The Humility of John the Baptist

john-baptistWhile writing yesterday’s post, I was so moved and encouraged by the second half of John chapter 3 that I knew I wanted to share it today. Not only do we see John share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but we also see John the Baptist humbly reminding his disciples of who he is and who Jesus is. Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday in John 3 verse 22:

John 3:22-30 (ESV)
22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).

25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

It is so easy to forget your place in God’s plan, especially for those with a special calling. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he was in his mother’s womb. Even before birth he bore witness to the as yet unborn Jesus Christ in Mary’s womb. John didn’t just decrease to a secondary position, he knew that he had to decrease and step away from the limelight completely. The bridegroom had arrived, and his job was fulfilled. That isn’t easy… it takes humility to accept that your job is over, and you will no longer take part. Notice that John the Baptist didn’t transition into being a Disciple or Apostle of Jesus Christ. He continued proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven and pointing to Jesus as the Christ, as was his calling. Since John notes in verse 24 that this was before John was put into prison, let us look to when John sent word to Jesus asking for confirmation. For indeed, John was a man and needed encouragement for his time was drawing short.

Matthew 11:1-6 (ESV)
11 When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Very simply, he encourages John’s messenger to report to John as a witness of Jesus, the Promised Messiah. Notice the encouragement at the end… blessed is the one who is not offended by me. John undoubtedly took great encouragement in both knowing he had served his purpose and calling, and knowing that many are blessed. Notice what happens next in Matthew… Jesus testifies of John.

Matthew 11:7-19 (ESV)
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,

17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

John the Baptist was more than a prophet, he was God’s messenger sent to prepare the way of God the Son, Jesus the Christ. John the Baptist will die at the hand of Herod (the kingdom suffering violence) before the cross. Peter later understood this truth and shared it in his epistle:

1 Peter 1:10-12 (ESV)
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Which brings us back around to John 3, resuming in verse 31:

John 3:31-36 (ESV)
31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as the Christ. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Whoever receives His testimony declares that God is true. Notice that whoever does not obey the son doesn’t get a fresh punishment; rather, the wrath of God remains on him. Remember that we are all born in the sin of Adam, and are therefore deserving of the wrath of God as punishment for sin. We don’t start out in some “neutral state”, we are born sinners. Death is our inheritance from Adam. But by the Grace of God, who sent His Son (the Word of God made flesh) to fulfill the law and the prophets and bear the full price of sin on His shoulders, so that all who believe can find forgiveness and eternal life.

I pray the Lord bless you and keep you,
In Him,

Naaman the Leper | The Humbling Call of the Gospel

??????????I’d like to take a moment to share a beautiful story of the humbling call of the Gospel… from 2 Kings.

2 Kings 5:1-10 (ESV) 1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. 2 Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 4 So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” 5 And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. 6 And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” 8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”

Naaman is a man of status, stature, and accomplishment. He is wealthy and a favored of the king of Syria. But he has leprosy. He is told that there is a prophet in Samaria (capital of the northern kingdom of Israel), and asks permission from the king of Syria to go to Israel to find this prophet.

2 Kings 5:11-19a (ESV) 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

Naaman was angry at the simplicity of Elisha’s command. He expected ceremony, he expected penance, he expected to have to do something only a person of his status and stature could do, to gain a favor from God specially designed of a man of his caliber. However, in his anger he was not beyond heeding the wise counsel of his servants, who rightly rejoiced in the simplicity of the task. Therefore, Naaman, a wealthy and prominent pagan, humbled himself before the Lord God of Israel, and was healed of his disease, and was made clean. He confesses the sovereignty of the one True God of Israel, and commits to serving the God of Israel for the rest of his days. Pride almost prevented Naaman from knowing the God of Israel. He is not alone in this. Let’s take a moment to visit a similar encounter in Matthew 19.

Matthew 19:16-23 (ESV) 16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.

In this case, the rich you man was looking at Jesus face to face, an his pride was too much to overcome (in this moment, at least. I often wonder if he might have repented later to follow Christ). This rich ruler already thought himself to be worthy of eternal life. He went away sorrowful at hearing that he needed to become perfect. He simply couldn’t let go of all that he based his identity on (his wealth) to follow Jesus and secure eternal life. Much like Naaman walked away angry. The Gospel requires humility. Such a simple plan, devoid of anything that men might boast. Naaman humbled himself, and I can only hope that the rich young man also humbled himself and repented later. The Apostle Paul had much to say about boasting in the wrong things; let’s look at a couple of examples:

Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (ESV) 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Now, I want to also to point out what happens to Gehazi, when he decides to take advantage of the newly saved Naaman for selfish gain.

2 Kings 5:19b-27 (ESV) 19b But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. 24 And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. 25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow.

Did not my heart go… Elisha was heartbroken by the foolishness and greed of Gehazi. Gehazi was a servant of the man of God, he had no need of anything. Naaman was made whole by God and had dedicated himself to service of the One True God. Elisha declared to Naaman “as the Lord lives” he would not accept payment from Naaman for that which God had done. Given Naaman’s problem of pride that almost made him miss out on his healing, perhaps there was a concern here that allowing Naaman to pay for his healing might leave a door open for the sin of pride to return? That is conjecture on my part, since we don’t have an explanation in this text. But what we do have, is Gehazi taking advantage of Naaman’s desire to return a blessing to Elisha so that he might become wealthy. In the end, he paid a horrible price, and the leprosy of Naaman came upon Gehazi and his descendants forever. This level of permanency we see echoed in 2 Peter 2, when the Apostle Peter is warning of false prophets and teachers:

2 Peter 2 (ESV) 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep…

Is it no wonder, then that in every discussion of the qualification of Church leaders we see a reference to dishonest gain? Paul, in his letter to Titus puts together both the standard and the warning quite well:

Titus 1:6-11 (ESV) 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. 10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

The role of Overseer is not to be taken lightly. The temptation of taking advantage of the children of God for personal gain is ever-present and never happens “all at once”. This is also why a plurality of elders is essential, so that they can keep each other in check. The penalty for false teaching or becoming a stumbling block to those young in the faith are severe, and to be avoided at all cost.

The story of God healing Naaman is a wonderful story, especially for those of us who are not born children of Israel. As the Lord lives… He is the One True God, who loved us so much that He gave His Son, Jesus, as the final atoning sacrifice for the sin of man, so that through Him we might be called sons and daughters of the Most High God.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV) Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

May the Lord Bless you and keep you always,
In Him,