I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11-12)Picture the scene: John the Baptist is standing knee-deep in the Jordan River. He's in the middle of a sermon. The size of the crowds is at an all time high. People from all over the country, even the Pharisees have come to hear him.
John's sermon on this occasion was especially directed towards these Pharisees, but still applicable to everyone present. See John now, perhaps stooping down, lifting up a cupped-hand full of water, and proclaiming, "I baptize you with water for repentance!"
From the beginning, John's ministry had been about repentance. It was his constant cry that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand, that all sin therefore must be abandoned.
John continued his message on this occasion, saying, "But He who is coming after me is mightier than I." The crowds, perhaps, perked up at this statement. John was talking about the Messiah, the one who would save all of Israel (the home country of most of the listeners) from oppression. John spoke further, saying that this coming King was someone "whose sandals I am not worthy to carry."
This statement might have been too much for some in the crowds. Doubtless, many of the Pharisees in the crowd must have thought that they would be the ones marching beside the Messiah. After all, they had earned it through their piety. The thought of being unworthy to even carry the Messiah's sandals was strange, perhaps offensive.
You see, the Pharisees read the Scriptures. They knew them inside and out, but many of them did not know the God who wrote them. They knew that God was holy, but that truth didn't affect their lives. Although they may have been able to define sin, they were convinced they were free from it.
Sadly, the thoughts among many people in the crowds would not have differed from the Pharisees. After all, the Pharisees were their teachers. The Pharisees were the blind guides, leading their nation into a pit (Matthew 15:14).
Thankfully, not all of Israel followed the Pharisees. There was a remnant of believers who, like John, knew their sin, who knew that they deserved nothing. Like John, they too would have confessed that holding the position of a sandal-carrier was too noble a rank.
Here's the amazing truth, though: the Messiah who came took the position of a sandal-carrier! Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve others, even going so far as to wash his disciple's feet! Let us praise our risen Saviour who, for His own pleasure, bore the blow of the axe meant for our own trunks, who saved us from the wrath we justly deserve!