Click here for an audio version of this blog post.
As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap 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 the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.
21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:15-22 [ESV]
We were playing a game with friends involving guessing words based on on-word clues. The word to be guessed was “goat.” My wife offered the clue, “Biles.” She was referring to Simone Biles, the world-class gymnast who is considered to be the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T.) in her sport. She even sported the GOAT logo on her uniform. Not everyone thought it was as good a clue as we did. Moreover there are debates within sports about who is the GOAT: Jordan or Chamberlin? Woods or Nicklaus? Mays or Ruth? Actors? Scientists? Preachers? Say what?!?! Preachers???
When people ask whether John is the Christ – based no doubt on his firebrand preaching and call to repentance – he quickly denies that he is the Christ. In fact he points to another far greater one than he. He points to THE Greatest Of All Time: Jesus. And he is quite clear about this. John claims that he is not worthy to untie the sandals of the coming One “who is mightier than I.” John is quoted in the fourth Gospel: John bore witness about [Christ], and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’” – John 1:15. There is much to unpack there!
But when Jesus makes his appearance he does little to trumpet is greatness. He requires no special treatment. He has no logo sown onto his tunic. He requests no special treatment, not even excusing himself from being baptized. This is the continuation of a remarkable journey. Jesus has come from the highest glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He has laid aside that glory, abandoned his heavenly throne, abandoned the worship of angels, and taken on human flesh. He became a baby. Unfathomable! Now he will step into the muddy waters of the Jordan River along with all the other members of the Brood of Vipers gang as though he needed to repent! This just isn’t right. Not very “GOATish.”
But this reveals a side of greatness that is seldom seen and often overlooked entirely. Jesus greatness is rooted in his love for his people. It is expressed in his searching for and seeking the lost. It is seen in his willingness to be baptized – identifying with those he came to save. And now it is witnessed to by John.
John’s witness is nothing to sneeze at. Jesus speaks of John this way: “I can guarantee this truth: Of all the people ever born, no one is greater than John the Baptizer” (Matthew 11:11, GNT). He will die because of his unwavering commitment to God’s ways. But he is not the greatest of all time. There is only One who fits that category. And it is our great privilege to believe in him and to witness to his greatness whenever we can.