John 1.6 thru 8 and 19 thru 28 Make No Mistake, He’s Coming
Make No Mistake, He’s Coming!
Focus: Christ, the light of the world, is coming.
Function: That the hearers are assured that Christ is coming again just as Isaiah and John prophesied of His birth before, He has promised He will return again, therefore be joyful in His grace.
6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
19Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ." 21They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." 22Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' " 24Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" 26"I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." 28This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Our gospel text today from the book of John is about testimony. This is about the testimony of John the Baptist. This is not about the one who is the light but about the one who came to testify about the light! Wait now…did I get that right? Isn’t it, in fact, about the light and not about John the Baptist?
All of the gospels present John as the most important human being ever born. In Matt. 11 Jesus Himself says, “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” John the Baptist is put right in the middle of the prologue of the gospel of John the evangelist (I’ll try to keep these two Johns straight for you). But this is significant! It seems you can’t talk about Jesus without talking about John the Baptist, why is that? Well, he is the one that paves the way for Jesus, the messenger that prepares the way. The thing is, he is also always pointing his finger toward Christ in each of these gospel accounts.
It has been pointed out that Ancient Christian art depicts John with an overly large mouth and a hyper extended index finger…(point) pointing to the Lamb of God. A big mouth and a pointing finger… (pose) that was John. As children, most of us were taught that it was impolite to point. Do you remember the saying, (point) “When you point, most of your fingers are pointing at you.” Having a big mouth certainly wasn’t any better. But John was a witness-a mouth with a voice, a finger pointing to another, not at himself. The Ancient Christian artists had it right.
We have to remember though, that what John is doing is radical. He is calling the covenant people of God to come and be baptized. He is calling Israel out of Israel and back across the Jordan. They are to go back into the wilderness in a kind of a “reverse exodus” to be prepared for their salvation out in the desert again. They are going back over the Jordan, out of the Promised Land, into the wilderness, to be prepared for the promised Messiah. Just as they were prepared for the Promised Land out in the wilderness before so that they could cross the Jordan the first time. He is telling them to repent and be washed clean of their sin. This is fully offensive to the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees are like the pastors of that time and want to know who this guy is. They want to know if he is qualified or ordained and whether he is one of them (a member of the “clergy”). So, the first line of questioning comes from the Sadducees of the temple who want to know who John is. They have sent these “priests and Levites” to ask who this man is because this is not acceptable unless he is properly qualified. First the Baptizer makes a point of denying that he is the Christ. He really has an opportunity to claim to be the Messiah…but this is not who this man is!
Then they ask, is he Elijah? This is because, according to Malachi, Elijah was expected to appear before the Messiah and John even fit the part, clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt just as Elijah was. Actually, John did come in the spirit and power of Elijah. Jesus Himself said that John was Elijah for those who would believe it and Gabriel told Zachariah, John’s father, that his son would go “in the spirit of Elijah.” But the Baptizer will not apply the honor of Elijah to himself and answers, “I am not.”
Then he is asked if he is the Prophet spoken of by the Lord through Moses. Again, John was the last and greatest of the prophets who were sent by God to bear witness to Christ. But he declines this honor also in an even shorter answer, “No,” giving the impression that he wants to stop talking about himself but of who he has come to talk about. So, they finally just ask, “Who are you?” And he answers them, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said.’” This is his witness! He is, in a radical way, announcing the need for the people of God to undergo a transformation! He didn’t want to talk about himself but to prepare a people for the Lord by preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. But, that’s not all. He is saying, “You think this is radical, wait until you see what’s coming next!” He is pointing to the one who is coming that will truly transform through…His coming.
The next line of questioning comes from the Pharisees, or the theologians and professors of the day. They want to know why he is baptizing and by what authority. John is telling the people that they have a problem with the law and that they need washing to prepare for the Lord. The Pharisees have been telling the people that they need to keep the law and, if they fail, give atonement to earn forgiveness. But this has always been limited. Now John is giving them another way to repentance! This is unlimited forgiveness and is shocking for the powers in place in the synagogues!...But John doesn’t even really answer their question. He again points to the Christ and basically says, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” He tells them that, “He who comes after me the strap if whose sandals of I am not worthy to untie.” This one who is coming will baptize with the Spirit instead of water as John was doing. If they were worried about him they had better really hang on, because the one that follows is clearly more threatening than he…But this is the message the Pharisees would hear…not the believers that have come to the dessert to be baptized and undergo this new beginning.
For the believer, the Baptizer has more. He tells us of this even more radical change that we will receive through the Spirit. John tells us of “the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world.” This Christ will transform through His suffering and dying on the cross even from death to life. Through Jesus we are able to be baptized with the Holy Spirit! This is the power that makes us born again, born of the Spirit. Through this water and the Spirit, Jesus tells us, “One can enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus tells us in John that “it is the Spirit who gives life.” The Jews of that day needed this new life through this transformation and so do we today! Without the saving transformation that John the Baptist is testifying to…we are lost and will perish! This is the Spirit that makes dead people alive again! That makes the dirty clean, that makes darkness into light! The intrusion of this light into a world of darkness will not leave things as they are. This is the light that the Baptist is proclaiming and that we must see. We have received the Spirit through our baptism and that is the good news! But what does that mean? We have received this same cleansing that the Baptist is preaching and we, through Jesus, have received the Spirit!...
Advent is a time that we celebrate the coming of Christ, but we should actually begin by first thinking about the Second Advent…the promise of His coming again. In our readings today we hear Isaiah and John prophesy of His first coming. Isaiah speaks of “the year of the Lord’s favor” which is “good news to the poor,” “liberty to the captives,” and a “comfort to all who mourn.” And John comes to “testify” of Jesus’ coming also! Both Isaiah and John are messengers, or forerunners, of what is to come. Jesus the Messiah, and His birth and ministry on earth, are being announced. This, of course, then did take place… And this is the key…Jesus was testified to by many prophets who were called to be “a voice crying out in the wilderness.”… The church also is called to testify to the Second Advent today! We, because of John the Baptist’s testimony of the Christ in the dessert…because of John the Evangelist’s recording of the gospel of Christ…and then, most importantly, the work of Christ Himself on the cross…are now able to bear witness about the light and His coming again.
Like John and the prophets before him we have been told of this “coming.” This is what Advent is all about! The coming that we anticipate now. Not only of His birth in a manger, but of His coming in the clouds for all to see and with trumpets and angels! A time in which “every knee shall bow!” The church today is that voice and a finger in today’s wilderness of sin, terror and death…A finger called to point to Jesus. We can point to the one that has saved us and tell others that He is the light of the world and that He is the forgiveness that you need so desperately. We can point to Him in the water of Baptism, in the mouth of the preacher absolving your sin, in the bread that is His body and the wine that is His blood. That is how we witness, not by pointing to ourselves but by pointing to Him who is the truth and the life… “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Now, may we be assured and joyful of His coming again and share that assurance with others as we prepare our own hearts for His coming!