What Makes Someone The Greatest

You may not be able to tell by looking at my physique, but I used to be an avid sportsman.  Okay, actually I was only good at one sport, that of bowling.  I loved to play the game and to watch the professionals on TV.  I haven’t laced up a pair of shoes myself now for years but I still like to catch the broadcast when I have opportunity.  During the last three years or so Jason Belmonte, a new sensation from Australia, has been taking the American tour by storm.  He bowls like no one I’ve ever seen before.  The “Thunder from Down Under” uses two hands producing so many revolutions and so much power that he most often makes shrapnel of all ten pins.  Belmonte is so “striking” that some are already beginning talks labeling him the greatest of all time!  Now, I’m amazed by what he can do with a bowling ball, but from an observer of the sport for the past three decades (not just the last 3 years), I think it’s a little premature for quite such grandiose proclamations.  I believe the best ever is right hander Walter Ray Williams, Jr.  He dominated the PBA for more than two decades holding records for the most titles, most prize money won, and most Bowler of the Year awards.  That being said, the last poll taken of sportswriters familiar with the sport actually said that the top kegler was Earl Anthony, a south paw known for his multiple wins in major tournaments and for being the face of bowling in the 70’s.  You see, who’s the greatest at anything is often up for debate.  People have different opinions based upon varying criterion and dissimilar preferences.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was an ultimate authority on who’s the greatest?  Well, there may not be such a ruling on bowlers, but the greatest authority, the ultimate authority, the Lord Jesus Himself did give us a definitive answer as to who was the greatest one born of woman.  That man was John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11).  In this month’s newsletter we’ll look at the life of this man to see some reasons why he could be considered in such high regard.

John The Baptist Was Great Because He Wasn’t Concerned With Being Hip (Matthew 3:4)…There are many pastors today who think that being hip is a priority.  A popular slogan for multitudes of contemporary churches is some version of “this ain’t your grandmother’s church!”  The idea seems to be that if you play the world’s kind of music, wear the world’s kind of clothes, and use the world’s kind of words, then they’ll think church people are cool; and if they think Christians are cool then they’ll think that Jesus is cool too!  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Christian men have to wear jackets, shirts and ties nor do I think Christian women have to wear skirts down to their ankles and bonnets on their heads, but I do think that a middle-aged pastor wearing skinny jeans and a low cut t-shirt or a female singer donning a mini-skirt and a spaghetti strapped top have violated the Scriptural mandate of modesty and have lost any semblance of genuine credibility.  I’m not saying that every song we sing has to come out of a hard covered hymnal, but if an outsider observing a worship service can’t tell a difference between our church on the corner and their club down the street then perhaps we should take a step back and see if we’re not of the world as well as being in it.  I also don’t believe that we have to use the King James English every time we speak, but when the words of preachers from the pulpit have to be beeped out when used on radio (and I’m not making this up) then we have become profane and certainly stand guilty of unedifying, ungraceful speech (Eph. 4:29; Col. 4:6).  We certainly shouldn’t hold to traditions for the mere sake of being traditional, but believers are called to be a city set on a hill, a peculiar people that stand out like a sore thumb, or perhaps like a camel-garment wearing-locust-honey-eating believer in Jesus (Matt. 5:14; 1 Pet. 2:9).

John The Baptist Was Great Because He Preached Repentance…To All (Matt. 3:1-7; Mark 6:16-18)…Sin and Repentance.  Two words you’ll find many times in the pages of the Bible but hardly ever coming off the lips of preachers or the pens of Christian authors today.  What words do we hear most often now?  Euphemisms like “mess”, “indiscretions”, or “poor choices”.  A “mess” is what a three year old makes when they knock over their milk at the breakfast table.  An “indiscretion” is something so minor that it hardly bears mentioning.  A “poor choice” is simply not making the best choice.  Sin is more than a mess, more than an indiscretion, more than a poor choice.  Sin is wretched, pitiful humanity in open rebellion against holy, almighty God!  We have all sinned and fall short of His glory (Rom. 3:23).  We have all gone astray and decidedly turned from the way of the Lord (Isa. 53:6).  There is none righteous, no not one (Rom. 3:10).  The very best that we could do on our best day is as filthy rags in the eyes of God (Isa. 64:6).  We have worshipped the creation rather than the Creator and have failed to give the proper thanks and praise due to the Sovereign of the universe (Rom. 1:21-23).  We have all broken the Lord’s Commandments in word, thought, and deed.  The just penalty for those who sin is eternal, conscience torment in a place called Hell where the fire is not quenched and the worm doesn’t die (Mark 9:48).  With all guilty before God and with the punishment so severe, should not ministers emphasize the sinfulness of sin and the desperate need for repentance?  John The Baptist, the greatest born of woman, certainly didn’t make light of sin.  He called sin for the dreadful thing it is and preached to the people, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”  When one came to John to be baptized, they were confessing that they were a sinner, they were throwing themselves on the mercies of God, and they were going to walk in a newness of life.

