Every now again someone special comes along, and grabs our attention. It might be someone with a bright personality. It might be someone whose character is a little bit quirky. It might be someone who is particularly good at sport. It might be someone with good leadership skills. It might be someone that has been motivated by a particular issue, and has decided that they need to make a stand. Or it might be someone who has worked tirelessly for the community for many years, without fuss, who doesn’t want to be the limelight, and would prefer to simply carry on doing what they enjoy and do best – helping others. But whoever that person may be, whatever the attraction, it’s someone who comes across as genuine, and just that little bit special.
Now, of course, some we might class as heroes. Others… well they might not have reached hero status, but they are people we can look up to and admire. Some may have received public recognition, whether through a pat on the back, a certificate of appreciation or even a nomination for the citizen of the year award, or other such honour. And some… well, we may just wish that they had.
Now as I sat and thought about these kind of people, I couldn’t help think, “just who are my heroes?” Is there any one I could think of that I could really say that I admire?
And I came up with someone. Someone who was not involved in Australian history. He wasn’t even born in the last 500 years. But he is someone for whom I have the utmost respect. Because his courage to stand up for what he believed in, in the face of adversity, I believe, is something to be admired. And he is of course, a character from the bible.
B. JOHN THE BAPTIST
1. WHO AM I?
Now the person I thought of had his life mapped out before him before he was even born. He was born a little over 2000 years ago. And his birth was a miracle in itself. He was surrounded by disciples in later life, and some continued on well after his death. And he was put to death when he was probably little more than 30 years old.
He spoke out against corruption in the world. He got up the noses of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and even a king. And he called people to repent of their old ways, and return to a relationship with God.
Worked out who it is yet? Because I’m not talking about Jesus. I’m talking about John the Baptist.
2. JOHN’S BIRTH FORETOLD (Luke 1:5-25)
Now John’s story began, as I’ve indicated, before his birth. His parents Zechariah and Elizabeth were both of the priestly line, and they were godly people. However, they were getting on in years, and had not been blessed with any children. Indeed, in one sense they had given up on the idea.
The stigma on them, at the time, for not having any children, would have been tremendous. Not having any children was seen as a sign of divine displeasure, and a public disgrace. And it may have been because of that stigma that Zechariah was motivated to pray earnestly to God for a child.
Can you imagine his shock, then, when an angel appeared to him, whilst he was at work serving in the temple, and declaring that his prayers were about to be answered. That Elizabeth would have the son that they had desperately desired.
Now Zechariah might have thought at that point that everything was done. Mission accomplished.
But, as it happens, that was not the end of the story. Because the angel then proceeded to map out John’s future. Zechariah was told what his son’s name was to be. He was told the kind of upbringing to provide, including special dietary requirements. And the angel even told him what John’s task was to do (and remember John hadn’t even been conceived at this point).
John’s task was to prepare the people for the Messiah. He was to function like an Old Testament preacher – calling the people to repentance, in the same way that Elijah had. And he was to be filled with Holy Spirit (like Elijah) to carry out the task.
John was going to be someone very special. Very special indeed. And sure enough after the angel’s visit, a miracle occurred: Elizabeth became pregnant.
3. MARY VISITS ELIZABETH (Luke 1:39-45)
Now we are not told much about John’s upbringing – what he was like, the sort of things that he did, or even how his parents actually brought him up. However, we do have two cameos which give us insights into the background of his early childhood.
And the first, was before he was even born. Because when Elizabeth was visited by one of her relatives – the young Mary (who at the time herself was carrying the baby Jesus), we’re told that as soon as the unborn John heard Mary’s voice, John leapt for joy in the womb. The unborn John recognised just how important Jesus was, and the role that Mary had to play.
4. BIRTH OF JOHN (Luke 1:57-66)
And the second was, seven days after John was born, at the ceremony of circumcision, when there were all sorts of pressures on Zechariah and Elizabeth by neighbours and relatives to name the baby after his father, Zechariah and Elizabeth stuck to their guns, and insisted on calling him John.
This was indeed an indication of the joy that Zechariah and Elizabeth had of the birth of their son, and their determination to bring him up according to the instructions that they had been given.
5. JOHN’S MINISTRY (Mt 3:1-12)
And every indication is that they did a good job. Because the next time we see John, he is fully grown, about 30 years of age, and is preaching in the wilderness in Judea. And looking every bit the part that was mapped out for him.
He was doing his odd quirky things – wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt. And his diet? Locusts and wild honey. Perhaps all intended to be a visual protest against self-indulgence.
And the role that he was playing? Well he was doing exactly the task he had been called to do. Being an Old Testament style preacher, calling people to repentance, and preparing the people for the coming Messiah.
And using his upbringing, with his father working in the temple, he called on the people to repent of their old ways, and to be baptised. He called the Pharisees and the Sadducees to account. And as we find out later in his story, he also upset at a king in the process.
