Here’s a quick English pop-quiz: what is the subject and what’s the verb in this very long sentence?
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
The subject is the word (specifically of God) and the verb is came (specifically to John).
This shouldn’t be surprising for those of us who have spent any time with the Old Testament prophets. We find that Luke uses the same pattern in introducing John that is used in the first verses of Ezekiel, Nehemiah, and Daniel, as just a few examples. Consider the first verse of the book of the prophet Hosea:
The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.
Yes, it’s nice to know who the prophet is, and who his father is, but what is important isn’t the messenger, but the message.
John the Baptist understands that. John’s message is Jesus. “He must increase, I must decrease.”
The fact that the message is greater than the messenger got me thinking about another Old Testament prophet: Jonah. John the Baptist understood that what is important is the message, not the messenger, but Jonah did not.
Jonah had plenty of hang-ups, but perhaps one of the most dominant, what caused him to go off the deep end, is where he differed the most from John the Baptist in thinking that the messenger is greater than the message.
If the title character of the book of Jonah is the same Jonah the prophet in 2 Kings 14 (Where God saves Israel through the word of the prophet Jonah) then we can imagine that Jonah might have been patting himself on the back, glad that God was speaking through him, especially considering the outcome. Then, as that first dose of pride slips into his system, Jonah ceases to become a voice for the Most High, and instead, becomes a brand, a star, a platformed voice.
As Channing Moore Williams (1829-1910), Missionary Bishop in China & Japan reminds us, “Preach the Way, not yourself.” As Jonah found out, this can be difficult. It is difficult for us as individuals and becomes exponentially more difficult when we as individuals organize ourselves into societies, fellowships, parties, and the like. The felt need to be relevant, to compete for eyeballs, to gain necessary funding, are just some of the temptations that can cause us to start to believe and act as if the messenger is greater than the message. May it never be so of EFAC-USA.
He must increase, we must decrease.