Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tom 1, John the Baptist 0

Jim Plunkett when he was
not winning Superbowls
Congratulate me, gentle reader. I have officially beaten John the Baptist.

Oh, he put up a good fight. Taking on the Jewish religious establishment was brave. Living on a diet of locusts and wild honey was certainly evidence of great devotion to his job, not to mention that he spent way, way less than I do on his wardrobe. Excellent stewardship there. And that whole martyrdom thing, well ... it’s a pretty special honor to die for what you believe. I’m not sure I’m up to that at all.

But I won anyway. How do you like them apples!

No One Greater

Okay, I confess, I kid. What Jesus actually said was this:
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Now, I don’t think I hold the title of “least in the kingdom of heaven”, though I’m probably closer than I might wish. I believe the apostle Paul claims that particular dishonor, or something akin to it. But the obvious conclusion is that if even that not-so-estimable personage (whoever he or she might be) is “greater” than John, well then, all believers are.

Personal Greatness

How can that be? John was a truly great man. Personally great in a way I will never be. Sold out for God like nobody’s business. Willing to take on anyone in the cause of truth. And humble too: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” There is contentment in that statement; an utterly selfless acceptance of his place in the plans and purposes of God that I wish I could even begin to match. If John had heard what Jesus said about greatness, I don’t think he’d have been the slightest bit offended.

So how do you and I top that? Well, it’s pretty clear we’re not “greater” than John on the basis of our performance, our skill sets, our personal attributes or our devotion, right? That should be obvious to all.

A Tale of Two Jims

I am greater than John the Baptist in much the same way that former Raiders’ journeyman Jim Plunkett is greater than the Bills’ elite quarterback Jim Kelly. Put their career statistics side by side and Kelly is inarguably superior in every category that involves personal performance. Plunkett threw more interceptions than touchdowns, had career yardage barely over 25,000 and a pathetic passer rating of 67.5, while Kelly tossed the pigskin for 10,000 more yards and nearly 100 more touchdowns than the other Jim, running up a very reasonable career passer rating of 84.4.

But Jim Plunkett is walking around sporting two great, fat Superbowl rings on his aging fingers, whereas poor old Jim Kelly can only show you his wedding ring.

Kelly’s greatness, like John’s, is individual. Plunkett’s greatness is in being forever identified with the very best. He was in the right organization with the right management and the right support personnel, and he was called off the bench to play at exactly the right time. Jim Kelly ... wasn’t.

In the same way, John merely announced the Christ. He prepared the way for him. But the least in the kingdom of heaven is forever identified with the Lord Jesus, born of and indwelt by his Spirit, and part of his Body. That’s a collective privilege that can’t be topped, even by the greatest man ever “born of women”.

Citizens of the Kingdom

William MacDonald puts it nicely:
“To be a citizen of the kingdom is greater than to announce its arrival. John’s privilege was great in preparing the way for the Lord, but he did not live to enjoy the blessings of the kingdom.”
In Christ, we have all been made great in a way many of us have yet to really fully understand.

See, it’s not our greatness, it’s his.

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