Lifting People Up
Yesterday I was at a meeting for a group I’m attend called the Blessing Muslims Initiative (BMI). One of the main thrusts of the group is to encourage each other, and to learn and dialogue about Islam, particularly on how to bless our Muslim neighbors and to share Jesus’ love for them. Luc, who leads the group, shared a passage from Matthew 25 about the judgment, where those who he welcomed into the kingdom had fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited those who were sick and the prisoners… they had really served Jesus.
As we were praying I began to think about Jesus’ words in John 12, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” I got a picture of Jesus raised above a crowd of people, but because of how dense the crowd was it was still difficult to see him. Then people in the crowd began lifting others up on their shoulders so they could see Jesus clearly. By lifting others above us, they will be able to see Jesus.
This picture reminded me of something I taught on at a UGBB all-nighter for leaders while in Burundi. My subject was a study of John the Baptist’s leadership style, which was just that, lifting people above him. Maybe when we think of John we think of a wacky grasshopper-eating nomad, or a fiery preacher of repentance, but I tend to think of him in a different light. In Matthew 11:11, Jesus says of John, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
That’s quite the amazing statement. No one greater than John the Baptist. No prophet before him was greater than John. Though John is used in this passage to demonstrate the superior position of those in the kingdom of God, what interests me about John is his style of leadership. He was always promoting Jesus.
And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
His final line, “He must increase, but I must decrease” gets me every time, because it challenges me. He could have tried to hold onto his followers, but he knew Jesus was better for them than he was. John had to let them go. He had to lift them up. If John only cared about himself, he would have squirmed at the sight of his followers ditching him, but he knew he wasn’t the main attraction. They needed to see Jesus, so John got out-of-the-way.
I think our witness can be as simple as John’s. As we clothe the naked, we show people Jesus. When we invite a stranger into our home, we show people Jesus. These aren’t things that require skill, knowledge, experience or planning. Jackie Pullinger called it a response to compassion. Giving a thirsty person some water isn’t even hard. In fact, it’s quite a natural response to seeing a fellow human in need. It’s a response that doesn’t find its end in us, rather it leads back to Jesus. It leads back to the foot-washing rabbi who mixed with the untouchables of his day.
Whether it’s giving people water, inviting them into our homes, encouraging or taking a genuine interest in them, we will lift others up where they can see Jesus clearly—not to convince others, but to let people see Jesus for who he is. If Jesus’ words are true, he will draw men to himself, but it might require us to lift others up to see him.