Week 3: John 1:19-28; "Point people to Jesus."
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Week 3: John 1:19ff Last week, in John 1:1-18, John started his gospel by focusing on 2 people, telling us who they are, and what they came to do. The first, and easily more important, is Jesus. Jesus is the Word become flesh. He is the preexistent one. He is Life. He is Light. He is God. To those who receive him, and give their allegiance to him, Jesus gives them the right to become children of God. He gives them something superior to Moses-- he gives them a better grace and truth. The second person, who is less important, is John the Baptist. Let's read what the introduction told us about John. John 1:6-8 (ESV): 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. John 1:15 (ESV): John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This is he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me." So what was John the Baptist? John was one sent from God, whose main role was to bear witness to the Light. When you hear this language about a witness, you should hear this in legal terms. God did not send Jesus to be Light and Life, and not give evidence that Jesus is from God. We aren't expected to take this blindly. It's perfectly reasonable for people to expect evidence that Jesus is who he says. And so God sent witnesses (Deut. 19:15). So those are the two big players in John 1 (along with God). Now, this week, starting in John 1:19, we find ourselves entering into the story proper. But AJ (author of John)1 doesn't start the story with Jesus. Instead, he starts with John, and John's testimony/witness about Jesus. Today, we will work from John 1:19-28. But when we read this, we should understand that we are reading a small portion of a larger section in John, that stretches from 1:19-4:54. Starting in 1:19, John gives us a sequence of four days.2 I want to quickly summarize these, to give you a perspective on the larger framework for the story. In vs. 19-28, day one, we read about the witness of John the Baptist, who freely confesses what he is not-- John is not the Messiah, or Elijah, or "the prophet" (Deut. 18:18). What he is, is the voice crying out in the wilderness, "make straight the way of the Lord." In vs. 29-34, we have day 2. Verse 29 starts, "On the next day." (You should underline "on the next day" in your Bibles). Here, John the Baptist witnesses to Jesus as (1) the Lamb of God, (2) the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, and (3) the Son of God. In vs. 35-42, we have day 3. Verse 35 starts, "On the next day." Here, John the Baptist witnesses to Jesus by pointing two of his disciples to Jesus. These disciples then leave John and begin "following" Jesus, the Messiah they have "found" (vs. 41). In verses 43-51, we have day 4. Verse 43 starts, "On the next day." Here, Jesus calls Philip to "follow" him, and Philip in turn invites Nathaniel to "come" to Jesus and see who they have "found" (vs. 45). Philip "believes" Jesus (1:50), and calls him the "Son of God" and "King of Israel." But Jesus tells him he will see still greater things-- he will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (vs. 51). Chapter 2 begins with another time reference. "On the third day." There's a lot of debate about how this time reference relates to chapter 1, and if we are supposed to read into it. But what this time reference does, for sure, is invite us to read 2:1-12, the story of Jesus turning water into wine, in light of chapter 1. And the high point of chapter 2 is found in verse 11: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and he revealed his glory, and his disciples [believed/gave allegiance to] him. The question I have, is what's the best way to try to teach all of this? We are expected to read 1:19-2:12, and hear it as a whole. What we will see, is Jesus calling people to come to himself, and those people, in turn, inviting others to come to Jesus. What we will see, really, is the creation of a new people. And we will see this new people-- Jesus' disciples-- move from an early, and partial, faith, to giving their full allegiance to Jesus. And this happens when they see Jesus' glory (cf. 1:14). Jesus had promised Nathaniel he would see greater things-- and that's exactly what happens. So. I don't expect you to remember all of that. But that's the big picture. I think we'll do day 1 this week. But we will do so, understanding that this is not the whole story. Verse 19: (19) And this is the testimony of John,3 when the Judeans from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites in order that they would ask him, "Who are you?": Here, we are introduced for the first time, officially, to "the Judeans." We've already read about them, unofficially, in John 1:10-11: "He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him." For us, the only way we could make sense of John 1:10-11 was by cheating ahead. But AJ's readers would've immediately understood this. They know that Judeans, for the most part, rejected Jesus as Messiah. So here, "the Judeans" come to John, and they