As we saw yesterday, John was very careful about letting people think more of him than was warranted. He wanted to immediately disillusion anyone entertaining the notion that he was the Messiah.
So how did he view Jesus? Actually, he was the first one to recognize Jesus. After Mary was visited by the angel and the Holy Spirit conceived within her, she went to visit her relative Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s voice, John leaped within her womb for joy—that’s right, the first person to recognize Jesus was an unborn baby. From that point forward, John was all about pointing others towards Christ.
There’s something you might want to know about concerning religious traditions in those days. It was very common for disciples to do menial tasks for their rabbis: washing their clothes, cleaning their house, serving their food, etc. But there was one task which was forbidden for rabbis to expect from their followers: untying their sandals. This was considered too degrading a task for a teacher to expect from his students, under any circumstances. This was considered slave work. But John said he was unworthy to even untie the sandals of the One who was coming.
What exactly did John know about God’s plan? From today’s passage, apparently more than Jesus’ own disciples did. They never quite captured the notion that our number one problem is sin, not political oppression. But John pointed to Jesus and proclaimed to anyone who'd listen that this was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” I don’t think that John necessarily had the details worked out, but he at least had the important parts clear. He also knew and announced that Jesus was the Son of God, a very controversial claim for Jews, both in that time and today.
He also knew that Jesus one day was going to judge the world and separate the saved from the lost, and John urged his listeners to prepare themselves by repenting. The only thing he might've gotten wrong was missing the distinctive purposes of his first and second comings. He apparently thought that Jesus was going to accomplish spiritual redemption and eternal judgment all within the same time period, which would explain why he was so downcast about being in prison and not seeing Jesus take charge the way he was expecting (see our discussion on Matt. 11:1-15 two day ago).
The point I’m trying to make is that he basically got it right when a lot of people, including Jesus’ closest followers, got it really wrong. He had his doubts at times, like most of us do, but Jesus was very pleased with him. His whole-hearted devotion, his single-mindedness in pointing others to Christ while deflecting attention from himself is something we all need to work on. Wouldn't you agree?
Lord Jesus, I have so far to go when it comes to things like this. Please give me this kind of single-mindedness, this kind of purity of heart. I need it so badly.