Some of the most exciting moments of the Olympics are the relay races. During the relay races the spotlight is taken away from the individual talents and achievements of the athletes and it is focused on the aspect of teamwork and team achievement. In a relay race the athletes must demonstrate a reliance upon each member of the team to finish their part of the race and to successfully pass the baton to the next person on the team. The athletes in a relay cannot accomplish their purpose through individual efforts but must depend on each athlete to do their very best in finishing their leg of the race. Their part in the race is not finished until they successfully hand on the baton to the next person. No one person can run the race by themselves but it must be a team effort. When successful in winning the race, all members of the team will share equally in the glory. If any of the athletes decided to keep the baton for themselves and not pass it on to the next person, then the efforts of the team would be a failure and the race would be lost.
John the Baptist had a role to play in God’s plan of salvation. He was a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. His baptism of water was a preparation for something greater and more glorious to come. The baptism that John offered the people that came to him was a baptism of repentance. He was not the one who would take away the sins of the world, but he was the one who would make people aware of the sin in their lives and call them to a new way of life that was to come. John gave his entire life to preparing the way for Jesus. As the last of the great prophets of Israel, John would give his voice to being the final prophetic witness to announce the coming of the Lord. John carried the baton of prophetic witness for all of the prophets of Israel. Every prophet that came before John was preparing the way for him to accomplish his purpose of proclaiming the time of fulfillment. The words that John proclaimed as a prophet were not just pointing to some distant future when the Lord would come to his people to set them free from sin, but rather, they were the words that would announce the present realization of the Lord’s coming. John would pass on the baton for the last time to the one who would finish the race and win the prize for all of humanity. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John passes the baton on to Jesus to finish the race and win the prize of salvation.
John knows that Jesus is the one who was chosen to finish the race begun so long ago and foretold by the prophets. The best athlete always runs the final leg of the race and John knows that Jesus is one who is greater than him. “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John knows that he is merely the voice that prepares the way for the Word to be spoken. Jesus is the Word that existed before time and through whom all things have been created. John has to give way to the ministry of Jesus. His work is finished and he must pass on the baton to Jesus who will baptize the people in the Holy Spirit. John brought water to wash people clean but Jesus will bring fire to fully purify the people who receive him and to set fire to their hearts. John the Baptist tells his disciples, “He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3,30) John gives his final witness to Jesus through the Holy Spirit. John has seen that Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit of God on the day that he baptized him. “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize withe the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” These are some of the final words of John as the voice will soon go quiet so that the Word of God can be heard and obeyed.
Jesus finished the race and won for us our salvation. He has now passed on to us the call to continue to make him known to all the earth. He must increase in our lives and our own selfish ego must decrease. We must take up the baton of the Word and continue to live it and spread it to all the world. It is now our turn to testify truly that Jesus is the Son of God and show that his Spirit now dwells in our hearts.