I’ve always been fascinated with John the Baptist. As a Christian, or even a casual reader of the Bible, how could you not be? After all, this was a guy famous for his diet of locusts and wild honey. He dressed in camel hair. But beyond those external eccentricities, something else about him, or rather said about him, has always caught my attention:
Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!
Jesus the Messiah, God in human flesh, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and Savior of the world, said that in the first half of Matthew 11:11. And I’m quite sure Jesus’ appraisal of the life of His cousin had nothing to do with his diet or wardrobe. So then, what do we know about John from the Scriptures that would bring Jesus, certainly an authority on human greatness, to say no one born of a woman was ever greater than him?
Well, for starters he was made alive by God and literally filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. Obviously, this is not something which can be duplicated by man. Salvation is wholly an act of God, and that his regeneration happened before he took his first breath is certainly not normative. However, it’s clear that salvation is a prerequisite to any sense of divinely sanctioned greatness. In other words, you can’t be “great” until you realize you aren’t great at all. You can’t be great until you’ve been saved by the grace of God. John the Baptist was saved by the grace of God, and his God-given spiritual eyes were fixed upon the promises of God by faith. You must have saving faith to be great.
John the Baptist also had a superior sense of purpose in his life. It helps, of course, that his life’s mission was mapped out by God before he was even born, and spoken of in the Scriptures up to 750 years or so before he was conceived. He was the appointed forerunner of the Messiah, the voice in the wilderness making straight the way of YHWH. You may be tempted to think you cannot have such a strong sense of purpose for your life because your life isn’t similarly mapped out. But if you think that it only means you aren’t thinking highly enough of God’s revealed will, and the simplicity, clarity, and sufficiency of Scripture.
God’s commands are not altogether too complicated, you know? After all, 1 John 5:3 says,
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
John the Baptist simply knew God’s will for his life and obeyed him. And we can do the same thing, whether we are pastors, policemen, stay-at-home mothers, or what have you. We just have to be eager listeners for the voice of God, which means we must be diligent students of the Bible.
But that’s not all. Our faith must act even when it will make us unpopular, and even when it will put our own lives in danger.
All Jerusalem and Judea was going out to hear John the Baptist preach in Matthew 3 and Luke 3. They were going to hear him because he was different, but in the meantime many people’s hearts were being changed by God and they were being baptized as they confessed their sins. But not everyone thought that what was going on was great. Many Pharisees and Sadducees were coming for baptism, not because their hearts had been changed, but because it looked us – so focused on the externals was their Judaism at the time.
John the Baptist, then, was willing to call a spade a spade. He was willing to call sin “sin.” He was willing to look people in the eyes and say, “You brood of vipers.”
We need more people willing to stand in the pulpits and in the forums God gives us who are willing to say, “You brood of vipers.” What has it gained the people of God to welcome heterodoxy, to link arms with those who deny the historic, biblical teaching of the Trinity? Who has come to know the Lord Jesus Christ because a pastor here and a pastor there has waffled on the biblical teaching of marriage instead of telling the truth about divorce, adultery, and homosexuality? And how many lives have been ended before their first breath because the church has kept its lips shut on abortion?
We need pastors, and Christians, who are ready, willing, and able to say the hard things, to speak the hard truths, no matter how they might be castigated and misrepresented by the world… and for that matter, more passive forms of religion passing for biblical Christianity. We need more John the Baptists, willing to call a sin a sin and willing to call a brood of vipers a brood of vipers.
John the Baptist was willing to speak the truth even when it meant imprisonment and death. He called out Herod for stealing his brother’s wife, saying quite plainly, “It is now lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Instead of quietly withdrawing from the spotlight as to not offend (cough, Louie Giglio, cough), we need pastors and Christians who will stand firm and say, “Mr. President, your views on abortion are absolutely evil and damnable. Your support for what is called ‘gay marriage’ is an abomination before the Lord. Repent and believe in the gospel, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In case you haven’t realized it there is a spiritual war going on, and the timid make for poor soldiers. You don’t make peace with the enemy on the battlefield, you meet him with your weapons. Ours is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, in which we find the gospel. And just to be clear, the people aren’t our enemies. Their beliefs are. And so we speak the truth to them – plain and simple. In love, mind you, but the unadulterated truth nonetheless. If we believe Jesus is coming again – and I do because the Bible says so – then Christians young and old, male and female, pastors and parishioners need to be like John the Baptist, the greatest of all men born of a woman, making the path of our coming Lord straight.
You want to show your passion for Jesus Christ? You want to truly be on the cutting edge of society? Don’t wear camel hair and eat locusts and wild honey, but do speak plainly about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do call sin what it is. Be willing to call those opposing the truth a brood of vipers. And do warn those not following Jesus Christ that the result if nothing changes is eternity in the lake of fire. Quite simply, these are the most loving things you can do for those who don’t know Jesus.
The church has had its fill of equivocators. We need men and women who are great in the eyes of God, not the world. We need more John the Baptists.