So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said”. — John 1:22-23 (ESV)
John the Baptist’s response to the Pharisees is a quote from Isaiah 40:3. It is also a reference to Malachi 3:1. John’s ministry was prophesied in the Old Testament. He was a great prophet whose role was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of the world, Jesus. By his words and deeds, he was preparing the hearts of the people for the coming of the Lord. He proclaimed a message of repentance, which is a message which challenged people to turn their hearts to God rather than following their own ways. Baptism was an outward sign that a person had decided to change the way he was living. It was also a sign of being cleansed from past sin.
In Luke 7:27, Jesus says that there was no one greater than John, but that the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he. This was in part Jesus’ way of contrasting life under the old covenant (based on the law) and the life under the new covenant (based on grace and truth). But it also, together with the above quote from the Gospel of John, challenges us. If John’s role was to prepare the hearts of people to receive the Messiah, and if we who follow Jesus are greater than John, might we also be called to prepare the hearts of others to receive the Messiah? And might we actually be more effective than John the Baptist was?
After seeing this passage in this new light, I am sincerely challenged to take my role more seriously — the one of calling people to turn their hearts to God. But what encourages me more is that maybe I should expect some degree of success in doing this. I mean, I may be the least in the Kingdom of God, but I’m greater than John the Baptist, and he did pretty well. Maybe if we all saw ourselves in this different light we might see that we have a greater influence for the Kingdom of God than we ever dreamed possible!
First posted on February 1, 2010