John the Baptist would not let himself be distracted from leading a life of great consequence.
The gospel of John tells us, “A discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness — look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him’” (John 3:25-26, ESV). John’s followers were speaking of Jesus. Evidently they had theological concerns about Him. Maybe they had heard about His miracle at Cana and thought He had mishandled the cisterns.
John wasn’t going to be distracted by the debate. He knew that something greater than doctrinal sticking points was at stake. He answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). In other words: “Can someone work a miracle like this if he hasn’t been sent by God? That kind of power comes only from heaven.”
What John says next is powerful: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ . . . He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28, 30). John’s focus in life was clear; his holy calling was centered completely on Jesus. For that reason John the Baptist was known as a great man.
The problem for many of us today, in our success-driven culture, is that we seek great things for ourselves. Well-intentioned ministers seek to build a Twitter following. Christians want to be heard even if it means having fifteen seconds of stupidity on YouTube. We may convince ourselves we are pursuing things for God, but is Jesus really our focus? Without rigorous examination of our hearts, we won’t be able to discern whether we are pleasing our Master or following an inner longing for validation.
The prophet Jeremiah addressed this question directly: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go” (Jeremiah 45:5). Jeremiah makes clear that God’s measurement of greatness is much different from the world’s. Note that he doesn’t say, “Do not be great. You’ll get spiritual brownie points for false humility.” No, as Jesus Himself says, greatness is measured in how well we serve others.