There’s an interesting (if not strange) phenomenon known as Jerusalem Syndrome. The term describes an intense religious psychosis that is triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It typically resolves on departure, or at least quickly thereafter. Basically, people afflicted with Jerusalem Syndrome think they are the Messiah.

I’ve seen this with my own eyes, and actually met a person who thinks they are Jesus Christ. I think he thinks that, but I’m not 100% sure; and, come to think of it, neither is he. But then we ARE dealing with a psychotic, right?

His real name is Michael. And he is capable of what appears to be “normal” conversation. The last conversation I had with him was just outside the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem’s Old City. Michael, like many people similarly afflicted, was dressed in what one would think of as “clothes from the time of Jesus.” He had a white linen garment that went down to his ankles, and a sleeveless tunic that covered it. He carried a woven bag with a shoulder strap that held his belongings. Michael has grown his hair and beard, too; so he has the general appearance of a period actor playing the role.

Perhaps he spotted my purple shirt with the clerical collar. (It does tend to stand out a bit in a crowd.) But the last couple of times Michael has seen me in Jerusalem, he strolled over and engaged me in a conversation. It is a strange experience. He’s standing there asking typical questions I’ve been asked by tourists, topics such as where I’m from and how long I’ll be in the Holy City; but he looks for all the world like he’s just stepped off the set of The Chosen. And though I’m being polite in my responses to him, inside myself I’m feeling very, very sorry for him. He’s confused.

Today’s verse tells us about someone who most certainly was not confused.

There’s actually quite a lot we don’t know about John the Baptist. You may have heard of the denomination called the Baptist Church, but John wasn’t a Baptist in that sense. (For that matter, Pontius Pilate wasn’t a pilot; but I digress.) We don’t know much about how he grew up, which synagogue or rabbi he studied with or what trade he may have been trained in. Most particularly, we have no idea how God revealed John’s calling and mission to him. But we know that He did. We also know that from day one John was never confused about who the real Messiah was, either.

After hearing about the angelic announcement to John’s parents, we hear almost nothing else until John just “appears” on the pages of scripture as a man on a mission. Mark, the writer of the second gospel, says he just appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance. We are never told how John learned about the Word who was with God at the beginning, the Word who was Himself God. John knew that all things were made through Him, and that he would judge the world; but we have no idea how John was taught about Christ. One of the key things John knew about Jesus was that in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. John knew that Jesus’ light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.

And most of all, John wasn’t confused about who the Light was. He knew that he himself was NOT the light.

Lots of people wondered if John was the Messiah, even the Pharisees in Jerusalem. They actually sent some priests and Levites down to the Jordan River where John was preaching and baptising to interrogate him and find out who John really was.

“Who are you?” they demanded.

John knew what they were REALLY asking, so he told them plainly, “I am not the Messiah.”

Then they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” The Jews knew that Elijah would return to welcome the Messiah. In fact, at every kosher Passover celebration, a seat is set for the Prophet Elijah, in case he should return that night. At one point in the Passover celebration, someone goes to the door to see if Elijah is coming to dine with them.

John told them he was not Elijah, nor the Prophet who was supposed to announce the arrival of the Messiah. I find it interesting that he didn’t know that he actually WAS fulfilling both those roles. But that’s another story, and one we don’t have time for here this morning.

The gang from Jerusalem gets frustrated with John’s answers and asks him again who he is. I can almost picture one of them saying something like, “Would you PLEASE stop telling us who you are NOT, and just tell us who you ARE!!” Finally John says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”


John came as a witness to the Light. And he did a great job. His ministry helped us to learn about light while we were still in darkness. Now we know that, if we walk in the light we receive from Jesus (the one who TRULY IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD), we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Our personal darkness remains. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He shines the light of His truth into our lives.

Do you remember Michael, the man with the religious psychosis I mentioned earlier? I said that I felt very sorry for him, and I’d like to explain why; because it may not be for the reason you think.

I feel sorry for Michael because his mental illness deludes him into thinking he doesn’t need the Light of the World. Michael THINKS that his entry to heaven is guaranteed because of who he is, because he THINKS he is Jesus. He thinks he is The Light. His psychosis doesn’t let him see the truth about himself, that he is trapped in darkness. He’s hopelessly confused.

I also feel sorry for other people who are deluded into thinking they don’t need Jesus either. They think their entry to heaven is guaranteed because of who they are. They think they are good people. Or that they are rich. Or that they see the way to eternal peace better than God does. Those people don’t know that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. They are hopelessly confused, too.

God is not confused. Jesus is THE light of the world. The Father sent Jesus once. Jesus paid the price for our sins once. And He has offered the only acceptable price for our sin. He’s the only hope for the hopelessly confused.

John the Baptist was not confused. Neither am I.

How about you?

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