John the Baptist is a loveable biblical character, even if you can’t stand Jesus (Matthew 11:6).
The thing is though, John absolutely adored Jesus. John was fascinated and obsessed with Him and he knew that Jesus was what his life was about – all of it.
Even before they were born, John and Jesus shared a special spiritual bond, (see Luke 1:41) and Elizabeth was even filled with the breath of God as the potentially-aborted Jesus sovereignly encountered the two Jewish families from the womb. (I think Jesus was a being at 12 weeks, don’t you?).
But, although enjoying wild honey as a dietary staple, John didn’t ever sugar-coat what he said. Far from it. There is a singularity of focus about his life that is as clear as day, (John 3:29):
The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.
John is known as being the one who ‘cried out in the wilderness’ and who ‘prepared the way of the Lord’, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic word centuries before (Isaiah 40:3).
But what did John the Baptist actually do that was so great? And what does preparing the way of the Lord actually look like?
Sure, he sprang into baptising mode and trained his band of fasting followers. (John was a Jew so he had a group of disciples in a similar way that Jesus did. He was also the last of the Old Testament style covenantal Prophets).
Is this why he was called “great” in the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 5:19)
However, John’s primary calling was to proclaim and call to repentance – this is why I believe he was called “great” instead of “least”.
This is where we might begin to think he’s a bit of a jerk. Today, John would be called a bigot or a “hater” or even a counterfeit. All because he wasn’t declaring the proximity of the kingdom of heaven with a creamy latte and a branded welcome pack.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand
Jesus Himself continued with exactly the same, simple message,
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand
John was hidden in the wilderness for more than two decades and all for a ministry that lasted for less than a year! What a failure John would have been regarded, not to mention today by our Christian celebrity/career cultures.
Ultimately, John was imprisoned and decapitated at the whim of a spoilt brat (Matthew 14:10-11). He didn’t even have the dramatic finale of Samson.
Today, all we want to do is keep our heads. The call to repent isn’t good enough. It isn’t neat enough. It isn’t loving enough. If you call someone to repent today you become a walking target for UK church leaders, some of whom are as soft as a Mr Whippy in the scorching summer sun.
Friends, if it was good enough for John and it was good enough for the Lord of Glory, then it is most certainly good enough for us today.
As they went away, (hold on a minute, guys!!!!) Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. (Matthew 11: 7-9)