How many of you have ever played limbo before?
I am terrible at it and typically when it forms at some Kingdom dance or some other summer party I make it just a little past my elbow height, while most of the time, the smallest sister always ends up winning the “how low can you go” contest, as we just saw!!!
The title of my lesson today is “How Low Can You Go,” no, as funny as that might be, I’m not going to be preaching about the limbo, but we will be preaching about one of the greatest examples of humility next to Jesus; and that is John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was born 6 months before Jesus and was born to his parents in their old age. His father was a priest and while in the temple one day, offering the evening incense, the Angel Gabriel came to him and told him that he would have a son. Zachariah, which was his father’s name, didn’t believe it and so the angel made him deaf and mute until he was born. His mother was in her old age and was barren, which most in Biblical times would have considered them to be cursed by God himself, yet the Scriptures make it clear that both Zachariah and his wife were very close to God and very devout to Him. In all of his wisdom, God had a plan and in his right time, and for his right purposes, John was born.
Next, we find John after we read about his birth, is him in the wilderness (literally the wild!) and is preaching “good news” to the people who came out to be baptized by him. What I found interesting as I was researching this sermon was how much of a parallel John has to the Old Testament prophets. John is considered to be the last of the Old Testament prophets and is even prophesied by many of them to be one who will help usher in the coming of the Messiah!
Another interesting thing that I discovered, is that when you look at the messages of the Old Testament prophets, you hear their messages, and while we can look at it with eyes that see the end of the story for them, they heard messages and prophesy of doom, definitely not good news for many of their hearers! Yet John came, and was preaching Good news! The good news of the Messiah!
John’s enter life was destined to be the one to prepare the way for Jesus to come. He would not define himself as a man of greatness but of lowly stature whose only job was to do what God had called him to do which was preach and prepare. Preach repentance and prepare the way for the Lord!
When we play Limbo, we do it to see how low we can go in order to win a prize, but John shows us that when we go low for God, we win a home in heaven, but not just that, we win many souls! And that is good news!
Let’s pick up on the story, right here where John is preaching the good news of Jesus!
Turn your Bibles to Luke 3:1
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”
Here we read, much like the prophets of old, that John came at a specific date and time where real historical leaders lead parts of the Roman Empire and Israel. What I find so cool about something as mundane as in what hear this leader was leading this part of the world is that we can go back in history and see these people actually existed. The Bible is not a storybook that was made up by men, it is a history book that describes the life and times of our ancestors in the faith! It’s our Ansestery.com!
The Low Blow Can Help Us Grow
My first point is, The Low Blow Can Help Us Grow!
We see here, in our first interaction with John that he knows his role! He understands that he has come to prepare the way. From the very beginning of his ministry, he is not what many would see as influential. Other scriptures that describe John tell that he wore camel’s hair and ate bugs! This guy was the real deal mountain man, a real man of the earth! Crocodile Dundee has nothing on this guy!
When we think of someone influential, we think of the CEO, the Startup King, the Pop Singer, the motivational speaker. Someone who spends their time with celebrities and spending lots of money to help people. Yet, we see that the man who, as Isaiah 40 is quoted as saying here, will pave the way for the Messiah, was none of these things, not just in looks, but also in the way that he talked to people.
Let’s read on in 3:7
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
John didn’t care too much about what people thought of him. Not just in his looks, but in what he preached. His words could be read as harsh and cruel to many who were bystanders to what was taking place. The Scriptures tell us that the Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to listen to him and check out what this wild man was saying and I’m sure that much of his strong language was pointed to them, however, we read here in Luke that he said to the crowds. He knew that everyone, not just the lowly sinner, but even the religious and most pious person in the crowd was far from God, and he used his words to convict and to help people repent! And guess what, they did just that!
We read in verse 10-14 that the people asked: “What shall we do?” Brothers and sisters, when the true word of God is preached, it does not make us feel warm and fuzzy all the time! Sometimes the best words from God are the ones that help us to repent, that help us to change our minds, which then leads to a change of behavior. This is truly what brings us back to God, which leads us to “See God’s salvation” as he was prophesying!
When we care more about what God has called us to say, the reason John is saying any of this is that he was called by God. In verse 2 we read that “the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching…”
God gave him a word to speak to the people, a word of repentance for the forgiveness of sins!
