by Tom Wacaster

The angel said of John the Baptist, “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15a). Throughout the centuries figures in history have been given the title of “Great.” Greece had Alexander the Great, Russia had Peter the Great, and for Germany, it was Frederick the Great. We could add dozens, if not hundreds of names to this list. But when I consider the “Greats” of this world, it tells me that men have a far different concept of greatness than does God. I think the late Billy Graham was much closer to the meaning of true greatness:

True greatness is not measured by the headlines a person commands or the wealth he or she accumulates. The inner character of a person-the undergirding moral and spiritual values and commitments-is the true measure of lasting greatness (

William Shakespeare is credited with having said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I am probably writing to an audience that realizes that greatness is not found in those things that are “of this world,” but rather it is to be found in one’s relationship to and usefulness by God. John was of that makeup. James Hastings hit the nail on the head with these words:

More profitable would it be to determine wherein true greatness consists, for then it would be found that much that is called great is little, and that the lowliest path leads to the summit. Vain are the strivings, vain the jealousies and emulations of those who press and struggle for the highest places, for the Divine path to greatness lies in quite an opposite direction (Hastings, 27).

John captured the essence of greatness throughout his entire life. When the time came for him to herald the coming Messiah there were those of small minds and arrogant expectations who asked John, “Art thou the prophet?” (John 1:21), to which John plainly said, “No!” John’s light would shine bright, but his radiance was only the dim moonlight that would introduce men to the Day Star from on high. When he could have stepped forward and claimed the limelight, he instead confessed regarding the Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

It seems to me that the genuinely great man is the one who is completely unaware of his own greatness. He never seeks the spotlight, but rather is embarrassed when it so much as casts a flicker in his direction. Show me a great man (a truly great man) and I will show you someone who ignores his own achievements and marches onward to the reward that awaits him. John was just such a man. No wonder the angel said of John the Baptist, even while John was still in the womb of his loving mother, “For he shall be great!”

It would be impossible to exaggerate the influence of those genuinely great men who have marched across the landscape of time and left their footprints in the sands of human history. Included in that list would be men like Abraham, David, Noah, and Moses. It would also include the multitude of men and women whose names are not known, and whose influence has not made a ripple in the ocean of human affairs when considered among the earthly “greats” of this world. I would include those unsung heroes in India who preach in the villages and cities that are crowded with lost souls. In that list of great men and women would be those restoration pioneers who blazed the trail from one end of our country to the other, in times of difficulty, discomfort, and danger, to take the Gospel to those souls on the ‘Western Frontier’ and to expand the boarders of the kingdom so that the truth of God’s word could go forth in its purity and simplicity. These are what someone called “the beacon lights of the race, set there for the inspiration and guidance of mankind.”

It would be easy to get lost in the shuffle, and if not lost at least feel that we have not made an impact in life; that we somehow missed being truly great. Just remember this. John was called “great” by God; and this is all that mattered.

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