My neighbor asked me if I thought John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah. I said that the Bible doesn’t say that and doesn’t deal with reincarnation, but as I was looking through Matthew 11 and 17, I noticed something cool starting with 11:7:
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’”
Jesus says John is a prophet, even more than a prophet. Recall that the OT prophets of God did some rocking things back in the day: Elijah raised the dead, parted a river, extended food, called down a famine, called down fire upon a water-soaked altar in a duel of gods, and left the earth on a chariot of fire, for starters. Moses had his share of deeds with Pharoah, bringing water from rocks, et cetera. These guys demonstrated fantastic acts with the power of God, but verse 11 says that among those born of women, John was greater than these.
What did John do? He preached repentance. He baptized. He announced “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He decreased so that Christ would increase.
When we people talk about the power of God, often we don’t talk of the things John did. We like the Pharisees desire to see signs. We look for proof outside the Word that God is in our lives. Given the choice we would rather see Jesus heal the paralytic than forgive his sin. Those who would like to be seen as greatest of God seek the packed auditoriums, the landmark worship centers, and the best-selling books — although I hear “At the House of My Fathers” is pretty good.
The greatest man born of woman does the same things that Christ demands of our pastors. It is a better miracle that the message of a pastor convicts a person of his sin, and the Holy Spirit grants that man repentance. It is a better miracle that someone is baptized. It is a better miracle to announce the forgiveness of sins. And these better miracles continue with us today.
Please, Christian pastors. Warn us to flee from the wrath that is to come. Prune our dead trust in our own deeds. Ditch the how-to application sermons and the programs, trying to administer our lives better than we can, and deliver the hard-hitting Law that drives us to cry for mercy at the cross. Then we can be watered with a Gospel that causes us to bear fruit in keeping with repentance and gives us a thankfulness that lets us tell everyone what God has done for us.