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; (CEB)

John 1:6–8 CEB
A man named John was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
John 1:19–28 CEB
This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?” John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” John said, “I’m not.” “Are you the prophet?” John answered, “No.” They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied, I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, Make the Lord’s path straight, just as the prophet Isaiah said.” Those sent by the Pharisees asked, “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.
6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. 8 He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. 8 He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. 8 He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
19 This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”
19 This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”
20 John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.”
20 John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
John said, “I’m not.”
John said, “I’m not.”
“Are you the prophet?”
“Are you the prophet?”
John answered, “No.”
John answered, “No.”
22 They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
22 They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied,
23 John replied,
I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord’s path straight,
Make the Lord’s path straight,
just as the prophet Isaiah said.”
just as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 Those sent by the Pharisees 25 asked, “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
24 Those sent by the Pharisees 25 asked, “Why do you baptize if you aren’t the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
26 John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. 27 He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” 28 This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.
26 John answered, “I baptize with water. Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize. 27 He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.” 28 This encounter took place across the Jordan in Bethany where John was baptizing.
My dad used to tell me that the day I turned 30 my body would rebel against me.

My dad used to tell me that the day I turned 30 my body would rebel against me.

I didn’t believe him…
I didn’t believe him…
Didn’t think it could be true…
Didn’t think it could be true…
Even at 29 ½ I felt great!
Even at 29 ½ I felt great!
But not too long after my 30th birthday I woke up in the morning and felt pain in my back.
But not too long after my 30th birthday I woke up in the morning and felt pain in my back.
I got up and felt pain in my knees…
I got up and felt pain in my knees…
I let out a groan – (groan)
I let out a groan – (groan)
And realized… I’ve heard that sound somewhere…
And realized… I’ve heard that sound somewhere…
And it hit me…
And it hit me…
That’s the sound my father makes.
That’s the sound my father makes.
That was the sound a person makes when their body is rebelling against them.
That was the sound a person makes when their body is rebelling against them.
And I started noticing that my metabolism wasn’t what it used to be…
And I started noticing that my metabolism wasn’t what it used to be…
And I started having to make decisions about what I ate…
And I started having to make decisions about what I ate…
Which was brand new for me…
Which was brand new for me…
I was in the habit of eating breakfast… then a mid-morning snack… lunch… afternoon snack… dinner… and sometime before I went to bed, a late-night snack…
I was in the habit of eating breakfast… then a mid-morning snack… lunch… afternoon snack… dinner… and sometime before I went to bed, a late-night snack…
My favorite, by the way…
My favorite, by the way…
I saved ice-cream for the late night snack…
I saved ice-cream for the late night snack…
But after that 30th birthday, I started realizing that I was facing a new day…
But after that 30th birthday, I started realizing that I was facing a new day…
I could either snack all day,
I could either snack all day,
Or I could be healthy…
Or I could be healthy…
I could indulge myself all day –
I could indulge myself all day –
Or I would have to learn to deny myself…
Or I would have to learn to deny myself…
I’ll confess to you – I’m not good at denying myself.
I’ll confess to you – I’m not good at denying myself.
As it turns out, I really like ice-cream.
As it turns out, I really like ice-cream.
And, as it turns out, self-denial isn’t always fun.
And, as it turns out, self-denial isn’t always fun.
It also isn’t the way we’re taught to behave.
It also isn’t the way we’re taught to behave.
If everyone was good at self-denial – capitalism might endure a bit of hardship…
If everyone was good at self-denial – capitalism might endure a bit of hardship…
But in our capitalist economy, we’re taught to self-indulge.
But in our capitalist economy, we’re taught to self-indulge.
We’re taught that we deserve it.
We’re taught that we deserve it.
McDonalds thinks we deserve to “Have a Break Today.”
McDonalds thinks we deserve to “Have a Break Today.”
Burger King tells us to “have it your way.”
Burger King tells us to “have it your way.”
Alcohol ads tell us we deserve a drink.
Alcohol ads tell us we deserve a drink.
Electronics ads tell us we’ve worked hard - we deserve the latest gadget.
Electronics ads tell us we’ve worked hard - we deserve the latest gadget.
Nike wants us to “just do it.”
Nike wants us to “just do it.”
Need a moment? Chew it over with a Twix…
Need a moment? Chew it over with a Twix…
Need a break? Break me off a piece of that - ?? – KitKat bar.
Need a break? Break me off a piece of that - ?? – KitKat bar.
Whatever situation we’re in, we can indulge our impulses with some product.
