The Testimony of John the Baptist
Tonight we are going to be in the Gospel of John. John is the fourth book in the New Testament, if you hear somebody say “The Gospels” then they are referring to the first four books in the New Testament and John is included in that. The book of John is a witness or testimony about who Jesus Christ is. John is commonly referred to the “beloved disciple”. This Gospel “or good news book” is slightly unique in that it does not give the account of the birth of Christ in the beginning. He starts off in very familiar wording with …”in the beginning” and he talks about of Christ was in the beginning with God. But now Christ has come to us in the flesh here on Earth. It is like he is trying to say that with Christ there is the beginning of a new era. So tonight we are going to start towards the beginning of the book and right before Jesus begins his ministry. I also think that it is important to understand why John wrote this book in the first place. When we understand why someone wrote something we can tend understand what we are supposed to get out of the text. We are lucky enough that towards the end of the book John actually gives us an explanation of why he wrote this book. He says, “John 20:31 (ESV) 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” So one thing that I try to do when I am reading in this book is to answer this question about the passage, how does this help my faith in Jesus Christ?” So as we go through the passage tonight I want you to keep this in mind. We need to keep asking ourselves, how does what I read point to Jesus Christ and help me know a little bit more about him.
At my house, which I am pretty sure it is like this at everybody’s house, but on the holidays when family is coming over it is game time. There is no room for messing around. We get out the china, vacuum the floor, move furniture and just in case our guests might happen to look underneath our couch and see that we have no vacuumed underneath there, we dust items that haven’t been dusted in months, we buy fish for the unused fish tank but we are always getting prepared for the special guests that are to come. We don’t really get this speech anymore but when we were little we always got the speech to be on our best behavior. Inevitably when all this preparation starts happening then tempers start flaring, frustration ensues and sometimes it just gets really tense. Then after the speech about our behavior we get the speech about what to wear. I always wanted to be a rebel in what I wore to family functions. I am really not the sweater type of guy; honestly I would rather just wear gym shorts and a hoodie for Christmas dinner (especially thanksgiving because the elastic waist gives way much better than a leather belt and jeans!) But my parents had a reason that they wanted me to be prepared, it is out of respect and to honor our guests. Tonight, as we look into the Gospel of John, we see another person named John who is preparing the way for somebody. This man is commonly referred to John the Baptist. As we listen to the passage we will notice that he may not be doing things in the normal way. The way that he is preparing the way is scaring some of the main religious leaders of the time. He is intruding on their space and preaching a slightly different message than they have been accustomed to. You will see though that John’s message is about preparing the way for someone much more significant than him.
A brief history of how John the Baptist got into this calling of “preparing the way for Jesus”. John the Baptist’s dad was a priest through the Aaronic line of priesthood, which means just by birth John would be a priest too. In the book of Luke, he tells us that both of his parents were righteous in God’s eyes. They were unable to have kids because Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, was barren and old. One day when Zechariah was in the temple doing his priestly duties an angel came to him and told him he would have a son. He basically told Zechariah what John’s life was going to consist of. It was going to consist refraining from any kind of drinking, that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit and most of all he would call Israel to repentance with the power of Elijah (this will be key later) and that he would make people ready for the Lord. So John the Baptist’s life was planned out even before he was born.
As I read this text I want you to think about three thoughts that I will talk about from this passage. First, John the Baptist’s life in everything that he did pointed to Christ. Second, the religious leaders that came to John were blinded by the truth of his message. Finally, we will discuss John’s call of repentance and what that means for our lives today.
We are going to see here that everything in John’s life pointed to Christ. Notice that John was making a big commotion among some of the Jewish leadership. You see the Jewish leaders preached strict adherence to the Old Testament laws. If you were Jewish in descendent, circumcised on the 8th day and kept the commandments (all of them, plus the ones they made up) then you were going to heaven. John was preaching something a little bit different, so much so that they had to know what was going on. If you remember, Zechariah was John’s father and he was a priest. Coming from a priestly family it is probably likely that the people coming to question him actually knew who he was. In English we see the words “who do you think you are?” But the tone that they are coming with is one that is like “what do you think you doing.” In other words, who gives you the right to preach and baptize here. As we read it says that “he confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, I am not the Christ!” From his reply it seems to be that they were coming with some assumptions that maybe this guy calling people to repentance is the coming Messiah. In the New Testament when the word “Christ” is used it means in Greek “the Anointed One”, which is from the Hebrew word for “Messiah” which is the person that will come to rule!
