Summary: The Greatness of John the Baptist
What marks people out as being great?
Power, wealth, Courage, humility, success.
We see this morning that John was a great man. He was humble, he had great joy and he was courageous enough to give a message of justice and judgement that was certainly not palatable to his hearers and eventually it cost him his life.
1. Jealousy v22-28
Is there anything more ugly than petty jealousy?
John the Baptist had not yet been thrown into prison. The Messiah that he was pointing forward to had come. Nevertheless, John continued his ministry. No early retirement for John. No “my work is complete lets take it easy”. John continues preaching, teaching and baptising. He does this near Salim because there was a lot of water there! John practiced full immersion baptism. John the Baptist was a Baptist!
Many were still coming to John to be baptised. However Jesus was just up the road and via his disciples was baptising as well. This was not a problem for John. However as so often happens with great men, it was a problem for his followers. People were flocking in far greater numbers to Jesus than to John. John’s followers were waning. His numbers were disappearing. He was getting less ‘successful’ in the eyes of some of his followers. Not all of his followers were like this of course, but there was an element.
V25 – there arose an argument between some of John’s disciples and a Jew about purification. An argument over whether the baptism of Jesus or John was more pure. This is the straw the breaks the camels back for John’s followers and they are the ones with the argumentative spirit. It is they who are arguing having a party spirit. John’s disciples are offended because of the attention that Jesus is getting is more than John. Oh dear!
In a spirit of self-justification and smugness they go to John – they don’t even mention Jesus’ name! V26! They then make reference to the fact the John testified about Jesus – not with a sense of well done John – but in fact quite the opposite. Then the worst news for John – “He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” In other words they are saying John – He has stolen your thunder by baptizing and if this carries on we won’t have any left they will have all gone to Jesus.
Petty, pathetic jealousy – and so often we are no different.
What is jealousy = a feeling of unhappiness and anger because someone has something or someone that you want.
Feeling unhappy and angry is not attractive is it?
When was the last time you felt jealous?
What makes us jealous? – sadly we can have church jealousy. The church down the road have more people attending on a Sunday morning. Good! Lets not have church jealousy. What about us here? What can we learn from John and Jesus and the situation that confronts John? How does this apply to us? The followers of John were attempting to drive a wedge between John and Jesus. That was the plan of our deceiver. What would he want to do here? Drive a wedge between Anthony and myself. What is the easiest way to do this? Have some people in the congregation try to drive a wedge between us. The devil will use any means to stop us from keeping our eyes fixed upon the Saviour. One of the things that the devil wants us to do is to look inwardly and look at the problems we have. Our numbers are few – so what! Ah if only David preached more than our numbers would increase. Ah say others if only Anthony preached more than our numbers would increase. War breaks out – who should preach the most! Not war between Anthony and myself but between those with a party spirit. It has happened in churches up and down the land for centuries. “our allegiance is for the new man not the old.” “the new man is nice but the old was so much better ….”. Times of change in church practice are often times when jealousy rises. “He didn’t do it like that”. In my previous church I was once criticised for being too similar to someone else! Sometimes you just can’t win! We have to guard against petty jealousy and keep our attention on the Lord not the Lords people.
How did John avoid jealousy? – v27 & 28 gives us the answer. Here once again we see how great a man John was. Here is an opportunity to keep his remaining followers. To keep his fame and the attention that this brings. What does he do? How does he answer. V27 – John is saying here that no man has a right to claim any honour or any task unless God has given it to him. Once a task and honour has been given it remains given. In the same way if a task is not given then it remains not given. John had been giving the task of preparing the way. God gave it to him. He had not come to be the Messiah. That task was given to another. V28 he goes on to explain his task – v28 – John says, “remember I told you that I wasn’t the Christ. I told you that clearly. I told you clearly who I am. I am the one who is sent before Him.”