Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John 1:19-28

 

John was baptizing at the Jordan roughly around 29 CE. This would make Jesus around 33 years old and John six months older than his cousin, since John’s mother Elizabeth gave birth six months earlier than Jesus’ mother Mary.

John was clearly making a stir as crowds were coming to get baptized by him, as reported in Luke. The religious authorities were at the very least curious about—and most likely threatened by—John’s popularity. John was observing a Jewish form of baptizing which was normally reserved for unclean Gentiles who wanted to be included in Judaism. Thus, what John was doing was highly controversial because he was baptizing Jews, implying that the current Jewish religious system was somehow lacking and needing reform. That’s why the Jewish authorities showed up. John was telling people something was wrong with the Temple, and they sent out the authorities to shut John down—or perhaps at least shut him up!

I’ve shared previously about Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission. Recently he and my friend Mark Labberton did a podcast highlighting Andy’s story of being a youth pastor turned advocate for the homeless; his call to lead Union Rescue Mission; and his ongoing work of confronting various powers through his actions and words in order to help those devastated by homelessness in Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

Andy shares in this podcast about various challenges including confronting his own initial apathy, engaging neighbors resistant to low-income housing in their neighborhoods, and calling out governmental leaders who failed to implement action plans even after funding was secured that was meant to help the needy. At one point during the interview Andy even mentions his idea to build 3-D printed concrete fully-functional micro-homes for just $10,000 each—instead of the $550,000 per unit cost that currently it takes to build in Los Angeles County. This kind of thinking, as benign as it might sound to us, radically confronts a system and a bureaucracy that has inertia to keep doing the status quo. Leaders confront with their actions and words.

John knew what it was like to buck the system in order to help people. John’s actions (baptizing) and words (claiming Jesus was Messiah) confronted the powers in control at that time. Andy is using his leadership position to help those on the margins by confronting broken systems in order to do good. Our leadership may call us to confront some kind of system, power or authority in order to do what’s best for the people and organizations we serve.

Something to Think About:

What leadership traits can be learned from your actions?

What leadership traits can be learned from your words?

What powers/systems/authorities are you confronting in your leadership context?

Something to Do:

Listen to the podcast of Mark Labberton and Andy Bales. Send Andy an encouraging note or ask him a question about his courageous leadership approach.

Prayer:

Spirit, sometimes you will lead me to confront something that is broken. Give me the courage to be faithful to God’s Word and to model Christ’s love. Help me to have insight into how I might need to change in order to be the leader you want me to become. Remind me that you are a patient Teacher who loves me as I am right now but loves me enough to not leave me the same! Open my eyes to any system, power or authority that is hindering the flourishing of the people you love. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
John the Baptist Teaches Workplace Ethics (Luke 3:8-14)