This is the first of many times where John takes the question off of himself and points to Christ. John’s whole life is characterized by this humility that it is not about him but everything is about Jesus. His life had the calling of preparing the way for Christ. We may not have the audible direct calling like John did for his life but all of our lives, if you’re a Christian, should be pointing people towards Christ. John had a specific job, to prepare the way but his lifestyle was always pointing people to Christ. Where does our life lead people too? Is it all about me or do I direct people to Christ or keep all the attention for myself? When people see my actions and everything I do does it point to Christ? If people ask me where your joy comes from do I point to Christ? What about when something terrible happens in my life but someone sees that you have an unusual hope and peace about the situation, do I point them to Christ? When that movie or TV show comes on that is erotically theme does my actions point them to Christ or do I go with the flow. I know for me that is not always true. John the Baptist’s life was all about pointing people to Christ in everything he did. What is your life pointing people to?
Now we are going to see that they are blinded to the truth. Since it seems that they were sent by their superiors they needed to come back with a solid answer so they tried a different tactic. They asked, “If you are not the Christ then are you Elijah?” Now for us today it may seem very odd that they go from assuming that he is the Christ to asking if he is Elijah. Some of you hear might not even recognize who Elijah is (or get him confused with Elisha!) Here is just a little background so you know who Elijah was:
1. He prophesied that there would be no rain or dew unless he said that there would be and after three years he prayed that the drought would end (and it did)
2. He was the prophet who to disclaim the gods of Baal poured water all over wood and prayed that God would bring down fire and it consumed everything!
3. Elijah was known for his call of repentance back to God
4. Elijah was simple in dress that he wore a “garment of hair”
5. Elijah did not die but was taken up in a whirlwind to heaven
That still does not answer the question of why these people were wondering if he was Elijah. The prophet Malachi predicts that Elijah would come back before the Messiah (Christ) came. In 4:5 it says “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of father to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” The Jewish tradition of that day understood it as Elijah literally coming back. John was preaching a similar message of repentance as Elijah and it is understood that they had a very similar unique way of dressing. After about 400 years of not hearing any prophets the Jewish people were getting restless and were asking the question when is the Messiah going to come? If John the Baptist was not the Christ they were now asking if he was Elijah and John the Baptist denies this also. Matthew and Mark both record Jesus saying that John the Baptist is Elijah (figuratively). John does not make this connection; his focus is completely on calling people to repentance and directing them to Christ. Getting restless they then ask if he is “The Prophet”. This is in reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18. This Prophet is in reference to the Messiah, which would be Jesus Christ. So in other words they are asking him again like they don’t believe him. They begin to get frustrated because they must have an answer to the people who sent them. If these people would have stopped and listened to his message they might have understood who he was. But instead they are so caught up because he is disturbing the tight religious circle they want an answer now. Their hearts are blinded to the message. The truth is right there for them, John is preaching repentance and they know the scriptures yet they are still blinded. Are we blind to the truth today? We have the truth right in front of us, we have God’s word in our hands. The religious leaders of John’s day were blind to the truth that was set before them. The bible addresses two basics groups of people who are blind to the truth. First, you have the religious leaders of John and Jesus’ day. This group of people are the ones that may go to Sunday School and Worship every Sunday, they can be the leaders of the church, they can be the weekly BSM goers, always at bible study, have all 66 books of the bible memorized and can quote verses from each of them yet they are blind to the truth. Jesus addresses this group with the harshest of sayings because they just didn’t get it. He calls them a “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27) which basically is saying that you are clean, beautiful and perfect on the outside but on the inside you are dead and rotting. Jesus in another parable about a poor beggar named Lazarus dies and goes to heaven and a rich man goes to hell and Jesus says that you have the Old Testament and not even a man rising from the dead can convince you (Luke 16:31) You see this group is the scariest, they know the truth but they have not let the truth take their heart and shape their thoughts and ways. The second group that is blind from the truth is the “unrighteous” or the “sinner” the one who you can look at and just by their actions know that they are not following Christ. Paul says this group is without excuse also in his letter to the Romans. Romans 1:19-21 (ESV)  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Are you “blind” have you asked Christ to rid your blindness because Christ is the only one that can rid your blindness
Instead of trying to guess who he is they finally just ask, “alright, then who are you really if you are not Christ, Elijah or the Prophet. His reply is a humble answer that is veering him farther away from them thinking that he is Christ but quotes Isaiah saying that he is the one who is preparing the path. Have you ever had to clear and prepare a path? It is usually not pretty if your in the woods then there is probably going to be sticks, branches and thorns in the way. Sometimes you just have to be forceful and just cut down huge obstacles that get in the way. This is what John is doing, a harsh forceful preparation and clearing a path. But how is he clearing a path? Luke says in his Gospel that John the Baptist is proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins! Repentance here is not a call to just change our attitude and actions even though in the end it ultimately will if there is true repentance. The people had gotten so caught up in trying to do the right sacrifices, the right prayers, the right daily actions that they forgot that God’s first and foremost commandment is “love the Lord your God.” He is calling for an action that turns from self to God! He is clearing this path and proclaiming the Gospel because he knows that Christ is coming and he wants the people’s hearts to be ready! He wants them to know that it is Christ you should be focused on. Do we understand this call of repentance? How many times do we just try to fix our actions instead of turning to Christ and allowing him to do the work? How many times do we try to make obedience our repentance? Our obedience should flow from our repentance. Because when we truly repent and we truly understand the Gospel then obedience to Christ will flow from that! If you try to fix yourself before turning to Christ then that is not repentance! Come to Christ with a broken heart knowing that you can’t do it on your own.
