July 1: Matthew 11

Gerald Bray
John the Baptist

v. 11. "Among those born of woman there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist."

Working for someone else is never easy. Playing second-fiddle to the great man up front can be a very frustrating experience. Holding down a job for a while, only to be replaced by someone of obviously superior qualifications and merits can be downright humiliating, especially if the transition was not a smooth one.

John the Baptist was only a few months older than Jesus, but his life had been much harder. Jesus had grown to maturity in the obscurity and comfort of Joseph's home in Nazareth. By the time he left that behind he was already quite an old man by ancient standards - thirty, when most people barely lived a decade longer than that. John, on the other hand, had left home early. Perhaps he had to. His parents probably died when he was still quite young, because they were very old when he was born. No doubt he could have settled into life in the temple, but he was called to a prophetic ministry, and the temple was not a good place for something like that. He was going to rock the boat, and the only way to do that and get away with it was to go elsewhere - to the desert, where he lived off the land and preached to whoever might come along.

It probably took several years, but eventually he became famous, and people who would have been embarrassed to have him in their homes went out into the desert to see what he was doing and to listen to what he had to stay. Some of them stayed there with him, becoming his disciples and spreading his message as best they could.

Yet all along John knew that he was a transitional figure, destined to fade away and disappear when the man who was greater than he was should appear. One day, he did. Jesus came to him asking for baptism, and John refused, because he knew that he was unworthy to perform such an act on someone as holy and righteous as the Son of God. But Jesus insisted, and John complied. Later, they went their separate ways, and before long John was arrested. It seems that in prison he began to doubt himself, and to wonder whether he really was the forerunner of the Messiah. He sent messengers to Jesus asking for confirmation of that, and Jesus was able to reassure him before he was finally beheaded.

But Jesus went much further than that. He could have told people that he was much better than John and that his message was the real thing, whereas John's had just been a stopgap. He could have told people tgat he performed miracles, which John was unable to do. Yet Jesus did none of those things. Instead, he told everyone who would listen that John was the greatest man who had ever lived. The fact that he was languishing in prison meant nothing - all the prophets had suffered a similar fate in their time, and John's martyrdom was his glory, not his shame.

Like John, we too are called to preach the coming of the King. Like him, we are servants, who must bow out when the King comes to claim his own. We may suffer as John suffered and we may come to doubt our mission and calling. But Jesus will not forget us, nor will he let us down. What he said about John to the Jews he will say about us to his heavenly Father, on they day when he presents us to him in his glory. There is no greater calling and no greater life than serving the Lord Jesus. Let us pray that he will come quickly, and that we shall see him in his glory on earth and in heaven, for ever and ever. Amen.