JOHN THE BAPTIST - THE FORERUNNER. Based upon John 1: 19-42. & Luke 3:1-20).

JOHN 1:19-22. John the Baptist was an honest man. He did not claim more for himself than he should.
 
For a time, he was the centre of a great deal of attention. People from all around went into the wilderness to see him, and to hear what he had to say. The Jewish leaders sent messengers from Jerusalem; to ask: ‘Are you the Christ? If not; are you the 'Prophet’ that Moses promised would come?’
 
Those who had been sent to ask; and the crowd all around; wanted an answer to the question: ‘Who are you? What do you have to say for yourself?’ John could have been prideful and dishonest. He could have kept attention on himself. But he remained faithful to his calling, and focused it upon repentance, baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and upon Christ himself.
 
When attention began to be centred upon Jesus; John made no attempt to draw it back to himself once more.  He did not claim more for himself than he should; and nor should we.
 
JOHN 1: 23-28. However, we read that John didn't claim for himself less than he should, either. He said: ‘I am the voice of one crying in the desert: “Make straight the way for the Lord".
 
He recognized that he had a part to play in God's great scheme of things: and appears not to have had any false humility about it. He knew just who he was. This recognition enabled him to serve the Lord in a straightforward way: in the place where he was set, and in accordance with God's will of him.
 
We, too, have a part to play in God's great scheme of things, as we, in our day, help to: 'make straight the way for the Lord', in the places where we are.
 
John did not claim less for himself than he ought: and nor should we.
 
LUKE 3: 1+2. Scripture shows that John the Baptist was commissioned to undertake a particular ministry: and that he got on with it at once.
 
Each year, within Methodism, at a special Synod; that year's candidates for ministerial training, are obliged to say why and how they feel called of God. It is quite usual for candidates to begin by saying: ‘I first felt the call to the ordained ministry, five years ago... nine years ago ...thirteen years ago’ …and so on. Sometimes, members of Synod ask. ‘Why did you wait so long?’ or ‘If you felt that God was calling you; why didn't you simply get on with it?’.
 
Usually, the answers appear to relate more to human desires, than to God's will in the matter. Such things as: ‘I wanted the children to complete their education’...or... ‘We felt that we ought to finish paying the mortgage on our house, so that we had our own place to retire to’, and so on.
Although such answers may sound good, and sensible; Jesus taught that our 'good reasons' are often unacceptable-to-God excuses.
 
Christ gave various teachings and warnings about ignoring God's call; especially in the 'Parable of the Great Feast', which is an image of God calling his people to share in what our communion-service sometimes refers to as: 'The Heavenly Banquet’.
 
Some of those called, gave what they considered good reasons why they couldn't attend the feast: ‘I've just bought some land’...’I've just got married’...and ‘I've bought some oxen, and I want to go and see them’. Jesus made it quite clear that such apparently 'good' reasons were entirely unacceptable excuses.
 
If we fail to fulfil our calling of God; will the Lord accept our explanations as to why, as 'good reasons'; or as excuses? It is essential for us to know, because Christ taught that: ‘Not one of those who were invited, but who made excuses, will get a taste of my banquet’. Luke 14.
 
In this teaching, there are great implications that cannot be ignored.
 
John the Baptist did things properly. He responded to God's call straight away. His ministry was valid, because it was in obedience to God's will; and because it actually achieved all that the Lord required of  him.
 
LUKE 3:4b. John's ministry was fully in keeping with the relevant Old Testament prophecies, because he did ‘prepare the way’ for Christ. Not only that; his challenge to the people; to repent and make new beginnings; prefigured Christ's own teaching about repentance, because the Kingdom of God had drawn near. The Old Testament prophecies; and John's witness to Christ; and the Lord's own ministry, all had a 'togetherness' that pointed to validity. Validity has a wonderful power to attract people; hold their attention; and encourage them into a personal experience of God.
 
John's witness to Christ was soundly based; simple, and effective; doing all that was required of him. Our personal witness to Christ must be like that: soundly based, simple and effective: doing all that is required of us.
 