This is the same word that God has called each of us to preach. Sometimes it will be welcomed by the crowds like the tax collectors, the soldiers, and other times it will be rejected by the religious elite and the pagans who only come out to see a show. But no matter what their reaction, our job is to preach. When we go low, in humility and submission to the call of God to preach what he calls us to preach, it will help us grow, and it will help those who hear us grow!
The Bible, in 1 Timothy 4:16 says, to watch our life and our doctrine because if we do, it will save both ourselves and our hearers. We are to first preach to ourselves than to others. In so doing, we grow in our faith and help others to do the same.
My brothers and sisters, if we are not growing, we are dying. We must never tire of sharing our faith both with our words and with our deeds. Become a person who goes low to grow!
The Low, Point High
My second point is The Low, Point High!
Let’s keep reading at 3:15
15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words, John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
Many who came out to see John thought that maybe he was the Messiah. John could have used this to his advantage. His notoriety, his influence. But John is very quick to point to one that is greater, one that is higher and more influential, more powerful! I’m sure that the people were pretty blown away by this because John, as we’ve already read, was a pretty powerful guy!
John uses many clarifying statements here to show how much more powerful the Messiah will be than John himself. John talks about how he baptizes with water, but that the Messiah will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire! Now that is powerful! Many of us, again because we know the story, know what that means; let’s take a look in the book of Acts. Turn with me to Acts 1:3
3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” 6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus has already died on the cross and rose again and here Luke, who wrote the book of Luke and now is writing Acts tells us that Jesus, on one of the occasions where he met with his disciples after his death gives them some instructions. “John baptized you with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit!”But let’s not stop there, let’s continue reading in Acts 2:1.
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Here we see the fulfillment of the prophecy that John made! Jesus baptized them with the Holy Spirit and with fire! John, under the power of his calling by God, spoke of things to come and they came to pass with power!
When we became disciples, when we were baptized, we too were filled with the Holy Spirits fire and power! Brothers and sisters, do you not realize that the very same spirit that John prophesied about, the very same spirit that was at work here in Acts 2, the very same spirit that even rose Jesus from the dead is living and active inside of us? We are all truly unworthy to have such a powerful calling, such a powerful life to live!
We have the same opportunity as the first-century disciples did when we open our mouths. When we share our faith when we preach the word! Many on that day, the day of Pentecost became disciples, same as the day when John preached his fiery lesson in Luke 3! And guess what the response of those “hearers” was when the Apostles preached to every nation under heaven who had come to Jerusalem at that time? “What shall we do?”
When we make it our calling to preach the truth, to point to the one coming, the Messiah. People will respond. It happened in the day of John the Baptist, it happened on the day of Pentecost when the Kingdom was ushered in with power, and it happened around the world every day when someone becomes a disciple!
John says something else here that I found fascinating! In verse 16 John says; “…the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Now, we probably know that the typical footwear of ancient Israel was not the latest Jordan’s or the Curry 4, but was a thick flap of leather that was tied to the bottom of your foot by strips of leather. What John is saying about his relationship to the Messiah is that he is not even worthy to untie his shoes.
In the ancient times, it was not uncommon for the disciples of a Rabbi to do some of the most remedial tasks for their master, but the removal of a sandal was even beneath that of a follower of a teacher and was reserved for even lower people.
Brothers and sisters, how low can you go? Maybe the questions should be, how low are you willing to go? Are there some things that you feel are beneath you in the Kingdom? Would you wash one of your disciple’s bathrooms? Some of us are unwilling to truly serve each other and we demand to be served.
John shows us his posture toward the Messiah in that he is lower than low. He doesn’t even identify himself with one who is even worthy to untie the Messiah’s shoes. Does Jesus mean that much to you? Does your life show it? Is his word, his way, and his work in your life so powerful that people see Him instead of you?
The low, the truly low in the Kingdom always point high! They point to the one who is “higher than I!” as the song we sing goes.
Brothers and sisters lets live lives so full of the Holy Spirits fire and power that when people see us, when they hear us, that they cannot help but be pointed to the one who enables us to live such lives.
Go Low, to Get Great
My third and final point is: Go Low, To Get Great!
Turn with me to John 3:22
22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” 27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”
As we come to a close here in the life of John, we find that both he and Jesus are baptizing and that there is an argument that crops up between the disciples of Jesus and his own about who is greater. Jesus was baptizing more disciples than John and I can imagine his followers were getting a bit jealous. Let’s be real for a moment, how would you feel…how do you feel when someone is more fruitful than you? Many of us feel way too much competition when it comes to matters of the Kingdom, which is a flat sin! We are family and John understood this in a great way! So much so that he told his disciples to go and follow Jesus! John knew his place was to make a way for the Lord to come and to help people repent and follow Jesus and so when they started to do so, he understood that he was playing his role.