However, John the Baptist didn’t just preach repentance to the people, he also preached repentance to the powerful in religious circles.  There are many preachers who are firebrands against sin from a pulpit, but then see themselves as being above the “rules” they lay down for others.  How many ministers have you heard of who fell privately into the very sins about which they railed publicly?  I remember being invited to a luncheon with two evangelists and two other pastors.  For some reason I was the last one to arrive.  The group seemed rather jovial and light until I walked up to the table.  One of the evangelists immediately stopped mid-sentence from speaking and told the others that he would have finished the joke but now wasn’t going to because “Ben just sees things too black and white.”  Now, I don’t know what he was going to say but it did stand out to me that there seemed to be an attitude that there’s one standard for the people, and another standard for ministers.  Perhaps that’s true.  But if it is true, there’s not a lower standard for ministers, there’s a higher one!  John the Baptist saw religious leaders coming to him and called them “a brood of vipers”, admonishing them that they had better be truly repentant!

Still, John the Baptist didn’t just preach repentance to the people and the religiously powerful, he also preached repentance to the politically powerful.  We are just wrapping up an election season (at the moment I’m writing this I don’t know the results, but by the time you read it the returns are probably in).  I always encourage people to pray, read their Bible, and vote.  Then go home and pray and read your Bible again (perhaps in some precincts you could vote again as well!).  Though I will speak on what have become known as “social issues” from a biblical perspective at church, I don’t talk political candidates from the pulpit.  This isn’t because I’m in any way afraid that the government would come down on me, but because I don’t believe that we should associate the honor and glory of the gospel of the King of kings and Lord of lords with the platform of any party or politician.  I am saddened, and in some way sickened, to see national televised video of those running for office quite regularly standing behind a pulpit during a Sunday morning worship service (with full choir in tow) and addressing the congregation.  Those politicians aren’t going to preach the gospel, aren’t going to exposit Scripture in any way, and many times (I dare say most times) aren’t even Christians themselves!  Yet they are given prime billing in a worship service that should always be centered around honoring Jesus, preaching the Bible, and calling people to repentance from sin and to faith in Christ.  It is troubling that believers today are much more willing to court political power than they are to confront it.  Not so with John the Baptist.  The ruler Herod Antipas divorced his wife so that he could seduce his brother’s wife to leave her husband and marry him.  A terribly tawdry situation indeed!  Although Herod had the worldly power and authority to either ruin or raise the fortunes of any man in his realm, John the Baptist chose to confront the man about his sin and call him to repentance.  This stand quite literally ended up costing John his head, but he would rather be true to the message of THE ETERNAL KING than to cater to the sinful whims of earth’s unruly rulers.

John The Baptist Was Great Because He Testified Of Jesus (John 1:15; John 1:36; Matt. 3:11-12)…An old hymn rightly declares, “tell me the story of Jesus, write on my heart every word, tell me the story most precious, sweetest that ever was heard.”  As unfortunate as it is that you’d be hard-pressed to hear that hymn in many churches today, it is even far more unfortunate that you’d often be hard-pressed to hear “the story of Jesus” there as well!  I listened to a sermon recently where the pastor of a megachurch in a major denomination in the United States preached a message where his thesis was “God gave me a Ferrari because I am a Ferrari, and you’re a Ferrari too.”  That may be an extreme example, but I submit to you that sermons telling you how to be healthy and wealthy and how to be a better this and that are legion, while sermons declaring Christ and Him Crucified are largely lost (1 Cor. 2:2).  Not so with John the Baptist.  The greatest born of woman testified of Jesus!

John 1:15 records John the Baptist testifying to the Deity of Christ.  He said of Jesus that “He… has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.”  Now those familiar with the opening chapters of Luke’s gospel know that John was actually six months older than Jesus according to the flesh.  Seeing how their mothers were relatives who discussed the births of their babies with one another, John would have been keenly aware of the fact that he was the oldest.  So why would he declare that Jesus existed before him?  For the same reason that Christ would speak of Himself, “Before Abraham was, I Am!” (John 8:58).  Jesus was fully man but also fully God, and as fully God He has always been, eternally existing from everlasting to everlasting, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 1:8)!

John the Baptist not only testified of the Person of Christ, but also to the atoning work of Christ when he proclaimed of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36).  Beginning with the sacrifice of the animals to provide skin coverings for the fallen Adam and Eve, to the offering of the Passover Lamb during the Exodus from Egypt, to the prescribed animal sacrifices issued forth in the book of Leviticus, to the system of sacrifices offered at Solomon’s Temple near 1000 BC to those lifted up at Herod’s Temple in Jesus’ day; they all pointed to the facts that without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin and that animal blood was insufficient to pay the penalty to atone for sin and to satisfy the righteous wrath of God (Heb. 9:22).  Only Jesus, the sinless Son of God, would be the worthy sacrifice, whose death alone could cleanse the sinful souls of all who would believe in Him so definitively that no more sacrifice would ever be needed to purchase our pardon (Heb. 9:28; Heb. 10:4)!

Finally, we will speak of John’s testifying of Jesus’ right to judge the souls of humanity.  In Matthew 3:11-12, John The Baptist proclaims that Jesus will come and baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire.”  What does this mean?  All of those who are genuine children of God, who truly repent of sin and put faith in Christ as Savior, receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity (Rom. 8:9).  So John telling that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit foretells of the saved being judged as righteous due to Christ’s atoning work and thus receiving Heaven’s reward.  The fact that the Lord will also baptize with fire, though often misinterpreted as a “positive” thing, is speaking of Jesus separating the wheat from the chaff and then burning that chaff with fire!  Unbelievers, those who have not repented of sin and put trust in Christ, those who have rejected Jesus and His salvation, will be righteously judged as unrighteous and will be in the place where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die!