JESUS IS GREATER THAN I

Mark 1:7 “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Some of us can remember when Mohammed Ali was Cassius Clay. We can still envision him ranting and raving, “I am the greatest. I am the greatest.” Mohammed Ali is not alone. Success in professional sports or in any arena of life often produces an inflated sense of one’s personal greatness. Whether it’s the momentary taunting dance after the touchdown or it’s simply the feeling of greatness that one gets after succeeding, self-adulation is common to everyone.

By modern day standards these words of John the Baptist might cause him to be diagnosed as having low self-esteem. If he were your child, you might want him to talk to a school psychiatrist because he had such a low view of himself. Humanly speaking, John certainly had a basis for proclaiming his greatness. For 400 years there had been no prophets in Israel to bring the Word of the Lord. Now John comes on the scene, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah and Malachi. He comes in the spirit and power of Elijah the prophet. He was born somewhat miraculously to elderly parents and filled with the Spirit from his mother’s womb. He was a striking character in his animal skin clothing and his austere diet. He was bold and credible to such a degree that people from all classes of society came to him in the wilderness. His message was an unrelenting call to repentance and to baptism. He called a nation that saw itself as the privileged people of God to take upon them the outward symbol of cleansing. The crowds responded to his preaching! What more could a prophet ask for?

Yet John realized that there was something about Jesus that dwarfed his own potential greatness. John’s confession, though brief, is actually a key to life – he is more powerful than I am. For anyone to make this claim makes a profound difference in life. When facing the question of how I as a sinner can gain God’s acceptance, Jesus is more powerful than I am. When facing trials of life, Jesus is more powerful than I am. When challenged to live up to what God expects in marriage, Jesus is more powerful than I am. When struggling to live a credible Christian life in the midst of a pagan society, Jesus is more powerful than I am.

In John’s estimation, Jesus was so vastly superior to him that to do even the most menial of tasks would be an honor for him to do. John was also fully aware of the limits of his work. He called people to repentance and baptism asking them to take on them the public symbol of cleansing. However, he knew that baptism was an external act, which was powerless to transform the human heart. John knew that his work was preparatory for the deeper, more vital work of the Spirit. John knew that Jesus would give the New Covenant Spirit, promised by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. This Spirit would transform the human heart; this Spirit would inaugurate the coming of the kingdom of God to earth; this Spirit would be given to redeemed humanity as the down payment of all the rich and glorious blessings of God.

John knew that only Jesus could truly transform life and bring the blessing of heaven to redeemed sinners. He knew that only Jesus could give the Spirit, because Jesus was the Messiah who would give his life as a ransom for many. Yes, Jesus is greater than I am.

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On September 10, 1970 I came to understand the great love of God for me, a sinner and a rebel. That evening I received God’s forgiveness and a new life through Jesus Christ, who died in my place and rose again to offer forgiveness and new life. I have been senior pastor for over 30 years planting two churches in Buckingham, PA and Queens, NY and serving two other churches in Brooklyn, NY and Roslyn, PA. I am currently the lead pastor at Grace Church of Philly.

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