Mike McElroy

I've stood onstage at church thousands of times throughout the years, but I only remember one time when I was up there draped in a bath towel. Relax; I was young enough for it to still be cute.

I was about 5 years old, and I was portraying John the Baptist. I didn't have any camel's hair garments like John’s, so I wore a bath towel instead. I had learned my lines well.

"I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord!'"

And, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I and not worthy to stoop down and untie."

I won a prize for that dramatic portrayal, a Dick Tracy puzzle.

John the Baptist knew Jesus was the Messiah because God told him he was. When the Jewish leaders came out to investigate the unorthodox wilderness preacher, he told them he was not the Messiah, but that he was coming. He told them his hands weren't worthy to untie Messiah's sandals.

In the late fourth century, Chrysostom observed that the very hands which humble John Baptist thought were not worthy to unloose the shoe on our blessed Savior's feet were the very hands Jesus thought worthy to baptize his sacred head. Remember how John resisted when Jesus came to Jordan to be baptized by him? He said, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:14-15).

Later John would tell some folks who told him that Jesus was baptizing more disciples than he had baptized, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Still later after John had been imprisoned by Herod, Jesus told a crowd, "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11). John was very humble about his role in the life of Christ, but Jesus bragged on him.

Isn't John a powerful example of what Jesus taught about humility and honor? "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12). This is not the way of the world and human pride. The world practices and admires self-aggrandizing boasting and climbing over others to get to the top. But Jesus taught his disciples that humble service was the way to greatness in his kingdom.

Perhaps you've known some folks whose favorite subject was themselves, who turned any conversation into a boastful recitation of their accomplishments. (Believe it or not, I've known a preacher or two who were pretty bad about that.) But genuine disciples of Jesus are humble servants, not self-promoting blowhards.

Humility is not the same thing as false modesty that makes a show out of refusing honor. Most folks can see through that disguise as a hypocritical plea for recognition. Genuine humility serves without caring about who gets the credit, and without seeking recognition for what we’ve done.

The counsel of the world is, "Toot your own horn or go untooted." But God's counsel is "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you" (1 Peter 5:6). Which advice do you follow?

I need to remember Jesus' words and John's example to resist the temptation to proudly promote myself. Remember how John didn't think himself worthy to even touch Jesus' feet, but was chosen by the Lord to baptize him. Let's be content to be humble servants of our Good Master, and let the praise come from his lips instead of our own. Let's pray for the grace to humbly serve, and leave the exalting to the Lord. It will be so much better than winning a Dick Tracy puzzle when he says, "Well done, good and faithful servant."