John the Baptist is our Advent focus this year. John prepared the people for Jesus’ coming. And he can also prepare us as we get ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas and also as we await the second coming of Jesus; his second advent, which could happen at any time.
Last week we saw how he prepares us through his message of repentance. We are to set aside our sin and our excuses for our sin, and commit to do God’s will in all of our lives. And then, just as the people did in John the Baptist’s day, we can come and confess our sins and find forgiveness.
Today we focus on how John’s example of humility prepares us. But first, a bit more on the person of John the Baptist. We looked at some things last week, but today we take note of –
John’s exalted status
John was chosen by God and given a special role in God’s scheme of things; God’s plan for this world. And not only this, he is spoken of very highly in Scripture.
1. His birth was announced by an angel in the Temple – Luke 1:13. How many people can claim this?
2. He received the Spirit ‘in utero’ as it were. The angel said, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” – Luke 1:15.
3. His birth was special. When people heard about the circumstances of his birth, about his mother being older and unable to have children and his father not being able to speak and then speaking to name him “John,” they said, “‘What then will this child be?’ For the hand of the Lord was with him.” – Luke 1:65-66.
4. It’s the testimony of Scripture that “He was a righteous and holy man” – Mark 6:20.
5. He baptized Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17. An amazing privilege.
6. He was the first to confess Jesus’ identity. He said, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” – John 1:34.
7. He was immensely popular. “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” – Mark 1:5.
8. He was respected by the king. Herod arrested him, but nevertheless, “Herod feared John . . . and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly” – Mark 6:20
9. Jesus said about him, “He was a burning and shining lamp” – John 5:35.
10. Jesus said, “John came to you in the way of righteousness” – Matthew 21:32.
11. His father prophesied great things about him at his birth. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” – Luke 1:76-77.
12. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. Jesus said, “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’” – Luke 7:26-27.
13. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. “For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” – Matthew 3:3.
14. He is the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6. This speaks of Elijah coming before the day of the Lord. “And the disciples asked Jesus, ‘Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ He answered, ‘Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased’. . . Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.” – Matthew 17:10-13. (Also, Matthew 11:14; Luke 1:17)
15. John is the dividing line between the old and new covenants. Jesus said, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached.” – Luke 16:16.
16. John was the greatest of the old covenant. Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” – Luke 7:28. That is, those among the old covenant. Think about it. John is greater than Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah!
It’s difficult to find someone in Scripture spoken of more highly, and certainly none in terms of the words of Jesus. What an amazing person! And what an amazing ministry he had!
Now lets’ look at –
How John’s example prepares us for the coming of Jesus
And what I want to say here is that he presents an example to us of true humility. And given his exalted status and all the accolades, this really stands out.
He saw himself as unworthy in comparison to Jesus. He said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” – Matthew 3:11. He sees himself as not even worthy to do slave service for Jesus; carrying his sandals.
He claimed no titles. “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’” – John 1:20-21. Now, Jesus called him the prophet and Elijah. But John was uncomfortable with these titles. He simply saw himself as the one who prepares the way.
He felt unworthy to baptize Jesus. Scripture tells us, “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” – Matthew 3:14.
He willingly let his disciples follow Jesus. “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” – John 1:35-37.
John always deferred to Jesus. Someone said to John, “Rabbi, he . . . to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” – John 3:26. Would he be envious? John answered them, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” – John 3:29. He’s simply the friend of the bridegroom. The party’s for the groom, not the friend. And he’s happy for Jesus. Finally, and succinctly, John said this about Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” – John 3:30.
What an amazing portrait of humility! He was socially humble, claiming no status. He was economically humble, being poor. He was personally humble, as a virtue in his relations with others. And he was humble before God and submitted to him. “Whatever you want God, that’s what I want.”
And this stands out all the more in contrast to king Herod and the Pharisees and Sadducees, where we see pride, self-righteousness, and self-sufficiency.
But notice that John, in his humility, was blessed by Jesus when he came. But all these others, because of their pride, found themselves opposing Jesus and being opposed by Jesus. They lifted themselves up and so they were not ready for the coming of the Lord.
What about you? Where is there pride, self-righteousness or self-sufficiency in your life?
Do you strive to be recognized, as opposed to lifting Jesus up? Do you have areas of your life where you think you don’t need Jesus? Are there issues where you think you know more than Jesus, and so you don’t listen to him or obey him? When he challenges you, do you resist because you are too arrogant to listen or yield?
John teaches us that getting ready for Jesus’ advent means getting rid of our arrogance and learning true humility before God.
Jesus said in Luke 14:11 “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” that is by God when he comes. But he also said in the same verse, “he who humbles himself will be exalted,” that is by God when he comes – just as John was exalted and blessed.
And if we follow John’s example, we too can be blessed, when we celebrate and worship our Lord this Christmas, and on that final day when he returns in great glory.