As a child in Primary School I was seriously interested in rugby. Coming from Cape Town, I supported the Western Province team by default because so many of the Springbok Rugby Team came from “Province”. Then coupled to this, the Sunday School I attended had a teacher by the name of Johnny Gainsford. Not only did he teach Sunday School, he went to the same school I was at and soon the High School he attended. Then the cherry on the top was the fact the he played for Province and the Springboks.
To me it did not matter that our rugby coach in High School said Johnny’s brother Malcolm read the game better that Johnny. Johnny was a star “center”. When he scored a try he dived in spectacular fashion. He was our local hero and from Primary School all the boys tried to imitate Johnny’s spectacular dive when scoring a try. (Johnny died a few years back and is with the Lord in glory.)
There is another man … a great man … and thinking about Johnny, this other great man is someone every Christian ought to try and imitate in at least some of his ways. He was born to Elizabeth and Zechariah. His name was also John … but was given the handle “John the Baptist”. Consider these things about him …
First, he never worn designer clothing.
Mt 3:4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist.
Where his appearance was shaped in an Old Testament prophet’s appearance to identify with them as a prophet with a prophetic ministry … in fact a revival of their ministry after a period of almost 400 years of silence (Malachi to Matthew). Naturally the significance was to alert the Jews to the message he brought other than a fashion (or fashion-less) statement.
There is nothing necessary wrong with designer or the latest fashions in clothing, but John shows us modesty in our dress. I recall an overseas friend who worked as a scientist for a prominent international company based in the USA. His level was such that he reported directly to the company’s vice president. You can imagine his pay scale. He always dressed smartly but never top of the range, nor designer range. He lived modestly which enabled him to push large amounts into missions. Do we dress out of our range? Do we purchase clothing on an account that needs to be paid off? Are we cash strapped because of the way we dress that we cannot invest in God’s Kingdom either through tithes or for missions?
Second, John never ate as a king. Now let me say from the outset, there is nothing wrong with eating good food. The point that comes through with John the Baptist is that his eating habits were not lavish.
Mt 3:4 His food was locusts and wild honey.
Living in the desert and not having employment that generated money necessitated living off what was available to him. This is much the same as the Old Testament prophets who lived in communities in the desert. (Not all were poor … Jeremiah could afford to purchase a house that God instructed him to buy.) Most of us eat normally … yet there are those who indulge themselves. There are two things here … the one is expense and the other is image. As with John’s clothing modesty is required if we are to be faithful in tithing and supporting missions. He was fearless because he served God. O that the day would come where we who minister the Word of God will be as fiery, fervent and fearless as John was.
Third, he did not fear Herod nor did he fear religious leaders or orthodox Jews.
Mt 14:3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
Lk 3:7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
May the day come where the pulpits of our world refuse to play to the audience because of image, popularity, numbers or finances. Seek through prayer for God to raise up men who are prepared to preach “Thus saith the Lord” without compromise or fear!
Fourth, he was normal as a man. By this I mean he struggled with the same issues you and I do when it comes to matters of personal faith. As examples John sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire whether He was the expected Messiah. They had to ask Jesus:
Mt 11:3 “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
John’s faith faltered, even though such a dedicated servant of God. This could and does happen at times when the pressure is on. May God spare us from such. Was there fear in Matthew 3:11 or was hope lost? Whatever, never look down upon John the Baptist for sending his disciples on this fact finding mission. Jesus’ own disciples had doubt, fear and concern. Although we have hindsight … we have the complete Bible (Old and New Covenants), yet when we go thin on our spiritual diet or when we experience delays in our prayers being answered or when things in life go counter to the way we expect them to go, it’s easy for us to question God the way John sent his men to question Jesus. He was unequalled in his ministry and life. Whatever weaknesses John had … Jesus states:
Mt 11:11 “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
He was born to be the forerunner to herald the Messiah’s imminent arrival and get a people spiritually ready … which he did. None could compare to him … but Jesus’ last statement refers to the fact that John did not participate in His Ministry nor witness His Death and Resurrection … the primary reason for the Messiah’s coming. Few could imitate Johnny Gainsford in rugby … but all believers can seek to imitate John the Baptist in His faithful, diligent and passionate service to our Lord and King.
O Lord our Glorious God, we stand amazed at the greatness of Your servant John the Baptist, yet he too like us was human and frail. Gracious Lord, infuse such fearless passion within all preachers and all believes to go forth in passionate faith seeking to point lost souls to the Lord Jesus Christ, as John did, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.