As I was reading the first chapter of John yesterday morning, I came upon a section of text which I had not previously understood the full context of – when Jesus calls His first disciples. John 1:35-39 goes like this:
The next day again John [the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
John the Baptist was well-known in Israel, with priests and teachers of the Law trekking out into the wilderness to hear this rough-and-tumble man clothed in camel skin preach about repentance. He had some disciples who sat under his teaching, because he was a wise man who preached accurately concerning the Law and the coming Messiah. Though he was asked if he himself was the Messiah, John the Baptist adamantly said that he was not. He identified himself as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” And he said that the Messiah was among them, but they did not know who he was.
The next day, Jesus came to the area and John the Baptist identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” and said to those around him that he saw the Spirit of God descend from heaven and rest on Jesus, and claimed definitively that Jesus was the Son of God. This means that all this talking with the Jewish leaders, and the definitive identification of Jesus as the Messiah happened after Jesus’ baptism. (We know this because John the Baptist’s words are in past tense, and the other Gospels show that directly after Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist He went out into the wilderness for forty days. These events must take place after that forty-day period).
This brings us up to date with John 1:35.
John 1:35 starts with the words “the next day again,” meaning that the events listed afterward came only a day after his declaration that Jesus was the Son of God. As Jesus walked by, John called out, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” again stating the identity of Jesus. Now comes the interesting part. John the Baptist had disciples of his own, who learned from him. He was standing with two of them.
Both of the disciples with whom he was standing when he called out “Behold, the Lamb of God!” left his side and followed Jesus.
When Jesus turned around to see them following Him, He asked them what they were seeking – to which they responded with a question of their own: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” This is significant because of the culture which they were in. In Jewish tradition, all young men are trained in a rudimentary understanding of the Torah, and few are chosen for advanced training. When young men had the oppotunity to follow and learn from a Rabbi (a teacher), they jumped at the chance.
What is even more significant is that they left one teacher for another.
It got me thinking. John the Baptist never said the he was the Messiah, or the greatest teacher. In fact, when the Jewish leaders asked who he was, he basically replied with, “Well I’ll tell you who I’m not. I’m not the Messiah.” Right at the forefront, John the Baptist knew his limitations. And no doubt did he tell his disciples about the Messiah whom he baptized. So when Jesus came back around, it seems as though he almost pushed his disciples to follow Jesus. So I learned three things:
- A great leader knows who he is compared to who God is.
- A great teacher points his students toward the ultimate truth.
- A great mentor points his friends to him who can guide best, even if it means sending them away to another.
John the Baptist was a great leader to his disciples, a great teacher to his students, and a great mentor to his friends. After all, he released them to follow God Himself, to experience Jesus daily and to shape the future of the world.
Aspire to be like John the Baptist. Know who you are, and who you aren’t. Teach your students to find and follow truth when they see it. And show them to Jesus, who will guide them all the days of their lives.