Imagine you were privileged to be at a place where you were going to be introduced to the greatest person alive today. His reputation is one where the most influential people in the world would all agree that there is no greater. Imagine what his introductions would be like? We have all heard the hyped up intros, haven’t we? The keynote speakers at conferences, the guest preacher at the church service, the honorary guest at a reception . . . we have been there.
God, through the Apostle John, gave an introduction to a man named John the Baptist. Jesus said of this man “among those born of a woman there has arisen no one greater” (Matt. 11:11). When he entered the scene of human history, certainly there would be a introduction fitting for such a supreme title.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”
Wait, what? That’s it? “A man.” Okay. What kind of man? Just a man? I thought he was the man. “His name was John.” Could you have picked a more unique, more memorable, more fitting name for such an individual? There is nothing here in this introduction that tips us off to the extraordinary person John the Baptist was in human history.
You think that, following such an ordinary introduction, his list of accomplishments would soon follow to make up for a bland beginning. And yet, it seems to be all the more paradoxical. The Apostle John says John the Baptist “was not the light.” This was confirmed through the testimony of John the Baptist who, at every point, told people who he was not. “I am not the Christ.” “I am not Elijah.” “I am not the Prophet.” Finally, when asked to explain who he was, John could only describe himself as a voice in the wilderness. And when his followers pressed him to be more aggressive and increase his influence, John could only respond by saying, “I must decrease.”
So there you have it. The man who Jesus said was without comparison (Jesus excluded of course). His life did not end with him on a throne but in prison. He did not have a crown on his head but ended with his head on platter. How could it really be true what Jesus said about John the Baptist? Is there really none greater?
Of course, those who have read the Bible know the rest of the story. But this is instructive to us in the age of self-promotion and platform-building, is it not? The paradox of greatness according to Jesus runs on a totally different set of tracks than the world of raw, selfish ambition. What can we learn from the life of John the Baptist, since, after all, he did it better than anyone else?
1. Platforms come from God. They are not to become your god (idol).
When challenged by his disciples regarding his “platform” not being as great as Jesus’, John replied, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). John recognized the influence and position was given to him by God, not the result of self-promotion and working up a ladder and using people for selfish gain. John also knew that his platform had an expiration date. He was not going to live for something that was going to terminate. He was willing to let it go so long as he was faithful to fulfill the purpose of God attached to it. John was content when he was raised up in popularity and prominence, and he was content when he was brought low in obscurity and marginalization. This was because platform was not his god but a tool to put his God on display. He knew platforms came from God and are for God. They do not come from us and are for us.
2. Platforms are best used in pointing to others and directing the stage light toward them.
At every point, John the Baptist was saying, “I am not the point.” He was the pointer. He used his platform to set the stage for One to come whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. John was not a stage hog. He did not lust for the limelight. In fact, he was so unseen he could only call him a voice from backstage (in the wilderness). You don’t see voices. John did not listen to the press or live for the praise of man. True greatness is found in the kind of humility that leverages your influence and position to serve and build up others, not yourself. If the only thing people see in your efforts to build a platform is you and what you do, then you are doing it wrong. The stage was not meant for you. Steward it well.
3. Platforms are most enjoyable when they are tethered to God’s purposes.
John’s purpose for having his “platform” was to exalt Jesus Christ. Everything about him was an exclamation point to the declaration of Jesus Christ as Savior and King. John was not indifferent about God’s purposes in Christ. He did not consider it optional or a side-item to the platform. He did not share that platform with Jesus as a trade-off. He was happy to see that everything his life was about would be used to direct people to believe, treasure, and worship Jesus Christ. Apart from God’s purposes, John’s platform would not exist. When John’s disciples thought it was all about him, John told them “Jesus must increase, and I must decrease.” They thought John was the bridegroom when John knew he was just a friend. And what do friends so? They rejoice in the celebration of the bridegroom on stage. How could John genuinely enjoy his decrease and Jesus’ increase? John’s happiness was not tied to his platform. His happiness was tied to God’s purposes. The increase of Jesus’ “platform” was not a matter of competition for John; it was a matter of completion. If you make your platform what you are passionate about and seek enjoyment in, there is no lasting joy found there. It is a broken cistern that can hold no water. But, if whatever platform provided you is used to increase the magnification of God’s purposes in Christ as they are fulfilled in your life, then joy abounds and pleasure is made complete.
There was a man named John. He was a man, a voice, a friend of the bridegroom, and a witness. And there has arisen no one greater than him. May God help us to live our lives online and offline with the same passion, humility, and determination to have Christ seen through us, not us seen through our platforms.