John the Baptist: A God's General
I recently read the book: “God’s generals”. For those who have not read it, it is a book that speaks about famous ministers that acted in the 19th and 20th centuries. For each of the figured ministers there is a biographical account of their high and low times, together with comments by the author. Affected by this, I was thinking today to have a look at the account the Bible gives for a God’s general well known among Bible students, namely for John the Baptist.
1. Not superhuman
I believe God has put the stories of such men as John, Paul, Elijah etc. in the Bible to teach us and show us their lives as an example. Many tend to think that these people were somehow superhuman and there is little or no similarity with the rest of us. However, this is not the case. As James characteristically says concerning Elijah:
“Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are”
and as Peter also said to Cornelius when he bowed down to him:
“Stand up; I myself am also a man”
And earlier, when the people gazed at Peter and John, after the healing of a lame, Peter said:
Acts 3:11-13, 16
“….why you look so intently at us, as though by our own power and godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus……… And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong whom you see and know”
The people of God we read about in the Bible and wonder at the works God did through them, were by no means superhuman. They were all men “subject to the same passions as we are” As Paul says in II Corinthians:
II Corinthians 3:4-6
“And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who [GOD] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit”
It is GOD that is our sufficiency. John, Paul, Peter, Elijah were no more “sufficient” than any of us. It is not needed to be superhuman, super sufficient, to do what God has called you. It is HE that is super sufficient and He certainly is as sufficient for us as He was for any of those who desired to walk with Him in the past.
2. John the Baptist
After this small introduction, let’s now turn to John the Baptist. The angel that announced his birth to his father, said about him:
“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the holy spirit even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord”
and as Jesus said later:
“But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: “Behold I send my messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You”. Assuredly I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”
The last statement is not to reduce John’s significance. He would be “great in the sight of the Lord”. Among those born of women, none had yet risen greater than him. John had a call for his life. He was to be the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ. “To make ready a people prepared for the Lord”. He had a mission to accomplish, and he was ordained for it even before his birth. Yet, this is true not for him only. As the Scripture says, we have been foreknown by God (Romans 8:29), and each one of us has been set by Him in the body of Christ with a certain function (I Corinthians 12:8). As John’s function was to be the forerunner of Christ and this function was defined by God, so also we have a function in the body, a call, that God has defined especially for each one of us. For sure, we are not accidentally on this earth. Instead, we are well known, may be not to men but certainly to God our Father.
3. In the wilderness
Not many things are written for the time before John started preaching. Luke 1:80 sums up this period as follows:
“So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel”
John was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel. He had a call from the very beginning. Yet, there was also an appointed time for its manifestation. ALL we have a function in the body of Christ, yet it is GOD that defines this function as well as how it will be manifested. As it says in I Corinthians 12:18
I Corinthians 12:18
“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body JUST AS HE PLEASED”
You do not have to seek for a place in the body of Christ. God has already placed you there and He has done it just as He pleased. HE alone has designed a function FOR YOU, He has ordained you for this function and He has equipped you to do it. Moreover, He has also defined HOW AND WHAT you will do in your function. John’s call was to prepare the way of the Lord and he knew it from the very beginning. One would imagine that as soon as he knew it, he should have stopped anything else and start preaching. Yet, John did this only after “the word of God came to him” (Luke 3:1-6). As soon as he had it, he step ahead to do it. Really Luke 3:1-6 tells us:
“Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galille, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. AND [after the word of God came to him] he went into all the region around the Jordan, PREACHING a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”
John was appointed by God with a special function. He was to be the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, to prepare the way of the Lord, and preach the baptism of repentance. He could go ahead from the very beginning and do what he might have thought would satisfy his mission in the best way. He could have come up with one thousand ideas, about how he was to fulfill his mission better. Yet he didn’t do this. Instead he waited till he had a word from God. As soon as he had it, and without a second thought, he started doing what he was told: preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. God has appointed us in the body of Christ with a certain function, defining also how and what we will do in our function. John didn’t start preaching but ONLY WHEN “THE WORD OF GOD CAME TO HIM”. And this happened….. in the wilderness. This was John’s “training center”. The times we may not appreciate at all, the deserts, may really be the very times God use for our training. Then, when the flesh and its actions are broken there, we will be ready to do, not what we think we should do for Him, but what HE HAS CALLED US TO DO from the very beginning.
4. “To the multitudes that came out”
And the gospel of Luke continues:
“Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire””
“The multitudes came out to be baptized by John”. It was not John that tried to attract them though. For sure, he was not diplomatic when he called their generation “Brood of vipers”. Obviously, he didn’t try to please them. Instead, he spoke what God wanted him to speak in the volume He wanted him to speak it.
John’s ministry prospered as he followed what God had appointed him to do. He didn’t do any miracle (John 10:4), at least there is no record of one. He didn’t advertise himself. Yet, the people knew they had encountered a prophet. There are people today going around and say “I’m a teacher” or ”I’m a prophet”. John didn’t do this. He didn’t make a campaign commending himself as a prophet. In fact, you will nowhere find him saying he was a prophet. Yet, the people knew it. The Lord confirmed it.
If John lived today, millions would have come to him. However, John was not after the multitudes. When his ministry was up to the skies, with multitudes coming to him and when everyone was thinking that he might be the Christ, John «confessed and did not deny»:
“I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I’ m not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said”
John didn’t try to take for himself all those popular titles as Christ, Elijah or the prophet - though prophet and Elijah were titles that would fit very well to him. He was these. Yet this was not the point. What was the point was that he was doing what he had been appointed to do. He was to be a voice of one crying in the wilderness and that’s exactly what he was. Our concern should not be to get a title, a name, but to do what God has appointed us to do, whatever this may be and regardless of the name it may have.
5. “All are coming to Him”
John’s popularity was very high. He was very famous …. Till Jesus’ ministry started. It seems that when the Lord’s ministry started, John ministry reached an end. The once popular minister was now watching the multitudes to leave him and follow the Lord. What was his reaction? John 3 tells us:
“And they came to John and said to him, “Rabi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified - behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I’m not the Christ”, but “I have been sent before Him” He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John was not after the multitudes and thus he didn’t feel uncomfortable seeing his ministry decreasing. In contrast, when the time arrived, he show to the people to turn away from him to follow the Lord and this was his joy. At the end John ended up into prison, where he was beheaded. As Hebrews 11 says for those who as him had a martyr’s death:
“Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheep skins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented - of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth”
John - as well as those of Hebrews 11:35-38 - was a man like us. Yet, he was determined. He could have denied his call and just live as all the others of his age (he was around 30!). It would have been much more easier. Wouldn’t it? Yet, he preferred to follow God. The Christian way may have times of discomfort, times where you know that it would be much more easier in other paths. We will be able to walk in those narrow ways, only when our vision, the one we are looking at, is the Lord Jesus Christ. As Hebrews again says:
“let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, LOOKING UNTO JESUS THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF OUR FAITH, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The only way to run the spiritual race is by LOOKING UNTO JESUS CHRIST. Not at the things that are seen but at those who are not seen, the eternal.
II Corinthians 4:18
“we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal”