John 1:19–21 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
John the Baptizer is one of the most unique characters in all of history. He grew up in the wilderness independent of political and religious establishment then walked into town preaching repentance and baptizing multitudes of people. His entire ministry lasted just a few short months, but its impact has endured for millennia.
Today, we would say that John went viral. What marketing and advertising experts will tell you is that there is a difference between being hot and big. Bands, for example, can become hot with one hit song. But, if all they ever have is one hit, we call them a “one hit wonder.” However, if a band becomes hot with a song and can then build upon that momentum year after year, they become big. This is the difference between the song “Macarena” and the entire collection from the Rolling Stones.
John did not really seem to care about being hot or big. When the religious leaders came to figure out who he was, he had an opportunity for endorsement and fame. First they asked him if he was the Christ or an anointed chosen leader whom history had long awaited. They also asked John if he was the prophet Elijah from long before, who was taken to heaven before he even died while on a preaching tour. They finally asked John if he was the prophet Moses that had promised, recorded way back in Deuteronomy 18:15–18.
Honestly, would you be tempted to leverage this moment if you were in John’s shoes? He could get a book deal, make the nightly rounds on the late night talk shows, endorse products for a hefty fee, and start his arena tour. John knew who he was, and he knew who he was not. Subsequently, John could say no to an amazing opportunity because he knew it was not God’s will for him. They were basically asking if he was Jesus, and he said no. John understood that we cannot be moved by need or opportunity, but rather only by the will of God for our life.
How do we really come to understand ourselves? That question, perhaps more than any other, dominates our thinking as we use personality tests and other tools to discover the mystery that is me. People tried to figure out who John was, and he said that the only way to really understand oneself is to first understand Jesus. In that day, like ours, many people made the mistake of looking at themselves too much and looking at Jesus too little. If you want to understand who you are, the first thing you need to understand is who Jesus is, just as John did.
Is there anything currently in your life that you are chasing for your own need or opportunity instead of God’s will?