Something that John says here in this passage stands out to me; “He must become greater, I must become less.” How many of us have this mentality, this attitude toward our disciples? Toward our leaders, toward our bosses, toward our spouses? If we are honest, many of us do not go through life thinking that we must become less, but we must not walk in the way that the world does. The world says: “They must become less, I must become greater!” But we do not live our lives as the world does. God says that it is the humble who will be exalted, that those who are the servants will be those who lead! This is a powerful Kingdom paradox and it is the way of a disciple? You can either embrace it or you can spend your Christianity fighting against the culture of the Kingdom! We must go low, to get great! But this is not just from John, let’s look at what Jesus had to say:
Turn your Bibles back to Luke, let’s look at chapter 7:18
18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” 20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ ” 21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Now there is a lot here and we do not have time to unpack all of it, but let’s start with what’s going on. In Luke 3 we end the part that speaks of John the Baptist with John speaking out against Herod, who was the tetrarch of Galilee. You can go back and read in Matthew why he was speaking out, but suffice it to say that he got into trouble for keeping his calling to preach repentance to anyone whether they would listen or not and went to prison.
John’s disciples are visiting him in prison and tell him all that Jesus is doing and John, being a bit discouraged about his predicament, ask his disciples to find out if Jesus is the real deal if he is the one who he had spent his life preparing the way for. Jesus, I’m sure with compassion in his heart and maybe tears in his eyes for his cousin and his brother in the faith, responds with; “Look around you, what do you see?”He loosely quotes verses from Isaiah which John would be very familiar with. He says:
- The blind receive sight, the lame walk: Isaiah 35:5
- The deaf hear: Isaiah 29:18
- The good news is preached to the poor: Isaiah 61:1
He then gives an admonishment to John and his disciples to not fall away on account of him. To take heart and be encouraged that these things are happening and that John gets to have played an integral role in the great work of God. That all that he has done up to this point has been a fulfillment of his calling to “prepare the way for the lord!”
What I find most encouraging about Jesus words here are not necessarily that John is fulfilling his calling and being able to see it happen before his eyes, but what Jesus says later in this passage.
24 After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 25 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is the one about whom it is written: “ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
After the messengers5 of John went on their way, Jesus began to ask the crowd about who John was. Why did they go out to see John? Was it because he was a great man wearing fine clothes? They went out to see the last great prophet of the Old Testament who was pointing to the Messiah! Jesus knew the great kingdom paradox of going low to get great and he shares that John was indeed one who lived out this paradox. Jesus tells the crowd that there is no one who had been born up to that time that was greater than John the Baptist! Not Abraham, not Moses, not David, not Daniel, no one was greater that John.
But then, as if to peer through the pages of time, Jesus looks at us, in this very room today and says:
“As great as John was, the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.”
My family, do you believe this? Do you live your life in such a way that you go low to get great? Do you serve others, do you make yourself less so that Jesus can become greater, so that others can be greater? Do you make your leader’s sine or do you make it known that it was you who gave them the ideas? Do you share about what you have done or what God is doing through you? Sometimes the self-promotion is subtle that some might not be able to catch it but you know in your heart. Would God be pleased with your motives? Hebrews says that God judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. God knows.
John was an example of someone who knew his role and lived it out fully. While he did not consider himself to be great, he was not held back by a low self-esteem but found his faith and strength in God and in his calling to prepare the way and in so doing Jesus called him the greatest among those born.
Yet, God in his great love and mercy looks to us and says to us that we can be even greater than John if we go low! If we go low, we get great!
My brothers and sisters! We have looked at one of the most amazing men in the Bible today! God is calling us to be like John, to speak the truth even though to some it might seem like a low blow. It’s the low blows, the speaking the truth in love that helps us grow and it helps others grow.
God is calling us to be like John and to point to Jesus, the Messiah. The one who we live to serve and who we live our lives to imitate. Knowing that only in our imitating Jesus will we be able to point others to him.
God is calling us to be great in his kingdom by being low. Being humble and living out lives of service to those around us. Not just the glamorous roles the glamorous jobs but especially those that no one wants to do. The dirty and gritty jobs that only God sees us do.
These are the things that will bring true greatness!
Brothers and sisters, my challenge to you is to see how low you can go! How low can you go for God!