A Bible study through John 1-6
Every king needs a herald. Every victory needs a forerunner. Every Savior needs a prophet to prepare the way. Before Jesus started His earthly ministry, God raised up another man to prepare the people. John the Baptist was a distant cousin of Jesus. Born to two older parents who were most likely beyond childbearing years at the time of his birth, John’s life was destined by God and filled with purpose. He was a man with a special mission to fulfill and job to accomplish, and he executed his divine calling with excellence and boldness.
While John the Baptist was only about six months older than Jesus, he started his ministry much earlier. His bold proclamation of God’s Word sparked a revival in Israel. Called “John the Baptist” because he regularly baptized Jews in the Jordan River, John’s ministry became so successful that many asked him if he was the promised Messiah. His answer to these questions gives us great insight into his humble heart, his recognition of his appropriate place in God’s story, and his great example of always pointing to Christ.
“John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ ‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’”
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’”
John was Jesus’s forerunner. He was not the main guy for this period of history, and he knew that. He understood his place in God’s plan and embraced it with humility, gratitude, and enthusiasm. When asked if he was someone special, John was quick to give an accurate picture of his life mission and point people to the Messiah who was coming.
John had an extremely successful ministry. He had many followers and disciples who followed him in the same manner that Jesus’s disciples would later shadow Jesus. John’s preaching drew crowds and bore much fruit as many were baptized in the Jordan River each time. He had everything we, in modern society, would deem evidence of greatness. He had fame, followers, success, and authority. However, John did not view these elements as marks of greatness but humbly understood and recognized that his mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah.
While John’s ministry started first and was the greatest spiritual move of God in Israel since the time of the prophets, he wasn’t the main act for this period of history. On the contrary, his ministry was more of the preshow or introduction scene of the story God was going to unfold. John understood this and was, therefore, ready and able to exalt Jesus the moment He showed up. John knew that someone greater was coming and it was his job to use the platform God had given him to highlight and point people to God’s Anointed.
So what can we learn from this? The platforms God gives us are never for ourselves. The influence, authority, following, and success we may experience in life and ministry is not for us to hold as evidence of our giftedness or greatness as a devout Christian, but rather, to leverage and use to exalt and point people to Christ. Our lives should never be about us—what we can do, the impact we can have on people, or the success we might attain. Rather, it should all be focused on declaring one thing: “Behold the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.”
Therefore, in light of John the Baptist, how are you going to reframe the way you look at your life and ministry? How has your view of success and fame been challenged by John’s example of humble service? In what ways can you better exalt Christ in and through your life whether at work, home, church, or everyday life?
God has written us into His glorious story and given us unique gifts, abilities, platforms, and opportunities. However, we must also remember that we are not the main character. This story is all about Jesus and what God has and is doing in the world. Therefore, no matter what life holds, whether we attain success or not, or if we’re entrusted with followers, may we always remember to humbly recognize our proper place in the story of God and be quick to point people to the One who is greater than us: Jesus Christ. May John’s words concerning his ministry versus Jesus’s become our anthem and daily prayer:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”