The Book of John

Friday: Jesus and John the Baptist


Theme: Humbling Ourselves, Exalting Christ
In this week’s lessons, we consider how John the Baptist served as a faithful witness to Jesus, and what that means in our witnessing as well.
Scripture: John 1:19-51
You see, if you and I are going to be effective witnesses, we have to spend time with the Lord Jesus Christ. Because if we spend time with him, then we will be so in love with Jesus Christ that we will instinctively want to direct men and women to him.
This is the kind of witnesses we need today, and unfortunately we have quite a variety of witnesses that are anything but what we have modeled for us here in John 1. We have today, I am afraid, largely in our witnessing a rather canned approach to things. We teach people how to witness, and what we do is give them a list of Bible verses that they’re to memorize, and a certain approach giving the kind of questions that they can ask. Well, that’s better than doing nothing, and I’m not against it. Some of the groups that have taught a certain kind of methodology have been effective, at least in marshaling a certain crowd of witnesses to speak about Jesus. The people in the New Testament are just filled with Jesus, and they talk about him naturally.
We also do not need people who are showmen, performers. We have an awful lot of those kind of witnesses, who call attention to themselves more than to Jesus. I’m afraid that most of the religious programming on television is like that. I read a book by Neil Postman some time ago called Amusing Ourselves to Death, a great attack on television, and right in my judgment. There’s a chapter in it on religion. He asked the question, “What is lost when you put religion on television?” He answered that what gets lost is everything that’s most important, chiefly a sense of the transcendent. God disappears. And when God is absent, all you have is the preacher and the preacher becomes Top Banana, and God comes out second best. I’m afraid that’s what happens. We don’t need that kind of witnessing. That’s the exact opposite of what John the Baptist did.
You say, “Well, look if you have religion on television, at least all those people are getting to see it.” I’m not impressed with that. What if they’re getting to see only the showmen, and not Jesus? That doesn’t impress me in the slightest. We don’t need more people with canned approaches, and we don’t need more showmen. What we need are people who know Jesus Christ, who spend so much time with Christ it is the most natural thing in the world to talk about him.
You and I have to learn the lesson that John the Baptist learned. You know, later on, disciples of John said to him, “Now, John, things aren’t going so well for your little movement here, because your disciples seem to be going off and they seem to be following Jesus.” John had a very interesting comment. He said, “Oh no, I’m just their bridegroom. He’s the bride. The joy is mine and it’s now complete. He must become greater, and I must become less.” The old version said, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” You see, that’s a sign of a faithful witness, too.
Perhaps in the final analysis, that’s why most of us don’t do very well. We’re not willing to decrease in order that we might call attention to Jesus Christ and have him increase in the lives of others. I know that is true of “professional” religious people; they want to increase. They want to be successful. They want attention to be drawn to them, and their teaching, and their church, and their books, and whatever it is they may be doing. All these things get in the way. What we need is a whole generation of people who are willing to be nothing, in order that Jesus Christ might be everything. People who do that will be blessed by God and there will be fruit to their labors. Those who do this may not see it. John the Baptist didn’t see it. He said that he needed to decrease, while the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was going to increase. His disciples went off and followed Jesus. That was three years before Jesus actually went to the cross, died, and rose again, resulting in the expansion of the gospel.
John the Baptist did not live long enough to see any of that. But John testified to the truth that salvation was found only in Jesus. Later, when John the Baptist was in prison, Jesus referred to John’s witness, noting, “I tell you, there hasn’t been one born of woman in the whole Old Testament period up till now who is greater than John the Baptist.” Why was that? Because John was considered the last of the Old Testament prophets who pointed to Jesus, and, more than that, was privileged to see the Messiah and Lamb of God appear on the stage of human history.
Do you want to be great here as the world counts greatness? Call attention to yourself. You can build a great empire and make a lot of money. If you’re in the ministry, you can even build a great church, and even have a great kingdom centered on you and your name, your books, your television programs, and all the ways the world values. But in the kingdom to come, none of that will mean anything at all.
However, if you’re willing to be nothing here and point only to Jesus, God will bless it even if you don’t see it. And in the world to come, Jesus himself will point to you and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” That’s what I want. I trust that’s what we all want.
Study Questions:

Describe some ways prominent Christian leaders can focus on themselves.
How has the church, perhaps at times, reflected a diminishing view of God’s transcendence?

Reflection: Even in Christian service, pride can inject itself and cause us to attempt to increase ourselves in terms of our abilities or influence. How can we cultivate a spirit of humility in our service, such that Christ is exalted and where we honor others rather than ourselves?

Study Questions
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