John the Baptist has been on my mind a lot today. Jesus said there was none greater born to a woman than John…but that the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than him. This mysterious kingdom of heaven….so different from the kingdoms of man!
I don’t know much about John; just what’s recorded in the Gospels. I’m not sure what Josephus or other theological historians say. I have my own ideas about him, though. Can I share?
John was just a few months older than Jesus; cousins. I don’t know whether they lived close to one another, but if they did, I can relate to cousins who feel more like siblings. When John was beheaded, it hurt Jesus deeply even though He knew John was in eternity with the Father. They had history together. They were blood.
Though I can’t back this up, I have a feeling that John was the better-looking of the two; something that perhaps he chose to downplay by his strange appearance and habits. Maximizing on a handsome ruggedness would’ve no doubt landed him a wife, maybe a position of prominence in his village–but he was not deterred by personal ambition. He knew his role, and that was to decrease so that Jesus could increase. John loved Jesus enough to want to see His destiny fulfilled even above his own. Who better to “look out for” Jesus than John? Did cousin John ever have to pull the neighborhood bullies off a boy Jesus for teasing him about Mary’s pregnancy before her marriage to Joseph?
The Word hints to us that Jesus was very ordinary in His appearance. He passed right through the crowd who was trying to throw Him off a cliff, He was so ordinary! And the Word says that there wasn’t anything about His appearance that would cause us to desire Him–not regal, not standout in any way. Yes, I believe John may have been that charismatic cousin whose natural appearance could’ve attracted people away from Jesus, had he been a typical ego-driven alpha male who used every advantage to advance himself; but I also believe that he knew how to back off to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Whether his potential success could have lay in an earthly realm, or a spiritual realm, or both–John knew that the greater glory was to be simply no glory at all. His greater glory was to prepare the way, to deflect attention away from himself and onto Jesus. I don’t believe just anybody could’ve filled that role! No wonder the Holy Spirit filled him while he was still in Elizabeth’s womb!
John had to be pretty comfortable with whom God called him to be. We don’t know how old his parents were when they passed; whether he was left alone young or whether they were still alive when he went to the wilderness to prepare for his ministry. Can you imagine, though, the pressure? He was a miracle baby too–perhaps not the miracle that Jesus’ virgin birth was, but a tangible miracle nonetheless. There was no denying the unlikelihood of his birth, so he probably had a whole village doting on him, celebrating the fact that his parents didn’t die childless. His dad, a priest, was surely pleased at the thought of a son to follow in his footsteps; and yet, this would not be the role John would play. This gifted orator, who no doubt could’ve risen in ranks in the temple, chose the temple of open air and sand in which to preach. Was there criticism? Did Zechariah and Elizabeth have to explain why their wonderful boy was not becoming a success, a protege to his priestly father? A good young husband and father of many children? Did John have to shy away from the constant naggings of the well-meaning neighborhood mothers of “a real nice Jewish girl who would make you such a good wife?”
I wonder. And I wonder if some of the things which aren’t written are what caused Jesus to say of John that there was none greater. I wonder if Jesus watched and took note of John deliberately diminishing his own successes and opportunities just so that cousin Jesus could move to the forefront. I wonder about that emotional encounter when, in the river of baptism, John preferred that Jesus baptize HIM instead. Were there nostalgic tears blinked back as this great exchange took place? Would they both go their separate ways after that baptism, full of greater love and appreciation for one another? Isn’t it wonderful to know that Jesus not only impacted the lives of others, He allowed others to impact HIM? Clearly they loved and respected one another deeply; and yet, John knew that Jesus was different. Jesus was Divine. He had a mission that was just beginning as John’s was coming to its climax. John was blown away by the magnitude of Who his cousin really was; and he would tell others that the One was coming Whose shoes he wasn’t worthy to buckle.
I really have no idea where all this is going…except it’s been on my heart today and I couldn’t wait to sit down and share it with you. I’m not trying to elevate John the Baptist above the man that he was–but to show you that God can trust someone who’s learned to push self-promotion off the burner. When you are willing to lay down every semblance of personal success, goals, gain, respect, and approval of man at the feet of Jesus, you are showing yourself to be a worthy vessel to contain the very things you lay down: because you will not allow them or yourself to be exalted above the God Who’s given you those things to steward! And here, finally, is my point.
You have a destiny that is too incredible to build merely upon what the world views as your strengths. Oh, that seems like the perfect way to get where you’re going: to be on top of the game and to outdo everyone around you. If you’re the competitive type, it feels especially good to go around your opponents on the inside track!
If God should so will for you, however, to become a different kind of great–like John, great in the kingdom by being as the least in the kingdom–could you set it all aside and be obedient to His will? If His will would elevate you to incredible heights just so that, as you were handed those trophies, you could cast them at His feet and say, “For Your glory, Lord?” You may have everything going for you, and you may be the envy of others who wish they had your popularity, your looks, your brains, your boldness; but could there be something even more important than being the kind of successful that other men and women covet?
Father, help us to know who we are in You, like John the Baptist. Help us to desire Your will above any dreams and fantasies we may have about our future. Help us to think of ETERNAL future, not just the temporal future. May all that we do attract people to YOU and not to ourselves. May we take the time we are afforded in this one vapor life, and use it to win as many people to our Savior as possible. May we be God-inside, kingdom-minded, for the greater good. May we decrease so that our Lord can increase, and may we count it all as loss! For You. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.