John the Baptist

CC BY-NC, david_shankbone, Flickr

CC BY-NC, david_shankbone, Flickr

John the Baptist—the more I think of him the more I consider how his peculiar upbringing must have resembled Jesus’s.

The archangel Gabriel had detailed John’s life and purpose to his father Zechariah in the temple. John would be great and greatly used by God. Certainly Zechariah and Elizabeth were proud to know this, declared by the chief emissary of Heaven. “He will be a joy and delight to you,” Gabriel had promised.

But I wonder what became of their mood as John grew. This son of the priest bore a deep spirituality, but did it look like it was going off the rails as it evolved? Did his attitude toward Israel, fierce message of repentance, and uncustomary baptism of Jews seem radical to his parents? And were they maxed out and questioning God when John left the comfort of home for the wilderness, a preaching ascetic and possible embarrassment to his father?

I don’t know. Perhaps Zechariah had learned well from his first bout of unbelief and muteness and fully trusted despite his concerns. Furthermore, how do we respond to our relatives and acquaintances when their pattern of life or spirituality takes turns that throw our minds into tailspins? It can be scary to watch.

Everything’s Gonna Be All Right

Most of us haven’t had the assurance of an angel that our Johnny was gonna be okay. It would be great if there were a way to be certain that the people we love would turn out all right in their emotional and spiritual development. Since there isn’t, we have to do the next best things, which I will explain.

Concerns or problems do not exist in vacuums; people are involved. We must remember that dealing with potential issues is necessarily relational. We must avail ourselves to people about whom we have concerns. No one appreciates being viewed as a problem or problematic. Even mentally ill people deserve the respect of being treated as persons.

True care for people makes it easier for us to hear them, see the issue fully or discern whether there really is one, and offer our knowledge and counsel. We cannot help people we do not love.

Moreover, we must sometimes release people to discover their own way. This can be hard but none of us like hearing stories about folk hard-pressed by religious rearing who rebel. We would never want to create haters of God.

Freedom grants a person the ability to detach from all he or she knows to rummage through the piles of acquired wisdom and decide for themselves what they believe—and we should respect a person’s right to think and choose for themselves. Joshua expresses this marvelously: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served…or the gods…in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (24:15).

We should not view this negatively, as though we release a person to their doom. This is to forget the providence of God. Sometimes people go through periods of questioning, conflict, or gloom like stages in birth without which we would never see the light of greatness within them. No, we never give up on others but can be certain that God will control what we cannot.

The process may not always feel good or look glamorous, but just because it doesn’t look like what we expected doesn’t mean God isn’t in it. We just have to trust him.

Now, Back to John…

We see the full picture of John the Baptist and know that he was among the greatest Hebrew prophets. He must have owned a deep spirituality and interaction with God, for he sensed a profound call and exercised astute spiritual discipline.

I can imagine that John would have been viewed as uncouth by many of his society when, in fact, he was spiritually avant-garde. But he was what he was—by some an assumed religious quack roaming the back country—because of what was inside of him. John’s process was the only way for his greatness to come forth.

John’s testimony of Jesus (John 1:29-34) is pretty revealing to me of God’s power and reality in his life. John and Jesus didn’t know one another, and John had no reason to know that Jesus was the Messiah until he baptized him. But it wasn’t merely the baptism that pointed out Christ to John; Jesus already existed in John’s pronounced spiritual aptitude. Look and ponder carefully:

I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’ (1:32-33).

If Zechariah and Elizabeth could have only seen how their boy turned out.

More on this topic: God, Our Contender

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7 thoughts on “John the Baptist

  1. I know this is off topic, but I have wondered how he came to know Jesus was the Messiah. They were cousins, so I’m guessing they knew each other. I wonder if God opened John the Baptist’s mind at the appropriate time like Jesus did for his disciples in Luke 24:45?

    • I think the two may have known of one another but surely without close personal contact since they would’ve only seen one another at special times given that John lived in Judea and Jesus in Galilee. John’s parents were old, too; then John seems to have removed himself from society later. Matt. 3:14 indicates John’s personal knowledge of Jesus, yet John 1:31ff implies that John only knew Jesus was the Messiah by the God’s instruction to him and not before then. And remember later, John still questioned whether Jesus was the one! Wadda ya think?

      • I think you have some valid points. I have considered the possibility that they have ever met. This could easily be the case as God could have orchestrated their crossing of paths at just the right time. Nonetheless, I think John may have made his share of detractors with his preaching of repentance. Some things never change.

  2. Never thought of John the Baptist as “avant-garde”. LOL. I guess he would be pretty “hip” today.
    But you have touched on a point I firmly believe in – life isn’t about ourselves. Therefore we aren’t meant to be comfortable but comforting.

    Talk about getting out of his comfort zone – John left everything behind and his message of repentance and hope was comforting to the people.

    I had a colleague who quit his job, sold his house, his car and moved his whole family (wife and 10 kids) to northern Thailand to work in a Christian organisation. Uncomfortable? You bet. Comforting? His healing ministry has blessed many people.

    That’s what happens when God aligns our lives to His plan.

    • Stephen, I really appreciate the point you’ve made: called not to be comfortable but comforting. That’s sobering and, in one way, meshes with what I heard the Lord speaking into my heart at church today. Thank you.

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