The Temptation of John the Baptist

Andrew MochrieThis past week in our Lenten series, “Gifts of the Dark Wood,” our church talked about the gift of temptation. It is the perfect setup for us in the Justin as we begin this week with our series on temptation for our middle school youth.

Most people’s go-to story for temptation is Jesus’ 40-day-and-night fasting experience in the desert. His three temptations hold classical themes for life’s challenges to us as we journey through it in faith. However, when I think of temptation my first thought leads toward John the Baptist, quite possibly my favorite biblical hero. It isn’t typically what people think of when they think of John. We tend to lean toward locust and honey, wild man prophet, and the guy who baptized Jesus.

All of those are great but are not why I love and respect John the Baptist. The thing I love about John is what has defined him in art through the centuries. EJ and I had the amazing opportunity to be over in Italy and experience places like the Vatican and the cathedral in Florence. The many museums and cathedrals we visited often had images of St. John the Baptist. If you didn’t know this, John is almost always depicted pointing. Do a quick Google image search of John the Baptist and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The most famous of which is Matthias Grünewald’s The Crucifixion from the early 16th century.

It’s an absolutely beautiful image and recognition of who we are as a people. Yet pointing was something that John did after his ultimate temptation. You can read the two-day saga of this account in John 1:19-34. In short, John was a very popular and zealous leader baptizing people left and right. This clearly was cause for attention from the religious leaders wondering what was going on. In the end, John’s shining moment is in v. 29:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

I would argue that was the moment. In all of his popularity people were inquiring, “Are you the Christ? Are you Elijah?” (v. 19-21) He had the opportunity to become the next big thing, the next prophet, and the hero of the Israelites. But he didn’t. Can you imagine the temptation? Yet John’s response was instead to point — away from himself and toward Christ — then solidifying his legacy as the one who always points. John’s way of dealing with temptation is to point toward Christ.

It is so simple, yet so profound. John’s temptation wasn’t a bad one; it wasn’t a temptation to murder and take advantage of people. It was a good one — to be the hero, to be the one who saves. Yet he knew that those credentials were not his. They belonged to Jesus. Therefore he points; not I but Him. Sounds easier than it is I’m sure. John’s story constantly thrust me into contemplation — oh how many times I am sure I’ve missed my opportunity to point away from me and toward Christ. Yet that’s John’s lesson on temptation. That is the gift. It’s the opportunity to make known the Christ, the savior, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. May we in times of temptation receive its gift — to point away from ourselves and toward Christ.

Grace and Peace,

Andrew

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