John the Baptist: A Blend of Humility and Boldness
by Bryan Gibson
November 21, 2008
If there was ever a man “clothed with humility” (1 Peter 5:5), it was John the Baptist. It couldn’t have come easy, when you consider the attention given his birth (Luke 1:13-15, 57-66), the importance of his work (Luke 1:16-17, 76-80; 3:2-6), the popularity he gained (Matthew 3:5-6), and the high praise given to him by Jesus (Matthew 11:7-11—“among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist”).
Yet, despite all of this, John the Baptist remained a very humble man. He very quickly put to rest any notions about himself being the Christ, saying, “One mightier than I is coming, who sandal strap I am not worthy to loose” (Luke 3:16). When Jesus came to be baptized by him, John responded with the same humility, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14). He continually deflected the attention away from himself and toward Jesus (John 1:15, 29-27, 29-30). It didn’t even bother him when his disciples left him to follow Jesus (John 1:35-42). When some of his disciples became concerned about the growing popularity of Jesus (John 3:26), he said in effect, “That’s exactly the way it should be!” His very words were, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
But there was another quality John seemed to possess in equal measure: boldness or courage. When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to him to be baptized, John boldly said, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). He did more than just make a general call for repentance; he told them specifically what they needed to do (Luke 3:10-14). This same boldness was also directed toward Herod, whom he rebuked “concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done” (Luke 3:19). On this matter of Herod’s wife, John didn’t beat around the bush. He told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). That’s not easy to say to anyone, much less someone who has the power to decide your fate. If you remember, it was this rebuke that ultimately cost John his life (Mark 6:19-29). Clearly, John the Baptist was no “reed shaken by the wind” (Luke 7:24), as indicated by Jesus himself. He preached “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), who was a pretty bold prophet in his own right.
Think these two qualities—humility and boldness—don’t go together? Think again. True boldness results from humility, from a desire to magnify the Lord, and not oneself. John was not afraid to speak up, because he wanted people to know the Lord and His will for them. He was not afraid to say what needed to be said, because unlike some (John 5:44; 9:22; 12:42-43), he was not after the favor and honor of men. Men like John the Baptist seem to be in short supply today. It’s time we did something about that.