A few years ago I visited a mega church. 10,000 plus members, sprawling campus, polished programming. After worship, I met with the pastor and just listened. He described his call story and then offered me some advice: “Ministry is a hustle. You need to get a book deal, need to get on the preaching circuit, need your own website, need a billboard with your face on it. Push your brand because the easiest way to grow a church is to become a celebrity pastor.”
John the Baptist never struggled to draw a crowd. From Judea, Jerusalem and the Jordan River valley, everyone showed up. To gawk at his camel haired clothing, to quake at his violent sermons, to wait in line for his troubled water baptisms, to revel in his reprimand of the scholars and scribes come down from Institutional Religion.
But the close reader will notice a narrowing of attentions different from Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the 4th Gospel, there’s no mention of biography, or context, or the spectacle surrounding the Baptizer. Instead, only one task matters. So in today’s text, what’s the most faithful thing John does?
John 1:29-42 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
He didn’t make it about him.
He was entirely fulfilled being second.
He knew Jesus when he saw him and wasn’t afraid to call him Messiah.
Remember that John was at the height of his fame, reporters were likely clamoring for a quote, paparazzi crushing for a picture, agents jockeying for the movie rights to his story, groupies stargazing at his unshaven face, speculating that he was Elijah.
While I’m certain John must have considered stroking his own ego and believing his own press, he never did. Never developed a messiah complex, never cared about being a celebrity pastor, never resisited his own disciples when they abandoned him. Instead, he lived his entire life making straight a path for someone else to walk. He crafted every sermon and enacted every baptism in the name of the One who would rank ahead of him. And in the fullness of time, when the world was pointing at John, he pointed at Jesus and said, “… this is the Son of God.”
The pastor Fred Craddock offered that, “The most common thing said to me in this church, which is run by volunteers, people who [will] cut down trees, mow the grass, wash the windows, serve, fix the table, decorate, bring flowers- …is this: ‘Don’t ask me to say anything. I’ll do anything, but don’t ask me to say anything.’ When I ask for talkers, no one comes. [But] It’s not enough to walk the walk. You’ve got to talk the talk. Because the most difficult and most effective and most profound thing you’ll ever do for Jesus Christ is to say something.”
The most faithful thing John did was be the first one to say something. Then Andrew said something to Simon. Then Philip said something to Nathanael. Then for thousands of years someone said something to someone until someone said something to you and to me.
It’s what we call evangelism: the public testimony that Jesus took the taste of alcohol out of my mouth when I couldn’t put the bottle down; that Jesus was my seat belt in the car accident when I walked away unharmed; that Jesus rescued me from the pit of despair when I couldn’t climb any longer.
The Gospel truth is that Jesus didn’t come to save the world by himself, but rather through one shared testimonial at a time. And that’s why in the United Methodist Church we have revised our vows of membership. It has never been enough to kneel at the altar, to sit in the pews for Sunday worship, to tithe 10%, to drive the nail of volunteerism.
No, being a Christian has always required our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. If you’re here, it’s because Jesus of what Jesus has done in your life. Now, it’s time to say something.