want to know who John is. Why? Are they sincere in coming to John the Baptist? Or is there something else going on? We will have to keep reading to find out: Verse 20: (20) and he confessed,4 and he did not deny,5 and he confessed that, "I am not the Christ," AJ uses very formal, legal language here to set up John's response. John's testimony-- his confession-- was that he is not the promised Messiah. Now, this is not what the Judeans asked. They wanted to know who John is. But John tells them who he isn't. Why does John answer this way? We read in chapter 1 that John the Baptist was a witness to Jesus. He is important in the gospel of John, only in connection to Jesus. He is the one who bears witness to the fact that Jesus is Messiah. To echo what I taught in 1 Corinthians, John understands that he is not the big deal. Jesus is the big deal. And so John, who understands that Jesus is important, and he is not, begins by freely confessing the most important thing-- he is not, personally, the Messiah. All that John wants to do, is entirely, and consistently, point to Jesus.6 The Judeans are coming to John with the wrong question, focused on the wrong person. And John tries to help them, by pointing away from himself, to Jesus. "The Judeans" then say this, in verse 21: (21) and they asked him, "Then, who?", You, Elijah, are you?, and he says,7 "I am not." When "the Judeans" come to John, they do so wondering whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. They think there's a chance, at least, that John is the one they've been waiting for. But he isn't. John is not the Messiah. Now, if John the Baptist isn't the Messiah, they wonder if he's maybe Elijah, instead. Why would they ask John if he was Elijah? The answer is found in Malachi 4: 4 [a] "For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. 4 "Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules[b] that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. 5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction."[c] God had promised, through Malachi, that he would send Elijah the prophet before the day of the Lord, when God would come to judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous. And Jews widely expected that Elijah would precede the Messiah's coming: ------------------------------------------ Sirach 48:1-10 (NRSV):8 Sirach 48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Elijah 48 Then Elijah arose, a prophet like fire, and his word burned like a torch. 2 He brought a famine upon them, and by his zeal he made them few in number. 3 By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens, and also three times brought down fire. 4 How glorious you were, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Whose glory is equal to yours? 5 You raised a corpse from death and from Hades, by the word of the Most High. 6 You sent kings down to destruction, and famous men, from their sickbeds. 7 You heard rebuke at Sinai and judgments of vengeance at Horeb. 8 You anointed kings to inflict retribution, and prophets to succeed you.[a] 9 You were taken up by a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with horses of fire. 10 At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined[b] to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob. 11 Happy are those who saw you and were adorned[c] with your love! For we also shall surely live.[d] But John the Baptist says, "I'm not Elijah." And so the Jews ask a third question, still in verse 21: "The prophet, are you?", and he answered, "No." Who is "the prophet"? This language makes it sound there's a specific prophet they are hoping John the Baptist will be. Their question is based on Deuteronomy 18:15-18: 15 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers-it is to him you shall listen- 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' 17 And the LORD said to me, 'They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. God promised that he would raise up a prophet like Moses. And this promise was never fulfilled in the OT. No one was ever like Moses. And the Jews, who know that God is faithful, and that God is a promise-keeper, understand that this is not a failed promise. The day would come, when God would raise up another prophet.9 But John says, "No." In verse 22, the Judeans run out possible options, and so they return to their initial question: (22) Then they said to him, "Who are you?", in order that an answer we may give to the ones sending us. What do you say about yourself? We should be surprised by this verse. "The Judeans" don't really want to know who John is. They aren't coming to him out of curiosity, or anticipation, or hope. They aren't drawn to him, understanding that he has been sent from God (1:6). They are coming to John, because they were sent for an explanation, and justification, for what John has been doing (for possible fear here, see John 11:46). And, I could also say, the Pharisees are concerned enough about John the Baptist to send people to figure out who he is. But they can't be bothered to leave Jerusalem themselves. It's