This weekend the church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist. Few people in the Bible were as colorful and controversial—and passionate—as John the Baptist.
John was the first person in Scripture to acknowledge that Jesus is the Lord. When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, greeted Elizabeth, pregnant with John, Elizabeth exclaimed, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy!” (Knowing John’s personality, Elizabeth’s belly probably quivered like a sack full of puppies.)
John’s divinely ordained mission in salvation history was that of forerunner. His job was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. It was only a supporting role in the grand story of God’s relationship with mankind. However, he played the part with passion and joy, and most importantly, he did not upstage the star of the show.
John the Baptist lived a counter-culture lifestyle and didn’t care what anyone thought about him. He lived in the desert, and as Matthew’s gospel explains, “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair….His food was locusts and wild honey.” (This is weird, even by California standards.)
John was also brash and bold. When the respected religious leaders from Jerusalem came to see him, he shouted in their faces, “You brood of vipers!” Later on, he publicly denounced King Herod’s adulterous affair, and as a result was quickly tossed into prison. Soon after, Herod had John executed.
Although John’s brashness and boldness were obvious to anyone who came near him, his greatest trait, the one which guided his life the most, was humility. Now wait a minute, you say. Humility? John wasn’t humble. He was loud and obnoxious and he drew a big crowd wherever he went. How can you say humility was his greatest trait?
Well, we need to remember the true definition of humility. Being quiet and shy does not automatically make a person humble. Humility is being unconcerned about yourself—not comparing yourself to others nor worrying about what they think of you.
The opposite of humility is pride (the first and worst of all sins). Just as loud and brash people can be humble—if they are unconcerned about themselves—quiet and reserved people can be filled with sinful pride.
John the Baptist was not concerned with typical prideful thoughts, such as: “What’s in it for me?” “What will other people think of me?” “Does this camel’s hair robe make my butt look big?”
As John was baptizing people in the Jordan River, some wondered whether he was the long-awaited Messiah. John quickly refuted the idea. “I baptize you with water for repentance,” he declared. “But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.”
John easily could have parlayed his popularity into greater power and influence. But as soon as Jesus appeared, John knew it was time to step aside and let the true star have center stage.
When Jesus came to John to be baptized, John was stunned. He tried to deter Jesus and said, “I need to be baptized by you.” A prideful person never would have done that.
John the Baptist is a wonderful role model for all believers. His only desire was to do God’s will. He didn’t care about himself or what others thought about him. He directed everyone’s attention to Jesus rather than to himself. And to make things a bit more exciting, he didn’t hesitate to point out hypocrisy when he saw it, whether he was confronting pompous religious officials or the secular ruler of the land, King Herod himself.
We all should follow his lead: seek God’s will, and do it boldly, passionately, and most of all, humbly.