Meekness and majesty!
Chris Hill was once told ‘mind thy business’ and reminds us all to be true to the calling that the Lord has for each of us..
John the Baptist saw himself as the forerunner of the Messiah. He was under no illusions about that. Not for him the indulgence of seeing himself as greater than he was. Indeed, John was reluctant to see himself as Jesus saw him and may never have been aware of our Lord's opinion since Jesus was addressing not him but the crowds (Luke 7:28).
John would certainly have blanched to hear the Lamb of God give His sovereign opinion, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no-one greater than John [the Baptist]; yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Matthew described John the Baptist as “A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the Way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him'”(Matthew 3:3). That assessment is confirmed by Mark (Mark 1:3) and Luke (Luke 3:4). In the Fourth Gospel account, the Baptist (more correctly, Baptiser) refers to himself in the same way. He confesses that he is the “Voice” prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (40:3).
Although Jesus said that the least person who is in the Kingdom of God (that is to say, all regenerated Christians who serve Him as their unquestioned King) is greater than John, Luke 7:28 is a ringing endorsement and exalted commendation by our Saviour.
It is astonishing to read that John the Baptist believed himself to be the fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy. Some might accuse him of conceit at best and contemptible pride at worst, but the truth is that John had been filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15) and so he was speaking with divine revelation. He knew the truth about himself. John's ministry had been sanctioned by Heaven. Even so, John never permitted himself to bask in his own glory: he lived to exalt the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
I suppose the word that best describes John's character is meekness. The Greek word PRAUS appears in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”The word is wrongly associated with weakness. We can consider a meek person a weak person. That is a serious error of judgement. PRAUS was used of power under control. It was used of domesticated animals. It could be used of a highly trained hunting dog which, while possessing the strength and ability to wreak havoc on its prey was so disciplined that it could be left in charge of an infant with no need for fear on the parents' part.
Moses was described as a meek man (Numbers 12:3) and yet he was strong as a lion and was not afraid to 'roar' and 'bare his teeth'! According to Exodus 12:37, Moses led six hundred thousand former slaves out of Egypt, together with their wives and children, and under God discipled them to become a disciplined fighting force, having a strong, theocentric government by the time they entered the Land of Canaan. That takes extraordinary power and Moses clearly had it in spades … yet he was the meekest man in all the world!
Such a combination was also observable in John the Baptist. Rulers and multitudes quaked when he thundered out God's mighty truths yet at the same time many were immensely moved, inspired and encouraged by the grace that flowed through him. That blend of qualities is true meekness and will always be present in genuine servants of God.
A meek man knows the truth about himself. He does not give room for personal pride nor does he give room for self-deprecation. True humility is an awareness of the truth about myself that only the Lord can give. To deny what God has made me is inverted pride. If someone says to me, “Your preaching today was quite wonderful”, I no longer squirm with embarrassment and make some banal or facile remark like “Oh, no, surely not: you must not say such things!” or “Ah, yes, the devil has already told me that!” I am now content to say, “Well let's praise the Lord together. Whatever was wonderful about it can only have come from Heaven. But I am truly grateful to have been the Lord's messenger to you today! Now what are we going to do about it”?
More than a voice
Talk is cheap. Religious talk can be particularly cheap. “Do as I say, not as I do!” is easily conveyed … and it is utterly useless. James the half-brother of the Lord Jesus wrote, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1) I recoil from that because it convicts me so deeply. A College friend (who later became a Kenyan bishop) heard me preach and presented me with a piece of paper which bore the following Puritan quotation, “Thou art a preacher of the Word: mind thy business!”
That quote faces me every day as I sit at my desk. It needs to. I can dismiss it too easily but if I do I am in big trouble with the One who called me to be a voice for Him. Yes, I too can say, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way of the Lord'”. But the authenticating mark is this: “Am I truly meek?” I might be conscious that the Lord has called and gifted me as a preacher but am I self-effacing to the point of admitting that no good thing can come from me unless my Saviour inspires it? ALL THE GLORY MUST GO TO HIM. This means I need to be more than a voice. I need to speak with His voice. That requires me to be the embodiment of my message and not merely a pedlar of words … even biblical words.
The Lord is perfectly able to speak through a donkey (Numbers 22:28), so that takes me down a peg or two! But Balaam's mistreated donkey did not set itself up to be a Bible teacher! Its brief speech happened right out of the blue and we have no reason to suppose that speaking became its ongoing ministry!
John the Baptist articulated God's Voice and so peoples' reaction to the Lord was expressed in their reaction to John! Some heard him gladly, others (like Herod and his mistress, Herodias) loathed him. Reactions were governed by the penetration of John's words. If they cut deep, the reaction could be extremely vicious. But John was secure in his conviction that he was called to this and because of it his security was in Father's grace. He had learned to conquer his fear.
In his monumental work, “The Christian in Complete Armour”, the Puritan writer William Gurnall draws us to an honest appraisal of our commitment to spiritual warfare. He says, “All may have a desire to be successful soldiers, but few have the courage and determination to grapple with the difficulties that accost them on the way to victory … How many part with Christ at the crossroad of suffering!”
Gurnall goes on, “If you intend to bear up courageously against the opposition in your march to heaven, your principles must be well fixed. Otherwise your heart will be unstable, and an unstable heart is as weak as a house without girders. The first crosswind will blow it down. Two things are required to fix your principles: First, an established knowledge of God's Truth and second, a heart set in the right direction.” He continues, “Head knowledge of the things of Christ is not enough; this following Christ is primarily a matter of the heart … half-hearted resolve will not venture much nor far for Christ. ... If you are a serious soldier, do not flirt with any of your desires that are beneath Christ and heaven.”
I quote from Gurnall's great work because I believe it is essential reading for believers intending to be God's Voice to this generation. (See Footnote) 1
The Holy God can only use a holy vessel. I cannot be a conveyor of His Words if I do not first convey His holiness.My longing to be His Voice can never be met unless I am actively pursuing genuine discipleship. How can I lead people to where I am not? It is no coincidence that the command, “Fear not!” is so regularly found in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The Lord urges that requirement so often that we are left in no doubt that fear is a common condition among believers.
Live the Word you love
If fear is the negative aspect of spiritual warfare, the positive aspect is what the Lord told Joshua (1:7), “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”
That Hebrew word translated “successful” is a big one! Strong’s Concordance defines it as “to have insight, wisdom, understanding; to prosper and have success; the potent capacity to understand and so to exercise skill in life, a state caused by proper training and teaching enhanced by careful observation.” All this is promised if I am careful to be a man of the Word: not admiring it but living it. John the Baptist was a Bible man. Just like Joshua he operated from a place of strength because he meditated on God's Word day and night. It was the secret of his success. To be God's Voice requires courage and a level of commitment that is rare.
To be brutally honest, I do not really want to go on tramping the tread-mill of sermonising to folks who want only to be entertained. But if my messages are to penetrate the hearts of the people and turn them back to the Lord, I truly need to mind my business! Food for thought!
1 Copies of William Gurnall'sThe Christian in Complete Armourmay be obtained from C L Publications. See advert on page 11