John the Baptist doesn’t get talked about very much. He doesn’t appear in many discussions, and he doesn’t get a lot of notoriety. Probably the biggest claim to fame he has in our society today is a verse in a dc Talk song, Jesus Freak. But even then, that verse never mentions his name. You just have to know Scripture to know what the verse is talking about:
“There was a man from the desert with naps in his head
The sand that he walked was also his bed
The words that he spoke made the people assume
There wasn’t too much left in the upper room
With skins on his back and hair on his face
They thought he was strange by the locusts he ate
The Pharisees tripped when they heard him speak
Until the king took the head of this Jesus freak ”
I mean, if you know Scripture, you know his story. You know he baptized Jesus. And you know he was killed after he pissed off King Herod. But not many know he wrote the first chapter of the Book of John. Just the first chapter, though. And not many know the miraculous story of his birth. And not many also know that Isaiah made a prophecy about John the Baptist in Isaiah 40:3-5. But I will be the first to admit that I really didn’t know the song of dedication his father, Zechariah, sang at his birth until this morning.
This is the last part of the song, found in Luke 1:76-79 (the whole song starts at verse 68).
76 “And you, my little son,
will be called the prophet of the Most High,
because you will prepare the way for the Lord.
77 You will tell his people how to find salvation
through forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,[h]
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace.”
I know parents have high expectations for their children, but wow. This is a lot to live up to. But this was more than just John’s parents’ expectations: this was a prophecy from the Holy Spirit. John was born to declare the coming of Christ.
John the Baptist was born to God’s prophet. He was born, and the Bible says he lived in the wilderness until it was time for him to appear publicly in Israel. He was a wild man who lived on locusts and honey and wore animal skins and he spoke truth and he directed people to Christ and identified him as the Messiah.
Did God need an introduction? Did God need a prophet? Did Jesus need someone to go before Him and make sure people knew who He was? Well, I don’t think He necessarily needed it. God doesn’t need anything from any of us.
But there’s something that we need to remember. People had been declaring the coming of Christ for thousands of years. But up until this point in history, God had been silent. Did you realize that? There was a massive time of silence between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament — like 500 years worth of silence.
Can you imagine that? Going 500 years without hearing from God? We get impatient when we don’t get an answer from God in five minutes, let alone 500 years. But that was the situation Israel was in. They had been taken into captivity, and while God hadn’t abandoned them, He wasn’t talking to them.
Until the angel appeared to John the Baptist’s father. I may have my timing off. Mary may have gotten her news first, that she would bear the Christ child, but John was born before Jesus was. So I’m pretty sure Zechariah and Elizabeth had to be told first.
So I wonder if God appointed John to be the forerunner of Christ to help people remember that He was still working. After 500 years of silence, if Christ has just shown up and started doing miracles, would people have listened? Would they have paid attention? Or would they have just written Him off as a nutcase?
The thing that interests me about John the Baptist is that his purpose was super important but once he accomplished that purpose, he disappeared. He pretty much became nonessential. And there is even a Scripture somewhere, I think it’s in John, where he says that he must decrease so that Christ could increase. And that’s really what happened.
John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ to stand up and teach people how to be saved. And then, well, he died. And maybe that seems unfair, but I don’t think so. I think we all have a purpose similar to John’s. If we believe in Christ, we are all His ambassadors down here.
And it’s not that we can go places that Christ can’t. Obviously, Christ can go anywhere. God made everything and can go places we can’t. But God gives us the opportunity to speak to people who don’t know Him yet. And if they choose to follow Christ, then it’s our job to step back and let God work in their lives. It’s our job to lead people to Christ and then get out of the way. But that’s hard sometimes, especially for control freaks like me.
Our job is to get them to the door. It’s their choice to open it, and if they decide to open it, we have to let them walk through alone and do whatever it is that God wants them to do.
Now that doesn’t mean we can’t be there for them. But it does mean that we need to stop trying to control people and their decisions.
Just something to think about on this Monday before Christmas in 2011. We may be the ones who help prepare people to accept Christ, but once they make that choice, we need to step back and let God lead them. He knows better than we do anyway. We aren’t their Holy Spirit. Christ must increase in their lives, and He can’t do that until we decrease.