Defining Greatness

A profile of John the Baptist


How one defines greatness may seem to be a bit subjective. Some are considered great if they win a gold medal in the Olympics. Others are deemed great if they have a large following, build a large business or succeed in politics.  Surely there is something to commend in all of the above, but the most important question is: What does Jesus say about greatness?

 In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus notes that John the Baptist was the greatest (Matthew 11:11).   This is an amazing statement considering John never had wealth and was not accepted by the religious leaders of his day (though he was called of God to be a prophet). He did not build a business, write a book, lead an army or create any art. And though his ministry was less than one year in length, Jesus said of him: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11a).

 In this teaching I focus on how Jesus defines greatness, how He and John the Baptist lived it, and how believers today can experience that kind of life as well.  We are called to greatness.  Yes, even if you have no led no army, amassed no wealth and built no business, you can be great in the eyes of God.


  • His mission pointed to by the prophet Isaiah: “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain…be made low; and let the rough ground become a plain…then the glory of the Lord will be revealed…’”     Isa 40:3-5a
  • His mission pointed to by the prophet Malachi: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…”    Mal. 4:5-6a
  • His calling announced by the angel of the Lord: Zechariah was in the sanctuary when an angel of the Lord appeared…the angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John. You will have great joy…for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord…And he will persuade many Israelites to turn to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah, the prophet of old. He will precede the coming of the Lord, preparing the people for his arrival.’”    Luke 1:11-17
  • His greatness noted by Jesus: “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold , I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You .’   Truly I say to you, among    those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than  John the Baptist!”      Matthew 11:9-11



Have a clear sense of calling/purpose

  • “Isaiah had spoken of John when he said, ‘He is a voice shouting in the wilderness: Prepare a pathway for the Lord’s coming! Make a straight road for him!’”      Matt. 3:3


  Do not be swayed from doing what is right

  • “For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her.  For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”   Mark 6:17-18


  Continually point people to God

  • “People from Jerusalem and from every section of Judea and from all over the Jordan Valley went out to the wilderness to hear him preach. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.”    Matt. 3:5-6
  • “God sent John the Baptist to tell everyone about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was only a witness to the light.  The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world.”   John 1:6-9
  • “‘Then who are you? Tell us, so we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you have to say about yourself?’ John replied in the words of Isaiah: ‘I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, prepare a straight pathway for the Lord’s coming!’”              John 1:11-23a
  • “The next day John saw Jesus…and said, ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’”  John 1:29


 Be open to new possibilities

  • “John said, ‘I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him [Jesus].  I didn’t know he was the one, but…God told me, “When you see the Holy Spirit descending and resting upon someone, he is the one you are looking for. He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Son of God.’”   John 1:32-34


 Build a reputation for purity / integrity

  • “…Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man.”    Mark 6:20b


 Know who you are, and who God is

  • “You yourselves know how plainly I told you that I am not the Messiah. I am here to prepare the way for him—that is all…A bridegroom’s friend rejoices with him. I am the bridegroom’s friend, and I am filled with joy at his success. He must increase…I must decrease.”    John 3:28-30




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