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Clarity about Our Purpose

In John 1:26, John the Baptizer describes Jesus in a curious way. He refers to him as “he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.

Back in that time period, the way students obtained theological training was to be mentored by a rabbi. They would become a student of a particular rabbi, follow him around, and be taught by him. And instead of paying money to learn from a rabbi, students would typically function as servants of their rabbi, doing whatever he needed them to do. If he told them to clean his house, they would clean his house. If he needed someone to run an errand, they would run the errand. If he said to jump, they would ask, “How high?” It doesn’t seem quite as organized as paying a standard rate per credit hour, but I guess it got the job done.

However, there was one task that students were not required to do. And that was to remove the rabbi’s sandals and wash his feet. Back then, the streets were dusty, and people’s feet got dusty and smelly. So they needed their feet washed whenever they went indoors. And rabbis were no exception to this. The rabbis may have been brilliant teachers, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have some smelly feet.

However, the job of removing their sandals and washing their smelly feet was so disgusting that it was considered too lowly even for the freshmen students. But look back at what John says: he describes Jesus as “he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” That’s how glorious and great Jesus is. John says he’s unworthy to do even the lowest task for him.

Just from this quick snapshot, we see that John’s ministry was all about making Jesus famous. That was his mission. He wasn’t trying to make a name for himself or draw attention to himself. He wasn’t concerned about wealth or fame or comfort or luxury. No, he had a singular vision: making much of Jesus.

You know, I wonder how much we share that vision—those of us that call ourselves Christians. We say we want to live for Jesus, but are we really all about Jesus the way John the Baptizer was? Yes, he was kind of a strange character—definitely not the kind of person you’d invite to your kid’s birthday party. My kids already think we make them take baths way too often. But think about how clear John was about his purpose in life.

John really understood that his purpose in life was to make Jesus famous. He really grasped that. And I think so often, we don’t grasp that the way John did. I know I often don’t. We often live as if our purpose is something other than that, something less than that, something more related to our own comfort, goals, priorities, and desires.

I challenge you to do an honest assessment of your life. Go over your schedule this past month—the number of hours you’ve spent doing the different things you do—and ask yourself, “What does my schedule say about my priorities?”

Get on your bank website or credit card website and examine your spending habits—maybe not last month since that included Christmas, but perhaps from November—and ask yourself, “What do my spending habits say about my priorities?”

Think through your prayer life and the kinds of things you find yourself praying for, and ask yourself, “What does my prayer life say about my priorities? Do I pray mostly only for my own comfort and well-being or for the name of Christ to be exalted in this world?”

Think about your social life and the goals you often pursue in your interactions with others, and ask yourself, “What does my social life reveal about my priorities? Is my main goal in social interaction usually self-centered as I strive to be popular and impressive and highly regarded, or is my main goal Christ-centered?

And just think about a typical day and the mental energy you give to different things and the kinds of things your mind naturally drifts towards when you have a spare moment, and ask yourself, “What does my thought life say about my priorities?”

That’s why I appreciate John the Baptizer’s example so much and why I find it so challenging. He understood that the reason God had him on this earth was to make Jesus famous. And that’s why we’re on earth as well.