What does success look like?
Bible readings: Luke 1:80; 2:1–6
Elizabeth and Zechariah’s son grows strong and goes out to live in the wilderness where ‘the word of God came to [him]’ (Luke 3:2). As we have seen, a succession of ordinary people have faithfully lived before the Lord in their time, scarcely knowing the significance of the role they were playing in the future arrival of the Messiah, God’s Son. And now we come to John the Baptist – the very forerunner of Christ. He fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy of a voice calling in the wilderness and preparing a way for the Lord.
John prepares the way for Jesus to come by preaching a message of radical repentance ‘for the forgiveness of sins’ (v.3). John’s ministry opens the hearts of his hearers to their need for forgiveness. He doesn’t preach only with words, he also baptises people, powerfully illustrating the truth of the human need for total cleansing, washing by complete immersion in water.
John does not seek admiration or power – he always points to Jesus. When asked if he is the long expected Messiah he is clear: ‘I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’ (v.16). He understands the time in which he lives and the purpose for which he has been born – his purpose is to point to Jesus and usher in the kingdom of God in the ministry of the Messiah. It is very rare to meet someone this secure in his or her own calling and identity. How tempting it is to secretly wish for the role, impact, status or gifts of another person. But to envy a fellow Christian, even wanting good things that God has given them, is to be unhealthy and immature as a follower of Christ. We deny His work in us here and now, we insult Him by deriding the calling and gifts with which He has entrusted us.
Pause to reflect:
Am I pointing to Jesus with my words and with my life? Have I received His love and His calling on my life, accepting this without envying others who appear to be more important or successful?
John Wesley (1703–1792) wrote a prayer which people said together once a year, committing themselves to real discipleship. Pray this today, if you dare:
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will,
Rank me with whom you will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
Exalted for you or brought low for you;
Let me be full, let me be empty;
Let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
2. Do you draw security from your usefulness to God or are you able to be ‘laid aside’ for Christ?
3. Are there people around you who you envy? How can you turn away from this?