If I were to assert, “humility is a virtue,” I am sure many of us would immediately say, “yes.” My fear is that the true Christian virtue of humility is not so popular. What we will see on display in John 1.19-34 is a model of true Christian humility. As we examine is I want to warn you to resist the temptation my heart faces when I read texts like this. The temptation in my heart is to rationalize the text to say something different or run away from what God calling of me to by doing self-justification.
The heart of this section can be seen in a few verses, so why don’t we all stand together and READ John 1.20, 23, 29-30. My hope and prayer from this text is…
True Christian humility comes when we fight with all we have to make straight the way of the LORD.
1. The Humble Messenger—John 1.19-28.
As we pick up in verse 19 we see the apostle John give us more details on John the Baptist that he started to share with us in his prologue (John 1.6-8, 15). And what we can immediately notice from the context is some of the religious leaders during John’s time were very intrigued by his ministry. They were so interested that they priests and Levites to investigate who this “John the Baptist” was? When they arrive on the scene they get after it and say, “Who are you?” We can see from verse 20 that John has a pretty good idea what their agenda is by the answer he gives—“I am NOT the Christ.” The go on to ask him a couple more questions to see if this guy has an inflated view of himself. John the Baptist shuts the door to their suspicion with this statement—READ John 1.23.
John the Baptist has one agenda—“Make straight the way of the LORD.” John is quoting from Isaiah 40.3. The striking thing is he is saying I am just a voice, I am not the point of the message. Let’s not forget that in the prologue our author repeatedly was trying to establish that Jesus is the WORD. What this means for John the Baptist is his ministry is to make sure the pathway way to Jesus is clear. This also means John does not believe he is speaking on his own authority, but that God has called him to this ministry.
Think about this for a moment. We know from other Gospels John the Baptist had a powerful story of God working in his life even before he was born. We also know he had a pretty large preaching ministry in the wilderness. We know he was a fairly devote religious man. He was a Nazirite, which meant he did not ever cut his hair, I have trouble not cutting my beard when it gets itchy. To be a Nazirite also meant he did not drink alcohol or touch a dead body. These practices were symbols of his personal purity. It could be easy for John to boast in any of these things, but he did not. In fact later in John 3.30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Paul builds on this theme throughout many of his epistles, but one that is clear is found in II Corinthians 4.5, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.”
I believe this is the essence of true Christian humility. Everything in John’s life points to something greater than himself. John has built his whole life around that glorious truth. As said from the beginning we can all affirm that truth, but the measure of whether or not we truly believe is in how we live. In his book Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt says this:
“We all live by faith in someone or something. And everything that we are and do is a result of what we believe. Our behaviors are the tangible expression of our beliefs…What we believe, and whom we believe in, produces something…True faith produces works. And your works reveal what your faith is in. If your faith is in God’s word and work, that faith saves, and as a result, your works look like God’s. If your faith is in someone or something else, it is evident that it is not God—so your works are ungodly.”—Vanderstelt, p. 78
We know John has built his life around his faith in God, because he lives that way. He had every opportunity to make a name for himself, but he chose to make a name for God.
How can we measure this in our lives? Without becoming religious fundamentalist I would encourage us all to consider how we talk. There are so many forms of communication today with personal smart phones, text messaging, social media, personal blogs, video calls, and so much more. If we could track our conversations and look at the primary content of them what would they entail? Would they be filled the praise of Christ? Now, I am not talking about “lip service,” but genuine heartfelt expression for the Spirit of Christ at work in our daily lives. In his book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism Mark Dever tells a story of how good used ordinary women just talking about their faith to help lead John Bunyan to Christ. Here is what he says:
“’Sharing our stories’ is no recent discovery by Christians. Bunyan—and these women before him—had been doing that as a part of their evangelism for centuries. These women, living their normal Christian lives, talking with each other, were part of God’s evangelistic plan. It wasn’t only sermons that God used to convert John Bunyan; he used normal Christians.”—Dever, p. 52-53
It is so easy for me to look at John the Baptist and rationalize that his life is not mine. But the Bible is full of ordinary people God uses to share His glory with the world. Let’s not forget that Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart [the] mouth speaks.” If you want to think through what your life is built around then pay attention to what you talk about.
2. The Boastful Message—John 1.29-34.
After the apostle John shows the humble character of John he then proceeds to give us His message. I think it fascinating how important is in the Bible. While the message of the Bible is important the character of the messenger is compliments the message. Someone once told me that for the non-Christian the life of the Christian is the hermeneutic of the Gospel. Since we have seen the life of John the Baptist let’s now examine what he preaches.
John opens his message with this statement—READ John 1.29-30. In these two verses we see that John understands couple of things about Jesus. First, He is the “Lamb of God.” Why would John the Baptist use a statement like this? None of the other Gospel writers mention this. This probably functioned like a pneumonic devise that would have invoked certain OT theological themes. His listeners might have thought of the story from Genesis 22 where Abraham was told to sacrifice his one and only son. When his son saw they had no sacrifice to offer on the altar he asked Abraham about it and Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” They also might have thought about the lamb’s blood that was put around the doorpost of the Israelites so the wrath of God would Passover them. There was the scapegoat from Leviticus 16 where a priest would lay hands on two goats, one to sacrifice for the sins of the people and another to send off into the wilderness to symbolize the sins of the people were being removed from the community. Or they might have thought of Isaiah 53.7, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” There were many images in the OT that would have reminded John’s hearers of what it would mean for Jesus to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
John the Baptist recognizes the significance of Jesus. He understands something unique is happening in redemptive history—READ John 1.32-33. While John is baptizing people with water Jesus is baptizing people with the Spirit of God. John recognizes his baptism is a way of saying, “I am ready to repent. I want to have a heart that is ready to receive the Christ.” But the baptism of Jesus is when God changes the posture of our hearts toward Him.
This is the glorious message John the Baptist was proclaiming to his followers. John recognizes his ministry is ending the ministry of the OT and Jesus’ ministry is starting a new one. John is still pointing to someone greater than him, but Jesus’s ministry is proclaiming the greatness of Himself. God the Father affirms Jesus is who John says by sending the Spirit in the form of dove on Jesus. We also know from other Gospels that the Father proclaim, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” The divine pleasure of the Father descended on Jesus and empowered His entire earthly life. It is in this we find our calling as well. Jesus dispenses the Spirit to all of us who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and we now are free to live for the Father’s good pleasure. We seek our happiness in the happiness of God. The unbeliever has no concern for the things of God—they could care less. But God has radically changed our hearts, and this is not only our concern, but our MAIN concern.