22After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. 23John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized 24 - John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
25Now a discussion about purification arose between John's disciples and a Jew. 26They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him." 27John answered, "No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. 28You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.' 29He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. 30He must increase, but I must decrease."
31The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 33Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 34He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath.
John the Baptist is often depicted in movies and perhaps in our imagination as a wild man who lived out in the Judean wilderness, eating locusts and honey, whose only clothing was a garment made of coarse camel hair. Just a look at the man would have given you the impression that he was "not of this world," that he lived according to the dictates of another world. Such an impression would have been an accurate one. John the Baptist did live according to another world -- the world of God's radical calling on his life.
We know that John the Baptist did not choose this way of life. This radical calling was preordained before he was even conceived in his mother's (Elizabeth) womb. We know from Luke 1:5-25 that the two cousins -- Mary and Elizabeth -- will give birth to sons who will change forever the destiny of all humankind. We know Mary will give birth to Jesus; Elizabeth, less famously, will give birth to John who will be called later as 'the Baptist'.
Adjectives that come to mind about John the Baptist: wild, radical, unconventional, not civilized (?), unhygienic (maybe), unafraid, passionate, single-minded, devoted, and clear-sighted-about-what-he's-called-to-be. Some of these adjectives that describe John the Baptist are immaterial. Whether you are hygienic or not is really not that important. (For an exception to this statement, you can ask Helen how her flight was from Phoenix to Baltimore last Thursday. ) Personal hygiene, diet, one's personal taste in fashion, etc. do not make a huge difference normally in anyone's life. However, other things mentioned above do make a difference. The key to John the Baptist's life is that he is absolutely committed to the forerunner calling on his life. John knows that he comes in the spirit of Elijah, John knows he comes to prepare "the way of the Lord," John knows his life is defined by his role as "the friend of the bridegroom."
Because of John's clear knowledge and glad acceptance of his calling, when he hears the bridegroom's voice, his "joy has been fulfilled" (v. 29). This joy is not a momentary joy; this joy is the gladness that comes in knowing that one's life's calling has been fulfilled! What a precious gift for any human being!
And in relation to the One for whom John lives, John knows clearly what his mission is: "He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease." This succinct statement is a mission statement for every servant of God, in every generation, in every place.
John the Baptist stands before us in stark clarity and conviction about what it means to live a life defined by God's calling. May such clarity and conviction be ours as well.
Let's pray: Father God, we thank you for such a person as John the Baptist, whose singular life jumps out from the pages of Scripture because of his all-consuming response to your call on his life. Grant us such a clarity about what we are called to be. Grant us the conviction to live out our calling with purpose and joy, without lingering compromise or confusion. May the Holy Spirit continue to sharpen our life's response to your grace, O God. In Jesus' name, amen.