It was Monday morning. I sat in my study with my Bible open in front of me. My eyes glossed over the words on the page but my heart seemed unaffected. What’s wrong with me? Had I forgotten that this was a book like no other? What right did my heart have to not be pricked by sword of the Spirit?
But these pointed questions were to little avail. My distracted gaze fell upon the papers on the edge of my desk– the sermon manuscript from night before. I smiled as I thought about the message. It had gone well. I had dealt with the question, “How do we feast in a distinctly Christian way?” From what I could tell the message had been clear, concise, and helpful. I exposited the text, explained it with some classic illustrations, and even turned some phrases of my own in the process.
Then it hit me, the question that finally pierced to the heart. Jordan, whose voice do you love? I sat like a deer in headlights as I realized the truth. My heart was captivated by my words but cold to word of God. I had loved the sound of my own voice but was unmoved as the Father bore witness about the Son through the Spirit in the pages in front of me.
A while back another preacher was given a similar opportunity. He had set up shop preaching in the unlikeliest of places. It wasn’t the urban hub or even the rural cross roads, he stationed his ministry in the desert. But as he preached something astounding happened–people came out in droves.
His name was John the Baptist. And from everything that we can tell, the dude could preach. Jesus had this to say about him, “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (John 5:35). John possessed that singular quality that has characterized great preachers throughout the ages– he burned with a passion to make the word of God known. He let his voice ring out strong and clear in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord!” (John 1:23).
But the thing that amazes me most about John isn’t his preaching prowess. It’s not his ability to draw a crowd to the desert. It’s not even the fact that he donned camel skin and munched on grasshoppers. No, what amazes me most about John is that through all of this he never fell in love with the sound of his own voice.
Rejoicing in One Voice
Listen to what John has to say about himself, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29a). So here is John, prophet of the most high God (Luke 1:76 ), the voice of one crying out in the wilderness (John 1:23) a genuine proto-Spurgeon. And what does he do the moment he hears the voice of Jesus Christ? He stands still. Shuts up. And listens with joy! Oh, to be more like this man!
But don’t miss how he got here. All along John had been clear about his own identity. When asked point blank whether he was the messiah, he didn’t miss a beat in denying it (John 1:20; 3:28). Instead of entertaining any notion of a messiah complex he humbly recognized his limitations as a mere man. While he baptized with water, Jesus’ baptized with the Holy Spirit (1:33). And as for the converts that John did baptize, he recognized that “a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him by the Father” (3:27).
John’s role as the forerunner to Jesus was critically important in salvation history. But as we consider this work, we must never lose sight of what was taking place under the surface. As John labored to spread the gospel abroad he also labored inwardly to guard his own heart. Moment by moment, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, John tuned the affections of his heart to a single voice. Everything else turned to static.