True Greatness

Certainly John the Baptist, during his extended and vigorous ministry, revealed that supreme greatness of a worth-while and noble life.

Secretary, Ministerial Association, South American Division

WHILE the youthful Jesus labored together with Joseph in the carpenter shop of Nazareth, wielding a hammer and measuring His an­gles, a voice was being heard in the desert near the Jordan, a vibrant, insistent voice that announced the coming of the kingdom of heaven. The vigorous, grave voice that cried in sonorous tones was none other than that of John the Baptist. He was the prophet appointed to carry out the work of preparation, to "make straight the way of the Lord" (John 1:23).

When announcing the birth of this out­standing prophet the celestial angel stated, "He shall be great in the sight of the Lord" (Luke 1:15). Truly this man of God was not considered great in the eyes of men; but, according to prophecy, he was to be great in the sight of God.

Certainly John the Baptist, during his extended and vigorous ministry, revealed that supreme greatness of a worth-while and noble life.

Great in His Ministry

During and following that agitated Herodian reign, when Judea was only a prov­ince under the dictates of Rome, in those ignominious times filled with disturbance when Israel lay humiliated without king and without hope, indifferent to eternal values and unsatisfied with her temporal situation, the voice of John the Baptist was heard valiantly crying, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2).

His penetrating and powerful message shook the whole nation in an extraordi­nary measure. While he proclaimed the need of a genuine repentance as a sign of cleansing from sin, John the Baptist led the penitent sinner to the purifying waters of the Jordan, where in all solemnity he per­formed the rite of baptism.

All of Judea was moved by the preaching of this unusual ascetic who, far from the tumultuous noise of the cities, drew the multitudes and gave them the solemn warn­ings of God.

The dust of the ages shall never dull the effect of his great ministry, so ably re­corded for us in the pages of Holy Writ.

Great in Self-discipline

John the Baptist lived in a century characterized by such corruption that the very foundations of Israel were being un­dermined to an astonishing degree. All society was contaminated with sensualism, love of pleasure, and dissolution, which blunted the most elevated spiritual percep­tions of men.

Notwithstanding this, John, the herald­ing apostle, subjected his passions and ap­petite with extraordinary self-control and maintained them in harmony with the standards of a pure and wholesome life. He preferred the solitude of the desert where, through sanctifying communion with God, he found inspiration and strength to forgo carnal excesses and vice that enveloped the society of his time.

Upon announcing his birth, the angel said, "He . . . shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost" (Luke 1:15). So it was that he quenched his thirst in the cool, running brooks that came down from the hills; and, by rigid self-discipline, renounced lustful, worldly pleasures, showing himself to be worthy of his mission and measuring up to the elevated state of his sacred trust.

The sober and virtuous life of this man of God constituted a silent reproof to his contemporaries who were inclined toward sensualism and intemperate practices.

Great in Valor

Never while carrying on his ministry did he show signs of cowardice or lukewarm-ness. His preaching showed undaunted courage in denouncing the abominations and iniquity of the time.

Nor did he fear the ire of Herod Antipas, the dissolute tetrarch of Galilee, whom he vigorously reproved for his illegitimate re­lations with Herodias, his brother's wife. This bold attitude led to John's imprison­ment and, finally, a martyr's death. It is amazing to note that not even the threat of death could silence that brave and vibrant voice.

The insincere and pharisaical who flocked to him in apparent penitence trembled when they heard the prophet's blunt question, "Generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Luke 3:7). These words, reflect­ing a righteous temerity, confounded the hypocrites, because they saw the duplicity of their intentions laid bare.

He fearlessly reproved the publicans, who through their employment in the treasury, gathered together great fortunes by fraud, extortion, and deceit. With words full of censure he warned the dishonest tax collectors, "Exact no more than that which is appointed you" (Luke 3:13).

In this day of condescension, compro­mise, and weakness it would be well if there were more men like John the Baptist, frank and daring in denouncing human transgressions and digressions.

Great in Humility

Love of ostentation and luxury, so prev­alent in those days, never contaminated the one who was the greatest prophet "born of women."

In sharp contrast with the vanity and haughtiness of that age, he clothed him­self in "raiment of camel's hair, and a leath­ern girdle about his loins" (Matt. 3:4).

When the restless multitude asked him, "Who art thou?" he answered categorically, "I am not the Christ" (John 1:19, 20).

Showing signs of curiosity, the multitude once more inquired, "Art thou Elias?" (At that time the idea was prevalent that before the coming of the Messiah, one of the prophets of antiquity would be resur­rected to announce the wonderful event.) Confronted with this question, the proph-et's voice resounded clearly, "I am not," (John 1:21).

"Art thou that prophet?. . . What sayest thou of thyself?" asked the impatient by­standers. He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. . . . He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose" (John 1:23-27).

As his popularity declined before the increasing influence and fame of Jesus, signs of evident, progressive abandonment became apparent. As the crowds began to withdraw, his disciples dispersed and the curious turned their backs. John, with matchless renunciation, pronounced his own sentence, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

These and other aspects of the life of this faithful herald reveal eloquent lessons of self-surrender, submission, and humility.

Great in Faith and Confidence

Imprisoned in the fortress of Herod Antipas, John felt a presentiment that the end of his turbulent ministry was near. The drama of his martyrdom loomed up before him ominously.

Oppressed and bowed down by such great adversity and not understanding the reasons for his misfortune, John the Baptist paced his solitary cell, perplexed and per­turbed. In spite of his grief, his faith in the Lord never wavered. The happenings that took place following Christ's bap­tism—the dove descending from heaven, the thundering voice of God that revealed the Sonship of Christ—were vividly en­graved in his memory and they strength­ened his confidence in the Eternal One.

Finally, he was sent to his death by order of the vacillating and libertine governor of Galilee, but his life's record remains as a permanent example of immovable and imperishable faith.

While men strain to attain greatness in our own century, the life of John the Bap­tist should be held up as a shining ex­ample of a man who was in every way "great in the sight of the Lord."

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Secretary, Ministerial Association, South American Division

May 1962

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