not a good look for either group-- Judeans, or Pharisees-- here. (23) He said, "I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' just as Isaiah the prophet said," John here quotes from (Deutero-) Isaiah, in chapter 40: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare[a] is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries:[b] "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 6 A voice says, "Cry!" And I said,[c] "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty[d] is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Who is John? John says, he's just a voice, preparing the way for the Lord. He's only important, in connection to the coming Messiah. Verse 24: (24) and they were the ones being sent from the Pharisees,10 (25) and they asked him, and they said to him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?"11 So the Judeans got their answer. But they show no interest in John's response. And they have no interest in being baptized, themselves. Instead, they have a follow up question. "Why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ/Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" If John was any of those three, they would understand why John was baptizing. They wouldn't be surprised to see John baptizing, if he was the Messiah, or connected in some way with the coming Messianic age. Why? (for what follows, see Keener, Gospel of John, 1:444ff, and Rowley, "Jewish Proselyte Baptism and the Baptism of John").12 We tend to think that Christians were the ones who "invented" baptism. We maybe don't think baptism was something a Jew would even understand. But in the first century (and before), if you wanted to become a Jew, there were three things you had to do (if you were a man). The first was that you had to get circumcised. That continued to be the sign of the covenant-- the main thing that identified people as Jews. The third thing was that you had to offer a sacrifice. And the second thing you had to do was be baptized. As a Gentile, you were fundamentally unclean (Acts 10:27). Baptism was a "specific and extremely potent form of ritual purification" (Keener, 1:445) that cleansed you and marked your conversion to Judaism.13 "It is recorded in the Mishnah that 'the School of Shammai say: If a man became a proselyte on the day before Passover, he may immerse himself and consume his Passover-offering in the evening" (Rowley, 316, quoting Danby's translation, the Mishnah, 1933, pg. 148).14 Rabbi Johanan (end of 2nd century CE) "expressed the opinion that no one became a proselyte until he had been circumcised and baptized and, to make it still more explicit, added that one who had not been baptized is still a pagan" (Rowley, 318). This would make sense of 1 Corinthians 10:1-2: 10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. ---------------------------------- The Jewish baptism was a baptism of immersion. "In all ritual immersion, it was regarded as essential that every part of the body should be reached by the water, and we find in the Talmud discussions as to how far even a knot in the hair invalidates a lustration" (Rowley, 322-23). ----------------------------------- I wouldn't teach this, but apparently, baptism was done in the nude, both in Judaism and the early church. "For Cyril of Jerusalem refers to the nakedness of the candidates in baptism as imitating the nakedness of Christ on the cross, and Chrysostom compares it with the nakedness of Adam in the Garden of Eden. That this nudity was required equally in the case of women is apparent from Chrysostom's Epistle to the Innocent, Bishop of Rome, in which he gives an account of the incursion of a body of soldiers into a church, where women were already stripped in preparation for baptism, and tells how they ejected the clergy by force, and filled the women with such terror that they fled without waiting to cover themselves" (Rowley, 325). ---------------------------------------------- "It has been already shown that Jewish writers urged the importance of ensuring that the proselyte was acting from pure motives, and was a sincere believer in the faith of Judaism. The spiritual state of the proselyte was therefore essential to the valid performance of the baptismal rite. But given that desired spiritual state, it was believed that the baptismal rite made one a member of the Jewish community, and an heir of the promises. After the immersion, the representatives who had first exhorted the proselyte, cried to him: 'Whom hast thou joined15, thou blessed one? Thou has joined Him Who created the world by the utterance of words, blessed be He. For the world was created solely for Israel's sake, and none are called the children of God, save Israel. None are beloved of God, save Israel'"(Rowley, 328, quoting Gerim 1.1 (English translation by Higger, pg. 47). Rabbi Judah, but not Rabbi Jose, said that baptism canceled previous sins (Rowley, 329). It was also considered a re-birth. The Midrash Rabba says, "He who makes a proselyte is as though he created him." "Conversion was regarded as a re-birth, and