(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:24-28)
John tells us that the priests and the Levites sent to investigate the baptist were sent from the Pharisees. This little parenthetical note shows us what great care the Apostle took to give accurate and detailed information in his biography of the Savior.
And since the baptist denied being the Christ and Elijah and the Prophet, they asked him why he was baptizing. A fair question. Scholars disagree as to whether Gentiles were baptized when they converted to Judaism, but those who think so say that it would need to be approved by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious congress. In either case, certainly Jews weren’t baptized. There was no need. They were pure in their own sight, simply by the virtue of being born into God’s people and being circumcised.
It’s evident, though, that they were expecting some new religious change when the Messiah arrived, because it seems they were open to the idea of mass baptisms if the baptist were the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet. The baptist answers that he baptizes with water, but there was someone standing among them that they did not know. There is probably a large crowd at this scene being baptized by this new prophet, so Jesus might have literally been there, but the baptist might just mean that He’s in the world.
This man who is coming after him is One whose strap of his sandal he is unworthy to untie. The baptist is not feigning humility here. He has been given some knowledge of the greatness of Jesus that he rightly acknowledges that he is unworthy to do even the most lowly of a servant’s tasks for Him.
This goes against the grain of common thought. Many hate the idea of being a servant, even a servant of God. They would call that thought archaic and insist that Jesus is my friend. He’s my homeboy. Without saying it, they’re saying “Jesus has made us equal with Him”. There is a sense in which that is true. Because of His sacrifice, He has made us coheirs with Him. He has caused us to be adopted, and He is now our eldest brother. But make no mistake about it–He is our master.
At the same time, we who embrace the reality of being servants of Jesus Christ might take it for granted. We might feel that because servants are lowly, we deserve on our own merit to be servants. But the truth is, like the baptist, we are unworthy to even untie His sandal. We are unworthy of washing His feet. We are unworthy of feeding His horse. Do you think that just anybody is allowed to work as a staffer in the White House? Do you think they pull just anyone off the street to attend to the Queen of England? If anyone thinks that they are, on their own merit, worthy of calling themselves a servant of God, they misunderstand who they are without Christ.
Being called a servant of God is truly a high honor. And it is only made possible because our background check now comes back clean, because the Savior traded ours with His on calvary. We are now made worthy of obeying Him. We are made worthy of going and making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them obey all that He has commanded us. We are made worthy of letting our lights shine before men, so that they would glorify our Father in heaven. We are now worthy of untying the strap of His sandal. And the more you get to know who God is, the more you see that being His servant truly is an undeserved grace.