Grace in Opposites
The most enigmatic person in the whole Bible to me is probably John the Baptist. Jesus remarked about the man: “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). There are a number of passages that address John, but most of them seem to be in the peripheral, at least in my mind.
More to the point, the man Jesus called the “greatest” wore camel hair and lived in the desert alone. He ate bugs and honey. He was rugged, but never indulged in alcohol – he never cut his hair. I don’t know if he went to school, but he was wise and unafraid to directly chastise the “wise” and the religious leaders. He had a following, but did not get upset when some of his disciples left him and went to Jesus. He was humble, but he stood his ground and did what he was driven to do – what “had been prepared in advance for him to do” (Ephesians 2:10b). John knew his Savior – when Jesus came to him to be baptized, John proclaimed the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world;” then he intimated to Jesus, perhaps in a whisper, how backwards this seemed to him – a man unworthy to touch the Savior’s sandals (Matthew 3:13).
Jesus grew in reputation. When someone came up to John and asked him if he was jealous that Jesus was getting more attention, John didn’t take his eye off the ball, as my father used to tell me in little league. Here’s the passage that specifically catches my attention:
To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:27-30)
The line, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” is what I have focused so much of my mind on lately. I don’t know if you are like that or not, but I fixate on things – thoughts, ideas, concepts – until I feel like I’ve uncovered them sufficiently. This line from God’s word drew my attention.
It stood out for me so much because of the comparison and contrast between the man and the Savior God. John the Baptist was described as the “greatest” man ever born, but he was a man. He was a special man, though.
The nature-nurture argument came into my mind. Was it John’s parents who made him so special, or was he born with it? Did he have friends or leaders while growing up that influenced his disposition and tenacity? How did he learn to become a man? The “best” man?
It was neither nature, nor nurture, nor anything else in this world. John recognized that. When he was asked if he was jealous, he responded that “a man can only receive what is given him from heaven”. He didn’t tell them that he loved Jesus and was happy that he was getting credit for his hard work. He didn’t say that he wanted to partner with Jesus in his work. He didn’t even say that he was happy that his friend was getting the credit he deserved. He didn’t suggest nature. He didn’t refer to nurture.
He brought heaven up. He gave a godly perspective to sinful men. His mission was to make a straight path for the Savior, and, even when his time was ending, he continued to do his job. Heaven had destined John. God had planned every single aspect of his life and his death. God controlled “nature” and “nurture” to fulfill HIS work through John. The “greatest” man saw that in the question.
But his response is even more full. He not only showed how little man is, how his role as the forerunner fit into the gift of salvation from heaven, but he also shared his joy in response to his own faith in Jesus. He told the crowd that he is the “friend” of the “bridegroom” who is the “Christ”. He shared his happiness in the arrival of the Savior.
In comparison, becoming less is transitory, frivolous, and meaningless. John knew that; we learn that through more and more experiences. No. Not through experiences, from HEAVEN. God has a plan for us, just like he had a plan for John the desert preacher and baptizer. Our roles may be less, but God’s will be just as great as they were when he sent his Savior to this earth for us.
May Jesus become greater. May we become less so that our joy will become complete. Only through grace – only from heaven.