John the Baptist


John the Baptist

 

One of the Bible characters we don’t talk about much is John the Baptist.  Perhaps it’s because John the Baptist represents a holy man in whom we can’t easily identify.  Unlike David or Paul, he appears to have lived an almost flawless life.  And of course it was cut short by King Herod when he was merely 30 years old. 

 

But I am inspired by this man’s life and hope that you think about what his life represents.

 

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea  and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord,  make straight paths for him.’”   John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”  Matthew 3:1-6, NIV

 

Repent and prepare for Jesus. i.e. show signs that you’ve repented before you claim you are ready to be baptized.  Those are the two things that stand out in my mind about John the Baptist.

Again, he was a holy, man, that is, one set apart for God’s work.   He did not focus up himself,  promote himself, or beg people to follow his blogs.  John’s entire short life was all about preparing, preaching, teaching and explaining  the coming of Jesus… and the need for folks to prepare a place for Jesus—-not John the Baptist—in their hearts. This is the task of any minister, pastor, evangelist, missionary or parent. We are to prepare the way for Jesus to enter into the minds, hearts and souls of those that don’t know Him—-and then, at least for a time, to be forgotten. It’s not about us, and we would be wise to see that John the Baptist found peace, power and  purpose in that. There’s no record of him ever being unhappy, depressed or wanting to “throw in the towel” because he was not being recognized or cheered!

But some folks did not like John the Baptist and it got him into trouble.  From all I can read, he did exactly what God told him to do and he was persecuted for it.  So why did some folks not like him very much—-particularly the most prominent leaders within the temple and even the King?   This verse helps explain it—-and illustrates the integrity and passion on John the Baptist:

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Matthew 3:1-10 , NIV

Can you imagine a pastor or priest giving a call to salvation like that today?  Would a pastor talk like this to a crowd of unbelievers?  But John did not beg folks to come to come the river and get baptized, or to follow him into the wilderness as he preached about repentance.  He was authentic and the common people recognized it.

Imagine a church that taught people that they need God, not the other way around, or that they can only receive the new birth if they repent—-and then prove it.  You would not last long as a pastor at most churches if you preached like that.   And if the church really did this,  you might have fewer folks in church—-at least for a while.  And some members might stop coming forever. But the church might find also find  its moral footing again and awaken to a new chapter in the history of Christianity.  But must preach and teach with the fire of John the Baptist about man needs for God.  And yes, some won’t like it. In fact, if everyone praises my preaching, I’m probably a part of the problem as to why Christianity is diminishing in the USA and Europe today.

So what was John like and how did he go about his work for God?

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 2:4-8, NIV

People came to him, the entire nation—-because he authentically  preached the good news.  God drew people to John because he courageously called people to repent.  And yet there was also a humility about John that was compelling.  Comparing himself to Jesus, he saw himself as totally unworthy. But no man that teaches or preaches about Jesus is ever worthy—-they’re called to preach, not qualified to preach. It’s an insult to a holy God to talk about the sacrifices we’ve made to serve as missionaries, camp directors, pastors, or church workers.  It is the greatest  privilege bestowed upon a man or woman  to serve a holy God —and to serve Him in any manner He chooses to use us!  John the Baptist knew his place and kept his feet on the ground.  He didn’t talk about himself but about the One that was coming.

What did Jesus, God’s  Son, say about John?

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  Matthew 11:7-17, NIV

Two startling things Jesus said: (1) NO ONE born on the earth was a great as John, (2) but those within the kingdom—-ALL OF THEM—are even greater! 

This is not to suggest that  John the Baptist was “inferior” to the latter followers of the risen Lord,  but a reference to how people under the law were judged and how those covered by the blood of Christ are judged.  Outside of Christ we can all do good things. It’s undeniable. Some very, very good things were accomplished by men and women that were not Christians.  All that man does is not evil—sometimes people do kind and charitable things. 

