In the New Testament we are told of a man. Both he and his wife were upright in the sight of God, born of the family of Aaron. But they had no children because the wife, Elizabeth, was barren and they were both advanced in years. One day this man, Zechariah, was on priestly duty. So he set off into the Temple to burn the incense. While he was about his business an angel of good news appeared to him and said, “Your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son and you are to give him the name John” Luke 1:13. This John would be a joy and a delight to Zechariah. His birth would bring rejoicing to many people. Why? He was going to be great in the sight of the LORD. But he was not supposed to touch wine or any fermented drink because he was going to be a Nazarite from birth set apart and consecrated to do God’s work.
An amazing fact was that this child was going to be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. This had never occurred anywhere in the Bible. His mission was one of bringing back Israel to the Lord their God. Remember Israel had long rebelled against the lordship of God. Even greater was the fact that he would go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn back the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous- to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
John, even before he was born, had a set mission. In Malachi God talked about sending Elijah to prepare a way for the Lord. Elijah had not died but was coming back to complete his mission. John would operate in the spirit and power of Elijah. Had his father stopped praying for a child it would mean that this forerunner of Christ would never have been! But consistent prayer like that of his descendant Abraham saved the day for Zechariah.
The dialogue between Zechariah and the angel continued. It was out of Zechariah’s league to believe that he and Elizabeth could have a child. Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time” Luke 1:19-20. What a great counter from God’s angel to the unbelief of a man who had received assurance of what he had been praying a long time for.
We too suffer from the same disillusion, as did Zechariah, because we pray and God sends His answer that we doubt in the end. True, John’s curriculum vitae was too good for any parent to agree with. Yet it had been God’s desire and purpose that John be John at the proper time. The reward he got was that he was going to be silent and unable to speak till the appointed time. What punishment so to speak for lack of faith. Remember God rewards them that earnestly seek Him and believe He does exist.
After this encounter we see that true to His word, Elizabeth conceived. For five months she remained in seclusion. It was then that she realised that God has taken away her disgrace and replaced it with favour. With time she got a visit from her cousin Mary who also had received a promise. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, “the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” Luke1: 41. This same in filling filled John with the Holy Spirit. When it was time for Elizabeth to give birth, she gave birth to a son and a great many shared her joy with her. When it was time to name him, Zechariah’s voice came back and rightly named him John. This amazed many who then asked a question I would have asked too. “What then is this child going to be?” Or “who was John?”
Zechariah would give us the most fitting answer in his song. John was the forerunner of Christ, a prophet of the Most High God, he who would give God’s people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins (Luke1: 77). John grew and became strong in spirit. This John grew up to point the way away from himself to Jesus. One day as he was baptising in the Jordan River and as he looked up he saw Jesus coming toward him he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” It was the same John who would baptise the Saviour Himself.
John was a very humble man in spite of his fame in the region of Judea. Unlike most men, John gave up his fame for Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less” John 3:30. As a witness he played a minor role. When asked by the priests and Levites who he was John replied:
1. I am not the Christ- he only had the water baptism to offer and neither was he the Anointed One.
2. I am not Elijah- yet he operated in the spirit and power of Elijah. Jesus called him the Elijah who was to come (Matt 11:14)
3. I am no the Prophet- yet his father called him the prophet of the Most High God.
John in humility knew only one mission, “to give God’s people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.” It was this baptism that he gave. He was here for preparation. The devil had tried to stop his birth but God paved through John the ministry of that great son Jesus. It is the same John we read about baptising in the Jordan and having Jesus come to him and receive a baptism of repentance. Yet John knew his rightful position, he was not worthy to remove the thongs off the sandals of Jesus. Because of his nature, John would encounter problems with Herod that would lead to his beheading.
Jesus’ words one day in Matthew 11:11 have a lot of weight, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” In the Gospel accounts we kind of lose track of John yet one thing is for sure. He had fulfilled his mission of preparing the way for the ministry of Jesus. When we look at our own lives we tend to realise that we doubt our capability when given tasks by God. But John was a marvel! He knew that He who came after him would baptise with fire and the Holy Spirit. He didn’t get intimidated by this fact and went about his work with all fervour.
We too need to get a cue from this son and go about our work with diligence. Remember that God is looking for people He can use to lay the foundation to a work to be completed by someone else. Let us learn to play complimentary roles so that the work of the Kingdom gains momentum and is finished in the fastest time possible. We should play our parts in the Body of Christ so that it can function as a unit without problems or distraction. For the way to be cleared preparation has to be made, you and I are part of that team that has to work like John. Even though we may fade out of the equation, it mustn’t derail our progress toward the destination set for us by the Almighty.
We need to learn from John that second place is good enough even though it means to give up all our fame and fortune. John was content with giving away all the fame to the glory of Jesus. He learnt to play the minor character in the play. As the story unfolds we see less and less of him. Why don’t we feel encouraged by this fact as well? Yes we may seem insignificant in the equation of Heaven but greater things await us. In Matthew 11:11 Jesus continues to say; “Yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he (John).”