Summary: Beginning on series on Jesus’ life, actions, words, and ministry. This is a New Year’s message about making Jesus #1 in our lives.

John 1:6-9 – Runner Up

I’d like to begin this morning by reading John 1:6-9.

Today is of course New Year’s Day. It’s the 1st day of the 1st month of the new year. Today we are going to talk a little about being first, and being second, and what all that means.

I’d like to take us back to a dark year and a bright year for Canadians. The year was 1988, and it was an Olympic year. The summer games were held in Seoul, Korea. In that year a runner for Canada, Ben Johnson, set the world record for running the 100-metre dash. It was a great moment, until he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He was stripped of his gold medal and his record, making the 2nd place runner, the American Carl Lewis, the official champ.

But our country had a bright moment that year, and you probably have never heard his name. Lawrence Lemieux, an athlete from Edmonton, Alberta, was in the yachting competition on a very windy September 17, 1988. He was on course for winning a silver medal when he noticed Joseph Chan of Singapore struggling in the water. His boat had capsized, and Chan was injured, barely staying afloat. Lemieux abandoned the race and saved his competitor.

Now, this cost Lemieux the race. He finished in 21st place. But his bravery did not go unnoticed. At the closing ceremonies, the International Olympic Committee awarded a medal even more prestigious than a gold medal. Lemieux was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for Sportsmanship for demonstrating the spirit of sportsmanship.

Larry Lemieux commented on this award: “It’s the first rule of sailing to help people in distress.” He was saying that he wasn’t really a hero – he was just doing what was right. For him, losing his place or his status or his reward was less important than putting someone else first.

This makes me think of John the Baptist today. In 2006 we are journeying with Jesus. We are looking at Jesus’ life, His miracles, His teachings. We are going to be studying the role model for believers, and try to put into practice His purposes in our lives. And a great way to start is by studying Jesus’ runner-up, John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. He too had a miraculous birth, born of a couple well past the age of normal conception. His arrival had an angelic announcement, and he grew up with special promises attached to his mission. John the Baptist’s mission was to prepare people’s hearts for Jesus. His message was simple: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

He was called The Baptist because he, obviously, baptized people. He said, “I baptize you with [or, in] water for repentance.” His was a baptism of repentance, of turning away from sins. What he did was a symbol of people leaving their old ways and following the way of the Lord. He was like an OT prophet, shouting from the rooftops what people should do, and then helping them turn that way.

You see, John the Baptist was given a very important role in the whole scheme of things. He was the announcer to Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was quite a privilege and a burden, all wrapped up together. Come to think of it, most things God asks us to do are a combination of privilege and burden. They aren’t always easy, and can sometimes weigh heavy on us, but they are also part of God’s wonderful plans for our lives. Privileges and burdens altogether.

Now, this is what Jesus had to so about John the Baptist’s ministry: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Jesus was saying that John was a great man.

Granted, Jesus went on to say this as well: “Yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This means that even though John was a great man, even he did not see what the disciples went on to see: a crucified, resurrected and glorified Savior. Even John’s message was inferior to ours: that we can serve in grace and mercy the risen Lord Jesus. John the Baptist was bound by OT laws; we are not. That’s why Jesus said that anyone is greater than John. It’s because we are better off now than he was then.

But Jesus still said that John the Baptist was greater than anyone else. That’s quite a comment coming from the Lord of all knowledge. Now, here’s what John said about Jesus: “After me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.” In a similar passage, John said that he was “not worthy to stoop down and untie” the straps on Jesus’ sandals.

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