John the Baptist: The Greatest Guy
Which Bible hero do you most want to be like? Brave Esther? Faithful Abraham? Wise Solomon? Before you answer, I should mention that Jesus long ago announced his choice for best hero from among all the people up until his time. Jesus said none was greater than John the Baptist.
John was a Jewish prophet in the days before Jesus began ministering. Every one of the four Gospels explains John’s purpose by quoting Isaiah 40: “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!’” (Matthew 3:3, NLT; see also Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23). John helped people get ready for Jesus by preaching that they should repent—turn to God—and be baptized. There’s much to admire about John.
John was authentic. He didn’t claim to be a prophet while personally enjoying a soft life. Although the son of a priest, he lived in the desert. “John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4, NLT).
John exposed religious pretense. Baptism in those days was usually for outsiders who wanted cleansing as they came to God. But John preached baptism for everyone, even the high-up Pharisees and Sadducees. “‘You brood of snakes!’ he exclaimed. ‘Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God’” (Matthew 3:7-8, NLT).
John was brave. He spoke the truth to powerful people, including King Herod. Calling the king to repent ended up costing John his life.
John was humble. He was so popular that people thought he might be the Messiah. But he pointed them away from himself to Jesus. He said, “I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal” (John 1:27).
John was unselfish. He was so focused on Jesus that some of his own disciples left to follow Jesus instead. He said of Jesus, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30).
So we can see why Jesus might call John the greatest. Here’s that quote from Jesus: “I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!” (Luke 7:28).
Oh, yes. Did I forget to mention that when Jesus called John the greatest, in the same breath he said you and I can be greater still?
You see, John stood on the cusp of a new order. Life in Jesus’ Kingdom is so vastly superior to any other life—so full of honor—that to be attached to Jesus and his purposes makes you greater than John. Does that mean more authentic? More unpretentious? More brave and humble and unselfish? Could you and I become that kind of guy or gal?
Yes. Part of the new order is that we are changed. In Luke 16:16 Jesus explains why his Kingdom is better: “Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in” (NLT). Don’t miss out, Jesus says. Be eager, because now your life is based on the Good News.
What’s the Good News? Well, back when Jesus mentioned all who’d ever lived, did you wonder about Jesus himself? Surely he was greater than John. But Jesus’ life path was the opposite of ours. He was born not to become great, but to be rejected. He lived on earth, yes, but only because he’d left a throne in heaven to die for sin. He gave up greatness, that you and I might gain greatness.
This Good News holds power. It changes hearts in a way the old repentance, good as it was, simply failed to do. Want to be great? You and I would do well to heed Jesus’ teaching. Be eager to get in. Go all out to understand the Cross. Be intentional about knowing Jesus better every day. That’s where true greatness comes from.