I’m intrigued by Jesus’ declaration: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared, but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). In light of Jesus’ statement, let’s consider this great New Testament character, the greatest of lowly servants.
Isaiah and Malachi both foretold his ministry. “ ‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of hard service is over, her iniquity has been pardoned...’ A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:1–5). “ ‘See, I am going to send my messenger, and he will clear the way before me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to his temple, the Messenger of the covenant you delight in—see, he is coming,’ says the Lord of Armies” (Malachi 3:1).
The prophets imagined faithful troops clearing the way for a conquering king, returning to his adoring citizens to save and restore. The “time of hard service is over, her iniquity has been pardoned!” John the Baptist cleared the way for the long-awaited Savior of Israel, the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus. John was the “one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight!” (Matthew 3:3).
Though John was a New Testament character, he is actually the last in the line of Old Testament Prophets. Like those who came before him, he called the wayward to “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Matthew 3:2). Jeremiah called God’s chosen people to repent (Jeremiah 18:8). Ezekiel preached, “Repent and turn away from your idols; turn your faces away from all your detestable things” (Ezekiel 14:6). Joel had a similar message. “Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the Lord your God. For he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love, and he relents from sending disaster” (Joel 2:13). Jonah even preached the message of repentance to the Assyrians in Nineveh. “Each must turn from his evil ways and from his wrongdoing”(Jonah 3:8).
John even wore the uniform and lived like the Old Testament’s great prophet, Elijah. “John had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts (yum!) and wild honey. Then people from Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the vicinity of the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:4-6).
John clearly recognized that he was nothing, that Jesus was everything! “The one who is coming after me is more powerful than I. I am not worthy to remove his sandals” (Matthew 3:11). That’s why Jesus declared, “no one (is) greater than John the Baptist ... but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
Shouldn’t we aspire to become, like John the Baptist, the greatest of lowly servants? So,“humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). “Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.