I’m a very picky eater. I like corn but I detest carrots; I love black beans but cannot look on lima beans; I enjoy apple juice but cannot bite into an apple. The list can go on and on (seriously). Now meet John:
“Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!”‘ Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matt. 3:1-4).
What stands out is not where he lived, or his appearance, or even his diet, but the assessment by Christ Himself who said,
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!. . .” (Matt. 11:11a).
What had made John the Baptist great? In an effort in not to say something blasphemous I need to be cautious and accurate and give the proper context for this verse. Catch how Jesus ends that sentence, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11b). Jesus wasn’t saying that John the Baptist was greater for any other reason than that he saw the fulfillment of what all the prophets long before him spoke and prophesied on (see v.13). It’s also clear that with two thousand years later, we can look back on history and see the working of God’s hand from creation to salvation by the Cross to the establishment of the Church (and all things in between). The entire Old Testament pointed to the Cross and we are fortunate to see the grandiose picture of God’s redeeming plan fulfilled (except the final act of His Second Coming and reign)—that’s what Christ had in mind. John’s greatness was linked to his forerunning and heralding the Messiah, not anything in himself.
But nonetheless, I think there’s one particular lesson that can be seen in the life of this cricket-eating man. John — who baptized (I don’t want to offend non-Southern Baptists) — saw himself in proper perspective. In his life, his philosophy could be summed up by his own words: “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).
One must not forget that John was a very popular man despite his outlandish ways. Israel had had a period of about four-hundred years of silence from God in the form of a prophet (since Malachi ca. 424 B.C); though of course God has, was, and will always be active in the course of history. John had broken that silence with a trumpet call as he prepared the way for the Messiah who had long before been prophesied of. His message of repenting and getting baptized for the Messiah resonated with and attracted the common “sinners” and the riffraff of society. They all fled to him. His fame was widespread and his popularity unmatched in the land of Israel.
But when Christ appeared in the picture, John knew his role was to be only a neon light pointing to the Savior. He had fulfilled his duty.
“The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.” I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.’”
John had no doubt over his role now. He had no problem stepping behind the curtain and letting Jesus pick up the show. As the people came to John, he pointed to the One who would save them and himself.
How much more of a difference would the Church make if it recognized that it’s not about itself but all about Him? We would shine more for the glory of God if we realized that it’s not about how we feel or about what makes us better and happy; it’s about Christ. Paul had this attitude when he said, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7). David had a similar mindset, “One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the day of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple” (Ps. 27:4). Both Paul and David were lost in the purposes of God.
John’s greatness was found not in his clothing or sharp words but in his satisfaction and delight in making much of Christ in letting Christ increase by his decreasing. Though I’m a picky eater and I will probably never eat locusts, stepping aside, and letting God increase is one lesson we would do well to learn from John the Baptist.
Let us all decrease.