Sunday, April 22, 2012
Good morning! It is my pleasure again to proclaim the Word of God to you from the Gospel of John. In our previous times together, we have looked at the prologue to John’s gospel which introduced Jesus. The author, John the apostle, also mentioned another character, a witness also named John, known better to us as John the Baptist. In today’s passage, the apostle John will tell us more about John the Baptist and his testimony to us about Jesus.
I mentioned that we looked at the prologue. A prologue in a kind of introduction. In the prologue John introduced us to Jesus. But, he calls him “the Word of God” through most of the prologue. It is interesting that John does not call him “the Word” again after the prologue. Let’s have a short review of the prologue.
John begins by calling Jesus, the Word of God. And we noted that one’s word is one’s self-expression. So, Jesus is God’s message about himself to us. We learned that the Word is eternal, is intimate with God the Father, and is indeed God. We also learn that the Word created all things, is the Light of the World, and was rejected by his own people. But, we also learn that there are people who receive him, and that those who do receive him are given the right to become Children of God. We learn that this eternal Word of God who is intimate with God, became human, part of creation.
And now, before we look at today’s verses, let’s recall what we have already learned about John the Baptist. In verses 6-8 we learn:
“There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” John 1:6-8, NAS95.
We also learn:
“John *testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’”” John 1:15, NAS95.
Let’s keep those in mind as we look at today’s section.
1.19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
We have already seen that John the Baptist came to testify to the Word of God, to Jesus. Now we will learn more of the details of John’s testimony. The context for this testimony is when a delegation from the religious leaders of Jews come to learn about him. John the Baptist received attention because of his baptisms and his message.
Why would his baptisms bring attention? Baptism was not an unusual thing. It symbolized washing away sin and impurity and was often done by Gentiles, gaijin, to show their repentance from the Gentile ways and their identity with the Jews. But, for some reason, the baptism that John the Baptism was doing drew attention from the Jewish leaders. First, baptisms were not usually done by devout Jews. But many Jews were going to John the Baptism for baptism. Secondly, baptisms were done by the person being baptized. You would go into the water yourself, and go under the water. It was unusual for people to go to someone else to be baptized. But, people were coming to John, which makes John the Baptist look very important. That’s why the Jewish leaders sent this delegation to talk with John the Baptist. They want to know who he is.
1.20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
So, when the delegation from the leaders asks who he is, he answers in the negative, “I am not the Christ.” It seems like such a strange answer to the question. If someone asked you who you are, would you answer, “I am not the Prime Minister of Japan”? But, there was an expectation that the Christ, the one chosen by God to restore the kingdom to Israel might come soon. So, when so many people are going to John the Baptist to be baptized, the leaders wonder if he claims to be the Christ, the Messiah.
It is strange that John the apostle tells us twice in the same sentence that John the Baptist confessed to a negative truth, that he was not the Christ. But, remember, John the Baptist was sent to testify. And here, the rulers are wondering if he might be the Christ. So, he denies it as strongly as he can.
1.21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”
In addition to the Messiah, the Jews expected the coming of two other important people. The first was Elijah. This is because of the prophesy in Malachi in the Old Testament that Elijah would come near the end.
“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.” Malachi 4:5
John denies this. Although John the Baptist did not see himself as Elijah, Jesus tells us in the other gospels that John’s coming is the fulfillment of that prophesy.
“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” Matthew 11:14
Probably, John the Baptist did not fully understand the full significance of his role. Another prophesy that the Jews were waiting for was a prophet who would be like Moses. Moses had written about this prophet in Deuteronomy.
‘I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” Deuteronomy 18:18
But, again, John the Baptist denies being the Messiah, Elijah or the prophet like Moses.
1.22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
The delegation is not impatient. John doesn’t confess to be the people the Jews were waiting for and the delegation has been giving the task of finding out who he is. So, they ask him to testify about himself.
1.23 He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
Although John the Baptist did not recognize about himself that he came to fulfill the role of Elijah, he recognizes that he has come to call the Jews to repentance as Isaiah had done in the Old Testament.
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5
1.24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.
The commentators have shown that this translation is not likely to be accurate, since we saw earlier that they had been sent from the priests and Levites, and since the Pharisees did not have the authority to send such a delegation. However, it is quite possible that the delegation included Pharisees who asked the questions.
1.25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
So, since John the Baptist has denied being the Messiah, Elijah or the prophet, the Pharisees want to know what authority John has to do what he’s doing.
1.26-27 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
John the Baptist stays true to his role as a witness and points to Jesus. Notice that he emphasizes that they do not know Jesus. Remember what we learned in the prologue?
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. John 1:10, 11
And then John the Baptist testifies to the greatness of Jesus by comparing himself with a slave in comparison. In that culture only the lowest of the slaves had the role of untying sandals. But, John says he is not even worthy of such a job. This must have shocked the delegation. They were here to interview a great man. And, indeed, John was a great man. Jesus tells us so. But, in light of Jesus, John saw himself as being lower than the lowest slave.
How do we see Jesus? Is he someone we look to to fix our problems or give us the things we want? Or do we see ourselves truly blessed just to be counted his servants and serve in his presence. We would do well to take John’s attitude.
1.29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
After testifying about Jesus in absence (Jesus was not there), John the Baptist now points to Jesus as the one he was testifying about. He also adds information by calling Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We hear this as Christians and we understand what John is talking about. However, we have to remember that no one at the time was expecting the Messiah to be a sacrifice for sins, not even John. He recognized that Jesus is the Lamb of God in a apocalyptic sense. But, as Caiaphas the High Priest will later testify about what he didn’t understand, here too John testifies better than he knew.
John the Apostle tells us many times in his gospel that the disciples did not understand what was happening at the time, but later understood the significance after the Resurrection of Jesus.
1.30 “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’
Here John the Baptists refers back to his previous claim and now shows his own disciples that Jesus is the one he was talking about.
1.31-33 “I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. “I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’
Even though John the Baptist knew that he had been sent to prepare the way for the Lord, and even though we know from the other gospels that John’s mother, Elizabeth, knew that Jesus was the promised Savior, John only had confidence to know that Jesus is the Lord after he witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit in a physical form.
Again and again throughout this book, we are reminded that this is an account from eyewitnesses. We can believe this message because the eyewitnesses testimony rings true. As we have been reminded each week, John the gospel-writer tells us his purpose in choosing which acts of Jesus to write down.
“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:30, 31, NAS95.
In these verses we also see more clearly why John the Baptist was lesser than the one who follows him. John baptizes with water. This represents the cleansing from sin. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, which actually cleanses from sin. And, John gives witness to this.
1.34 “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Here is the full testimony of John the Baptist. Some of those who heard this testimony were his own disciples who, after hearing his testimony, stop following him and start following Jesus.