John the Baptist stands out as a memorable character. He lived in the wilderness, wore garments made of camel hair, ate locusts and wild honey, and was the cousin of Jesus Christ. John bridged the gap between the Old and New Testament and ended 400 years of silence on the expectation of the promised Messiah by preparing the way for the coming of Jesus. Although John attracted large crowds and had his own disciples, he never let it detract from his mission. When he saw Jesus, he said “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Today, we can look at the example of John the Baptist as a witness who continually pointed to Jesus. His life and message were marked with simplicity, humility and earnestness. We can learn much from him as we share the gospel with others and seek to live our lives for Jesus. Here are 5 lessons that we can take from this iconic preacher:
1. He gave an answer to those who asked
Many people came to John and some thought he was the promised Messiah. Others asked if he was Elijah or the Prophet. People wanted answers and John made sure to clarify that he was not who they thought he was. When pressed to give an answer, he proclaimed the words found in Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:19-25). John knew his purpose and lived his life for that calling.
We need to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope” that we have as Christians (1 Peter 3:15). Like John, we need to be sure of this calling. This is not about having the answers to all of life’s questions. But in wanting to share the gospel we should be ready and willing to share the hope found in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and hold fast to our identity in Him. We need to be equipped and encouraged through prayer and by the Word of God, and live a life knowing whose we are.
2. He proclaimed a simple message with eternity in mind
In Matthew 3:1-2, John the Baptist came “preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”’John did not shy away from exhorting others to repent of their sins and be baptized as he had an eternal perspective, knowing that Christ would come and there would be a judgement. Why do we so often stay silent on these important truths? We need to have the same perspective of eternal matters, knowing with confidence that Jesus died, rose again and ascended to be at the right hand of the Father and that He will return again.
In Luke 3:18, it says that “with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.” However, in the previous verse, the picture is of the coming Messiah with a “winnowing fork… in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” There is a clear distinction between the wheat and the chaff. One is gathered into a barn. One will be burned in unquenchable fire. Jesus also spoke of a narrow gate which leads to life and a wide gate which is broad that leads to destruction – and many go that way (Matthew 7:13). This seems like bad news.
John is clear that there are two outcomes with eternal consequences for people. The good news is that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6) and He has made a way for people to be saved. We need to understand the seriousness of sin and the outcome of not repenting. The good news and the need for a Savior will only make sense when contrasted with the other outcome.
What will our response to Jesus be? The crowds that gathered around John asked “what should we do then?” (Luke 3:10). John wanted people to live differently, giving to those in need, repenting of their sins and being baptized as a sign of new life. We have the Holy Spirit in us when we believe in Jesus and He will help us to live our lives for God. Today, we have to present the gospel message knowing that it is the Lord who is the one that is mighty to save (Zephaniah 3:17). We want people to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and believe the good news that Jesus Himself proclaimed (Mark 1:15).
3. He challenged sin and it eventually cost him his life
When we look at the life of both John the Baptist and Jesus, they challenged those who thought they were right in the eyes of God. The religious leaders thought they were above reproach, yet it was Jesus who rebuked them and He spent time with those in society who were viewed as sinners. John also challenged the tetrarch Herod Antipas for taking his brother’s wife, Herodias, saying that it was not lawful for Herod to have her (Matthew 14:4). John was put in prison and eventually beheaded because of calling out their sin.
Following Christ is costly. Or it should be if we believe and obey God’s Word. It means caring about the most vulnerable in society, living a life of repentance, obedience and sacrifice, and fully surrendering and depending on the Lord. Can we honestly say that we live like this? We need Jesus daily in the ongoing fight against sin and we need His help and strength as we follow Him.
Many Christians in the world are persecuted, imprisoned and killed for their faith simply for following Jesus. Will we follow Jesus even if it costs us our freedom or even our lives? Will we put to death the sin in our own lives with the help of the Holy Spirit? Do we really grasp how much it cost Jesus so that we may be reconciled to God? May we linger at the cross a little while longer in worship and awe as we prepare to take up our cross daily and follow Him.
4. He was humble
When people flocked to John to hear his preaching and follow him, this did not make John proud and prevent him from knowing who he was in relation to Jesus. Despite his popularity with the crowds, John knew that he must decrease and that Jesus must increase (John 3:30). He knew he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals and that Jesus should baptize him and not the other way around (Matthew 3:11,14). But when Jesus said He needed to be baptized by John, John consented. He continuously pointed others to Christ and some of his own disciples left him to follow Jesus. This was how it was supposed to be. John knew that he was a forerunner to Jesus and made sure that he never lost sight of that.
We need to die to ourselves and our desires daily. That does not mean we do not make mistakes, but like John, we must not lose sight of Jesus. We need to live a life of humility and not pride. Everything we do should be motivated by our love for God because of all that He is and all that He has done for us. We live in a culture where our comfort and needs are often thought of as the highest priority. But what about humbling ourselves before our Lord and King? We need less of us, more of Jesus.
5. He really knew Jesus and always pointed others to Him
John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15) and recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). As John saw Jesus, we can imagine the excitement and anticipation as John prepared the way for the Lord as prophesied in Isaiah 40:3. It was a world-changing moment as the Word that became flesh walked in the fullness of both His humanity and deity, fulfilling the awaited prophecies about the coming Messiah.
If we long to be effective witnesses in the world, we need to be on our knees before God. We get to know Jesus more by spending time in His presence through prayer and reading His Word. The Holy Spirit is in us as believers and leads us to all truth (John 16:13).
There are many messages that come our way every day. Advertising, social media, celebrities, influencers, friends, family and more are all shaping our worldview. It can be easy to get lost in a sea of voices that try to define who we should be. However, as Christians we are “in Christ” and part of a new creation that is “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:10). Every message should be understood with God’s Word as our foundation. In Romans 12:2 it says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As this transformation takes place in our lives and as we know Jesus more deeply, we will experience a boldness and a zeal to speak up and share Him with others even more.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Aaron Burden