There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
John 1:6-9 (NIV)
John the apostle, the author of this gospel, is widely believed to have been a disciple of John the baptizer before he was a disciple of Jesus; one of those who followed Jesus and spent the day with Him right after His baptism. (Cf. John 1:35-39.) One of the most amazing things to me is how John lived his life, especially the role that God had laid out for him to play.
John was destined to take the back seat to Jesus from before he was even born. Zechariah, his father, was told by the angel Gabriel: “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17 NIV) And after he was born, his father echoed those words in his own prophecy about his son: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79 NIV) John wasn’t the main attraction in this show. His job was to introduce the main attraction, and then move silently into the wings while the audience’s attention shifted to the star.
Now, a lot of people in that position might feel a little let down, knowing that not only were they NOT the star of the show, but that there was no way to even work up to being the star of the show; no hopes of practicing or polishing or improving so that you could move up from opening act to headliner; no possibility of ever being more than a second stringer. It might make you feel frustrated; like finding something else to do with your life that didn’t have a built-in glass ceiling.
But John seems to have been perfectly content to fulfill the role that God had called him to. He never tried to steal the show, or upstage the star. Even his own disciples didn’t understand it! When people started drifting away from him to follow Jesus, John’s calm reply was, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:27-30 NIV) And that was that.
John, in the introduction to his gospel makes it very clear that John the baptizer was NOT the light of the world, but only a witness to that light. His job was simply to prepare and point. To prepare the people so that when the light does appear, there would be a group of people all ready to follow Him. And to point to the light when He does appear so that the people will know that HE is the one that they need to follow. And John did both of those jobs flawlessly. He preached to the people messages that pierced their hearts and moved them to solidly repent of their sins. And, when Jesus came, he pointed Him out as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the whole world.
God still needs the same kind of selfless, obedient people today. People who are willing to take the backseat to Jesus, and NOT try to become the stars of the show. People who are willing to boldly speak God’s word to the people to bring them to repentance, and do it without putting themselves on a pedestal. People who are willing to prepare the way for Jesus to come into the hearts of the people, pointing away from themselves and directing the people to Jesus so that they can follow Him with all their hearts, and then going out and finding more people to bring along the same journey.
In the new, Spirit-led economy that Jesus initiated on the day of Pentecost, this John-the-baptizer job has been given very specifically to the followers of Jesus known as Christians. To help us to develop the right mindset, Jesus showed by both word and action that we need to serve one another instead of trying for the top spot. To help us to develop the right passion, Jesus told us clearly about the glories of heaven and the horrors of hell, and helped us to see how people walking in the darkness were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36-38 NIV) And to help us see the right vision, Jesus told us that our job was to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) The job is still there, it still needs doing, and it is up to us to keep pointing the way to the light.