The Pointer, Not the Point
What is the function of a signpost? They are designed not to be the point, but to point to the point. They declare to you the purpose, the objective of why they exist; why they are planted on the side of the road is written on them. Now some of us have pictures with signposts, or have even seen some that we smiled at or liked -- but we don't go to the Grand Canyon to merely take a picture with the sign and then turn around.
The best pointer ever born of man was John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). He was a perfect example of what the pastor is called to be: the pointer, not the point. John was a 'messenger' who was sent to 'prepare the way before [the Lord]' (Malachi 3:1). He 'came preaching' (Matthew 3:1) in order 'to make ready for the Lord a people prepared' (Luke 1:17). John the Baptist was a pointer; he was sent by God to send sinners to God. John was the server, not the Savior; he was the messenger, but not the Message.
In Acts 13, Paul summarizes the life and ministry of John the Baptist in this way, "And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie'"(13:25). In doing so, Paul gives us three marks of a biblical pointer (pastor):
- Finishing Your Course
- The Identity of the Pastor
- The Worth of Christ
1. Finishing Your Course
'And as John was finishing his course.'
John the Baptist 'came preaching in the wilderness of Judea' (Matthew 3:1). He came preaching. That is what John came to do. Before the foundation of the world, God knew John the Baptist, he set him apart and decreed his entire life -- including his life of ministry for the Lord Jesus (Isaiah 40:3-5; cf. Jeremiah 1:5). He was the forerunner of the Messiah. He remained faithful to his role. Despite not being the crowd favorite or being on the front page of Judea Times, John was faithful in proclaiming 'repentance' for the coming of the 'kingdom of God' (Matthew 3:2). Though many came to be baptized by him (Mark 1:5), he was not a king nor one worthy of excellent admiration.
John was not a man in stylish apparel or seeking fame because those men 'are in kings' houses' (Matthew 11:8). John was a prophet, a proclaimer of the word of God -- Jesus esteemed him to the highest honor of any man ever born of woman in front of the crowds. The greatest man ever born? This man from the desert had naps in his hair and the sand that he walked was also his bed? This man? The excellence of John the Baptist was that he fought the good fight, he was finishing his race, and he has kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). He was a faithful pointer! Even in prison, John still proclaimed repentance to Herod for his adultery (Matthew 14:3).
Pastor, ministry success is measured by faithfulness to your course -- though it may cost you bigger budgets, recognition, shaming, or even your head (14:10). Charles Spurgeon said in reference to the calling of the pastor, "If God has called you to be his servant, why stoop to be a king?" Pastor, don't stoop from your position as the Lord's messenger. Finish your course as a messenger and proclaimer of the gospel.
2. The Identity of the Pastor
'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.'
In Matthew 14, we read that Herod heard about the 'fame of Jesus' (v.1). John came to make Jesus famous, he came to make much of him. This was the identity of John the Baptist: he was a fame-maker. The Baptist identifies himself beautifully with the words of the prophet Isaiah in the gospel of John, here's the scene: the Jews sent priests and Levites to find out who he is. John responds, "I am not the Christ." And then positively he affirms his identity in this way, "I am the voice..." (John 1:23).
John is the mouthpiece of God, he is the voice speaking for God. He came as 'a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light but came to bear witness about the light' (John 1:7-8). John came to point, he came to bear witness about the light, Jesus Christ. He was a voice, a proclaimer of the word of God and the person of Christ. And in all of John's ministry, he was faithful to remember his position and his personhood, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.'
Jesus is the Bread of Life, we are the servers. John the Baptist knew says this, 'He must increase, but I must decrease' (John 3:30). Jesus must be exalted. The person and work of Christ must be our foundation, our hope, our joy, our longing, and our comfort.
Pastor, remember that you and your people 'are dust' (Psalm 103:14) and the Lord is the only one who can take dust and breathe life into it (Genesis 2:7). Only the Spirit of God causes the new birth, you are merely delivering the new creature (John 3:6-8). John the Baptist knew that he must decrease and that Christ alone must be exalted. Preach Christ and him crucified. He is sufficient.
3. The Worth of Christ
'After me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie'
Jesus is infinitely worthy of all worship; he is the thrice holy God of Isaiah 6 (John 12:41). Sinful man standing in the presence of the Lamb of God will fall like a dead man under the weight of his majesty in holy fear of his power (Revelation 1:17). In Christ there are, as Jonathan Edwards puts it, dual excellencies in him -- Jesus is the powerful and roaring lion, yet he came as the meek, quiet Lamb to the slaughter; his infinite highness and his infinite condescension. The holiness of this God is dead set against us and our sin (Psalm 5:5-6) and all his enemies are being made a footstool for his feet and will be shattered by his rod of iron (Psalm 110:1; 2:9).
Yet this Jesus condescended for rebel sinners and laid down his life that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). He came to his own, to bring his sheep back to his fold. The Shepherd loved his sheep and laid down his life for them (John 10:11). Your people need this good shepherd who leads them, cares for them, sets delights for them in the midst of sorrow and suffering, who walks with them in the valley of the shadow of death, and who has forever brought us into the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23). Our people don't need therapy, they need theology. Preach this Christ! The Christ who did not come to be served by his people, but came to serve his people -- and still does (Hebrews 7:25). The worth of Christ is what John the Baptist pointed sinners to, and like him, we must point them to his excellency and sufficiency of him who loved us and gave himself for us.