Recently I was talking and praying with a young woman who comes from a ministry and missionary family, and is a missionary herself. We spoke of the experience of being misunderstood and rejected because of our faith. This can cause a feeling of loneliness, and may tempt us to keep quiet and inconspicuous to avoid the risk of rejection or harassment. Suddenly I began thinking about John the Baptist, and what it might have been like to see life through his eyes.
John was a very unusual character. He wore a camel-hair tunic, not the fashion of the day, and ate bugs with honey, not the typical diet for a Jew in Israel. He lived alone out in the wilderness. Can you picture him next to a campfire, sleeping on the ground? His message of the coming kingdom drew many, but repelled many others. He boldly confronted sin, selfishness, and complacency, calling the Pharisees and Sadducees vipers and hypocrites; this must not have made a lot of points with the religious elites. He cautioned the people about their need for repentance and about the coming fiery baptism of the Holy Spirit. John got in the face of Herod and called out his adultery, an act that ultimately cost him his life.
John knew his God-ordained role—to prepare the way for the Messiah, his own cousin Jesus. He knew that when Jesus came fully into his ministry, his own ministry would decrease, and he accepted this fact. Like the prophets before him, he faithfully delivered the words God gave him, suffering persecution, rejection, banishment, imprisonment, and death.
Jesus also understood and accepted the unique greatness and purpose of John, but saw the bigger picture, saying that “the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt 11:11). John was just a man. He was God’s man, filled with the Spirit, and given the honor of baptizing and then introducing the Lamb of God to the waiting world. He was destined to exit the story soon after.
I wonder if he got lonely. I wonder if he had any friends he could talk with after a long day of ministry. John probably could have used a really good dog by his side.
I’ll often think about John the Baptist now when people tell me stories about their struggles in ministry. He is worthy of our admiration and emulation for his strength of character and his resolve to complete his unique assignment with dignity. It must have been a very lonely road sometimes. And when we experience our own moments of loneliness as Jesus-followers, we know we are in the greatest company.