Read John 3:22–36.
I’ve long been fascinated with John the Baptist. First off, he’s weird, something of an ancient hippie with his camel’s hair, alternative diet, and a haven’t-groomed-myself-in-years appearance. He’s also a mighty prophet, yet he performs no miraculous signs. His words are enough to capture the attention of the crowds. And he’s rightfully a priest, descended from Aaron’s line. He ministers purification to the people and identifies the true Lamb of God, even as he rejects the temple establishment. He is content to obey the Lord out in the wilderness.
I am drawn to John because he doesn’t fit in this world. He’s not chasing something for himself. He’s not “building a life.” He isn’t interested in creating a personal brand or platform. He’s not looking to secure financial freedom or head up a ministry that will survive after he’s left this earth. He lives in the moment, and nothing in this world has a hold on him. He fears no one but God.
Perhaps you’ve known people like this. Our culture often dismisses them as out of touch and ungrounded. I think that’s right, but not in the negative way with which those descriptions are tossed out. John is out of touch with the ways of this world because he is so concerned with the ways of the coming kingdom. He’s ungrounded because his heart is in heaven. This world matters to him only because his God-given desire is to see its population embrace the love of God.
That’s why, when he learns that Jesus’ disciples are baptizing people in the Jordan River a stone’s throw from where he’s baptizing, he doesn’t utter a resentful word. He’s not concerned that folks are lining up to see Jesus instead of him. He never thinks, “Oh, how original! I was doing the baptism thing long before Him. It’s part of my brand.” Instead, he is filled with true and unrestrained joy.
I want to be more like John. I need to be more like John. I hold things too tightly, when the only thing that matters is Jesus. It seems to me that early on in the Christian movement, people understood this better than many of us do today. I think of what Paul wrote to the believers at Philippi: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12–13).
Paul kept his eyes on Jesus, and nothing else seemed to matter much—not in comparison anyway. He could be in prison or free as a bird, scraping by with the crumbs from someone else’s table or eating well. He was content either way. But he didn’t invent this sort of thinking. Jesus preached this worry-free lifestyle long before Paul’s life had its ups and downs. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31–33).
John the Baptist understood the heart of the Father. He got the message long before Paul wrote to the Philippians and Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. He was the original Jesus freak. Today, we meet John in the pages of our Bibles and consider how unique he was, but the truth is, we could all stand to be a little more like John the Baptist.