15Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you withd water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.e 17He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.
19John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee,f for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. 20So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others.
At that time, and even today in that part of the world, to remove someone’s sandal or wash someone’s feet was the lowest of all possible stations in life. The lowest slave in the household had this job. It was even used by conquerors to show the total humiliation of their foes. The people were hoping John might be the promised Messiah and John was having none of it. In contrast to Jesus, John was the lowest of all humans.
This is particularly meaningful when we realize that later, when Jesus is talking about John in Luke 7:28 he says: “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Jesus is telling us that the greatest of all human beings is the lowest of the low when compared to God. To let that sink in a little better, let’s put use an example. As human being go, according to Jesus, John was the greatest so Mother Teresa was less great the John. I think must of us would agree that Hitler, was less great than Mother Teresa. Yet, if the lowest possible position is the slave that removes another’s sandals, when compared to God, John the Baptist, Mother Teresa and Hitler all have the same earthly station.
Now I am quite confident some of you will find this offensive, but it is the beginning of the greatest news all the universe has ever heard. Why? Because it means that none of us is too bad, too low, too deplorable…or too good. We are all lost together and there is no reason for us to look down on, or up to, anyone if we are talking about God – and what else really matters?
That is the beginning of the Good News. The best part is next: “yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Jesus changes everything. His Kingdom is there for us all equally, and when we accept it, in the words of John, Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” We are not designed by God for a life of slavery to sin and unfastening sandal straps. No, our God wants us to be passionately on fire with his own Holy Spirit. Greatness, fire, passion, Spirit all await us through Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for less.
Lord, set me on fire with your Holy Spirit.
Feel the burn!