By J.R. Miller
John was a good witness. He had a strange training. He was brought up, not in any school with human teachers--but in God's school, in the wilderness, away from men. At last he came out ready to begin his work. His preaching had tremendous power. From near and far, the people came in throngs to hear him, and they were deeply impressed by his words.
The effect produced by the Baptist's work was so great, that the authorities at Jerusalem felt it necessary to send a delegation to inquire into it. They claimed to have direction of the religious affairs of the nation, and wished to know the meaning of John's work. These men asked John, "Who are you?" There was a general unrest at the time, with much feverish excitement concerning the coming of the Messiah. There was a widespread feeling that this even was near at hand. The impression that John made upon the people was so great, that many thought that he might be the Messiah. If John had been so disposed, he might have claimed to be the One who was to come, and would have had a great following. But his loyalty to truth and to his Master forbade this, and he eagerly and with grief at the suggestion replied, "No, no! I am not the Messiah." They thought then that he must be some other great personage--Elijah, who was expected by the Jews as the forerunner of the Messiah, or "the prophet"--that is, the prophet "like unto Moses," promised and vaguely looked for it. It was felt at least that this preacher by the Jordan was no ordinary man, He was a very great man, and his power as a preacher was startling.
The way John met these questions showed the kind of man he was. If he had been weak and ambitious, he would have been tempted to encourage the people's thoughts about him and to accept the homage they wanted to pay him, and to which he knew that he was not entitled. He shrank with pain from all such offers of honor not rightly his, and instead eagerly turned all the expectation and enthusiasm of the people--to Jesus. This showed nobleness in John worthy of his mission. He sought only to honor Christ. He hid himself way out of sight, that nothing in him might win any eye from his Master. This is a lesson we all need to learn.
When asked again to tell who he really was, if not the Messiah nor one of the great men prophesied of, he said that he was only a voice. He sought no honor for himself. He had been sent with a message which it was essential that the people should hear, while the personality of the messenger was unimportant. "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness."
Thus he identified himself with a well-known Messianic prophecy--but in his lowliness he had no care to have his own name known. He was only a voice, speaking a word for God, delivering a divine message to men. It is honor enough for anyone to be a voice--a voice uttering heavenly words, words of divine comfort or cheer or hope to those who are weary, discouraged, and lonely or in disrepair. Titles and degrees and earthly honors, which some men strive so hard to win, are pitiably empty--in comparison with the distinction of being a clear, true voice speaking God's messages to men.
In this part of the story of John, we learn two beautiful lessons. One is the splendor of humility. Humility is the loveliest of the virtues, and yet it is the most divine. Nothing so shows the greatness of the Baptist, as his lowliness in declining human honor and praise. The other lesson is, that we should be sure we are really a voice, with a message from God, in this world, speaking out distinctly for God. Too many lives mean nothing, stand for nothing, declare nothing to others, and make no impression of beauty, of cheer, of holiness. The voice of John's life is heard yet throughout the world--and the world is better, truer, and holier, because of it. We should be a voice with unmistakable note, a voice that shall be heard wherever we go, whose sound will make men happier, stronger, braver, kinder, more like God--and that shall prepare the way for Christ into men's hearts.
John's message was important. It called men to prepare the way for the great Coming One. "Make straight the way of the Lord!" "Among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." So John turned all thoughts and all eyes away from himself as not worthy even to do this lowest service for Him whose way he had come to prepare. Thus he honored Christ and set Him high above all men--One worthy to receive the deepest worship and the highest praise. John's humility was not pretended. He was so conscious of the real glory of Christ, that he felt himself as truly unworthy to perform even the lowliest service for Him. No matter how lofty the place one occupies, Christ is infinitely higher--and it should be our joy to serve Him in the lowliest ways.
John's witness to Jesus continued next day. He was standing among the crowds when a young man was approaching him. Pointing to Him, John said to the people, "Behold the Lamb of God--who takes away the sin of the world!" This was a distinct declaration that Jesus was the Messiah who had been foretold as a lamb led to the slaughter, as the Paschal Lamb, as the sin-atoning sacrifice. This part of the witness of John concerning Jesus must not be overlooked. He saw Him as the Lamb of God. It is not enough to think of the name "lamb" as referring to His gentleness, His meekness, His steadfastness in enduring wrong. The chief thought in the name is that of sacrifice. The paschal lamb prefigured Christ, who was thus foretold as the world's sin-bearer. We must see Christ first as our Savior. In heaven the song of the redeemed is, "worthy is the Lamb who was slain." Until we see Him as Savior--He can be nothing else to us.
John witnesses also to the divine anointing of Jesus as the Messiah. "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him." This was infallible testimony. John had not the slightest doubt of the Messiahship of Jesus. "I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God!" In these days, when so many people are doubting and trying to pout doubts into the minds of others--it is well that we have such a testimony as this which tells us positively that He in whom we trust as our Savior and Lord--is indeed the Son of God. It gives us an impregnable rock on which to build, in which to find our refuge.
Every Christian should, first, be a witness of Christ in his own life, and secondly, should bear witness to Christ in his confession of the blessed Name, wherever he goes.