The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. ... John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:1-4 ESV).
Did I read that correctly?
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus is... John the baptizer?
Yes, that is exactly what Mark's gospel says. In fact, he even quotes the Old Testament prophets Malachi and Isaiah as support for his proclamation. And while each of the four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — have some unique things that the others don't include, ALL four gospels emphasize that the role of John the baptizer is the crucial beginning point of Jesus' ministry.
Why is John's role so important?
Why should John's role matter to me?
There are many answers to the first question — Why is John's role so important? A key reason was that John's role was proclaimed by the Old Testament prophets. His role was to prepare the hearts of the people for the Messiah (Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1-5). John is the Elijah that was to come before the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 11:7-15; Matthew 17:9-13) and their response would determine a great deal what would happen to the people and to their land (Malachi 4:1-6).
Put into cornbread English, John was important because...
- John prepared the way for Jesus and many different kinds of people responded to John's message and opened their hearts, changed their lives, and were baptized in anticipation of the Messiah — who John identified as Jesus.
- John was the voice of a real, great prophet who spoke the very words of God — something they had not heard in centuries.
- How they responded to John would determine what would happen to their land — while many common folks accepted John's testimony, the religious and political leaders did not and led their people to destruction.
- What they did to John they will do to Jesus — King Herod had John executed.
But why should John's role matter to me?
Now this is the important question for you and me as we live our lives today. And our answer is really simple: people respond best to the message of Jesus when someone has prepared the way by being a servant who has softened their heart to receive the message of Jesus.
When people are asked what the biggest turnoff to Christianity is, what do they usually say? It is often some like, "So many of you guys are hypocrites and judgmental: you preach one thing and live another and condemn folks who are not like you."
When you dig around and see what the most effective way to lead people to Christ, what do you find? A friend or family member loved them, helped them, and shared Jesus with them by their life and by their words. In other words, God used their friend or family member to be their John the baptizer — someone who prepared the way for their hearts to receive Jesus as Lord and Messiah!
I like to share this concept in three simple statements that are rooted in biblical truth:
1. I can welcome anyone!
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:17 ESV).
2. I can demonstrate Jesus' love to everyone!
Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). ... in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15 NIV).
3. I can be John to a special someone!
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).
God has put each of us into a particular set of circumstances and relationships to have unique influence in the lives of the people around us. We will be the only genuine influence, the only true John, that some of those people will ever have to help them know Jesus. Our individual life, our unique influence, has eternal significance to these people. We are important to their knowing the real Jesus — the Jesus who loves them and died for them. Our unique role in the lives of these people is just as important as John the baptizer's role was in the lives of those who heard him and followed Jesus in the first century!
Some, however, may be harder to recognize — someone at work we barely know, the barista at the local coffee shop we see several times a week, the waiter or waitress at the local dive where we sometimes get lunch or breakfast, the mechanic who works on our car, our buddy with whom we bowl or play softball, the concierge at the hotel we visit, or that person who always makes conversation with us at the book club.
You get the idea, right? There are folks in your life that are precious to Jesus and you have been placed into their life to be John for them — to help prepare that person's heart for Jesus. So how you live, how you say what you say, the way you talk about your faith and your family and your friends all matter. Who you are and what you do and what you say either makes the way easier or harder for them to come to receive Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.
So let's join together to be that salt and light that Jesus talked about (Matthew 5:13-16) and realize that with Jesus' help and the leading of the Holy Spirit...
- I will welcome anyone!
- I will demonstrate Jesus' love to everyone!
- I will look to be John to my special someone!
And when we approach life this way, we will notice that people matter as much to our hearts as they do to Jesus!