Whatever situation we’re in, we can indulge our impulses with some product.
We can fill the void with some kind of food or gadget or clothing or service.
We can fill the void with some kind of food or gadget or clothing or service.
We can do it in twelve easy payments,
We can do it in twelve easy payments,
Or 6 months of no interest with a new credit card.
Or 6 months of no interest with a new credit card.
Why would we ever say no to ourselves?
Why would we ever say no to ourselves?
Why would we ever deny ourselves?
Why would we ever deny ourselves?
And yet we see John the Baptist – who has the perfect opportunity for self-promotion and indulgence – very clearly denying himself.
And yet we see John the Baptist – who has the perfect opportunity for self-promotion and indulgence – very clearly denying himself.
In the who’s-who of the Jerusalem, John doesn’t amount to much.
In the who’s-who of the Jerusalem, John doesn’t amount to much.
He has a small following at this point,
He has a small following at this point,
His name seems to be getting out there a bit…
His name seems to be getting out there a bit…
And for anyone interested in making a name for themselves – this is the chance to do it.
And for anyone interested in making a name for themselves – this is the chance to do it.
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem have just sent people to him to get answers.
The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem have just sent people to him to get answers.
Who are you?
Who are you?
What are you up to?
What are you up to?
Who do you claim to be?
Who do you claim to be?
If you have an agenda – a political or religious campaign to announce – this is the opportunity to do it.
If you have an agenda – a political or religious campaign to announce – this is the opportunity to do it.
You have an audience,
You have an audience,
You have piqued the interest of powerful people,
You have piqued the interest of powerful people,
John was influential enough to call people to baptism…
John was influential enough to call people to baptism…
But when the Priests and Levites ask who John the Baptist is…
But when the Priests and Levites ask who John the Baptist is…
He doesn’t even say his name.
He doesn’t even say his name.
In fact – he doesn’t claim to be anything at all, at first…
In fact – he doesn’t claim to be anything at all, at first…
Instead, he says “I am not.”
Instead, he says “I am not.”
They ask “Who are you?”
They ask “Who are you?”
And he says “I am not the Christ.”
And he says “I am not the Christ.”
“Are you Elijah?” “No”
“Are you Elijah?” “No”
“The prophet?” – they’re asking if he’s like Moses. He says “No.”
“The prophet?” – they’re asking if he’s like Moses. He says “No.”
Then who are you?
Then who are you?
And he finally says “I am a voice…”
And he finally says “I am a voice…”
John spends more time telling us what he isn’t than what he is – and when he finally tells us what he is, he doesn’t say “I am John the Great!” “I am one sent by God!”
John spends more time telling us what he isn’t than what he is – and when he finally tells us what he is, he doesn’t say “I am John the Great!” “I am one sent by God!”
He says “I am a voice.”
He says “I am a voice.”
He doesn’t even say “the voice…”
He doesn’t even say “the voice…”
He’s referring to – “a voice.”
He’s referring to – “a voice.”
John is a bit of a paradox.
John is a bit of a paradox.
He is one who has been sent by God for a great purpose,
He is one who has been sent by God for a great purpose,
And yet he is one who counts himself among the least.
And yet he is one who counts himself among the least.
He is leading crowds of people to repentance and baptism,
He is leading crowds of people to repentance and baptism,
And yet he sees himself as little more than a voice.
And yet he sees himself as little more than a voice.
He boldly proclaims the truth of the gospel,
He boldly proclaims the truth of the gospel,
Yet models great humility.
Yet models great humility.
His role fulfills prophesy,
His role fulfills prophesy,
And he knows it,
And he knows it,
And he recognizes that it makes him small – not great,
And he recognizes that it makes him small – not great,
Because he is preparing the way for the one who is great.
Because he is preparing the way for the one who is great.
So when important Jewish leaders come to him and ask “who are you?”
So when important Jewish leaders come to him and ask “who are you?”
He says “it isn’t about me.”
He says “it isn’t about me.”
It isn’t about John.
It isn’t about John.
It isn’t about power.
It isn’t about power.
It isn’t about greatness.
It isn’t about greatness.
It isn’t about gathering up a following.
It isn’t about gathering up a following.
It isn’t about making a name.
It isn’t about making a name.
All of these things are readily accessible to him.
All of these things are readily accessible to him.
If he wanted them, he could claim them now.
If he wanted them, he could claim them now.
He wouldn’t be the first to claim to be a prophet or the Messiah.
He wouldn’t be the first to claim to be a prophet or the Messiah.
But John knew his role.
