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Testimony of John
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to the Gospel of John, chapter 1, and follow along as I read verses 19-27. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?
20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.
22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?
23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not;
27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
In the 1967 Movie, Cool Hand Luke, there is a sentence that has become more famous than the movie. The Captain of Road Prison 36, played by Strother Martin. says to Luke who persistently tries to escape. “What we've got here is failure to communicate.” The captain is not the only one who utters the words. Later in the movie, the main character, Luke (played by Paul Newman), still cocky despite being cornered by prison guards, openly mocks the Captain with the famous line. Luke was the ultimate nonconformist who was never going to surrender, thus in the captain’s way of thinking the two of them could never “communicate.”
There are other famous failures to communicate. Here are some quotes by sports celebrities [from http://www.mistupid.com/people/sports.htm]. Former New Orleans Saint RB George Rogers when asked about the upcoming season..."I want to rush for 1,000 or 1,500 yards, whichever comes first." "Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein." (Football commentator and former player Joe Theismann 1996.). "I'm going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes." (Senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh)."You guys line up alphabetically by height."(Bill Peterson, former Florida State football coach. )"You guys pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle." (Bill Peterson, former Florida State football coach)
Well, perhaps that is not quite what they meant to say—which leads us to the real question of this sermon: how do you communicate the gospel?
The gifted English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was telling a group of young pastors that their facial expressions should be in harmony with the subject they were focusing on. “When you speak of heaven,” he said, “let your face light up and be irradiated with a heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell…well, then your everyday face will do.”
We are communicators of something, for better or for worse. We communicate simply by the way we live. One of the best known movies of all time is “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. The pivotal moment in the movie is George Bailey standing on a bridge, contemplating suicide. But instead, Bailey leaps into the water to save someone else, a ’man’ who turns out to be his guardian angel, Clarence. It is a defining moment of greatness. Just as George is in his moment of greatest despair, he risks his life to save someone he does not even know.
George Bailey is an admirable man. He always does what is right, often sacrificing his own dreams for the good of his family, friends and community. and, up until that moment on the bridge, he does so with little complaining. This is what makes his ethical battle on the bridge so compelling. As George hits rock bottom, he discovers that his life has truly made a difference to his friends and to the town as a whole.
What is true of George Bailey is also true of us. We impact people everyday. As Christians, we communicate Jesus to others.
That is what John the Baptist did. Scholars designate John 1:19-12:50 as the "Book of Signs." While this section of the gospel contains in it all references to the acts and wonders Jesus performed during his ministry, the first "sign" in this "book" is the testimony of John the Baptist. There was a period during which Jesus and John preached and baptized at the same time (see John 3:22-30; 10:40-42), but in all he does and in all he says, the Baptist always witnesses to Jesus as messiah.
In verse 19, John the Baptist is confronted by messengers sent by "the Jews"—which raises a question for us. Was not John the Baptist a Jew? Was not Jesus a Jew? Was not the author of this gospel a Jew? So why is this group referred to as “the Jews” when they were all Jews? This is something we see often in the gospel of John. John is writing after the Christianity has been around for a while. He thus refers to those Jews who do not accept Christ as “the Jews.”
The first question put to John is a fishing expedition. They ask, Who are you? It seems that they want to trap him inot some sort of politically incorrect admission. But John knows what they are really asking, so he replies in verse 20, "I am not the Messiah."
The emissaries are not easily put off. They follow up with another question, as though they are seeking to narrow down the field of possible identities John may care to claim. They ask if he is Elijah. Their inquiry is rooted in the writing of Malachi 4:5, which declares the prophet Elijah will appear at the end of time to prepare the world for the imminent arrival of the Messiah. John also denies this identity.
Still, the envoys try one more tack to uncover the Baptist's real identity. They ask "Are you the prophet?" (v. 21). A third time, John rejects the label these priests and Levites would put on him. We should note that in the first century, the term “the prophet” was understood as a Jewish eschatological figure who would announce the Messiah's arrival. Somewhat surprisingly, however, John the Baptist rejects this title as well.
Frustrated, the questioners demand that the Baptist tell them his real identity. John unhesitatingly quotes from Isaiah 40:3, choosing for himself the role of a "voice in the wilderness."
Evidently the priests and Levites are not impressed by this identity of John. John’s baptizing activity remained a mystery to them. There is some scholarly discussion that John the Baptist may have come out of the Essene community at Qumran. The Essenes used ritual baptisms promote spiritual purity. That may be so, but that is not the point of our test. In the text, John downplays his baptizing activity by contrasting it with the arrival of "one whom you do not know" (v. 26). John equated his own status before this one to come as that of a slave--even less than a slave. It was one of the slave's duties to untie his master's sandals. But John the Baptist modestly denied that he was fit even to perform this duty.
Let us apply this scripture to ourselves. People have expectations of Christians. When we talk about Jesus, they are going to say, well, what kind of person are you?
This is what John the Baptist faced. Delegates from Jerusalem were sent to see what kind of person he was. John came from a good priestly family that became the talk of the town when Elizabeth became pregnant at an advanced age. When he became an adult, John took the Nazirite vow, refraining from wine and strong drink. He retreated to the desert, clothed himself with a garment of camel’s hair and ate a diet of grasshoppers and wild honey
I have not thought about this before, but in our diet-crazy society, this may be a money-making idea for some enterprising Christian. I can see it now, a new best seller, the John the Baptist diet—roasted grasshoppers topped with honey. It probably would not be too bad once you got pass the legs.
