by Jeannette Haley
Oh to be great! How many of us have, at least at one point in our lives, thought about what it would mean to be “great?” In our human way of thinking, being “great” brings to mind fame, fortune, and power. Just thinking about being in such a position can stir up a deep desire to find the shortest path to greatness so that one can, theoretically, be in control of his or her life. After all, being in control would mean having the ability to direct one’s life in any way one could wish, avoiding all the problems that face the less fortunate in our world. It is easy to naively assume that being “great” is the ticket to “easy street.”
Many years ago, when a large part of my life consisted of either painting, teaching painting, or traveling to art shows, I remember thinking one day, I want to be the greatest artist in the world. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize, after chasing the proverbial carrot dangling in front of the donkey’s nose, that this was a self-destructive goal. After participating in various art shows, being accepted into some established art galleries, and painting my way up to a competitive par with “winning” professionals, I was confronted with a choice. The choice was verbally expressed to me by a well-known, extremely successful artist at a special two-man art showing for myself and another artist at a gallery in western Washington. The individual presenting me with the choice was surprisingly blunt and uninhibited (probably due to his frequent trips to the spiked punch bowl) as he laid out the “path to greatness.” It couldn’t have been any clearer if the devil himself had presented me with the lurid temptation. There it was—the opportunity to achieve greatness, all laid out in plain English. I knew this individual had the means to open all the right doors to propel me forward in my art career, but what he didn’t know is my soul is not for sale!
After giving him my flat refusal to accept his “offer,” my art career rapidly began to slide off center stage into the murky shadows of “nobody land.” But, that is not the end of the story, as many of you know. God was leading me to another work, a work that would bring honor and glory to Him. All the experience garnered from years of painting brought me to the time and place where I was privileged to paint the life of Christ for the Chapel of the Resurrection in Bothell, Washington. It was at that time I poured my life out in ways that broke my health, weakened my immune system, and brought me to a point where I struggled for months, fighting for my life. Spasmodic Dysphonia developed, leaving me literally “speechless,” and no longer able to teach. Rayola’s health pretty much crashed at the same time, leaving us in a deep financial pit.
Any thought of being the “world’s greatest artist” had completely vanished many years prior. But, now I couldn’t even teach, and that was a main source of income. Then, through the many years of physical suffering and financial stress the Lord began to do His work in my heart and life concerning the idea of greatness. Jesus made it clear when He told His disciples, after kneeling before them and washing their feet, “Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” John 13:12b-17. In Matthew 20:26b, 27 Jesus taught, “…whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister [servant]; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” [Addition mine.]
Nevertheless, it is only natural for us fallen human beings to associate greatness in God’s kingdom with power, miracles and even great wealth. (Amazingly, when we were at our lowest ebb, we witnessed more of God’s power and miracles of deliverances in people’s lives than at any other time.) Pastors of mega churches, men and women who are “stars” in the world of Christian television, conferences, and book sales in the hundreds of thousands, and those who claim to have healed the masses, built huge edifices to honor themselves and so forth are looked up to by multitudes of people who are easily deluded and swayed by their so-called “greatness.” Their “success in ministry” is viewed as evidence of God’s special “anointing” on them, and many secretly believe these famous individuals are somehow elite, special and God’s “favorite” people. However, this is simply not true. The Bible tells us, “Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him. And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me received him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great” Luke 9:46-48. [Emphasis added.]
Thus, when we read Jesus’ words concerning John the Baptist, “For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” Luke 7:28, then we can begin to get a glimpse into what Jesus was saying concerning greatness in His kingdom. After all, when we think of “great” prophets, our thoughts naturally turn to the Old Testament prophets through whom God breathed His Word, and through whom He worked great miracles. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus was not speaking of greatness in light of such things, but rather in light of John’s unique and special ministry that was foreordained of God.
Jesus declared that John the Baptist was “much more than a prophet” Luke 7:26. When John’s mother, Elizabeth, was pregnant with him, he leapt in her womb when she was visited by Mary and heard her salutation. The Bible tells us that she was filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied. (See Luke 1:39-45.) Likewise, after the birth of John, his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and he prophesied, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” Luke 1:76-79.
