Humility as Seen in John the Baptist

This blog post is adapted from Redeemed: Our Lives as Sinners and Saints by Dan Hoppen.

Just about everything about John the Baptist was notable. Consider:

  • He was the miracle baby granted to Zechariah and Elizabeth, who had no children and were thought to be far too old to conceive (Luke 1:5–23).
  • He was filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:66).
  • He lived in the wilderness and wore odd clothes woven from camel hair (Matthew 3:3–4).
  • He had an incredible speaking ability that drew people from all over the region (Matthew 3:5).
  • He was bold enough to call out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the time (Matthew 3:7–10).

Whatever you thought about this man, there was no ignoring him. 

Such notoriety easily could have gone to John’s head. People were so attracted to his impassioned speeches that they not only traveled miles just to see him but also trusted him to baptize them (Matthew 3:6). The Jewish leaders felt threatened by John’s ministry and attempted to discredit him (John 1:19–28).

John was the superstar. He was everything Aaron wanted to be.

But his mission wasn’t to be the leading man. In John 1:8, we’re told, “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

John’s entire existence, every word he spoke, was to tell of Jesus’ coming. This was his purpose.

The Opening Act for Jesus

Think about the role of an opening act at a concert. This is usually an up-and-coming group that doesn’t have the fame to attract crowds on their own. Their role is to get the fans excited while they wait for the headliner to take the stage.

John the Baptist was the opening act for Jesus, but people thought he was the star of the show. It would have been human nature to embrace their love and bask in their praise.

But John recoiled from this recognition:

I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)
I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said. (John 1:23)
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because He was before me. (John 1:29–30)

John was so humble that when Jesus asked to be baptized by him, John responded, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:14).

John understood that his moving speeches were not through his own eloquence. They were from God, and he was to use them to glorify his Maker.

His faithfulness ended up costing him his life. John publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for the wrongs the man had committed. For this he was thrown into prison and eventually beheaded as a party favor (Matthew 14:6–12).

Not exactly the way a superstar would want to go out.

But that’s the big takeaway: because John used his great influence to announce Jesus’ coming, the Jews were ready to see some fireworks when Jesus arrived. They knew the Savior was on the way, but they were still amazed by the miracles Jesus performed.

Humility: Working toward More than Yourself

That’s the beauty of John’s humility. Though he didn’t get to see the end result, his work resulted in great things. Even as he watched the executioner sharpening his blade, I don’t think John ever considered how things might have played out differently.

What if he had accepted the title of hero the crowds wanted to give him?

What if he had allied with the powerful religious leaders rather than put himself in their crosshairs?

What if he had appeased Herod instead of challenging him?

I find it hard to believe these alternate realities even entered John’s head. This was a man so consumed by his passion for God that he lived in the wilderness and feasted on locusts (Matthew 3:3–4). I think he did this not only to have stillness and aloneness with God but also to separate himself from the adoring masses and resist the temptations of their praise.

John’s life brings to mind my favorite Bible verse, Acts 20:24, in which Paul dropped this humility bomb: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

Blog post adapted from Redeemed: Our Lives as Sinners and Saints copyright © 2021 Dan Hoppen. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved. 

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Dan Hoppen

Dan Hoppen is the director of small groups at King of Kings Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a career writer and has published God's Broken Heroes. He is married to his incredible wife, Sarah, and is a foodie who is always up for trying out a new restaurant.

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