The words of the Lord Jesus, recorded in Matthew 11:11, are truly amazing: “Verily, I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” What a commendation! This was the verdict of the Son of God. Child Of Destiny John was certainly a child of destiny. Luke is the only gospel writer to describe his birth. As a doctor, Luke would have been interested in this because John’s birth was something of a miracle. Early in the first chapter, Luke presents to his readers two elderly, godly people who “had no child” and for whom it was too late to expect one (Lk. 1:7). Zechariah was a priest in the temple at Jerusalem, and while he was going about his daily tasks an angel appeared with the wonderful news that the prayers he and his wife had offered had been heard. A child would be born and was to be given the name John. His birth would bring great joy to his parents, and many others would rejoice in it. The child to be born would “be great in the sight of the Lord.” He was to abstain from alcohol, and he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his conception (Lk. 1:15). He would be a remarkable child. Zechariah found all this too hard to believe, and as a consequence was left speechless until the baby was born. However, when he wrote the words, “his name is John” some nine months later, his tongue was freed and he was able to speak and to praise God (Lk. 1:63-64). People were amazed and asked one another, “What manner of child shall this be?” (Lk. 1:66 KJV). Truly he was destined for greatness.
In his message to Zechariah, the angel Gabriel announced that John would go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk. 1:17). Four hundred years earlier Malachi had written of a messenger being sent who would prepare
the way of the Lord and also of “Elijah the prophet” appearing on the scene (Mal. 3:1; 4:5). As we shall see, Malachi’s prophecies were partly fulfilled in the arrival of John the Baptist.
Hidden, Then Revealed
After his birth John was hidden from public view and was “in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel” (Lk. 1:80). Was he therefore something of a forgotten figure? Hardly, for about 30 years later the veil was drawn aside and John appeared on the public stage “preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Mt. 3:1). His message was one of repentance and it was hardhitting. But there must have been something striking and perhaps sensational about him for multitudes came out to hear him. He was roughly dressed in simple clothing and had the appearance of a poor man – both in how he dressed and what he ate. He was not a soft-spoken figure dressed in the fashionable attire of a courtier (Mt. 11:8).
The remarkable thing about this man was that he was filled with the Spirit of God and was fearless in his preaching. Many confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan river (Mt. 3:5- 6). He was scathing in his denunciation of hypocrisy and demanded the highest standards of those who showed any interest in his message (Mt. 3:7-10). However, there was something else about him that was quite remarkable.
Just A Voice!
People were intrigued by this man. Who was he? From Jerusalem, the religious leaders sent a delegation to ask John about his identity. They thought he resembled what they knew of Elijah, but John would not be flattered. Moses had spoken of a coming “prophet” (Dt. 18:15); could this be him, in the person of John the Baptist? Again John refuted the idea. As they repeatedly questioned him, the answer he finally gave was, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Jn. 1:19-23). John saw himself simply as a voice. He knew that he was to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 40:3-5 uttered some 700 years before. A voice cannot be seen; it can only be heard. John did not want people to take any notice of him. He was simply a signpost, preparing the way for the Lord.
One day a different Person approached John. It was Jesus who had been born just a few months after him. At once John pointed Him out to his listeners and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). This was the moment John had been waiting for. The promised Christ who was to lay down His life as the final sacrifice for lost and guilty sinners had come. John’s work would soon be over. Unwillingly (because he felt unworthy) he baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. As Jesus emerged from the water, John saw the Holy Spirit descend as a dove upon Him and heard the voice of God the Father from heaven (Mt. 3:13-17). What more evidence was needed? Encouraged, John continued preaching his unchanging message. Looking upon Jesus he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (Jn. 1:36).
As far as John’s ministry was concerned, it had reached its zenith. He had never sought publicity, but gradually he began to fade from the scene. His own disciples left him and “followed Jesus” (Jn. 1:37). Soon Jesus and His disciples were baptizing more people than John had baptized (Jn. 4:1). Although he had taught his disciples to pray, the prayer that Jesus taught became much better known than John’s (Lk. 11:1). did John have any regrets because he had been overshadowed or his ministry had been eclipsed? Far from it! When questioned by the Jews, he described Jesus as “the bridegroom” and himself as “the bridegroom’s friend.” The stage belonged to the Bridegroom, not the friend. His joy was in hearing the Bridegroom’s voice, not his own. As he considered his own role and compared it with the work of the Lord Jesus, John declared, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). What a great motto for a servant!
The time came when John’s voice was silenced. king Herod felt that John had gone too far. John was passionately righteous and not afraid to rebuke Herod for his adultery. The guilty king at once arrested John and had him imprisoned. Yet, although chastened by what he had heard, he still feared John and felt strangely drawn to listen to him (Mk. 6:18-20). From the silence of his cell, doubts seemed to surface in John’s mind. He sent messengers to Jesus to ask if He really was the promised Christ or not. The Lord did not rebuke John for any doubts he may have had but returned an answer and warmly commended him in front of His listeners (Mt. 11:2-11). Nobody could be singled out as “greater” than this man.
However, John’s days were numbered. The wicked Herodias (whom Herod had taken as his own) had an intense hatred for John the Baptist, and when Herod thoughtlessly told her she could request whatever she wanted, she knew her moment had come. Her request for “the head of John the Baptist” saddened Herod, but there was no escaping from the promise he had made. John was beheaded in the prison and his head unceremoniously brought out to Herodias’ daughter who had entertained them with her seductive dance (Mk. 6:18-28). The headless corpse was taken by the disciples and given a decent burial (Mk. 6:29). Was this the end? Can anything follow what seems to be such an untimely ending?
The Final Word
There are many lessons that we can learn from the life of John the Baptist, but only one final reference will be considered. There came a time when the Lord was sought by His enemies, “but He escaped out of their hand, and went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized” (Jn. 10:39-40). Many came out into the wilderness seeking the Lord Jesus, and it is interesting to hear what they said: “John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this Man were true” (Jn. 10:41).
John the Baptist was not forgotten. Although his voice had been silenced in death, memories of him remained. He had performed no miracles; his ministry had lacked that which authenticated the preaching of others. Yet nothing could be finer than to hear that all John said of the Lord Jesus was true. His testimony, even after death, was still effective in leading sinners to Christ (Jn. 10:42).
John could be remembered as a prophet of truth—righteous and yet humble, fearless and yet selfeffacing. Servants of God today could not do better than adopt John’s motto when considering Christ, our Master: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Like John, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Like him we need boldness to proclaim the gospel message. Like him we must reveal our Master to others, not seek to be seen ourselves. John the Baptist’s desire was that Christ always should be magnified: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). May God give us the grace to be like him.
By Martin Girard
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org