Decrease, Increase?

John the Baptist’s words in John 1:29 cause me to pause and wonder. Why would his simple words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” seem so profound? Who was John the Baptist? What can I learn from this unique man that lived over 2000 years ago? These types of questions sent me on a search that revealed some life lessons for me.

By God’s great mercy, John the Baptist was born to Elizabeth and Zachariah. Elizabeth was from Arron’s line, Zachariah was from the division of Abijah, they were both elderly and considered righteous in the sight of God (Luke 1:5-7). Because there were perhaps over 18,000 Levites and priests at this time, Zachariah, by lot, would probably only serve one 2-week service other than the three major festivals in his life time.[1] It was obviously God’s plan for the timing of Zechariah’s temple service given John the Baptist’s crucial role in the preparation of Jesus’ public ministry. Also, some scholars think that because John the Baptist’s parents were elderly, it is possible that the Essenes raised John as they were known to adopt orphaned children.[2]

What evidence exists that John the Baptist was raised and trained by a group like the Essenes? He lived in the wilderness (Luke 1:80), wore camel hair and a leather belt, ate wild honey and locusts (Matt 3:4). His location, attire, and diet were typical of the religious groups that lived in the desert. Historically, living away from society was common during times of national apostasy for Old Testament prophets as well as those who were seeking a purer life.[3] Perhaps you and I could gain a more proper perspective if we detached a little more from our culture. Something to ponder before the Lord. One caveat to John the Baptist being raised by the Essenes is scholars do debate it, but there are definitely some evidences.

John the Baptist fulfilled several prophecies. Isaiah 40:3-5 foretold of a voice crying in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord. Also, several prophecies about the preparation for the Lord’s work of the valley being filled, mountains made low, crooked ways becoming straight, rough places becoming level, and salvation being revealed merge together in John the Baptist’s message (Isa 57:14, Isa 49:11, Isa 42:16, Isa 45:2, Isa 52:10). Furthermore, his mission was prophesized in Malachi 4:6 as he turned the hearts of the fathers to their children as men repented of their sins and desired to live righteously.    

From a spiritual perspective, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb (Luke 1:15). Furthermore, he “grew and became strong in spirit” (Luke 1:80). He definitely was bold when it came to calling out religious (Matt 3:7-10; Luke 3:7-9) and political (Matt 14:3-4) leaders for their unrighteous living. Because the Jews thought they were saved by being from Abraham and baptism was only for Gentiles wanting to convert to Judaism, John’s position that Jews needed to repent and be baptized was probably offensive. Yet, all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and being baptized confessing their sins (Mark 1:4-5).

Although, the boldness of John the Baptist is apparent in his dealings with leaders, his humility is apparent in his dealing with Jesus. John the Baptist’s direction for his disciples to follow Jesus (John 1:29-37) indicated he saw Jesus as greater than he. Moreover, John the Baptist’s statement that he was not even worthy to be Jesus’ slave (Luke 3:15-17) shows his humility. His brief, but succinct words, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” (John 3:30) paint a beautiful picture of the correct perspective John had on himself and on Jesus.

Just as in John the Baptist’s times, people now are hungry for truth, fulfillment, and purpose. John listened to the Holy Spirit and was able to leave false Judaism (why wasn’t he a priest like his lineage suggested?). His crowning achievement was to prepare people through confession of their sins to meet their Savior. His outstanding characteristics were boldness and humility.

John the Baptist’s profound words in John 1:29 make me want to continually look to Jesus to take away my specific sins and to be diligent in directing others to Jesus. What habitual sin do you and I need to look to Jesus to take away and replace with His life? Where have we strayed from our mission of directing others to Jesus? Have we strayed because we enjoy being looked up to? Or because we focused too much on the physical realm of life? Or because we are selfish? Or because we desired to be comfortable? Do you and I have the correct perspective on ourselves and on Jesus? Where does God want to make a transformational adjustment? As we grow in years, would God say we are decreasing and Jesus is increasing or is it the other way around? It’s all about us decreasing and Jesus increasing! 

Image from Highprofile.com, April 1, 2014, accessed October 2, 2023, https://www.high-profile.com/agc-reports-construction-in-private-sector-increases-highway-and-transit-sectors-may-decrease/.

[1] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Lk 1:8–9.

[2] Ibid, Lk 1:80.

[3] Ibid, Mt 3:1, Lk 1:80.

PJ Beets is passionate about encouraging women and children through the Scriptures and life to see the compassionate God who redeems the rejected by acceptance, the silenced by expression, the labored by grace, and the lonely by love in order to set them free to serve in His ordained place and way for them individually and corporately. She has served the Lord through Bible Study Fellowship and her home church in various capacities with women and children. Upon turning fifty, she sought the Lord on how He would have her finish well which began her journey at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies as well as a Doctor of Educational Ministry in Spiritual Formation, both from from DTS. PJ is married to Tom, has three children, and six grandchildren.

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