At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we see him first define who Jesus is, and then the role of John the Baptist (the author and John the Baptist are two different people). John addresses Christ’s deity, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God (John 1:1-2)... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)... For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).” And after establishing who Jesus is, John establishes the role God wanted John the Baptist to fulfill. This is defined through the next few verses and the interactions that take place, along with John the Baptist outright citing scripture.
1) Who are you?
It begins with John 1:19: “Now this is the testimony of John (speaking of John the Baptist), when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” Jews and Levites from Jerusalem traveled all the way to “Bethabara beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28). This distance, when measured on Google maps, is 19.19 miles--and this is if they walked from Jerusalem’s old city Damascus Gate straight to John’s location, without straying in the slightest. These people walked almost 20 miles to simply ask John, “Who are you?” It’s clear that John was causing quite a stir throughout the region, especially if the people being sent were from the Pharisees (John 1:24). But more importantly, these passages highlight a critical point: that people were eagerly looking for a Savior.
This notion is further supported by John’s answer to the people’s question of “Who are you,” along with the response from those who were sent. John replies to the question asked of him by saying, “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:20). John doesn’t answer the question based on the people’s surface-level inquiry, but rather, answers the deeper question residing in their hearts; that he is not the Savior. The people clearly traveled quite a ways, and it wasn’t to just get to know John the Baptist. To continue, John is further berated by questions: “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?’” (John 21-22). John is making these people squirm with questions because one, they require an answer to return to the Pharisees (the highest religious order of the time); and two, because they themselves seek an answer as well.
It is in this setting that John the Baptist finally gives the answer as to who he is: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23). In response, the people ask John why he is baptizing if he isn’t the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet. John then explains, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” (John 1:26-27). When John is questioned about why he is doing things, he once again refrains from answering the question on the people’s terms, and rather, answers the question with a focus on who Jesus is. And with this, we see John’s humility; that he is unworthy to even untie Jesus’s shoes.
2) Submitted in humility
John is submitted entirely in humility to God: first, he says he is but a voice crying in the wilderness to make straight the way of the Lord; and second, he says he only baptizes with water and is entirely unworthy compared to the One to come. The first point portrays John simply as a voice who’s one purpose is to proclaim Christ. John demonstrates his own humility in this by amounting himself to nothing more than a voice in the wilderness, and at the same time, he is using his voice to make straight the way of the Lord, and not himself. For the second point, John first makes it clear that he baptizes with water--why does this seem relevant? We know John is at a river baptizing people, so it seems self-evident that he is doing it with water. But John is addressing a deeper point here yet again; a point that is once again grounded in humility.
John responds to the question posed by the Pharisees’ messengers--“Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”--first, with the fact that he himself baptizes with water; and second, by pointing back to Jesus. John is acknowledging that what he is doing is nothing but dunking someone in water and getting them wet, if it is by his own power that he is doing it. By himself, John can only baptize with water--a reality that does not mean anything without God, except getting someone wet. This requires humility to realize on John’s part, since it is acknowledging his own lack of power to do anything without God. This is why John, again, points back to the One whom the power comes from: “John answered them, saying, ‘I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” (John 1:26-27).
The significance of John the Baptist pointing back to God as the source of power is further realized in John 1:33, where he says that Jesus “is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit that empowers a baptism and makes it meaningful, and it is God alone who brings the change into a person’s life that a baptism signifies.
3) There stands One among us
In many ways, John the Baptist represents a role model that God wants us to follow. God is calling us into a humble relationship with him, and we see that John demonstrates this in everything he does. Following Christ is simple: we have to be willing to be a voice in the wilderness for Jesus, while also understanding that without Christ we can do nothing. Of course, we can do many things in service towards ourselves, other people, and other purposes; but when we do the work of God, we can do nothing without Him. God alone is the salvation we all need, and it is only through Him that we are baptized in a power that can save.
John knew that salvation was in the hands of God full well, and he committed his entire life to pointing to Christ. His obedience and humility did not go unpaid, however--God pays the worker the wages he is due. John got his title ‘the Baptist’ because he baptized a lot of people; this he did out of obedience to God. And while John did all his work simply to glorify God and fulfill the role He gave to him, God did not let him go unrewarded: John forever holds the honor of baptizing the One who baptizes all--John baptized Jesus (Matthew 3:13-15).
John demonstrated a posture of humility in all he did because of the relationship he had with the Savior. Being humble was such an ingrained part of John because he lived a life knowing who God is. John lived in a relationship with the Lord that was steadfast in faith, and fully aware of His holiness. As we become more aware of how good God is, our relationship with Him naturally humbles us; we grow in the understanding of how great He is, and through this, our eyes turn away from ourselves and this world, and are drawn more and more towards the Light. And once you have seen the Light, there is no unseeing it: you will either grow in hunger to serve God, or you will turn away and reject Him.
But this is the beauty of the Lord: that no matter what we do or how many times we reject Him, He still seeks out our heart. If only we would humble ourselves before Him, would we realize that living a life for God is the answer we all are seeking. Will we be like John the Baptist, who recognizes Jesus immediately when he sees Him: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29)? Or will we be like the Pharisees, priests, and Levites, who were seeking a Savior, but couldn’t see that “there stands One among you whom you do not know.” (John 1:26)? May God open our eyes and bless us with the wisdom and humility to see the Savior as John did.