Today we read about John the Baptist as an adult, when he begins his ministry. And we learn that John’s ministry was to introduce Jesus to the world, to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. I would urge you to read beyond what was assigned, reading Matthew 3:1-12, Mark 1:1-8, and Luke 3:1-18. John’s main purpose was to introduce Jesus’ ministry, which would have seemed a comfort to some, a threat or danger to others. It would depend on which side of the line between oppressed and oppressor, poor and rich, slave and free, the listener found herself.
John’s other purpose was to make sure that everyone listening to him knew his primary purpose – to prepare the way for the Messiah. John was not himself the Messiah. But those who came out to see him in the desert were beginning to wonder. They had, after all, been waiting for a long time for a Messiah. So he made sure they understood. He made sure they heard clearly his claim that he was not the Messiah, and he made sure they understood the enormity of who the Messiah was. ”I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” (Mark 1:7).
This is why it is so important to understand the whole of John the Baptist’s message. Because in his message you get a preview of Jesus’ message, and God’s kingdom. Read especially Luke 3:1-18. Now, here’s the thing. I’ve never given much thought, to tell you the truth, to who exactly came out to see John in the desert. Which side of the line did they stand on? Where were they in society? Oppressed or oppressor? Poor or rich? Lowly or powerful? But you might be able to tell a little bit by the urgency and color of John’s message, especially the way it starts: “You brood of vipers!” Way to win a crowd over, John. But keep listening through your indignation, and you will hear that the way to repent and escape judgment is to help those who need help; to give to those who have less than you do; and to not be so greedy for money that you would act unjustly. This would seem to imply that the majority of those who came out to listen to John were people in need of repentance. Those who came out to see John, who had heard of this one who was talking about the Messiah and who might actually be the Messiah, thought that this Messiah had come to vindicate them. But it turned out to be the opposite. Jesus came to vindicate those who were oppressed, not their oppressors. Those who were poor, not those who grew rich preying on the poor. Those who were lowly, not the mighty who kept their positions by keeping the lowly down.
What’s more, as we continue to read about Jesus’ ministry, about this man whose sandal thong John was not worthy to untie, we find something very telling. This Messiah, this Savior, would eat with prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. He would allow a sinful woman to wash his feet with her tears. And this man – whose sandal John the Baptist was not worthy to stoop down and untie – would stoop down and wash the feet of his disciples. And then he would call them to go and do likewise, washing feet, being servants.
No wonder John couldn’t untie his sandals. He couldn’t get low enough.