Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of a woman there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” in Matt 11: 11a. That is an impressive compliment from God himself regarding John the Baptist. Could you imagine Jesus saying the same thing about you? What would it take for God to recognize you with that kind of statement?
Earlier in Matthew 3, we read John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness of Judea. We must recognize a trip to the wilderness is often signatory of something big happening or about to happen. John was preaching a message of repentance and dressed like a prophet in a camel hair garment and leather belt. John lived off the land eating honey and locusts, while preparing the way for Jesus.
Alexander Whyte, an old school Scottish fellow from the 1800’s wrote in his book, Concise Bible Characters, available here, that John the Baptist was feared by everyone. John the Baptist was no ordinary man. We know from Luke 1: 5-25, he was born to Zechariah the priest and his long barren wife Elizabeth and that he would be great before the Lord.
Additionally, we know John would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even while in the womb and must abstain from wine and strong drink as it was his role to turn the hearts of fathers to the children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.
Whyte wrote John was, “A terrible man. A man not to come near. The very bitumen-miners, whom everybody feared, were afraid of John. It made them sober and civil to one another when John came down to visit them in their squalid settlements.”
The very presence of John raised fear in people, not because John was a physical threat, but because in John they could see what was possible and how far below expectations and godliness they were. John’s very presence reflected the wickedness in the heart of those who met him, so they avoided him because he was righteous and filled with the Holy Spirit and a love of God that no one could deny.
John was so holy, he could not stand to live in Jerusalem or anywhere else because it hurt him. He could not live among the depraved, so he secluded himself in the wilderness and people came to hear him preach and call for repentance. Jesus reminds us of this in Matt 11: 7-9, when he said, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”
Jesus understood the call people were hearing to leave their home and visit John in the wilderness stemmed from the shallowness of their lives. John was a glimpse of something greater than themselves and he called them to repentance. John called people to a renewed faith and he empowered them to be greater than they were, if only for a moment.
John said of those coming to him and following him in Matt 3: 11, “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. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
So those same Sadducees and Pharisees who came to investigate John and rejected his baptism of repentance, would also reject Jesus and his baptism of faith. They wanted it both ways and neither. John was outside of the temple boundaries and living like a savage, while Jesus was everywhere and dining with the sinful and they could not stand it.
Jesus captured this in Matt 11: 18-19 when he said, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
It is hard not to love the beginning of Jesus ministry. We see John, the greatest of those born a woman, living the ascetic life as a righteous prophet of God who was still not good enough for the religious leadership because he was not one of them. Then we see Jesus, sinless and reaching those people the leadership would never talk to and they condemn him for his love of people and desire to restore them to health.
So where do you fall on this plumb line? Can you harness the righteousness of Jesus in your life like John the Baptist, while still being able to love your neighbor as yourself like Jesus, because they are in desperate need for it?
God has called you and provided a means for those who will say yes. Have you said, “Yes,” to Jesus? The time is now. There is precious little left to believe and follow. What are you waiting for?