Selfies or Selfless?

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While Jesus was in the desert being tempted by Satan, His cousin John was facing some temptations of his own.

When Jesus appeared at the Jordan to ask to be baptized and John recognized Who He was, the Baptizer must have had an “aha” moment that he could only think about after Jesus had left him. He had finally met the One around Whom his birth, his life, his ministry revolved. There was no time to think about the significance of this meeting in the river except for John to say: “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14).

But after Jesus had left John must have spent a lot of time glorying in the fact that he had finally met the Messiah, the King of the kingdom about which he had preached, the One who would grant the repentance through His own death, to the people of whom John was demanding that repentance. We can only imagine just what was going through John’s mind.

It was during that period that the authorities in Jerusalem, having heard about this “Baptizer,” sent a delegation to investigate what was going on. John 1:19-34 chronicles the conversation. They asked him who he was (John1:20).

It is said that who you know is as important as what you know. And here, in this question posed by the priests and Levites from Jerusalem, was a chance for John to elevate himself. He not only KNEW the Messiah, he was a cousin of the Messiah. Apart from that he was an important part of the coming of the Messiah—the mouthpiece, the press secretary, the advance man, of the King of kings. At this moment John had the opportunity to make himself important. It’s a temptation many of us struggle with—the need to make people think of us as “somebodies.”

The Scriptures give us the details of the conversation between John and these investigators.

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.’ They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not?’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’” (John 1:19-21).

Okay, so it would have been a lie to claim to be Christ, or Elijah, or Moses. But it would have been sort of true to say: “I’m the Messiah’s cousin, His press secretary, His advance man.” That would have elevated John from "wierdo from the desert" to someone of greater importance. But John didn’t yield to that temptation.

Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 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…among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:22-27).

The purpose of the TV reality series The Voice is to discover the next big musical star—the one with the “voice” that will make millions of dollars and millions of fans to feed the ego as well as the bank account. This “voice” from the wilderness described in the Gospels, had no such intention. John had the opportunity to exalt his position of “voice” but chose to back away and point the spotlight, not at himself, but at the Messiah.

The day following his interview with the investigators from Jerusalem, when Jesus had returned from His desert experience, John boldly proclaimed: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel…I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-31, 34).

This humility that we see in John is astonishing. It is counterculture. But it is also the character of someone whose close contact with the Almighty has driven from him any self-centeredness. If John were living today he would not be posting “selfies” on FACEBOOK. He’d be posting pictures of Jesus—and he wouldn’t be in the shot.

More of Jesus and less of us—now that is the new year’s resolution worthy of pursuit.

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