Jesus said of John the Baptist, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist“ (Matthew 11:11). If he was the greatest among men, we should seek to understand the principles of his life and take them into consideration in our walk with Christ. He forecast Christ’s commands that we should reflect. Jesus Christ accorded great honor upon him and what he proclaimed. His words were a stark warning of the wrath to come.
One of the things that immediately come up with John is his persecution. He was imprisoned and eventually beheaded for his obedience to God. He was firm in his stance, not a reed shaken with the wind. We should expect persecution if we follow Christ unless we shrink in fear, are silent, and tacitly approve of those upholding evil.
And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matthew 11:1-6).
If the greatest among men doubted Jesus, we should expect this to be a strong possibility in our lives. It becomes clear that we need to protect against such things that can cause doubt in our faith in Christ.
Jesus wanted John to know that John’s work was not in vain. People’s greatest needs were being met through Jesus’ miracles. He had the power to raise the dead and the poor were gaining wealth beyond any worldly measure. He also wanted John to know that God would show favor and sanctify those who do not turn away from Him. Jesus use John’s disciples to share all they witnessed.
I am confident that Jesus exactly what John needed in order to confirm his faith, refresh his resolve, and provide hope for his heavenly home.
I don’t know too much about how ancient Roman culture but I do imagine that John’s disciples put themselves in jeopardy by going to John in prison to testify for Jesus. So even that act of confirmation held strong significance.
John was an answer to prayer.
But the angel said unto him, “Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John” (Luke 1:13-17).
John was also Jesus’ elder cousin. He knew Jesus as a family member. He had knowledge how Jesus lived His life and that Jesus was perfect in all His ways. When it came time to baptize him, John did not feel worthy.
Jesus loved John:
And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.”
John lived in poverty. He had a camel skin robe held by a leather belt. He ate honey and locusts, food known to be eaten by the poor living in the area even today. Some claim John was a vegetarian and try to make the Bible fit their beliefs and denominational doctrines but the Greek word (akris/ακρις) is specific to a species of grasshopper. These were perfectly lawful for John, a Nazarene, to eat. Also, observant Jews ate meat at least once a year on the Passover. Since John was the greatest of men born of women, no doubt he followed God’s commands. Letting the Bible interpret the Bible, we see John ate locusts and that he was not a vegetarian.
I find the preeminent message from John’s example here is that we should turn from all worldly desires, God will richly provide for our needs, heal us, and reward us with a sweet and eternal richness that only He can do.
Jesus also said, “But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
John was distinguished by his way of life. He rightly considered his lowly position in relation to Christ. He was not a king, not a general, he was a prophet, actually more than a prophet. Jesus’ description of John has me at a loss as to what “more than a prophet” means.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 11:7-14).
John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was in opposition to the religious authorities of the day and God was about to bring their authority to an end. The Pharisees and Sadducees did not want to relinquish their power. The old was about to pass and the new was being birthed. John was given the responsibility to present this transition. What an honor.
What was John’s message?
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight . . . Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:1-12).
John’s message was:
Repent, prepare for God, get baptized, live a faith that is known by its works. If you don’t bring forth fruit good for repentance, God will cut you down and cast you according to your sins into judgment. God will baptize you either with the Holy Ghost or with (hell) fire. This is the same exact message we see taught by the apostles throughout the New Testament. In essence, John was the forerunner to what Jesus disciples were.
John called us to turn from our sinful ways, submit to God, and live according to the works that Christ wants to do in you.
John was truly humble.
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he suffered (allowed) him. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
God loves John the Baptist. Through his commitment and doubt he trusted in Jesus. He endured until the end. Just like Jesus calls us to do.
Ye shall know them by their fruits . . . (Matthew 7:16).
John was an unmatched example as a disciple of Christ. He should be ours.