LUKE 3: 10. John's witness and ministry was encouraging to those who really listened to what he had to say, and accepted it; because it met them in their situations. He didn't criticize soldiers for being soldiers. Instead, he told them to he ‘good soldiers’. He didn't criticize tax-collectors, who worked for the hated Roman government. Instead, he told them to be honest tax-collectors.
 
 In this way, too, John's ministry prefigured the greater ministry of Jesus; who always accepted people just as they were; with a view to their response to his acceptance of them, effecting good change in their lives.
 
Many Christians, and many churches, take a very different approach; which often insists on people being changed for the better, before they can be fully accepted into the ‘Church Family’. Such an attitude is quite foreign to the teaching of Jesus. The 'call' of Christ is always: ‘Follow me; as you are; from where you are at’.
 
And our response to his continuing call must always be in keeping with his will for us; as we are; from the places where we are at. If we believe this for ourselves; how might we encourage it in others?
 
JOHN 1:31. We find John the Baptist saying of Jesus: ‘I myself did not know him; but the reason I came baptizing with water, was that he might be revealed to Israel’. John cannot be saying that he had never seen Jesus before; after all, they were second cousins, whose mothers appear to have been close friends.
 
What John is really saying is this: ‘Of course I knew him as my cousin, Jesus; but, at that time, I never knew who he was; not in the way that I now know him, as the Christ: and I  would have continued not to know him as God's Christ, except that the One who sent me, made him known to me’.
 
John's statement has something to say to us. Many Christians appear to think that they cannot witness to Christ until they have made enough spiritual growth to qualify to do so; and that, when they really know Christ, they can give a meaningful testimony.
 
On the face of it, that seems a good thought; but, according to the gospels, that wasn't John the Baptist's approach to his call. He was at the Jordan, baptizing people, and helping prepare them for the coming Messiah, before he knew who the Messiah was.
 
John lived a God-loving life ... received a 'call'...responded to it straight away ... and got on with things in a simple and effective manner. By so doing, he confirmed and fulfilled God's requirements of him.
 
From his own developing position of knowledge and faith; John began to encourage others to discover Christ for themselves; and to receive new life from the Lord.
 
The texts seem to show that it was only from the moment of Christ's Jordan baptism that John really knew for whom he had been preparing, and what his continuing ministry was about.
 
John witnessed to what he knew and believed, at each stage of his ongoing life of faith and service;  and we are called of God to do the same; to witness to what we know and believe, at each successive stage of our lives.
 
As we respond to God's call in this way, a deeper sense and understanding of what we are ultimately called to is given to us: and so we grow.
JOHN 1:32. John's call may have differed from ours in terms of detail; but it is not different from ours in principle. Christians are called to serve the Lord, and, through the Holy Spirit, are given all the necessary gifts and graces.
 
What John the Baptist received, we can receive: no more; but no less, either. No matter how we might search the relevant bible-passages about John, we find no trace of him being able to do anything that we could not do providing that; like him, we are obedient to the will of God.
 
Apart from a brief touch on ‘a voice calling in the wilderness’, John the Baptist did not quote scripture. He did not perform miracles; raise the dead; heal the sick, or do any 'great works' in the way that Jesus did. John appears to have had no teaching of his own to offer.
 
He did not occupy an official position in the life of the nation; or in the Hebrew religion. He had no professional status or social position to set him apart as someone special; yet John stands out of the pages of the Bible.
 
He was a 'man sent by God', yes! but no different in principle from us, in our calling of God. What God asked John the Baptist to do: he actually did; through obedience; and by simply getting on with things. He preached true repentance as the only sure basis of true forgiveness; and spoke of Christ, and his essential importance, in ways that encouraged people to accept the Lord for themselves: and to follow him. We are called, to do no more than John, but also to do no less.
 
John, the Forerunner, prepared the way for Christ; then stood back, and allowed Jesus to take over from then on.
 
Although effective witness to Christ is of very great importance; there comes the proper moment when enough has been said and done; and where the Lord must be allowed to speak for himself
 
John was called to be the 'Forerunner' to Christ, on the great, historical scale.
 
We are called to be 'forerunners' of Christ on the small, local scale; in our own day. When did we last give a witness to Christ, in such a way that someone began to accept him into their life?   Amen.