And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”- Mark 1, verses 7 and 8.
The life of John the Baptist was summed up in the verses you read above. Indeed, the life of every person on this planet, either before John or since, is the same sum. His entire message, his entire purpose for living, was to announce that the Messiah was coming. We aren’t worthy to justify ourselves in front of God; our wrongs are too glaring, too angry. John knew this and he preached it to the varied masses of his day. The Pharisees came to see him, and they were the power-brokers in the Temple. Businessmen came to see him, just like businessmen are today. The poor, the wretched, the miserable, the searching, the lonely: they all went out to listen to the strange man in the desert preaching his message of hard repentance and velvet-soft forgiveness.
Let’s not idealize John the Baptist, though, especially since Mark is nearly done introducing him. Yet even in these two verses we learn a bit more about John and how he viewed his divine calling. Do you read, like I do, that he was realistic about it? John realized that he was only giving a symbolic baptism, only imparting a message of love and warning. He understood that Jesus was coming – and coming soon – and that He would have the power of God Almighty in Him. Real life would come from His rebirth. Jesus would do things nobody ever had, and doing that would change everything.
Yet John was humble. He understood his place as messenger and not message. John understood that, even by living a simple life of denial, he was a sinner and needed God’s forgiveness. To even do the most ignoble of things for the Messiah was impossible because John realized he was unfit because of his sins. John wasn’t like we were today, announcing everything we think and do on Facebook, or sending our selfies around the globe in the name of our personal vanity. John the Baptist was humble.
John didn’t duck from his message either. It was a hard calling that God gave to him. Live a tough life. Preach a tough message to tough people whose hearts will be hardened towards you. Do it to foreshadow One who will be greater than you. The glory won’t be yours, but His. Do you think, when John was meeting people at the Jordan, he knew what kind of death he would face as well? If he did, the Baptist didn’t show it. He preached bold and loud.
He did that because he understood the stakes. The damned and dirty who trod out to see him were damned and dirty without God’s forgiveness. Their spiritual loneliness could only be filled by the Divine; their depravity could only be washed away by turning away from their sins and starting anew. John understood that the chosen people of God had prostituted themselves throughout most of history and they needed a Savior. His place was to prepare them to meet that Savior, to do the groundwork so that, when the Savior appeared, His people might be ready to receive Him.
Lord, thank You for Your patience, Your love, and Your message. Help me to be bold for You with them today.
Read the descriptions of John’s habits in Mark 1 and Matthew 3.