As a new Christian, I found John the Baptist a baffling figure - he is given considerable prominence in the Gospels, yet my tendency was to regard him as having been superseded by Jesus, and therefore somebody that could safely be ignored.
John 1:8: He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
Being a witness doesn't sound very important, at first...
Yet he was, according to Christ, the best man who had ever lived, up to that point: greater, therefore, than even than the greatest of the Old Testament Prophets:
Luke 7:28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist
Of course the greatness of John the Baptist is not exactly a secret. The church I most often attend is indeed named after him. But perhaps it is hard for us to understand why a 'witness' is so great? It is hard to understand because 'witnesses' are so rare now.
The key fact, in my understanding, is that John the Baptist was regarded, in the area and at the time Jesus operated, as the holiest man alive.
This was an era of miracle workers and claimed prophets. How to discern between them?
The answer was to turn for judgement to the holiest man alive.
When John endorsed Jesus as the Messiah, then that was as strong evidence as could be imagined of the truth of Jesus's claims - stronger and more decisive, even, than the miracles and (thus far) partial-fulfilment of prophecies.
And this emphasises the problem of our own era, so lacking in holy men, in saints. Who is there now alive of unchallenged holiness to whom we could turn for discernment?
This lack is perhaps why I did not easily understand the greatness of John the Baptist. Perhaps we, as a culture, have forgotten that such greatness did once exist on earth.
There is, I think, no-one alive to whom we can turn - we must therefore turn to those who have died.
I've always found Christ's statement in Luke 7:28 confusing, given that he himself was born of a woman.
As a confessional Protestant I must point out that we must turn first to the Bible, the only fully authoritative written record of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. I would also point out that bearing witness to Christ is the primary function of the Holy Spirit.
Although Protestants identify the Bible as the highest authority (and the only infallible authority), man needs help in understanding the Christian message and living the Christian life, so we also need creeds and confessions, councils, pastors and teachers. But none of these, including holy men, are primary authorities. Their authority rests in being faithful to Christ’s teachings, i.e., Scripture.
There are probably many great men alive right now, but because of our decadence they are not widely recognized as such.
@RM - Yes, I know of a few (and no - I am not staring into a mirror!), and they are indeed unrecognized as great men; more often recognized (if at all) as nutters.
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