When we talk about great characters of the Bible, we often talk about Moses, Abraham, David, Job, Peter, Paul, and of course, Jesus. Ask us what kind of faith we want to have, and we'll list off any number of these men (and occasionally, women) and declare, oh, what great faith. We would love to build an ark like Noah or slay a giant like David or embody wisdom like Solomon.
But what about John the Baptist?
John the Baptist gets so very little love, and he's actually one of the guys we should strive to be like the most.
He was an outlier in his community, refusing the play by the long-standing rules of life. He had a new view on things, a different perspective. And even though he was eccentric by any definition of the word (living in the desert, covered in a coat of fake hair, eating locusts and honey), people flocked out to the boonies to see him. To hear him speak. To be convicted of their sins in a place where they couldn't, by Jewish custom, atone for them at all. It's not the kind of thing that people just line up for, and yet, there were thousands coming out to John's desert.
Even Herod, a corrupt ruler by any standard, couldn't get enough of John. He even says, in Mark 5, that listening to John the Baptist talk deeply disturbed him, but he always wanted to hear more. He loved talking with John anyway. He just wanted to hear from John all the time, even while John was condemning the kind of life that he lived.
Meanwhile, we have...far less credibility in our world.
When we condemn the world's sins, they tell us to shut up. They don't want to hear more about what we (or God) think about their lives. We don't disturb the world in such a way that they can't get enough of us; to hear them tell it, they've already had enough of it. No one told John that he should stop talking to Herod about all of these 'religious' things, but they tell us to keep our religion out of the public sphere.
And to be honest with you, we can set up our churches right in the middle of town, and the masses just aren't flocking to them to hear us speak. They aren't enamored by us or even intrigued; they're disgusted.
And that probably means we're doing something wrong.
See, somewhere along the way, I think we decided that we want to be like Jesus. We want to go around declaring the truth and speaking boldly and making all of these wild claims about God and His power and His love. We want to be the authority on all things, and we think that Jesus has put this call on our lives. So we go about trying to be Jesus (at least, the authoritative parts of Him; we struggle with the love and the healing and the grace and, you know, the actual important stuff), a task at which we're failing miserably, and it's no wonder the world doesn't want us.
But what if we lived more like John? What if we were content to prepare the way for Jesus instead of trying to rack up points for His name? What if we just put out a path before the world and showed them the One whose sandals we are not worthy to tie? What if we humbled ourselves and spoke the kind of truth and promise that John spoke, without condemnation but dripping instead with hope and expectation? What if the greatest achievement of our faith is not to convict the world, but to convince them that something truly amazing is happening among them? What if our call is not to give sight to the blind but to open the eyes of all who would see?
What if we could speak with the kind of truth and grace of John the Baptist, the kind that disturbs the world but still draws them deeper? The kind they don't like but can't get enough of? The kind where they want to hear more and more and more? The kind that gets them asking questions about Jesus, real questions?
What if we proclaimed the good news in such a way that the world would follow us into the desert to hear it?
John the Baptist doesn't get a lot of love. So often, it seems like he's just a footnote in Jesus's story, in the real story. But look at the impact that he had on the world. Look at the foundations he laid for Jesus to move in and do the truly remarkable. Look at what everyone had to say about the guy, by their words and by their actions, and tell me you don't want to be like that. Tell me you don't want to be the voice crying out in the desert. Tell me you don't want to be the one preparing the way for the Lord in this world.