We see in this beautiful prophecy concerning John that he would be called “the prophet of the Highest” because he would go “before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways, and to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins.” Indeed, John was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 which states, “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” What greater commission could any prophet of God, or believer such as you and I have than going before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, and to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins? What greater ministry is there than being in the perfect will of God, filled with His Spirit, preparing people to believe and receive the Lord Jesus Christ, and to understand His salvation and forgiveness of sins through His death, burial, and resurrection? And, what did John do for those who repented of their sins? He baptized them to prepare them to receive the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation for the saving of their souls.
Therefore, what is the greatest ministry? Is it not to obey Jesus who, in light of these words, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth,” gave us what is known as the great commission, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” Matthew 28:18b-20. Down through the ages countless men and women have denied themselves, picked up their cross and followed Jesus through obedience, and martyrdom. These are those of whom Jesus declared, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John the Baptist]” Luke 7:28b. [Addition mine.]
John was of the priestly line, and could have taken his place serving in the temple. Instead, he lived an obscure life in the wilderness, dressed in camel’s hair, and a leather girdle, rather than be attired in fine priestly garments. He chose to eat locusts and wild honey rather than dine on the choice meat of the priest’s portion of temple sacrifices. Indeed, John’s “meat” was to be sold out for God, body, soul and spirit, and the purpose for which he was born. Such a man would be repulsed by the worldly, entertainment filled churches of today that clamor for “greatness,” worldly esteem, riches, and power, doing it all in the name of the Lord, but meanwhile denying His Word concerning His character, His deity, man’s fallen disposition of sin, and the eternal consequences of judgment and hell. In spite of Roman rule, and the ecclesiastical power of the Pharisees, John never entertained for one second the demonic delusions and lies of such nonsense as modern man’s slavish devotion to “political correctness.” His calling, mission, and focus were clear, his commitment to God’s will unshakeable, his denial of worldly comfort and leisure indisputable, and his obedience to God unwavering and beyond reproach. In spite of what overrated critics declare, John the Baptist was exactly what Jesus said he was—God’s messenger and the greatest prophet.
John’s work was to prepare the people to receive the Lord of heaven and earth. In order to prepare the way, his message was clear, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Matthew 3:2. Indeed the kingdom of heaven was at hand, in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. This is the message the true Church of God must proclaim to the world, for is not the literal, visible kingdom of God close at hand? Who can doubt that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming soon to establish His kingdom on the earth and put all His enemies under His feet? Yet, how many pew warmers in our day and age would knock each other down trying to get out the door of their church if they heard that some “great prophet” over yonder was performing miracles and signs and wonders? We must remember that Satan is the “god of this world” and that he can and does work “signs, and lying wonders” in order to deceive.
As Hollywood so well knows, the idea of greatness and power can be extremely alluring; however, the real and lasting power is contained in the Gospel. Romans 1:16 still stands, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Jesus said, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas” Matthew 16:4a. John the Baptist’s greatness was not based on miracles, signs and wonders, but on the simple, yet profound fact that he was, as was Elijah, God’s messenger and forerunner, preparing the people for the ways of the Lord, and giving knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the remission of their sins.
Thus we can conclude that it is not signs, wonders and miracles that establish a prophet as “great,” but rather the God-given message that comes forth. And, what greater message is there than the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh? What greater message can be given to the whole world than this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” John 1:1-5?
John the Baptist was great because it was given to him to introduce to the world Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, God incarnate, and the Savior and Lord. He publicly declared, and prophesied, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water” John 1:29b-31. John was also a witness, and bare this record, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me, to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” John 1:32-34.
As we continue reading in John 1 verses 35-36 we read, “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard this from John, they left him and followed Jesus. Here is another reason why John the Baptist was great. He had no personal agenda to gather followers to himself. Neither did he have any desire to establish himself as a great spiritual leader to whom others would pay homage. The thought of having a “great” ministry that would place him in the “Who’s Who” realm of the rich and famous never occurred to him. John knew who he was, he knew why he was born, he knew his calling, and most importantly, He knew His God. John did not think more highly of himself than he ought to think, and he certainly was not a man who could be bribed to compromise the truth.
May our thoughts and hearts be united in the love of God this special season as we turn towards the One who “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And with renewed hope and joy may we rejoice that the day is soon to dawn when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:10, 11.
May the Lord cause us to be as John the Baptist, faithful in preparing others to meet Jesus, for surely He is coming soon!