I was just thinking about the Sunday when our then 3-year-old son was really put out after church. In Sunday school, he'd heard that "Elizabeth had a baby in her tummy." The teacher told us he'd been quick to tell her: "She does not! She's my sister and I know her!" It made us laugh that day. Our always-emphatic son was too small to know the difference between Elizabeth his sister, and Elisabeth, the cousin of Mary. To him, there was only one Elizabeth, and he knew who she was.
But it's a good story about Elisabeth and Mary as well. Or John and Jesus, actually. That Elisabeth, of course, did 'have a baby in her tummy,' and when pregnant Elisabeth saw much-less-pregnant Mary arriving in her home, 'the baby leapt in Elisabeth's womb and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.' (Luke 1: 41)
John moved. John recognized the Child Mary carried, a recognition which gave room for the Holy Spirit to also move in his mother. This is pretty powerful, isn't it? Without any of the senses, through the strongest of veils here on earth--that is, in the deep, safe 'tummy' of his mother, John knew the Messiah.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that this unborn child was the first human to recognize Jesus Christ without the supernatural intervention of a dream or vision. Just God the Holy Spirit in him from the first, intending even then, that John would be the one calling, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
Later, pure human that he was, John had doubts. This doesn't surprise me. There he was, alone in a prison cell, anticipating his death. Days away from having his head removed and placed gruesomely on a platter. The first to die for Jesus as well as the first to know Him, John was. This is just the truth of it. And while in the dark cell, he sent his followers to ask Jesus, "Are you the one we're looking for?" John needed reassurance. If Jesus could sweat blood over the death facing Him, surely John could ask such a question. We never hear another word of doubt once Jesus answers sideways, "Tell him the deaf can hear and the lame can walk." See, Jesus didn't bother with a straight declarative, He knew John would get it, as John had always gotten it. [Of course, Jesus wasn't big on straight declarative statements about Himself. It wouldn't be called faith if it had been that simple]
Yes, John was the first to know, the first to be leap in the very presence of Jesus, the one--the ONE--who baptized the Messiah. He didn't want to do it, of course. John knew Jesus. And that knowing, that true "I KNOW who you are!" humbled him. But he did it anyway, because Jesus asked it. In obedience. And all those there heard God Himself speak from Heaven at that river, but little did those onlookers realize that they were seeing a prophecy, a played-out picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus right there at the Jordan.
So this is all that we get from John:
1. What it means to recognize Jesus, though we cannot see Him with our senses. What it means when we sense He's present. It means we move and leap. And that only the Holy Spirit reveals such recognition to us.
2. It's okay to doubt. Sometimes we're stuck in dark, lonely cells. It's okay to ask if He's there, REALLY. To ask Him to show us, to answer those doubts. "Are you the one we've been looking for?" It means to ask it, but also to trust that the answer might come side-ways, not straight out. If we know Him, we'll recognize that answer, too.
3. What it means when we come face to face with Him. If we aren't humbled by it, we haven't really seen Him. That's what John the Baptist teaches us. "Me baptize you? I'm not worthy to tie your shoes," John said. This is where we start, too. When He asks us to do something, we start with, "Me, Lord?" Really, me? Because compared to Him and how He could do things...well, let's just say, we should be on our faces at whatever He asks, because of the very privilege of serving Him.
4. Above all, what it means to live the life of a disciple. Willing to see, recognize, move, bow, do and...die for Him. Yes, even that. "He must increase, and I must decrease," John said. These are words of the truest of disciples.
Our son, J, called John, "the baddest," when he was three. As in, "John the baddest." Since then we've referred to John the Baptist as 'the baddest dude.' J didn't know it then, but he was already using 'baddest' as slang--like the best. Yep, that's the truth of John. There's a reason Jesus said, "Among people has not greater man been born of woman." Would that we learn to follow his footsteps.