John the Baptist played hard to get. He hung out in the desert, wearing rough clothing and eating strange food. Under a Nazirite vow from birth, he was characterized by self-discipline and the commitment to abstain from all forms of self-indulgence.
Large crowds came to hear him. But to do so, they had to make a difficult journey into the wilderness. That alone separated the window-shoppers from the serious seekers.
He also had a major thin-the-herd message. In essence, John told the people who showed up that they were going to hell. He told them that if they didn’t repent and get baptized for their sins, they were doomed and would suffer the judgment of God. Even more astounding, John told the religious leaders the very same thing. Maybe that’s why they disliked him.
But Jesus’ ministry was radically different.
While Jesus often said hard things and drew lines in the sand, He didn’t hide out in the wilderness. He went toward people. He made it easy for them to hear Him. He did things designed to draw large crowds. He even healed people before they made a commitment to follow Him. He went to their weddings, attended dinner parties, and inter-acted with the local riff-raff from the community. He even allowed women with questionable reputations to physically touch Him in public. His entire life and ministry was so popular that the religious elite wrote Him off as profane. They falsely accused Him of being a glutton and drunkard.
Even John the Baptist began to have second thoughts. Jesus’ ministry was so different from what a radical thin-the-herd preacher like John expected that it caused him to wonder if perhaps he’d gotten it all wrong.
Many people today seem to wonder the same thing. When presented with a Jesus-style ministry that attracts crowds of people, then teaches them the Word of God in a manner that leaves them wanting for more, they write it off as a compromised ministry or a watered-down gospel.
Jesus didn't come to recruit "special ops" Christians. His goal was to expand the Kingdom, to bring salvation to people who were previously excluded. He came to seek and find the lost, including large groups of people no one else wanted to invite to the party. Everything about Jesus’ ministry was designed to make salvation more accessible.
Of course, not everyone appreciated Jesus’ making things so accessible. The religious elite of His day had spent centuries erecting a complicated spiritual obstacle course. Their extra-biblical rules, traditions, and strict intellectual requirements ensured that only people with the best pedigree, biggest brains, and greatest dedication would make it through. It’s no surprise that they didn’t take too kindly to Jesus’ offering everyone a shortcut.