“‘Let me lay it out for you as plainly as I can: No one in history surpasses John the Baptiser, but in the kingdom he prepared for you, the lowliest person is ahead of him. The ordinary and disreputable people who heard John, by being baptised by him into the kingdom, are the clearest evidence; the Pharisees and religious officials have nothing to do with such baptism, wouldn’t think of giving up their place in line to their inferiors.” Luke 7:28-30.

What on earth was Jesus talking about? John the Baptist the greatest and yet the least? It doesn’t make sense, does it?

According to Jesus, John was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, not because of the length of his ministry but because of its importance. All the other prophets, so said Peter, “…Who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.” 1 Peter 1:10b, 11 (NIV), spoke of events that were still far off in the future.

It was John who was privileged to announce and introduce the Messiah to his people, and yet he himself did not witness His ministry or hear His preaching. As soon as Jesus appeared on the scene, he was removed by Herod into a dungeon from which he was never released. He had stood on the brink of the era of the New Covenant but never experienced it for himself.

It must have been very frustrating for John to have been so near and yet so far. Perhaps he had longed to be a part of what Jesus was doing, to be more than his forerunner, even a prominent member of His band of disciples. But it was not to be. John’s work was done, short though it had been, and Jesus graciously acknowledged the value and importance of what he had done.

But, at the same time, He did not overplay John’s role. He was the greatest of the Old Testament prophets but the least in the kingdom Jesus had come to inaugurate. Why?  Because, through Jesus, people could enter and experience what he could only announce.

When the Holy Spirit came in His fullness to continue the work of Jesus, He would take up residence within every believer, making everyone who embraced Jesus as the Son of God and His teaching as His yoke, His dwelling place. It was no longer the privileged few who experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit with them; but all who believed would have Him in them, even the lowliest in man’s eyes.

The high-and-mighty religious ones who thought they were in, were actually out, while the ones they regarded as of no consequence, occupied a more privileged position than they. That’s how it is in God’s kingdom — the world’s value system is reversed. The places of highest honour are reserved for the ones who least expect it. If you think you are important, you are not!

John’s baptism was received by those who welcomed his message and identified with the one he was introducing. Of course, the religious leaders, who thought they knew better, refused to be a part of it. They would not participate in anything that attracted the riff-raff. How tragic that their proud, know-it-all attitude excluded them from the greatest moment in their history and their own personal lives!

What about us? How much have we missed of the grace of Jesus because we think we know better, or because we refuse to humble ourselves and change the way we think. Jesus’ way is open to all, but there are many who miss it because it demands our shedding all our preconceived notions about how it should be.

He said, ‘Follow me.’ That’s all! Are you following? If you are, you will be part of the many who are greater than John the Baptist.

Luella Campbell

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