John the Baptist, Total Rockstar
The older I get, the more I admire John the Baptist.
He, like Mary and a few other people in the Bible, are all the more remarkable for the fact that they at times achieved Jesus-like moments of spiritual realization, while being fully human themselves.
And yet their moments of humanity, where they clearly can’t keep up with Jesus, make them all the more endearing.
Stop for a moment and consider this incident with John in our gospel today.
This is the culmination of his ministry—proclaiming to the world that Jesus is the Lamb of God.
He went through all the years in the desert, years one assumes were necessary to understand the message he was to deliver.
Then he baptized Jesus—what a pinnacle of joy! He has prepared the way for the Lord, and now announces him to the world.
But then it’s all over in the space of a few seconds.
“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”
Just like that, end of story.
John is no longer in the picture.
His disciples have just abandoned him to follow Jesus.
John’s ministry is over in the space of ten seconds, in one conversation.
John is no longer important.
He’s no longer necessary.
He has lost his job, his friends, and his purpose.
And it’s only downhill from there. He’ll be in jail before long.
What kind of reward is that for his faithfulness?
But this is what makes John the Baptist so remarkable, and so worthy of our admiration and emulation.
This is what led Jesus to say, “Among those born of women, not one is greater than John.”
John, somehow, by virtue of some divine experience, was able to let everything go so that Jesus’ mission was accomplished.
John let go everything and everyone he loved, giving them all freely to Jesus, leaving him with nothing.
How did he do it?
I think there must have been something profoundly affirming for John in his opportunity to baptize Jesus.
John knows that it is absurd for him to baptize Jesus, the Messiah and the Lamb of God.
Jesus arrives at the Jordan River to be baptized, and Matthew says, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’”
And so Jesus submits to being baptized by John.
And this seems to have solidified and confirmed within John his ultimate worth and value.
Jesus needs him in this moment.
John is able to do something for Jesus that Jesus could not do for himself.
And John, already a man of keen spiritual insight, moves to a new level in his growth.
He has now completed the major work he came to earth to do, and this encounter with Jesus at the Jordan is the capstone.
But instead of feeling diminished and disappointed, John feels free, so free that he can relinquish even his own disciples to Jesus.
What John has learned is that he is of infinite value to the plan of salvation being worked out in the world, and yet at the same time that he is only one tiny part of that great plan.
Jesus’ work could not have gone forward without John, and Jesus’ work will now go forward from this point on without needing John.
He is both crucial and inconsequential, and it is his living relationship with and trust in Jesus that enables him to inhabit that space with grace and truth.
Jesus’ baptism changed John’s life as much as it changed Jesus’ life.
John says it himself: “I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
What does this have to do with our lives?
Well, try the pattern on for yourself.
What part of the work of Jesus Christ on Earth cannot be done by anyone but you?
I promise you, there is something. There is some gift and service that only you can contribute to the bringing in of the kingdom.
You are necessary. You are important. You are indispensable.
But know this also: you are but a grain of sand in the unfolding of salvation history.
In the sweep of the cosmos, you are tiny and many people will never know you or notice you.
This is the greatest of good news, because it means that it doesn’t all depend on you!
You don’t have to figure it all out or do it all right.
You are but one tiny thread in the great tapestry of love that is weaving itself through time and space.
Take refuge and peace in your smallness—it is a profound blessing. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant when he said his yoke was easy and his burden was light.
John had the affirmation of his importance when he baptized Jesus—he was center stage and the star of the show.
He knew that he was loved and important and that God needed him and cherished him.
Having had that grounding in who he was as a beloved child of God, he was then able to move to something greater, something harder, something deeper—holding himself and everything he had achieved so lightly that it was a delight to release it all to Jesus.
John’s former disciples come to him talking of Jesus, basically asking if John is jealous, and John says, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John doesn’t have to be the star of the show anymore.
He doesn’t have to be the bridegroom, and he not only is content to be the bridegroom’s friend, he takes joy in it.
This, I feel, is where we must pray to be led spiritually, that our hunger for status and approval and attention is deeply satisfied by our knowledge of God’s love for us.
Then and only then can we release everything in our lives—friends, wealth, work, time, life itself—into Jesus, knowing he will make better use of them than we ever could.
That is what John did.
It took many years of living in a lonely desert for him to arrive at this place of spiritual grace.
So take heart if your prayer life or your church participation feels like a desert.
You may be being prepared for the great work of your life.
And if, like John, you can understand how much Jesus needs you to help him do his work in the world, you will be able to hand everything you’ve worked for over to Jesus without a second thought.
You will be able to decrease so Jesus may increase.
But it won’t feel like getting smaller at all.
You will suddenly hear the great symphony of salvation of which you are a single note and know your life has made God sing.
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