John the Baptist was a maverick, a puzzle, who did not conform to the religious establishment, so they ask him the question: “Who do you think you are anyway?”
People are going to ask us that same question. They might put it this way: “You talk about how I ought to believe in Jesus. Who are you to tell me what I ought to believe?” The answer to that question is: I am just like you, that is who I am. I am a sinner just like you. I need the forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ, and so do you.
They asked John if he was Messiah, if he was Elijah, if he was the prophet. He said, No, no, no. John was not seeking recognition for John. He does not dwell on himself. He has another purpose that is on his heart and mind. He has come to testify about another.
Thus, John shows us our purpose. Our purpose is not fame and glory for me. We are not to dwell upon ourselves. In our upside down society, you can hire a communications expert who will work with you on communicating yourself, on projecting a positive self image. Politicians do this all the time. They hire people who tell them how to promote themselves.
That is not what Christians are about. My purpose is not to communicate me. My purpose is to communicate jesus.
For example, why should I live a good moral life? Not because God will look down from heaven and say “He is living a good life, he deserves to be saved.” It does not work that way. None of us live good enough life to deserve salvation. We are saved by the grace of God. Nor should I live a good moral life because people will look at me and say, “Oh, he is such a good person.” Who cares what people say. the reason to live a good moral life is to communicate Jesus, to show Christ to the world in my actions and words.
In our scripture today, John finally told the committee who he was. John knew who he was. He was the person God had chosen for a particular job. Do you know who you are? You are the person God has chosen for a particular Job.
Quoting from Isaiah 40, the Baptist says, “I am a voice.” The author of the gospel is making a neat little contrast here. He has told us in the beginning of the chapter that Jesus is the Word. Now he tells us that John is a voice. Jesus, the Word, is incarnate God, who transcends time and space. John is a voice at a certain moment of time for a particular purpose. The Word was from eternity. John came at a point in time. The Word was God. John was a human being. John was not the message. He was the communicator of the message.
But if you know anything about communications, you know that John did not have a minor job. In our desire to exalt Jesus, We want to be careful not to belittle John. Marshal McCluhan is famous for saying, “The medium is the message.” He was talking about television primarily, but what he said was that the means of communication effects the message. We cannot separate the message from the means by which it is delivered. We cannot separate John the Baptist from the gospel of Jesus Christ. John had a vital role in the proclamation of the gospel. And we cannot separate us from the proclamation of the gospel. We have a vital role in the proclamation of the gospel.
To some extent, our role is confrontational. We are to confront people with their need to change. John the Baptist called on people to repent and to change their way of life. He told them of their need to leave their sins behind and to live a new kind of life. He offered them baptism, so that the outside cleansing would be representative of an inside cleansing.
If we take John as our model, then we will probably think of our role as presenting the gospel in a harsh and insensitive way. That is what John did. I would point out to you, however, what happened to John. He had his head chopped off. This is not to say that John was wrong in anything he said. He spoke the truth, but he did it in such a confrontational way that he was almost bound to end as he did—sans head.
There is a less controversial way to present the gospel. It is not with a pointed finger that says that you are the sinner, you and you and you. Rather, it is to emphasize that we are all sinners. There are no fingers to be pointed. We are all the same. We all need the love and forgiveness we find in Christ.
I am not criticizing John. John did the task he was called to do. We need to do the task God has called us to do. It is the same task, to communicate Christ, but we are called to do it in a more gentle way. We do not have to be as confrontational as John, but we do have to speak the same truth as John. Everyone needs to repent. Everyone needs to turn to God. Everyone needs a Savior.
Let us go back a moment. I have said that in communicating Jesus that we are part of the communication. That is true, but John would emphasize that ours is a minor role. In verse 27, he refers to himself as the slave who takes off the master’s sandals when he comes into the house—it was the most menial of slave tasks—and then John testifies, “I am not even worthy to do that.”
An example may help further explain. Once when Arturo Toscanini was preparing his orchestra to play one of Beethoven's symphonies, he said, "Gentlemen, I am nothing; you are nothing; Beethoven is everything." Toscanini knew his main task was to sink himself, and his orchestra into Beethoven, and let the music of Beethoven flow through them to his audience [source unknown].
When it comes to religion, we, as believers, make the same pronouncement. We are nothing. Jesus is everything.
We see that same truth in the Lord’s Supper. Those of us who know that Jesus is everything are invited to share in the elements of the table. This Supper is not for children, it is not for unbelievers. This sacrament shows us what Christ means to us. This is his body broken for me. This is his blood shed for me. If you do not perceive that and believe that and know that, then this is not for you. I do not say that to be “confrontational.” I am simply saying that you should not partake unless you know what is going on here.
As believers, Jesus told us to come together for this fellowship and to do this in remembrance of Him. We take the bread to remind us that it was by the body of our Savior that our salvation came. We take the cup to remind us that it was by the blood of our Savior that our salvation came. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 11/12/04