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Choosing HBO

Mark 1:7 And this was his message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie."

John 1:23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, Make straight the way for the Lord."

John 1:29-30 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me."

Matthew 3:7-8 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.

Mark 6:17-18 For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."

Long before the advent of cable television there was a man who "chose HBO." This HBO, however, has nothing to do with cable television--in fact, John the Baptist would almost certainly have refused any possible association with the Home Box Office label! HBO stands for John's three outstanding qualities--He was humble, he was bold and he was orthodox.

After 400 years of prophetic silence, John the Baptist burst suddenly onto the scene of 1st century Israel to announce the coming of Christ. No prophet had arisen in Israel since the days of Malachi in approximately 425 BC. John the Baptist was definitely not the average Jewish citizen of those days! The Scripture says that he "lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel" (Luke 1:80). Was John an Essene? The Essenes were an ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism whose members practiced communal living in wilderness settlements.

We can't be sure, but it is quite likely that John the Baptist spent some time in an Essene-like wilderness community. We know that John ate locusts and wild honey and wore a garment of camel's hair (Matthew 3:4). This was not the typical diet and dress of the first century Palestinian! In both appearance and behavior, John was definitely different from the "normal" man-on-the-street of those days! He was anything but a "hail fellow well met" person, he would certainly stand out in any crowd, and he was probably considered a complete social misfit by many of his contemporaries. His character comes across to us from the pages of Scripture as that of an ascetic loner.

In contrast to our Lord, who grew "in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52), social development was not one of John the Baptist's strong suits. But in spite of this, Luke 1:80 says that he became strong in spirit. John grew up to become a man of God, and he was greatly used by God. In fact, the Lord Jesus said that "among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11). While it's nice to be considered socially normal by our peers, it is far better to be considered spiritually great by our God! Is it possible that you are discouraged right now because you feel that somehow you never fit in socially? You've tried hard but you just can't make friends easily and people seem to avoid you. Well, don't be discouraged. If your relationship with the Lord is intact, God can use you in mighty ways. You may be another John the Baptist in the making!

What was it about John the Baptist that caused the Lord Jesus to evaluate him as the greatest of the Old Testament prophets? It certainly wasn't his congenial personality and social graces! Was it his spectacular miracles, like those of the great prophets, Elijah and Elisha? Obviously not, because John did not do a single miracle. What was it, then, that made John the Baptist the greatest of the prophets? A major factor, of course, was that John the Baptist had the great privilege of announcing the coming of the Messiah. But besides the fact that he was the forerunner of Christ, John had three outstanding characteristics that contributed to his greatness. In fact, these characteristics will qualify any person to be great in God's sight. John was humble and bold and orthodox.

He was Humble

The humility of John the Baptist is observed in the way he contrasted himself with the Messiah he announced. He insisted that "Christ must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Only if you're a truly humble person can you make a statement like that to people who want to make you a hero! This is especially true if that other person who is taking the limelight from you is your young cousin! (Remember that John was the older cousin of Jesus.)

To further emphasize his position of absolute humility in relation to Jesus, John said that he was not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of the Lord's sandals (Mark 1:7)! Before washing their masters' feet, slaves were forced to take the sandals off. John said that he was not worthy to do even the most menial task for such a One as Jesus. In fact, John considered his position to be lower than that of a slave when compared to the Person and position of Jesus! I'm sure we would have considered washing Jesus' feet a sufficiently humble gesture of faith, but for John such an act was only the threshold of humility. How do we measure up to John the Baptist when it comes to modeling humility?

John's level of humility is also observed in the lowly title he used for himself. When asked by the religious establishment to identify himself, he referred to himself as just "a voice crying in the wilderness" (John 1:23). In Isaiah 40:3-5, there is a prophecy about preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. Just as hills and valleys would be leveled and the crooked wilderness roads straightened, if a literal highway was being prepared for the arrival of a king, so the moral condition of the people in Israel was to be prepared for the coming of the Messiah. John saw himself as only a humble road repairman, the lonely messenger of Isaiah's prophecy--just a voice crying in the wilderness, "Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!"

Is that how we would describe ourselves when writing up a biographical sketch or resume? Is that how we would like to be introduced at a business or social gathering? Only a voice?! Or would we prefer to be described as a successful Christian business person? Or an outstanding Christian athlete? Or a well-known Christian singer? Or the president of a significant Christian organization? Or a leading member in a prominent church? Most of us need to take some lessons in humility from John the Baptist.

He was Bold

John the Baptist was also outstanding in his courage. He was not afraid to confront the opposition, even at the risk of losing his life. It was, in fact, his bold rebuke of Herod Antipas that led to his death. (See Mark 6.) John did not back down from directly confronting Herod about his adulterous relationship with his sister-in-law, Herodias. John was not afraid of the consequences that would surely follow his bold denunciation of Herod's immoral lifestyle. John was more concerned with what was biblically correct than what waspolitically correct.

