John the Baptist is a truly great portrait of humility in action. If ever there was a man poised on the brink of greatness, it was John. After all, his father spoke with Gabriel and was told that John would be “great before the Lord.” John was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet unborn and inside his mother’s womb.
(As an aside to all this, being filled with the Holy Spirit while inside the womb is a very powerful argument for life beginning at conception and not at birth. The Bible teaches us everything we need to know, if only we are willing to learn.)
And here in this passage, the priests and Levites were sent out to find him and discover who he was. John could have exalted himself here and told them the whole story about his parents and the fact that he had been called by God through the angel Gabriel to be great.
He could have, but he didn’t.
Instead, he came straight to the heart of the matter and answered the question that was on the mind of the Jewish leaders. He was not the Christ.
“What then?” they asked, “Are you Elijah?”
Again, nothing about himself except to say, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?” “No.”
I can just hear the frustration growing in the voices of the priests and Levites questioning him. Finally the only question left to ask is, “What do you say about yourself?”
What more does John need? Here is an open invitation for him to share his story and be raised up, but instead he quotes from the prophet Isaiah and points to the coming Messiah. Finally, in verse 24, John (the author) reveals to us what many would have already suspected, that these priests and Levites had been sent by the Pharisees. They were not there to welcome a new prophet, Elijah, or the Messiah but to find out if a threat to their power was coming. This becomes evident as they question John’s authority to baptize. John’s answer was perfect (what do you expect from a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb!) He not only remains humble and turns the attention away from himself and to Jesus (who seems to be standing right there in the crowd with the priests and the Levites) but he alludes to a future baptism that would not be with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
Humility is a difficult thing to develop. It is something that can only come from a proper understanding of who God is and who we are. We must study and seek to be humble. We must always, always, always choose to glorify Jesus rather than ourselves. Just look to the example of John.