“I Am Not the Christ”

In his sermon this past Sunday, Keith mentioned John the Baptist’s clear declaration that he was in fact not the long-promised Messiah.  Another John, the apostle and gospel writer, recorded it this way: “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” (John 1:19-20).

As Keith pointed out, John might have been tempted otherwise.  After all, his own birth had been miraculous.  What’s more, it was announced by an angel, who told his father that John would be “great before the Lord” and “filled with the Holy Spirit,” enabling him “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (see Luke 1:5-17).  Of course this proved to be true.  John’s ministry was met with large crowds desiring to hear his message and receive a baptism of repentance.  Jesus himself would eventually state that “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Mat. 11:11).

And yet, John steadfastly refused to identify himself with the one that God had promised would deliver his people.  Instead, his entire ministry was geared in what amounts to the opposite direction: to prepare for and point to the real Savior.  

All this brings me to an indelible memory I have from my time in seminary.  It didn’t actually take place in the midst of a lecture or while completing an assignment, but rather during a short devotional given by one of my professors, Jay Sklar, at the beginning of a class period.  Citing the passage from John quoted above,  Dr. Sklar made the point to a class of mostly aspiring pastors that learning from John’s attitude is crucial for our ministries.  Being the right kind of pastor absolutely requires we direct people away from ourselves and toward Jesus. 

It doesn’t take a great deal of thought to realize why this is so.  Left to his own devices, no pastor can convince people of the truth of the gospel.  No pastor can pay the debt of another sins or grant new and eternal life.  No pastor can be the foundation of a faith capable of weathering life’s storms or give the grace that is sufficient for literally every need.  No pastor’s words are so powerful and illuminating that he may be identified with truth itself.  No pastor qualifies as the greatest need and joy of every human heart. 

But Jesus actually fits that description, and more.  Perfectly. 

I mention this not simply to give you insight on my own aspirations as a pastor (which of course I routinely fall well short of) or to help you have the right kind of expectations for your spiritual leaders.  Rather, I bring it up because all of us, whether we realize it or not, have a ministry.  We may not minister professionally, but all of us are called to minister in some way.  That calling no doubt works itself out in any number of different situations.  We might have kids that we desire to know and follow Christ.  Or desire to have an influence with coworkers and otherwise make an impact in our professions.  We have friends and acquaintances that don’t yet believe the gospel, or have problems that can only be addressed by the love and grace of God.  We’re faced with what can be overwhelming social ills in our communities. 

But wherever we find ourselves trying to make an impact in the service of God’s kingdom, it’s imperative that each of us remember, “I am not the Christ.”  No matter our intelligence, skills, material resources, etc., none of us qualifies for the job of Savior. And when all is said and done, any positive development in any of the situations I just mentioned will be his doing and not our own.  Like John, we’ll need to keep a proper perspective regarding our own role and do what we can to point people to Jesus. 

This, I suspect, has any number of practical implications.  The one that might be most relevant in my own life is the need to place less trust in myself to say or do the right thing in my various ministry responsibilities.  Being the parent of three young kids has driving this point home repeatedly.  On my own steam, I can’t “fix” them, or anyone else for that matter.  Whatever supply of wisdom or persuasiveness I possess, whatever paltry example I can muster, however hard I try—none of it is sufficient to produce God-pleasing results.  Consequently, I’m left with falling on my knees, metaphorically if not literally, and praying that God would draw my kids (or my friends, other family, people in the church, etc.) to believing in and following Jesus.  

This isn’t to say that God doesn’t ever use me or you in the process.  He surely does.  And we should both desire and work toward that end.  But when he does, it will most likely be when our words and actions—wait for it—point others to Christ.  To that end, are prayers might again take a cue from the attitude of John the Baptist, asking that, even within our own lives, we would decrease that Jesus might increase (John 3:30).

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