He was a unique leader, but it seems to me that John the Baptist had numerous reasons to be tempted with pride. Think about it:
1. Prophets announced his coming years before his arrival. Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 foreshadowed his coming. He would be the fulfillment of prophecy, the first prophet to speak to the Hebrews in centuries.
2. He was to pave the way for the Messiah. Nobody else in all of history was to be the forerunner of Christ. It's no wonder Jesus said that no one born of woman was greater than John (Matt. 11:11).
3. His birth was miraculous. He was an answer to the prayer of barren, aging parents, and an angel actually announced his coming birth (Luke 1:5-25). Had I been John, I would have been tempted to tell this story over and over again.
4. Large crowds came to hear him. The words are surely literary hyperbole to emphasize the point, but "the whole region of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem" were going out to the wilderness to hear him (Mark 1:5a). He drew the attention of the crowds like few others.
5. Many followed his command to be baptized. Not only did they make their way to the wilderness to hear his teachings, but they confessed their sins and were baptized upon their repentance (Mark 1:6). It's one thing to draw the crowds; it's another thing to have them listen to you.
6. He baptized Jesus. No matter who you are, I suspect you'd be tempted to report this information to your friends, family, and denominational headquarters and press. Who would not want others to know, "I baptized the Messiah"?
7. He was courageous. Unlike others, he was unafraid to take on the religious leaders of his day (Matt. 3:1-12). In fact, it was his challenge before King Herod that would land him in jail and eventually cost him his life (Mark 6:14-29).
Perhaps I alone struggle with pride, but I think my wrestling match would have been intense had I been John. I would have wanted to say, "He must decrease, but I must decrease" (John 3:30)—but I fear I might have wanted others to know how humble I was at the same time. I might have said, "I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals" (see Mark 1:7) while also reminding myself that I alone paved the way for His coming.
Given my quiet, but nevertheless real, desire for recognition, I think I'd be a better leader if I continually reminded myself of John's words, "I am not the Messiah" (John 3:28, NIV).
What about you?
Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
This article originally appeared at chucklawless.com.
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