(This is part 3 of our multipart study on Success in the Bible)
Everyone in Judea at the time of Jesus also knew of John the Baptist. From the conception of John, the local people knew he would be someone special – since his Father had been made mute by the angel Gabriel. And then when he was born and named, his Father could again speak – there was no doubt that he was going to something BIG.
We don’t hear much of John’s life up to about a year before Jesus own ministry began. But we know that ‘The Word of God’ came to John, and he began to preach in earnest.
A quick aside into history, since Malachi there had been no prophet in Israel. That was now over 400 years, and yet some people were expecting something to happen, waiting for the ‘office’ of prophet to again be filled by someone. And when John came on the scene, judging by the reaction of the crowds who went to see him, people thought a prophet had finally returned. In fact, people wondered aloud whether he was the Messiah himself.
He wasn’t a popular preacher by his message, but it was obvious he was a prophet, like the ‘prophets of old’. Take a look at the message he preached – it wasn’t one for the light hearted!
Matthew 3:7-12 (ESV)
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
John’s popularity and success skyrocketed – he was the talk of all Judea. But this success didn’t last!
John 3:22-30 (ESV)
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
What perspective! John knew that he was here for a time – for a season. There was a reason he was called, there was a reason he grew successful. And yet now that the reason had passed, he was content, as he had been successful.
His measure of success was that he did what he was called to do – then got out of the way.
In the same situation now, many of us would wonder – was that success truly from God? When we are successful in our lives but it ‘moves on’ from us, and we descend back to where we came from, what are our thoughts? Do we struggle and look around for what sin might have caused our fall (which may be the case, but it also may not)? Do we try and change things just a little that our success might continue? Do we run around, looking for help, advice, assistance all in the wrong places, that we might try and bring back the success we once lived? Do we sit back and condemn ourselves for failure, or become depressed because our moment of glory has passed?
Or do we accept that the success was for a time, and it is now time to move on.
What can we learn from John?
Sometimes, success is for a season – it is not any ‘fault’ of ours that the time of success has passed, it is just that the time has passed.
And in truth, sometimes a full measure of success is knowing when the season has ended, and rather than striving against God by trying to become ‘successful’ in our own eyes again, we should accept our new station and move on.
Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.