All of us desire to be noticed. Whether a person wants to admit or not, we do crave attention, affirmation, and acceptance. The sense of being “special” really makes us feel unique. The notion of uniqueness and being special can be overplayed especially in a society that values individualism in an unhealthy way. The temptation to pride, however, knows no historical limitations. There is no question that John the Baptist did occupy a unique place in redemptive history. He is only man set apart to be the forerunner to the Messiah. With that unique calling, John seeks to remove attention from himself and point to Christ. As ministers of the gospel today, we find ourselves in a very “unique” spot where boasting in our talents comes naturally. None of us are John the Baptist though when it comes to his office. His mindset and ministry demonstrate what should be the desire of all who teach and share the word of God: hear the voice of Christ.
In his excellent work, Expository Thoughts on Mark, J.C. Ryle notes that large numbers and popular preachers can become the measurement of spirituality for man. People can equate a crowd or popularity as a stamp of God’s approval upon a person, ministry, or church. J.C. Ryle notes that there were many who came out to hear John for a season. He was a popular preacher in his day. Men and women walked miles to come to the Jordan River and hear him preach. I have never had anyone walk miles to attend a service I was preaching! Yet, for all of the crowds that came to hear him, how many were truly converted? Did they come to hear John and be entertained by this funny looking man heralding the kingdom in the wilderness? This is not a statement that small numbers equal godliness. However, just because a large number go to this place or that place does not mean the presence of God is there.
J.C. Ryle then makes a weighty statement: “It is not enough to hear and admire popular preachers. It is no proof of our conversion that we always worship in a place where there is a crowd. Let us take care that we hear the voice of Christ himself, and follow him.” In our corporate worship, do we desire to hear the voice of Christ? When worship is guided by principles of pragmatism then hearing Christ is diminished as a priority. The worship leader’s talents and the speaker’s charisma become the driving force of the service. Men and women fill buildings week after week hearing a voice but it is not the voice of Christ.
John the Baptist exhibits that which is faithful and better in his continual efforts to move the spotlight off himself and onto the Messiah who was coming. John receives attention and possesses a unique calling and office. How does John respond to these factors? John points to Christ and yearns for the people to not look to him but to look to the Lamb who came to take away the sin of the world. For all of the crowds and for the temporary popularity, John’s focus remains upon Christ. The forerunner’s voice comes at a critical moment. However, there is another voice that John desires the people to hear.
What will be the verdict upon our preaching, our teaching, our discipleship, and our catechizing? Was our aim continually upon the voice of Christ being heard? Do we find ourselves being consumed by fleeting popularity, podcast downloads, and attendance? Beloved, let us hear the words of John: Christ must increase and I must decrease! Our voices cannot raise spiritually dead men to life, bring comfort to the broken, and heal the afflicted soul, but the voice of Christ does make the dead alive, comfort brokenness, and heal affliction. Let us then give ourselves to being people who point others to Christ, the pre-eminent One. Let us join with John the Baptist in saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”