The birth of John the Baptist came about after an angelic visitation to his father Zechariah. He was born a few months before Jesus and later in life inaugurated the public ministry of Jesus by baptizing Him in the Jordan river.
John the Baptist was a Forerunner
He was the messenger sent with the good news that God’s “message,” Jesus, was coming after him.
We have to take into consideration the fact that Israel was under Roman occupation and rule when he came. The Israelites still held on to their secret hope that someday a Messiah will come to save them. Also there had been no prophetic voice for the last 400 years in Israel.
So God needed a messenger to prepare the way for Jesus. We find this easy to understand as we look at pilot vehicles moving a little ahead of the President or Prime Minister of a nation. These pilot vehicles tell us that the VIP is coming behind them and soon will come to view. Then we wait in eager anticipation. We will be fully alert if we wish to see them.
Similarly, God sent John the Baptist, to announce to His people the coming of Jesus.
John the Baptist Came to Prepare the Way
How significant is this! He came to “prepare the way” for the Lord (Ref. Luke 1:76). God through John the Baptist was preparing a context for Jesus to appear publicly to Israel. John came preaching repentance and also performing baptism with water. He asked people to repent and be forgiven of their sins. He mercilessly pointed out the faults of the people and challenged them to correct them.
Now the context was being created. People began to wonder whether he is the Messiah that they were waiting for.
On the one hand he was making a people ready to receive their Messiah. Thus he was preparing their hearts and thus the way for Jesus to come into their lives. On the other hand he was heightening the expectations of the people. For they had heard no prophetic voice in the last 400 years. And now when a thunderous voice was crying out after the unmistakable silence of the years, people were prepared to listen.
Shall we learn a lesson from John the Baptist this Christmas. Let us too prepare the way for the Lord. Let us go ahead of Him telling others that He is coming behind. Let us prepare the hearts of people so that when He comes they will be ready for Him.
John’s Ultimate Desire
Jesus said this of John: “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Ref. Matthew 11:11 NIV). Yet John was very humble. He never desired glory for himself. He was always content to be faithful to his assigned task of being a voice in the desert to announce the coming of the Lord.
But people were thinking of him in very high terms. They thought he was “The Prophet,” or “Elijah,” or possibly even “Christ” Himself. They questioned him closely about this too. But he denied being anyone of the above. More than that he freely confessed that he was not the Christ (Ref. John 1:20).
He refused to share the glory that was to belong to Jesus Christ alone. He refused to steal from that glory. He could have become anybody in the eyes of the people. But he knew his task1. He stuck to it faithfully till the very last.
Interestingly, once when his disciples came and told him that Jesus was gaining more followers, he gives a lovely reply. It sparkles like a priceless diamond. He said, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:29,30 NIV).
He was full of joy that people were turning to Jesus, the bridegroom. He talks about his joy being complete. Can we think like him? Would we love it when people desert us to follow someone we introduced to them? Think about it. This man had joy when others flocked to Jesus.
And let us look at the crowning glory of his desire: “He must become greater; I must become less.” What a noble desire. He desired not only that Jesus become greater; but also that he become less. Shall we follow his example
His Powerful Message
The loveliest part of his message was his pointing out Jesus to the people: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29b NIV).
With that his work was done.
Let us also remember that we have no simpler and no greater message to the world than this. Our duty this Christmas is just to point out Jesus to people as the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world. Ask them to “Look!” Then they shall follow Him.
His Stepping Down
He had prepared the people. And when the time had fully come Jesus was baptized by him in the Jordan river. Now it was time for him to go backstage. He does that without any grumbling. The glory of the crowds pressing to see the man dressed in camel’s hair will no more be his. Soon, the people will flock after the One whose public ministry he had helped to inaugurate.
What a perfect complement to Jesus was this man! Jesus had given up all His glory in heaven to come down to the earth. Now John was laying aside all his public influences to make way for the Son of God.
Let us clothe ourselves with this spirit of humility this Christmas. Let us step aside when our work is done. Let us not hold on to glory. Let people forget us and go follow the Son of God.
Testimonies About John
The Bible records Jesus’ testimony of John as a lamp that burned and gave light (Ref. John 5:35). Are our lamps trimmed to burn continuously. Does it have oil in plenty and in reserve too? Christmas is about God’s light coming down to us in our darkness. Shall we burn with His light and brighten that little place around us!
The Bible also records the comments of people when once Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had baptized in the early days. The people, when they saw Jesus, said: “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true” (John 10:41 NIV).
And the result of that was this: “And in that place many believed in Jesus” (John 10:42 NIV).
As the world runs after signs and miracles, let us reevaluate our priorities this Christmas. People come to believe in Jesus when they find that what we said about Him is true. Can we do that faithfully this Christmas. Then many will believe in Jesus!
1 A man can receive only what is given him from heaven –John 2:27 NIV.