Imagine life as a relay race. John the Baptist was the person who ran the leg before Jesus, and handed the proverbial baton on to him.
John took the well established Jewish ritual of baptism and reimagined it. In traditional Judaism, baptism is a routine purification ritual that is required before a ritually unclean person can return to society and worship. John re-presented baptism as a public expression of turning back to God, with a commitment to live a caring, honest and generous life. John's ultra-simple version of Judaism was hugely popular.
Jesus saw this and decided it was time he moved from his obscure life in Nazareth. By being baptised by John, Jesus endorsed John’s teaching. He taught alongside John for a while, taking on some of John’s disciples. Then, when John was put in prison, Jesus picked up the baton and proclaimed a very similar message.
Jesus made some changes to John’s message. His teaching was even more simple. He dropped the baptism ritual completely, and carefully avoided any teaching that might be interpreted as religious law.
Three years later, Jesus handed the baton over to his disciples. It was their turn. Interestingly, they reintroduced the baptism ritual, merging Jesus’ teaching with John's.
As Christians, we all take a turn with this proverbial baton. For some of us, it is time to take the baton over and run our leg of the race. For others it is time to hand it over to the next generation. As Jesus did things differently from John, and Jesus’ disciples did things differently from him, God leaves it to us to decide how we will run our leg.