the observation that the proselyte is as a new-born child occurs more than once in the Talmud. Hence Calmet suggested that this idea was already current in the time of Jesus, and that this may explain his surprised question to Nicodemus (John 3:10): 'Art though a teacher in Israel and understandest not these things' when the latter was puzzled by his talk of a new birth" (Rowley, 329). ------------------------------------------------------------- So when John was baptizing people, he was doing something that would make sense to the Jewish people-- IF his baptism was connected with the coming Messianic age. But John refuses to fit into their categories. He's not the Messiah. He's not Elijah. And he's not the prophet. So why did he baptize? Verse 26: (26) John answered, saying, "I baptize with water. In your midst stands one whom you don't know. The one after me is coming, whom I am not worthy, that I would loose the strap of his sandal. (28) These things in Bethany happened on the other side of the Jordan where John was baptizing. John once again doesn't give them the answer they are seeking. Instead, John continues to be a witness toward the Light, above all else. He points to someone greater than himself-- someone who is already standing in their midst; someone who is coming to them. And this someone is going to offer something greater than a water baptism.16 This someone is so much greater than John, that John isn't worthy to do the most base job a slave can have-- taking care of his master's sandals. ------------------------------------------------- So that's day 1. We read these verses, and we find ourselves ready to see Jesus enter the story. We understand that, as great as John the Baptist was, Jesus is far superior. But what do we make of John the Baptist? What should we learn from John? When we look at John the Baptist here, we can do so from two different perspectives, and both of them start from the idea of John as a faithful witness. AJ is writing to a church-- to people like you, in many ways. You have "received" Jesus. You "know" him. You've given your allegiance to Jesus as Messianic King. But there are going to be times in your life when you find yourself with doubts. Or you find yourself facing opposition, and you are tempted to become a secret disciple (12:42-43), or even abandon the faith (John 6:66). How can you be sure that Jesus is who he says he was? How do you know you haven't made a huge mistake? Especially, since so few Judeans have followed you by "receiving" Jesus as Messiah? Part of how you know, is through the testimony of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was widely respected in the first century. Everyone knew he was sent from God. He drew enormous crowds, and sparked a revival. People turned from their sins, and turned to God, making a commitment to God through baptism. And John the Baptist did all of this, while freely admitting that he was not the Messiah. He was simply a voice calling in the wilderness, pointing toward Jesus. This maybe doesn't grab you, the way it would've grabbed a first century Christian. John the Baptist maybe doesn't seem like such a big deal to you. But for John's readers, this would be a huge encouragement, and reassurance. John is one of the witnesses, that proves that Jesus is who he says he is. And although John, in humility, didn't consider himself to be anything, everyone else thought John was a big deal. So if you find yourself struggling with doubts about who Jesus was, remember the testimony of John the Baptist. John said, as clearly as he could say, that (1) he was not personally the Messiah, and that (2) Jesus was the Messiah (I'm cheating ahead to day 2). The other way to think about John, is that he is set out as an example for us to follow. What John was, God expects us to be. (1) John the Baptist freely confessed that Jesus is Messiah. He "confessed, and did not deny, but confessed" that Jesus is Messiah. There are going to be times in your life when you are scared to freely "confess" that Jesus is Messiah, and that you are his follower (John 9:22; 12:42). You are going to be tempted to "deny" Jesus (John 13:38; 18:25, 27). But part of being Jesus' disciple, is openly acknowledging that Jesus is Messiah, and that you follow Him. You have to point to Jesus, both in life, and in word. (2) John the Baptist showed great humility. People who have "successful" ministries have to fight the temptation to make "their" ministry about them. As soon as we do anything good, or bear any fruit, we kind of instinctively find ourselves thinking about ourselves, and focusing on ourselves. We get big heads. And God will not do great things through proud people. God wants his name to be exalted. (3) John the Baptist was single-minded in pointing others to Jesus. Our witness toward outsiders is not very complicated. Our job is to point people to Jesus. I guess there's one more thing I want to talk about-- evangelism. Everyone in the gospel of John is going to start out, being totally ignorant of Jesus. John the Baptist says here, in verse 