6. THE BAPTISM OF JESUS (Mt 3:13-17))
And when the Messiah approached him… when Jesus came up to him as he ministered to the people in the wilderness…. Well, for the second time he recognised him straight away. And even though he knew that Jesus was the one person who did not need to be baptised. On Jesus’ insistence he baptised him anyway.
And what a baptism it was – as evidenced by the divine signs: the Spirit of God descended like a dove on Jesus, and God’s voice calling out from heaven expressing his pleasure at his son.
7. ARREST (Matthew 4:12, 14:3-5)
Of course, shortly after that, John was arrested and thrown into prison. He’d upset just one too many people. He’d upset King Herod, by telling him that it wasn’t kosher to be living with his brother’s wife. Well, not whilst his brother was still alive, anyway.
8. A MOMENT OF DOUBT (Matthew 11:1-6)
And as he languished in prison, he had what most of us have from time to time – a moment of doubt. Was Jesus really the Messiah?
You see like others, Jesus had not turned out to be the kind of Messiah that he had expected. His disappointment was natural. And I guess being locked up for several months, his doubt lay heavily on his mind. But he had his disciples, and he wanted reassurance. So he sent some to Jesus to check. And what he got back was not just reassurance of who Jesus was, but confirmation by Jesus of his own role in the salvation of the world.
9. EXECUTION (Mt 14:6-12)
Now whilst John was reassured, he was never released from that prison. He was executed by King Herod on the prompting of Salome and Herodias, and his head was delivered on a platter.
What an amazing man. John – a man who had had his future mapped out for him, even before he was born. A man who was faithful to his calling. He was a man of courage who spoke out against the abuses of power. But he was a man too with an active concern for the spiritual welfare of his people. For sure he had a moment of doubt – but that only shows that he was human. Despite that John was truly an amazing man.
11.COMPARED TO ELIJAH (Mt 11:7-18)
And indeed, Jesus agreed. Because Jesus compared him to the prophet Elijah. John was a messenger, and not just any messenger, but one who was to prepare the way for the Messiah. And in a culture steeped in expectation that Elijah would come again for that very purpose, Jesus indicated that indeed John was that man. And he fulfilled his role, even down to the dietary requirements. Exactly as God had planned.
John, an amazing man? Yes! A hero? Well in a sense, yes! But one of a kind? No! And do you know why I say no? Because I believe, in many ways, the story of John the Baptist, is the story of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. And I’d like to pick out five things about John that can be equally applied to anyone who is a Christian.
And the first relates to God’s knowledge of us before we were born: Because just as God knew John right from the start, so too did he know all of us. Indeed we can read in Psalm 139 how God searches us and knows us; he even knows how we think (Psalm 139:1-2). But more than that, he created us in our mother’s wombs as well (Psalm 139:13-14).
The second relates to us being chosen by God. Because just as John who was chosen to serve God, so all of Jesus’s disciples have been chosen – us too. Jesus told his disciples (as recorded in John 15, that we did not choose him, but he chose us (John 15:16a). Further, that we do not belong to this world, but have been chosen out of the world…” (John 15:19b).
Thirdly, we haven’t just been chosen, but we’re part of God’s plan. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus telling them that he have not only been chosen, but we have been predestined to take part in God’s plan for the world (Ephesians 1:11).
Fourthly, just as John was filled with the Holy Spirit, so too are all believers. Indeed John, himself, told his converts that whilst he baptised them with water, the one who followed him would baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Matthew 3:11)
And fifthly, just as John was called to be an evangelist, so too are we. Jesus said to his disciples. Indeed Jesus charged his disciples to go everywhere in the world, with the purpose of making disciples, baptising them, and teaching them as he had taught them (Matthew 28:19-20a).
So in a sense, what’s the difference between us and John the Baptist? Absolutely nothing. Now doesn’t that make you feel humble? We are no different from one of the great heroes of the Bible – John the Baptist himself.
Now, we started off thinking of people we admire. Some who are bright, some who are a bit quirky, some who are good at sport, others leadership. And others… well their claim to fame is that they just quietly work away, making no fuss, just getting on with the job.
Now some of these have received recognition, and others… well maybe we wish they had. Some are heroes, and others … well we can’t help but admire them.
John the Baptist was created by God. He was chosen by God. He was part of God’s predetermined plan. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. And he was charged with the role of an evangelist. And that’s exactly the same for all Christians who have ever lived, or are still living today.
Now, we may not all be heroes in other people’s eyes, We may not all be about to receive a reward – whether as a pat on the back, or a recommendation for an honour. But in the end it doesn’t matter. What matter is that we are faithful to God.
For each and every one of us, our roles were set out before we were born. What we have to do, then, is identify the tasks that God has given us to do. And to live our roles no matter where they may lead.
© 2015, Brian A Curtis