What about us? Are we bold enough to speak out against what's unholy in our society? Public condemnation of extramarital sex will not win us any popularity contests either. We need to pray that the Lord would give us John-the-Baptist-like courage to speak up when God's standards are mocked, ignored and violated.

Do you think that John the Baptist would have remained silent about today's gay and lesbian community? No way! John the Baptist would have boldly exposed and denounced the sinful practices of this segment of society in no uncertain terms. Of course John would have received and baptized repentant homosexuals, but he would never have been cowed into backing down from the biblical standards of kingdom preparedness. We too must be prepared to reach out and help people turn from the practice of every type of sexual sin. But, like John the Baptist, we must have the courage to publicly take a biblical stand on this kind of sin, as well as every other kind of sin. This is especially difficult when even the Christian community begins to waver under the pressures of today's permissive culture.

John the Baptist also exhibited outstanding boldness in his statements to the religious establishment of his day. The religious leaders and their followers were riddled through with hypocrisy. In Matthew 3:7 we read that John called the Pharisees and the Sadducees a "brood of vipers"! This type of rhetoric didn't mean that John had a "holier than thou" attitude towards the religious authorities--he was simply presenting the facts. Apparently some of those self-righteous hypocrites were coming to John to be baptized--as an outward show of their supposed humility for the benefit of the general public! But John the Baptist saw through their masks and told them that true repentance was evidenced by spiritual fruit. Even though they claimed to be following the faith of their forefather, Abraham, it was obvious that they were lying--there was no spiritual fruit in their lives! And John went even further, boldly telling them that if they did not bring forth fruit they would be cut down and thrown into the fire like fruitless fig trees. To upset the religious establishment of the Jews in that day was not something you did lightly. It could result in your death, as it did for the first martyr, Stephen.

Think of the huge crowds, the popularity and the "success" that John could have enjoyed if he had watered down his message just a little bit to win the approval of the religious leaders of the day! But crowds and prosperity were not the bottom line for John. He fearlessly proclaimed the truth without respect of persons or consequences. Do we have the courage of John the Baptist? Do we proclaim the truth to our largely self-righteous, hypocritical world? Don't expect a lot of listeners when you boldly speak out about the judgment of God and the eternal punishment of Hell. The Lord Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18). The world does not want to hear about guilt or personal responsibility for sin. Many Christians are either afraid or ashamed to boldly proclaim the whole gospel because it might be offensive to people. Where are the John the Baptists of today?! We don't even have to risk our lives, as John did, and yet we are still reluctant to follow John's model of courage. We should be ashamed of ourselves for refusing to follow in the bold footsteps of John the Baptist.

He was Orthodox

"Orthodox" means "sound in doctrine". John the Baptist was orthodox, not only because he quoted and applied the Old Testament Scriptures properly, but because he realized that the primary focus of these Scriptures was the Person and work of the coming Messiah. John announced the arrival of the Lord Jesus as follows: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." Where did John get that idea? The phrase is not a direct quote from the Old Testament Scriptures. Most likely John had Isaiah 53 in mind when he referred to the Lord Jesus as the "Lamb of God." As John had read Isaiah 53 and other Old Testament Scriptures, he had come to the realization that the coming Messiah would have to die as a sacrificial lamb. Very few of John's contemporaries had this orthodox view of the Messiah. They were convinced that the Messiah would come as a conquering war hero or as a great prophet like Elijah--but not as a suffering servant!

And John was fully orthodox about the deity of the coming Messiah. Although the Lamb of God would have to be fully human in order to die, John in no way viewed the Suffering Servant as less than God. He stated emphatically in John 1:30 that "He existed before me." In Jewish thought, this statement would certainly equate Jesus with God, the Eternal One.

John further realized that the death of the Messiah would be substitutionary in nature. The death of thisLamb would "take away the sins of the world"! When John read in Isaiah 53:6, "the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him," he rightly concluded that the nature of the death of the Messiah would be substitutionary atonement.

The orthodoxy of John the Baptist concerning the Person and work of Christ is truly amazing when we think of the time frame in which he lived. Even among the godly the Jews at that time, the Person and work of the coming Messiah was not clearly and concisely defined. The clear, well-defined orthodox view of John the Baptist was like a Christological lighthouse in the midst of a sea of Messianic questions and false assumptions.

John the Baptist's orthodox statements about the Messiah still stand today as a bastion of orthodoxy, a strong defense against the onslaught of false views concerning the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Views of the cross which fall short of substitutionary atonement are shown to be unorthodox in light of John's straightforward statement, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Unorthodox views which make Jesus Christ a "good man"--but not God--cannot get around John's clear statement that his younger cousin "existed before me." How dare a professing Christian take a less orthodox view of Jesus Christ than His forerunner, John the Baptist?

Although the use of "HBO" for John the Baptist has nothing to do with cable TV, the acronym may be of some value in helping us to remember his outstanding qualities--qualities that we should choose to emulate! Let us be humble. Let us be bold. Let us be orthodox.

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