On one occasion, described in John 1:19-27, John the Baptist was visited by an important official delegation from the religious leadership of Jerusalem. Speculation had mounted that this Elijah-like prophet might actually be the Messiah Himself (cf. Luke 3:15). If ever there was a golden opportunity for John to “blow his own horn,” this was it.
But John doesn’t. In fact, his responses to the delegations’ questions signal clearly that he is not anxious to talk about himself at all. Indeed, each response is briefer than the previous one (see vv 19-21). When asked, “Who are you?” he replies with the words, “I am not the Christ.” And to the query, “Are you Elijah?” he says simply, “I am not” (three syllables both in English and in Greek). But to the final question in this series, “Are you the Prophet?” (probably a reference to Deut 18:15-19), his answer is reduced to, “No” (one syllable in English and in Greek).
And that’s where he would have left them–with no self-identification at all!–had they not followed up with a further question: “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” (v 22; italics added). But John doesn’t like talking about himself, so he simply quotes a passage of Scripture where he is prophetically described as “a voice of one crying: In the wilderness make straight the way of the Lord'” (v 23; our translation follows the punctuation in the Hebrew and in the Majority Text).
One may humorously imagine the delegation returning to the Jerusalem leaders, who enquire: “Well, what did you find out? Who does this John the Baptist claim to be?”
The delegation answers, “We found out that he does not claim to be the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet.”
“All right,” the leaders reply, “but just who does he claim to be?”
There is an awkward moment of silence, then the delegation leader clears his throat. “Uh, well, that is to say, he claims to be a voice crying out . . . ‘”
“Yes, yes”” say the leaders. “But what else does he say about himself? What personal identity does he claim for himself?”
“That’s it,” says the delegation “The rest concerned his message and some person who is supposed to come after him. He wouldn’t say another word about who he was!”
Of course, we can’t be sure precisely what the exchange was between the returning delegation and the Jewish leaders. However, one thing is certain. At the very pinnacle of his ministry’s success, John the Baptist is not at all preoccupied with his own personal importance or self-interest–even when facing a prestigious delegation like this one. Instead, he is busy preparing–not his own way–but the way of the Lord (vv 23-27).
And that in itself qualifies as a spiritual miracle, even though John did no miracle in the strict sense of the term (cf. John 10:41). But how rare indeed is the preacher or teacher who will not speak about himself almost “at the drop of a hat”! How easily even we who proclaim the truth that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone can get sidetracked from our focus on the gracious Savior into a preoccupation with appearing “to be somebody” before men.
This is not to say that it is always wrong to talk about ourselves or our ministries. Paul and Barnabus did that for a good reason (Acts 15:12). But we must always try to ask ourselves, when we are inclined to do this, a very searching question: “If I say these things about myself, who will get the glory? Will it be Christ? Or will it be myself?”
Pride may be expected in those who think that their own works contribute to or even verify their eternal salvation. But pride is an ugly anomaly in those who understand their total dependence on the saving grace of God. If the magnificent and totally free gift of life through Christ has not yet humbled us, we need to go back to the Cross and bow our hearts meekly before it. We should be able to say with the hymn writer:
“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.”
Who are we? Let us be merely “voices crying out” to people to put their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.