MATTHEW 11:2a (cont.)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Lessons Learned from John the Baptist
Matt. 11:2a (cont.) “Now when John. . .”
I was named for John the Baptist. At my ordination, Dad challenged me to use John’s ministry as the pattern for mine. John’s life has much worth imitating.
First, John knew Scripture. His sermons were replete with quotes from the Old Testament. He was well acquainted with Holy Writ. Brothers and sisters, read the Book. Force yourself to read it until you must force yourself not to read it. As you read, ask God to speak afresh and anew to you through His Word.
Be like John, who let God speak in Scripture, and not like the Orthodox leaders, who spoke to Scripture. They read Scripture with a closed mind. Try to drop personal agendas and pick up only truths we find confirmed by Scripture.
Read the whole Bible. We miss Scripture’s best help if we snatch only a little here and there. Can we honestly claim to believe what we have never read?
Second, John spent time alone with God. Away from the noise of the world, God and John interacted in the wilderness, a place of solitude and silence. Paul, Moses, and Elijah also learned in the wilderness their deepest lessons from God.
The farther we remove ourselves from the world’s noise, the better we hear God. Loneliness is the price required for us to experience God in significant ways.
In the wilderness John heard God; in prison John heard from Jesus. Christ said we should pray in a closet. It’s hard to squeeze a big crowd into a closet.
Bill Hybels, pastor of America’s largest church, believes it is harder to serve God today than ever before, because we are so hurried. He says saints of old who laid crops by, traveled by walking, and spent weeks on a ship crossing the ocean, had down time to spend with God. Our lives have no margin, no room for God.
John the Baptist, in a wilderness, was able to measure the worth of society with its shallow conventionalities and frivolous parties. No one sees how a battle goes while he is in it. We can evaluate the world only by stepping out of it.
When John realized what God was like–His holiness–and what his country had become like–their unholiness–he had to do something. Knowing the Messiah was coming, John felt compelled to prepare the way. When a king visited an area the roads were prepared in advance, holes filled, cracks mended, rocks removed.
Feeling Jesus deserved equal treatment, John wanted to remove obstacles. The Qumran sect denounced the world, sat in a desert, and studied Scripture while waiting for Messiah. John was less selfish. He wanted to help the Coming One and serve the world. John chose to worship, to honor God. John chose to serve, to help others. John chose to go, he left a wilderness home to win people elsewhere.
Third, John was humble. As he was questioned more and more about who and what he was, his answers grew increasingly shorter. He apparently disliked answering questions about himself. He had come to bear witness to Another.
By calling himself a voice, he chose a description denoting not his dignity, but his duty, dependence, and secondary role. John is only the Voice; Jesus is the Word. John felt unworthy to untie shoe laces, to fill the role of slave, for Messiah.
When asked who he was, John could have drawn attention to himself. The questioning times were John’s temptation experience. Silence would have let the people draw their own conclusion, but John wanted to remove all doubts. The faithful are as much on guard against undue popularity as against unjust contempt.
John was more concerned about doing good than looking good. Branches most laden with ripe fruit, bend lowest; ships most laden sink deepest in the water.
Fourth, John was a man of devotion. He could not be swayed from loyalty to Jesus. Their mothers being cousins, John and Jesus probably had at least a casual acquaintance with one another in life. However, till Jesus’ baptism John knew who, but not what, Jesus was. If “familiarity breeds contempt” is true, then the witness of John on behalf of Jesus is more marvelous than we first thought. It is often most difficult for us to be second fiddle to someone we know intimately.
When John learned his cousin was the “One,” the natural reaction could have easily been repulsion. But John neither rebelled nor recoiled with jealousy. He acquiesced, admitting his whole life and ministry were for One he knew.
John’s devotion to Jesus was tested by John’s own followers. Not wanting to be eclipsed by the Jesus group, and blinded by their devotion to John, they grew jealous of Jesus’ increasing popularity (John 3:25-30), and spoke to John about it. He was unmoved. This was a severe test of John’s character. The sympathy of a friend can often be damaging. Beware flattery and applause intended to arouse envy within us. The jealousy of our friends for our honor can be our downfall.
Believers have lovingly overcome abuse and neglect, only to fall into an ugly spirit when a friend grinds into them how mistreated they are. A friend’s sympathy can make us feel sorry for ourselves and think we’ve been treated badly. John rose above even this difficult test. To the end, his devotion was undaunted.
Desiring a monopoly of honor has always been the bane of churches. Vying for attention, jealousy, rivalry, and competition shame members and ministers.
If we desire to please God, the success of others will gladden us, for in it we will see the joy of God. Envy, though, negatively reflects on God’s providence.
John, overcoming every temptation to promote himself, spent his whole ministry pointing to Jesus. The theme became monotonous. John’s sermons were short, but full of Jesus. To see everything in life but Jesus is to see everything in life but the one thing worth seeing (Parker). John ran before, and pointed to Jesus. We who run after must point to the same Person. Jesus is still all that matters.
Retain a white hot jealousy for Jesus. If people see nothing or no one else in us, let them see Jesus. Fill our lives with Him and spread Him abroad. Keep on talking about our precious Savior. Never has monotony yielded so much variety.
Fifth, John was prudent. He cautiously and accurately determined God’s perfect, specific will for his life. The lesson we learn here from John is priceless.
John accomplished the ultimate feat a person can achieve. He knew and did what God wanted him to do. George Truett defined success as precisely knowing God’s will for our life and being smack dab in the middle, the bull’s eye, of it.
John achieved this. How? An incident (JN 1:33-34) gives profound insight into his thought processes. John felt God told him the Person he saw the Spirit descending on would be Messiah. John knew for sure he accurately heard God’s inner voice when what he sensed he heard was confirmed by an outward sign.
An outward sign confirmed the inner voice. When we think we are hearing an inner voice, be cautious, look to see if there is an outward confirmation. God is an infallible sender of signals, but we are fallible receivers. Since we often mis-hear God, He usually confirms His inner speaking to us by some outward event.
After the Holy Spirit forbade Paul to preach in Asia, the Apostle heard the Macedonian Call in a night vision (AC 16:6,9). After God told Peter whatever God cleanses is not common or unclean, the men of Cornelius arrived (AC 10:19).
God said Paul would bear God’s name to Gentiles. At Antioch of Pisidia the Jews blasphemed. Hence, Paul turned to the Gentiles (AC 9:15; 13:46).
Listen not only for the inner voice. Also keep your eyes open for outer confirmation. After God commanded him to return home, what Jacob thought he had heard was confirmed by a wrestling match with the Angel of God (GN 32:24).
After hearing God’s call to lead Israel, Gideon received assurance by setting out his fleece (JG 6:37). After God told him to reduce his army to 300 soldiers, Gideon received confirmation by overhearing the enemy talk about their terror of Gideon (JG 7:13). Joshua, after hearing a voice calling him to lead Israel to the Promised Land, had an encounter with the Captain of YHWH’s armies (JS 5:13).
We conclude by using this last point to tie the whole lesson together. John was the second greatest person ever. We too want to be great in God’s eyes.
What can we learn from John? As we sense God leading, search Scripture, spend time alone with God. Be humble, always know we might be wrong.
Pursue utter devotion to Jesus, holiness matters most. Be prudent. If we feel we’re hearing God’s inner voice, look around for a confirming outward event.