16.15]
Thus, Kingdom people never place any value on these things. They wear simple clothes and live in simple shelters. They live radically simple lives.
But sadly, the very opposite seems to be the standard of success in church today. The best churches are those with palatial buildings and the best pastors are those dressed like politicians or the rich. Have you ever seen a preacher come to a conference riding a public jeepney or tricycle and wearing plain white T-shirt and jeans? No, because church thinks it would be disgusting to see them thus.
Instead, you see them wearing their best "robes" like the Pharisees did and riding in the best cars. They are housed in the best hotels in town and dining in the best restaurants. Well, nothing really wrong about this. In fact, Jesus said anyone who gives even a cup of cold water to his disciples will be surely rewarded.
The problem is, why not give the same treatment to poor pastors with small churches? Why not invite them to speak in conferences, too? Jesus also warned about favoritism. I personally saw how a church gave P500 as "love gift" to an ordinary pastor when he spoke there, but gave P5,000 to a titled university professor who also spoke there at another time.
King David, Isaiah and Nehemiah may have worn fine clothes in their times because they were closely connected to earthly palaces. But that was the past and a foregone era. Jesus introduced the present Kingdom era when "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions," [Luke 12.15].
I foresee the emergence of a unique breed of radical believers (genuine Kingdom people) who will demonstrate, as their Lord did, the ideal lifestyle of the Kingdom. They will speak in big conferences wearing plain, ordinary and cheap shorts and jeans, commuting to and from, and eating in street-corner karenderias. They will gather together for worship in parks, garages, street corners, barangay halls, (in short, no posh buildings) and wear shorts and shirts. But their hearts and spirits are aflame with the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Titles, money, possessions or church size won't impress them. But what they're awed at is the simple, quiet, gentle and meek spirit of a powerfully anointed man of God.
No longer will the fool be called noble nor the scoundrel be highly respected. [Isaiah 32.5]
Look at the life of a genuine apostle of Jesus:
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. [1 Corinthians 4]
You see the Kingdom lifestyle? Here's more:
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. [2 Corinthians 6]
But again, sadly, we see a lot of topnotch ministers today with big ministries who live like kings in earthly palaces, enjoying luxuries and lots of material possessions. We see a lot of church denominations owning vast properties and palatial buildings. Sometimes, they look more worldly than the world.
But don't get me wrong. The Gospel does not promote poverty. Being in poverty is wrong. Jesus and the Acts church never had money problems. They never asked or solicited a single cent from other people. "No one among them was in need." And "they gave to anyone who had need."
Yet, they stuck to their Kingdom lifestyle. Jesus became poor so we might become rich. But this is Kingdom riches which the world knows nothing of. It is riches which keep you away from wearing fine clothes and being found in kings' palaces. It is "having nothing yet possessing everything."
Someday soon, church today would finally re-discover God's Kingdom and righteousness and transform into the glorious church of the Kingdom. Then all things will be added unto them.
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