Two of the greatest figures in the Bible are Moses and John the Baptist. They both share something in common—they led people to something greater. In the Old Testament, Moses led God’s people for forty years in the wilderness. And after forty years of wandering, when it was time to enter into the Promised Land, finally, God told Moses that he would see the Promised Land but would not enter it. The people would be led by Joshua. It certainly must have been a downer for Moses, one would think. And yet Moses prepared the people as best he could, knowing that he would not “seal the deal” so to speak. And yet today, in our churches, who is it that we hear more about, Moses or Joshua? It is Moses. Because of his great humility.
Saint John the Baptist was chosen by God for a very serious role. It was John who would be the last of the prophets, and who would identify to the world, Jesus as the Christ. John was not going to be the Messiah. He was going to announce the Messiah. He was going to take on the role of Moses—to lead the people to Christ and then to move aside.
On the day after Theophany, we celebrate the feast of St. John the Baptist, the next most important figure in the feast (after Christ). We know that John was baptizing people. He had followers, disciples. And yet John knew that his role was to prepare people for someone greater, the Christ. In today’s Gospel, John saw Jesus coming and told his disciples, “Behold the Lamb of God,” and “this is He of whom I said ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for He was before me.’” (John 1: 30-31) John bore further witness when he said “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven and it remained on Him. . .and I have seen and born witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1: 32, 34) And in John 3:30, John gave perhaps his most humble witness when he said, in reference to Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John the Baptist serves as a good example for all of us, what it means to give witness for Christ. If we believe that every good and perfect gift we receive is from God (James 1:17), then every talent, every means by which we achieve success has God as its origin. Thus, when we achieve success, the correct thing to do would be to give glory to God, instead of just accepting glory for oneself. To thank God for our successes follows the witness of John—Christ increases, and we decrease.
The humility of Saint John was indeed rewarded. He is honored as the greatest of the prophets and first among the saints. His reward came from God, not from men. We know that John’s witness for Christ cost him his very life (he was beheaded). But his witness gained him eternal life. And ironically, it is his humility and selflessness that bring him the acclaim still given to him by us to this day.
It is very ironic, yet very true, that when we decrease and allow Christ to increase in us, we in fact increase spiritually. When we give away what we have, we gain that which is eternal, salvation. When we are humble and selfless, God exalts us. And when we serve others, God rewards us. So let us decrease, so that He may increase in us. And let us give away the material so that we can gain the spiritual. Let us be quick to give God the glory rather than rejoicing in our own successes.
Many of us will have the joy of having “disciples.” We will have people who look up to us, who admire us, who might even look on us as their heroes. These people might be our children, our students, our patients, our clients, our fellow parishioners. When we find ourselves in this position, let us remember the example of St. John the Baptist, who led “his disciples” to one greater than himself. Let us make sure to witness for Christ, especially when people look up to us.
The memory of the just is observed with hymns of praise; for you suffices the testimony of the Lord, O Forerunner. You have proved to be truly more ven’rable than the Prophets, since you were granted to baptize in the river the One whom they proclaimed. Therefore, when for the truth you had contested, rejoicing, to those in Hades you preached the Gospel, that God was manifested in the flesh, and takes away the sin of the world, and grants to us the great mercy. (Apolytikion of St. John the Baptist, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Seek ways for Christ to increase in you and your life!