Let me ask you a question. When did John the Baptizer become John the Baptizer? Was it when he first decided to put on his camel hair garments? Was when he decided to go in his camel hair garments and preach down by the river? Could it have been when he ate locusts and with his wild hair shouted about the coming “kingdom of God”? Was it when he called the Pharisees a brood of vipers? No, it was none of those. John became John the moment he was arrested. The words he spoke became a living reality; not a look down some future prophetic road. John and his followers, among them his cousin from Nazareth, were forced to ask the question, “What do we do now?”
When John gets arrested the nature of how we talk about God’s message changes. It’s not just an existential struggle between good and evil. That’s still present and bound up with how we live every day. Once people start going to jail for what they believe, Christianity can no longer be an intellectual exercise or a good theory to be debated at parties. It has to be a way of life. Like Martin Luther King’s first arrest in Montgomery, John’s arrest is such a transition. There are two ways to talk about time in ancient Greek. One may talk about chronological time with the word “chronos”. That’s the linear sense time you and I keep with our watches and phones. The second Greek word for time is “kairos”. Jesus is saying, this is the “kairos” moment, the definitive moment in history, where everything that comes after this time will be fundamentally different than everything that came before.
Jesus tells the world to “Believe in the Good News”. Newer translations, like the CEB, have “Trust the Good the News”. That’s a better start. To get closer to reality, it reads something like, “Trust into the Good News”. The main point of John’s preaching (and Jesus’ to come) was not that people would develop or hold some kind of opinion about the good news. Instead, Jesus wants you to base your whole life on everything about the good news. Again, it’s gone from something we think about to something we live. The good news is something we can base our lives, without reservation or qualification upon by living into and trusting what Jesus says. Even if this means being arrested, being isolated, or as Psalm 25 notes being shamed while your enemies rejoice over you. Do you “trust” as Jesus says, “in” God enough, that while those painful, hurtful things are happening, that you’re going to get through to the other side? Do you trust, as the Psalmist says, a path and way, will be made known? Even though you’re weak and injustice surrounds you? Do you “trust”?