And this was his message:
“After me comes the one more powerful than I,
the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.
I baptize you with water,
but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1:7-8
As a new believer, I learned to model the behavior I saw in other Christians’ lives. When people recognized some thing in my life that had benefitted them, I immediately deferred to the work of God and “gave God the glory.” As I grew in my faith, the Holy Spirit pointed out that I took great pride in my “self-less-ness.” Over time, as God brought healing and growth into my broken heart, He also confronted some internal attitudes…and helped me to see humility differently.
Acknowledgement– When people speak words of encouragement into my life, they are recognizing God’s work in either my creation or my transformation. I have spent time in Christian community where human hearts were starving for recognition and words of encouragement and affirmation but fear of pride taught us to withhold those words. Since that time, I’ve learned that the Body of Christ must affirm the gifts and calling of God in our lives. When we are unable to speak those words, the body cannot grow in the fullness and vitality we long for. Our challenge is to receive those words of affirmation not as proof of our greatness, but as the gift they are. To hold tightly to the Gift Giver, and glory in His generosity and love.
When my Allie was a very little girl, I sat a with a friend over coffee. As we talked, Allie climbed into my friend’s lap and leaned in as only a four year old can, one thumb in her mouth, the other rubbing an ear. My friend stroked her hair, pointing out the beauty in the color, texture, and curl. After a few minutes, my little one moved on to other things. Later that day, I walked in to the living room and overheard my girl, repeating those words quietly to herself, as she stroked her hair, “My hair is beautiful. It’s so soft. I love my curls.”
My immediate response was to step in and admonish her, as I so often did myself. Wasn’t it prideful to revel in my own beauty and uniqueness? In the quiet of my heart, I considered another option. Maybe, she simply believed the words of a beloved friend. Someone who loved her and someone whose opinion she trusted. Maybe someone she loved had spoken truth and love into her life and she was simply receiving it. Maybe there was humility in simply believing that she was uniquely made and completely loved. Maybe I could learn something here.
Perspective– In Mark’s Gospel, John declares he is not worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the Coming King’s sandal. In my own life, I have spent too much time focusing on my stooping and not enough on the King’s greatness. The challenge for me when I read this passage, is to see not only John’s humility, but to glimpse the Glory of the King. My focus usually falls to the one who is bending down to serve, not the greatness of the One He serves. Maybe, I need to be reminded that I don’t have to stoop down to make God look big… To diminish my contribution and undermine my gifts or calling in order to not “get too big for God.” Maybe I don’t need to to stoop low in order to show off the King’s Glory. Maybe I need a clearer view of the Glory of God, that I might see myself rightly. John could stand on his tip toes and pull himself up to his full hight and still be small before the King of Glory… and so can I. Humility comes in the face of His greatness and glory, not just my weakness.
Posture– It is the posture of a servant that illustrates John’s humility, not the lack of gifts or calling. John stood with one foot in the Old Testament and the other in the New. He faced down kings and religious leaders alike. He was not a weak man. He stood in the fullness of his own calling before God and fulfilled the mission God sent him to accomplish. I have a hard time imagining this fiery preacher bowing down in false humility. Instead, he thought about himself less and focused on the work that God had sent him to do. He called the people to repentance and faced the powers of his day, but in this scene, he also took on the posture of a servant. He did not demand his own way but understood that he was created to serve. He served the people by preaching the Word and he positioned himself as a slave before the One he served. Too often, I demand my own way in using my gifts and determining my calling. Like John, I must stand in awe of the One who is exalted in all creation, in both the Heavens above and the earth below… It is His Otherness, His Completeness, His Holiness, and His God-ness that makes us not worthy to be His slave and it is His Love that allows us to serve Him.
In this passage, John is relaying exactly that! He has seen a glimpse of the Glory that is coming in the person of Jesus Christ. He is fulfilling his own mission and preparing the hearts of men, baptizing them with water as a sign of their repentance. But the One whose way he is preparing is not just another… but the Other. John recognizes that he has done what was required of him. He baptized with water as an sign of a change of heart, but that the One who is coming will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Not like John’s baptism, but completely, substantively different, better. John baptized with water and cleaned the outside of the life, but Jesus would transform the inside of a life. These are not two similar options… they represent work from two different realms. John was able to offer an early option of confession, repentance, and cleansing which had to be repeated over and over again. Jesus would offer a Heavenly option which would change the very nature of mankind. John could wash the blood off your hands, but Jesus would wash the guilt and shame as well as the origin of sin from your heart. He came to set us on a whole new path with the power to live differently.
Reflect– What caused you think?
Receive– What touched your heart?
Respond– What will you do?