 

But John the Baptist was not baptized with the Holy Spirit and had not received regeneration God used him, and many before him,  for great purposes!  But those within the kingdom, i.e. the redeemed and born again, are considered greater than this saint of a man because of their spiritual DNA. John was still required to offer sacrifices for his sins—-our sins are covered forever.  In the eyes of God, we’ve been justified forever. That’s something John could not claim.

 

Jesus then addresses the crowd about John's legacy. He contrasts John's poor attire and diet to that of the other religious show offs.  What would Jesus say today about modern day John the Baptists versus modern day spiritual buffoons?

In my home, nothing irritates me more than Tommy or Tyler (my two young sons) ignoring me when I am talking to them or calling them.  It’s funny, but when they are upstairs or in a room with the door shut, they hear every word I speak quietly and in confidence to my oldest, but they can be right in front of me, but fixated upon one os Steve’s Jobs electronic marvels, and claim that they did not hear me.  The truth is they did not want  to hear me or ignored what I said.

 

Now I realize that John had a special call upon him before he was born, but the man was free to disregard the Lord’s voice also——just like you and me.  All men and women are free to say they “didn’t hear” God’s voice.  But John listened, and here’s one important  reason: His father, Zechariah. God told John’s father what He intended for John, and the father, Zechariah, told his little son all about it and raised the son accordingly.  Think of what God said to Zechariah through the angel:  Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  Luke 1:11-17, NIV

 

Zechariah had a responsibility before God to not only raise his son accordingly, but also to be sure that John knew, as soon as he was able to understand him, just how important, set apart and special to God he was.   Do we treat our sons and daughters the same? They are gifts from God,  and He has plans for them them that we should be repeating to them. Are we?  Our sons and daughters, like every son and daughter in a Christian home, should be brought up “to bring people to the Lord their God….and to prepare for them to meet the Son of God.”  Each one should be brought up like a little John the Baptist—-not a representative of our pride or extended egos.  Are they?

Let me close by sharing this about Zechariah, the father, and John the Baptist, the son.  The son must have witnessed, first hand, the humility and faith of his father. I think it helped sustain him while he was alone in the dessert, wasting away in Herod’s prison, or enduring a single and celibate life right up until his execution.  Zechariah raised a good son—-one that God has special plans for.  

Last night I had one of the dreams I often have that relate to the devotions I offer.  Dreams are often His means of reminding us of something, or warning us about something or showing us something.   Last night He showed me something about me that’s holding me back. In my dream I was confronted by the camp’s office manager; she asked me if had ever commented that I felt she needed more help in the office. I could not remember if I had or not, but she said that it offended her and she quit. I was dumbfounded at how she could be upset about something that I was not even sure I had said, and even if I did, “so what?”  But then she began to attack me with many other things that I had she said I done that were wrong in her mind. The points she made were ridiculous, and I got angry. Even though I had all my extended family descending upon me that day in the dream, and even though two buses of children were arriving at the camp, I plowed through my family and all the campers that were so happy to see me to find two close friends to assist me while I confronted this lunatic of a secretary.  In my dream nothing mattered, not my family or the guests or all the other good things going on. AllI wanted to do was to put this staff in her place and to have two confidants watch me do it and hear for themselves the idiocy of her complaints.

And as all four of us were assembled in my office and I readied myself to unveil  how ludicrous her accusations were was and how innocent I was, the Lord woke me up and reminded me how unlike John the Baptist or Zechariah I presently am. Neither Zechariah or his son John lived their lives defending their actions or explaining the miraculous hand of God upon them. They surely endured ridicule, rumors and unkindness—-but their eyes were steadfast upon God.

It seems to me that we have fewer John the Baptists and Zechariah’s not because of a lack of inspiration from God—-it’s still there and God is still calling men and women to service.  No, those who God might be calling seem to quite unable to rise to the challenge because of egos/pride, being unprepared to wait for God to sort things out, and in general, a narcissistic habit looking in the mirror too much… and at the cross too little.


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