Luke 7:28-30 (the message)
“Let me lay it out for you as plainly as I can: No one in history surpasses John the Baptizer, but in the kingdom he prepared you for, the lowliest person is ahead of him. The ordinary and disreputable people who heard John, by being baptized by him into the kingdom, are the clearest evidence; the Pharisees and religious officials would have nothing to do with such a baptism, wouldn’t think of giving up their place in line to their inferiors.”
John the Baptist was the son of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. The son she bore in old age. The son who would become a man living in the desert, eating locust and honey, preaching a loud and crusty message to God’s wayward people. The Bible says, He went all through the country around the Jordan River preaching a baptism of life-change leading to forgiveness of sins, as described in the words of Isaiah the prophet: Thunder in the desert! Prepare God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!
John’s very life was a fulfillment of prophecy. John’s purpose and calling was to prepare hearts for the arrival of Jesus. You know, growing up I heard about John and this “thunder in the desert.” As a kid (and for a long time as an adult) they were just words. At some point the meaning kind of seeped into my heart. The desert is a dry, hot and thirsty place. Thunder is a sign that rain is coming. I love it. John was thunder, a boom of foreshadowing, that attracted the dry and thirsty hearts of God’s people. Rain is coming. Messiah is arriving.
Do you think John was a spiritual giant? Do you see him as a man called to greatness? I do! And Jesus did, too. In the verses above Jesus is speaking to a group who had listened to an exchange between Jesus and John’s disciples (John is now in prison and sent these guys over to see what was up!) Jesus gives these men a message for John:
The blind see
The lame walk
Lepers are cleansed
The deaf hear
The dead are raised
The wretched of the earth
have God’s salvation hospitality extended to them.
Then Jesus turns to the people listening in and tells them that no one in history surpasses John. Yet in the very kingdom John has been preparing them for, the lowliest person is ahead of him.
Oh yes. Now, if you are a church-world vet you might be shaking this off. Yeah, yeah the last will be first and the first will be last. We know. (Just sayin’ cause until a couple of hours ago I did the same.) I think we apply this to the Pharisee types, you know. Those who think they are so much better will be “put in their place” once we get to Heaven. They pushed their way to the front in this life but in Heaven they’ll be last! (Yeah! Fist pump!) But this morning I’m stopped. As in just sitting at my table staring into space letting it sink in. Rivers pauses, spoon full of Fruity Pebbles mid-air, and looks over at me like, Mom what is wrong with you?
So I read it to her. I talk about who John was for a second and how Jesus is saying that the lowliest person, the most ordinary person, even the most disreputable person who asks Jesus into their heart, will be ahead of John. And Rivers says, that’s kinda big.
Here’s the thing that is hitting me this morning. I get what it’s like to try to be “big.” You know what I’m saying? Like this: When I worked in a large, local hospital for thirteen years I used to laugh about how I had worked at both ends of the spectrum. I had worked in the “big” world of critical care and my last years were spent in the float pool (I made my own schedule and was plugged into a unit that needed help that shift.) Short to say float pool nurses are “small” on the hospital hierarchy of greatness. If that unit doesn’t know you they assume you know next to nothing. If you are a nurse you know what I’m saying. If you have no clue, just trust me. Smile.
I get the idea of pride and humility. I get the idea of pushing ahead with motives for superiority. I get that. But look, John wasn’t pushing ahead for personal greatness. John wasn’t measuring himself. John wasn’t after bigness. John, it seems to me, was just doing what God put in him to do–whatever the cost. His bold preaching eventually cost him his head. Literally.
In John’s obedience, in his pure heart and all-in lifestyle, even in hearing Creator say no one, no one, surpasses him, we find someone else ahead of him. The ordinary. The lowly. The nobody. The small.
What does that mean to me today? For me it’s not about not pushing my way to the front. It’s not about ridding my heart of the pride that wants to feel big in life. I struggle with that like anyone else, but I know it’s there. I’m not kidding myself about that. But how about this? How about we mature to the place in our journey with Christ where we live in obedience and with pure motives…we live all-in, not counting any cost, because we truly love Jesus. We hold nothing back, really nothing, because we know it’s about Him. And the day comes in the everlasting of eternity when Jesus welcomes us, whispers well done in our ear, and walks us over to our place. What happens? Wait. I can’t even make this post about how that feels because the person who lives like John just isn’t thinking about who is ahead of him in Heaven’s line.
No, this is about Jesus. How He sees it.
Jesus certainly has purpose for us. He loves us. He wants to use us. But I am struck by what He said about John. I am struck by the absurdity that John would take a backseat to anyone in Heaven other than Jesus. Do you know what this means to me? It means that everything I do, everything I give and everything He makes of me is absolutely, positively about His glory. Not I let it be. No, it is. I don’t really get a say. It means that everything about surrendered living is always and forever about the person in front of me. The ordinary, the lowly, the disreputable.
This shakes me up. Because somewhere inside I must have this lingering comfort of being big. Someday. Some place. Some way. Oh, it’s okay God if you don’t make me big (wink). I know you can make my ministry big, my writing big, my mothering or my marriage big. I’ll let it all be about You because somehow in eternity I’ll see the bigness of my surrender.
No. In eternity I’ll see the person in front of me. Goodness, how silly and full or ourselves we can be. How hard and long we resist an honest look at our motives. A tight fist holds my heart. I want to be big. And yet I want to let go and be content with small. I want Him to do something big through me and yet I need to stay small. Interestingly enough, that is exactly what will happen. What does that do for my motives, my straining and striving? What happens if I suddenly realize that no matter what, I don’t get to be big? Only Jesus is big. He likes to take ordinary, small and disreputable people and make Himself big in their life story. Oh, wait. I am ordinary. I am small. I am disreputable. Jesus is the good, the extra, the big, the worthy in my life. Goodness, look. Not only am I forever going to see the lowly person ahead of me, I’m going to be humbled to realize I am the lowly person ahead of someone else.
And I believe I will be gloriously happy and ecstatically grateful about it.