The answer must have been satisfactory for them because now they come at him with another question. So we know from the Gospels that John is preaching a baptism of repentance. These people that have come questioning John had to of known this. But they still ask why are you baptizing? The importance of the question will become clearer when we understand the Jewish tradition of this day. When a non-Jew, an outsider, an unclean person was converting to Judaism they were baptized to cleanse them. It was a sign that they were dirty and needed to be made clean in order to join the Jewish religion. So baptism in this day was generally meant for non-Jews who were considered dirty, unclean outsiders. But John was preaching a message of repentance to all people, which would include the Gentiles (unclean) and the Jews (considered clean). So in other words he is stating that all people must repent and turn to the Lord. He is saying that just because you are considered a Jew and follow all the moral laws, the sacrificial laws and the tithing laws does not make you right with God. You can be born into a Jewish heritage but that just means that you were lucky enough to be born into God’s chosen people but without loving the Lord your God it means nothing. So this baptism of repentance was a wakeup call for these people! I think sometimes we need a wakeup call for us! Going to BSM, going to church, going to bible study, praying, reading my bible, having Christian parents and friends, listening to Christian music does not mean that your total heart soul and mind is devoted to the Lord. All these things can be the activities of someone who is right with God but if the disposition of your heart is that you are doing these things out of duty, “obedience”, or doing it because “everybody else is” then you are not living by the Gospel. Because the Gospel is that it is by God’s grace that you are made right in his eyes. It is by nothing that we do that makes us right before him. I plead with you; if you’re a Christian examine your life. Do you do the “Christian” things because you love Christ? Or do you do these things to love Christ. It is all about your heart and your attitude. You see the repentance that John is proclaiming is a repentance to turn everything over to Christ. When you do that and you don’t try to attach strings and work to repent then your life will be motivated by a love for Christ. Your actions will be a result of your love and devotion to him. John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance, a true repentance, a repentance that means you turn away from self and turn to your creator and Savior.
Maybe you’re here and realized that you have never repented and turn your life over to the Lord. Perhaps you may be considered yourself a Christian because you now have friends who call themselves Christian or you came to this Christian BSM service or you grew up a “Baptist” or “Methodist” or “Lutheran”. And you realize now that that doesn’t make you a Christian. Because a true Christian is one who has turned everything over to Christ. Listen to John’s message of repentance. Jesus Christ came and lived a perfect life, one that we could never live, he was without sin. He was murdered on a cross and when he has hung on that cross he took all of our sins onto himself. When he did this he imputed his righteousness (or his perfection and holiness) onto us if we are to repent and turn towards him. There is a great magnitude to this. Because he is a perfect God and there is no amount of good things that we can do to reach this level of right standing with God. He knows this! This is why he offers the good news of grace! He says I offer this salvation to you for free all you have to do is turn to me and believe. If you try to be good and moral and turn to him then you don’t understand John’s message. Come to Christ with a dirty sinful heart and offer it to him because you can’t clean yourself up. Understand that his death on the cross allows us to be right with God but we must repent from ourselves and turn to him.
It is my hope after hearing this message that if we examine our lives and see where we are not pointing to Christ in our actions and words. Examine yourself, are you blinded to the truth. Remember you can be blind while being religious; this is the most dangerous group to be in because our self-righteousness is a powerful vice. Finally, have you truly repented and do you live your life as a life of repentance? Our repentance is turning from self and following our creator and savior, Jesus Christ.