Even though John the Baptizer intentionally pointed two of his disciples away from himself and to the Lamb of God, might it still have hurt just a bit as John and Andrew walked away to become Jesus’ disciples?
We can only imagine that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” had been just as loved and valuable to John as he would become to Jesus. And to have a follower like Andrew who was so eager to share the good news, what prophet would not want such an earnest partner at his side?
But in Sunday’s gospel (John 1:29-41), we see that the Baptizer had a clear grasp of what his calling was all about. “The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
The reason John came wasn’t to see how many disciples he could gather who were personally devoted to him. The reason John came wasn’t to have people around him constantly telling him what a wonderful prophet he was. The reason John came wasn’t to see how many likes he could accumulate on Facebook.
His purpose was simple. His ministry’s goal was to provide an Epiphany for Israel’s eyes: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
That humble understanding of the reason he came didn’t come naturally to John any more than it comes naturally to us. It is the Spirit who teaches ours hearts to echo John’s conviction that we have come to our unique callings solely that the Lamb of God might be revealed to his New Testament Israel.
Yet proud hearts can still deceive us. It’s deceptively difficult to discern the dividing line between serving only to point to the Lamb of God and instead, almost unconsciously, pointing at least a little bit at ourselves.
“The reason I came preaching…” was so that you could marvel at what a fine preacher I am (especially when compared to your previous pastor!).
“The reason I came leading…” was so that you would wonder aloud how the congregation would ever accomplish half of what it does without me (“Make that one quarter…” our proud heart would love to retort!).
“The reason I came teaching…” was so that you could marvel over what an engaging and entertaining presenter I am (even if at times focus on the biblical text is sacrificed at the altar of displaying my wit).
And the proof that such thinking troubles us? Isn’t it the pique I feel when those to whom I am proclaiming fail to say anything positive about my preaching, or have the gall to express their displeasure? Isn’t it the slow burn I do when those whom I’m leading question (again!) the wisdom of where I am pointing? Isn’t it my peevishness when those who sit at my feet fail to acknowledge the long hours I slaved to put together Bible studies for them?
It is ever so easy to lose sight of the single-minded reason we came to our place of service. The glory of the One whom we proclaim begins to be confused with the glory of the proclaimer.
There is only one way to flee this ever-present-to-the-ministry temptation. It is to become lost in the wonder of the Lamb of God. It is to become enamored anew each day with the wonder that the sins he bore away were my own. It is to be astounded that he still delights to use a flawed jar of clay like me to step up into a pulpit or classroom or counseling session and proclaim: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Only the gospel can give us such blessed self-forgetfulness in ministry – even as we do indeed work hard to preach, lead, and teach by maximizing every gift he’s given us!
Only once in 31 years of ministry did I print business cards. On one side was the mundane contact information, but on the other side was Christ’s face and this bit of stolen doggerel:
If we meet and you forget me, you have lost nothing.
But if you meet Jesus and forget him, you have lost everything.
As I look back, I think I had that printed at least as much to send a message to me as to those with whom I left my card. I openly confess that I am no stranger to the self-centered vanities that afflict those in public ministry. But I claim by faith what my heart will never perfectly grasp until heaven:
“The reason I came baptizing with water (and communing…and preaching…and counseling…and leading) was that he might be revealed to Israel.”