26, that they don't "know" the one standing in their midst. In the gospel of John, we are going see that everyone starts out in the same boat. No one knows Jesus automatically. Everyone is ignorant of who Jesus is, except for us, who had the privilege of reading John 1:1-18. The real question in this book, is how people respond to Jesus, once they see the Light. Are people open-minded? Do they come closer and closer to Jesus, and give their allegiance to him? Do they come half-way, and then stop? Or do they see enough, to reach the point where they totally reject him? Here, John faithfully bore witness to Jesus. But we see the Judeans showing a total lack of interest. And the Pharisees can't even be bothered to come out to see John for themselves. Sometimes, that's how faithful witnessing works. We point people to Jesus, and nothing happens. It doesn't necessarily mean we messed up. Some people just, for whatever reason,17 aren't interested. Your job, in all of this, is simply to point people to Jesus. You don't point to yourself. You freely confess that Jesus is Messiah, and you do what you can to bring people to him. "In his believing, seeing, and testifying, John begins the chain of faithful witnessing that continues with the seeing and testifying of Jesus himself (cf. 3:32), of Jesus and the community (cf. 3:11), and of the beloved disciple (cf. 19:35). When John twice says, "I am not," under the threefold questioning, this is part of his confessing and not denying, but when Peter later twice says, "I am not," under this threefold interrogation (cf. 18:17, 25-27), this is clearly part of his denying and not confessing his relationship to Jesus. Depicting Peter's denial in this fashion shows up the failure of his witness not only in contrast to that of Jesus in the surrounding narrative but also in contrast to John here at the beginning" (Lincoln, Truth on Trial, 64). Translation: (19) And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites in order that they would ask him, "Who are you?": (20) and he confessed,18 and he did not deny,19 and he confessed that, "I am not the Christ," (21) and they asked him, "Then, who?", You, Elijah, are you?, and he says,20 "I am not." "The prophet, are you?", and he answered, "No." (22) Then they said to him, "Who are you?", in order that an answer we may give to the ones sending us. What do you say about yourself? (23) He said, "I am a voice crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' just as Isaiah the prophet said," (24) and they were the ones being sent from the Pharisees,21 (25) and they asked him, and they said to him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?"22 (26) John answered, saying, "I baptize with water. In your midst stands one whom you don't know. The one after me is coming, whom I am not worthy, that I would loose the strap of his sandal. (28) These things in Bethany happened on the other side of the Jordan where John was baptizing. 1 Author of John. Doing this, because otherwise it's not clear when I'm talking about "John" the book, and "John" the person. 2 Following Moloney, Belief in the Word, 54. 3 The gospel of John assumes that its readers are familiar with John the Baptist. They know the basics of his story. The question the gospel answers here, is "who" is John? And how should we understand his ministry? 4 John 9:22; 12:42 5 13:38; 18:25,27. 6 Schnackenburg, 1:286. 7 Historical present. 8 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=sirach+48&version=NRSV ; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sirach 9 expected by the Qumran community, in Rule of the Community 9:11. See bottom paragraph of page 8: http://www.ericlevy.com/Revel/DeadSeaScrolls/Vermes%20-%20CDDSE%20p97-117%20Community%20Rule.PDF 10 awkward. John reminding us where they are from, why? 11 Westcott: The Pharisees hear words which might well move them to deeper questionings; but for this they had no heart. It is enough to have discharged their specific duty.11 12 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proselyte also, H.H. Rowley, "Jewish Proselyte Baptism and the Baptism of John." If you sign up for a free jstor account, you can read Rowley (or any 5 academic articles) free per month. jstor.org 13 Jewish babies were considered clean at birth, and so not baptized. 14 because he is no longer considered "unclean." 15 whereas a Christian would say, we were joined to God in baptism by being united with Christ (Romans 6:3-4), buried with him and raised to new life. Amazing how understanding proselyte baptism helps make sense of this. 16 anticipating verse 33. 17 going to not cheat ahead here, at least on this point. 18 John 9:22; 12:42 19 13:38; 18:25,27. 20 Historical present. 21 awkward. John reminding us where they are from, why? To link them to the Pharisees, who will take center stage later. 22 Westcott: The Pharisees hear words which might well move them to deeper questionings; but for this they had no heart. It is enough to have discharged their specific duty.22 --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------