But John knew his role.
And the responsibility assigned to him.
And the responsibility assigned to him.
“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make the Lord’s path straight.’”
“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make the Lord’s path straight.’”
Even today we see that people in the church mistake their role.
Even today we see that people in the church mistake their role.
Whether it’s the evangelist who keeps count of the hundreds of people who they have saved – failing to recognize that it is God who saves.
Whether it’s the evangelist who keeps count of the hundreds of people who they have saved – failing to recognize that it is God who saves.
Or the television preacher whose face gets plastered on everything…
Or the television preacher whose face gets plastered on everything…
Or even in the local church, whenever we remind ourselves that we’re good people, and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
Or even in the local church, whenever we remind ourselves that we’re good people, and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
It’s wonderful to see God at work,
It’s wonderful to see God at work,
And it is a privilege to be invited to be a part of what he is doing…
And it is a privilege to be invited to be a part of what he is doing…
But even your commitment, your spiritual growth, your journey into Christian maturity…
But even your commitment, your spiritual growth, your journey into Christian maturity…
It isn’t about you…
It isn’t about you…
It’s about Jesus.
It’s about Jesus.
It isn’t for your glory,
It isn’t for your glory,
It’s for God’s glory.
It’s for God’s glory.
And like John the Baptist will later say in ,
And like John the Baptist will later say in ,
“He must become greater, I must become less.”
“He must become greater, I must become less.”
We, like John the Baptist, have been entrusted with the good news of the Gospel.
We, like John the Baptist, have been entrusted with the good news of the Gospel.
We are a people who, upon entering into a saving relationship with Jesus, are called by God to bear witness to the light.
We are a people who, upon entering into a saving relationship with Jesus, are called by God to bear witness to the light.
And humility is an essential component of our witness.
And humility is an essential component of our witness.
Self-denial is an essential component to our witness.
Self-denial is an essential component to our witness.
Because we are not witnesses to our own greatness.
Because we are not witnesses to our own greatness.
We are witnesses to the gospel.
We are witnesses to the gospel.
“Let me tell you about Jesus.” “I am nothing… but he is everything.”
“Let me tell you about Jesus.” “I am nothing… but he is everything.”
But the gospel message that we bear has a tendency to get tangled up in all kinds of ways.
But the gospel message that we bear has a tendency to get tangled up in all kinds of ways.
We entangle the gospel with modern politics – claiming that our politics are the gospel way.
We entangle the gospel with modern politics – claiming that our politics are the gospel way.
We entangle the gospel with power. If the result is power, the good news can be manipulated to meet that end.
We entangle the gospel with power. If the result is power, the good news can be manipulated to meet that end.
We entangle the gospel with fame – so that our favorite self-proclaimed Christian celebrity doesn’t have to act like Jesus, but just wear the name “Christian” in order to gain our approval.
We entangle the gospel with fame – so that our favorite self-proclaimed Christian celebrity doesn’t have to act like Jesus, but just wear the name “Christian” in order to gain our approval.
We entangle the gospel with self-indulgence.
We entangle the gospel with self-indulgence.
If you do the math, you’ll discover that if A=B and B=C, A must therefore =C.
If you do the math, you’ll discover that if A=B and B=C, A must therefore =C.
If we want it, God must be providing it.
If we want it, God must be providing it.
If God is providing it, we should take it.
If God is providing it, we should take it.
And we end up with a religion that says “If you want it, take it.”
And we end up with a religion that says “If you want it, take it.”
That’s not the gospel…
That’s not the gospel…
But that’s what happens when the gospel is entangled with self-indulgence.
But that’s what happens when the gospel is entangled with self-indulgence.
And we allow God’s glory to be entangled with our own desire for glory…
And we allow God’s glory to be entangled with our own desire for glory…
So it isn’t that we are privileged to serve God…
So it isn’t that we are privileged to serve God…
It’s that we are great, and in our greatness we are helping God.
It’s that we are great, and in our greatness we are helping God.
That’s not the gospel…
That’s not the gospel…
That’s the gospel entangled with self-glorification.
That’s the gospel entangled with self-glorification.
And the answer to all of this –
And the answer to all of this –
The gospel response…
The gospel response…
Is found in the confession of John the Baptist.
Is found in the confession of John the Baptist.
I am not the Christ.
I am not the Christ.
I am not the Messiah.
I am not the Messiah.
I am not the Elijah.
I am not the Elijah.
I am not the Prophet.
I am not the Prophet.
I am not the one to bring salvation
I am not the one to bring salvation
I am not the one to heal the world.
I am not the one to heal the world.
I am no savior.
I am no savior.
I am a voice.
I am a voice.
That voice points to nothing and no one but Jesus.
That voice points to nothing and no one but Jesus.
It cries out in the wilderness…
It cries out in the wilderness…
Not just the desert – but from within a society which has deserted God….
Not just the desert – but from within a society which has deserted God….
And the voice says “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
And the voice says “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus,
We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus,
But there is so much value in being a voice!
But there is so much value in being a voice!
In fact, I’m convinced that we fail to be the hands and feet when we fail to use our voice.
In fact, I’m convinced that we fail to be the hands and feet when we fail to use our voice.
To be the voice that says “This is the way of the Lord!”
To be the voice that says “This is the way of the Lord!”
The voice that says “Repent! Turn from the brokenness in your life caused by sin! Turn from your sin! And know the Lord, Jesus Christ!”
The voice that says “Repent! Turn from the brokenness in your life caused by sin! Turn from your sin! And know the Lord, Jesus Christ!”
But to speak with that voice we have to take on the humility of one who is equipped with the most life-changing, creation-redeeming, powerful message that is the gospel.
But to speak with that voice we have to take on the humility of one who is equipped with the most life-changing, creation-redeeming, powerful message that is the gospel.
The most powerful words a person can speak.
The most powerful words a person can speak.
But who speaks that word not for their own glory – but that they may become less, so Christ becomes more.
But who speaks that word not for their own glory – but that they may become less, so Christ becomes more.
But do you know what often happens instead?
But do you know what often happens instead?
We trade the opportunity to glorify God for the pursuit of our own desires.
We trade the opportunity to glorify God for the pursuit of our own desires.
We shape our churches according out our expectations rather than God’s.
We shape our churches according out our expectations rather than God’s.
We expect to be served – to be indulged – rather than to be called to repent.
We expect to be served – to be indulged – rather than to be called to repent.
Rather than serving in churches,
Rather than serving in churches,
We build empires of our own glory –
We build empires of our own glory –
Whether it’s by chasing after something bigger and better,
Whether it’s by chasing after something bigger and better,
Or by insisting that our preferences – our way of doing church – must be met.
Or by insisting that our preferences – our way of doing church – must be met.
We focus on our problems.
We focus on our problems.
Our desires.
Our desires.
And when we focus on others – too often it isn’t a focus on how we might share the gospel.
And when we focus on others – too often it isn’t a focus on how we might share the gospel.
Instead, we focus on their sin.
Instead, we focus on their sin.
Our desires, their sin.
Our desires, their sin.
Because for us to become greater… they must become less.
Because for us to become greater… they must become less.
For us to have things our way… they must not have things their way.
For us to have things our way… they must not have things their way.
Can you imagine the power of a people who gather together for the purpose of becoming less, that Christ may become more?
Can you imagine the power of a people who gather together for the purpose of becoming less, that Christ may become more?
For our churches – that would mean that we gather so that Christ may be known.
For our churches – that would mean that we gather so that Christ may be known.
We would ask ourselves – “How can I join in the church’s mission to make Jesus known? To glorify him!
We would ask ourselves – “How can I join in the church’s mission to make Jesus known? To glorify him!
Do you know what happens when the church gathers in that way?
Do you know what happens when the church gathers in that way?
God’s glory fills our gatherings.
God’s glory fills our gatherings.
The Spirit’s presence is made known.
The Spirit’s presence is made known.
And the church ministers not according to its own power – but according to the power of Jesus.
And the church ministers not according to its own power – but according to the power of Jesus.
Because he has become greater, and we have become less.
Because he has become greater, and we have become less.
As we have been celebrating Advent, it has occurred to me that perhaps this season of longing is not just that Jesus would come to us – but that we would return to him.
As we have been celebrating Advent, it has occurred to me that perhaps this season of longing is not just that Jesus would come to us – but that we would return to him.
Maybe a part of our longing should be that we would be delivered from our self-imposed exile…
Maybe a part of our longing should be that we would be delivered from our self-imposed exile…
We are not captive to Babylon…
We are not captive to Babylon…
We are captive to our own sense of self-importance.
We are captive to our own sense of self-importance.
Maybe a part of our longing needs to be that we would become less, and Christ would become greater.
Maybe a part of our longing needs to be that we would become less, and Christ would become greater.
And maybe that starts with denying ourselves…
And maybe that starts with denying ourselves…
Humbling ourselves…
Humbling ourselves…
And exalting Christ.
And exalting Christ.
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