May 26, 2019
[Jhn 1:19-34 ESV]
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Who are you? [REPEAT: Who are you?]
In our society today, when someone wants to know who you area, they are likely to ask “What is your job?” or “What is your career?” You ARE a teacher. Or you ARE a farmer. Or, you ARE a truck driver. Who you are is intimately connected with what you do.
This isn’t necessarily the way things have to be. In other societies, so I am told, when a person wants to know “who are you?” the conversation will center on “Who is your family?” And you might take photos out of your wallet, or find some on your phone, and say “I am the son of these fine parents” or “I am aunt of these wonderful children.”
Who are you? That is a very important question, with some very important answers.
As we think about that question, and look at our passage today, there are 3 parts that shall look deeper into:
1. Who is John?
2. Who is Jesus?
3. Who are you? [REPEAT ALL]
I. WHO ARE YOU? – JOHN THE BAPTIST
In our text today, we find that it is just this question that the delegation sent from Jerusalem asks John the Baptist. Who are you? In a series of responses he denies being (1) the Christ, (2) he denies being Elijah, and he denies being (3) the prophet. Finally, when pressed with the question “Who are you,” John the Baptist gives a response. Before we got to his response, let us look at those three denials he first makes.
As we know from the other Gospels, John the Baptist is a wild-haired locust-and-honey-eating figure who lives out in the deserts. His activities have gained a lot of attention. Now he has come to the attention of the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. And in this time, there was great messianic expectation. Many people believed that the messiah, the christ, the anointed one was soon to come on the scene. But there were also false prophets who were leading the people astray. The Jewish leaders were then doing there job, coming to investigate John to bring a report back to the Sanhedrin—the high council in Jerusalem—that they might determine what to think about John.
A. Three Negations
(1) Not the Christ.
When the group of priests and Levites arrive, they ask John, “Who are you?” And his first response is “I am not the Christ.” The Apostle John who wrote this gospel wants to emphasize this fact, saying, “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” John the Baptist quickly and openly confessed, “I am not the Christ.” He does not pretend to be so.
The false prophets always claim to be someone great, but John the Baptist is humble. He not only denies that he is the Christ, he also denies that he is Elijah and he denies that he is the prophet.
(2) Not Elijah
In the Old Testament Book of Kings, Elijah was a prophet of God. In the Book of Malachi there is a prophecy that Elijah will return “before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.”
Then, Jesus Christ himself in Matthew and Mark affirms that John the Baptist is Elijah.
So why then does John the Baptist here deny that he is Elijah?
John responds according to the opinion of the Jews that the literal exact same person—Elijah—would return. John is not the same person. The soul of Elijah has not returned into another body. Elijah is not reincarnated, but one like Elijah has come. John the Baptist is truly called Elijah by Christ because John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” (Luke 1:17)
So there is no contradiction between John the Baptist’s denial and Jesus’s affirmation. John was not literally Elijah, but came in that same role to announce the coming of the Lord.
(3) Not the Prophet.
As the questions keep coming to John the Baptist, he makes his third denial. I am not the messiah, and I am not Elijah, and I am not the Prophet.
Jesus does affirm elsewhere that John was A prophet. But he is not THE prophet.
In Deuteronomy 18 Moses had said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” The book of Acts later confirms that this prophet is Christ.
So just as John the Baptist denied that he is the Christ, so also he denies that he is the foretold prophet.
A. An affirmation.
But the delegation cannot go home empty handed. If the priests and Levites came back home and said to the authorities, “John is not the Christ, not Elijah, and not the prophet” what do you think the authorities would say? They would say, “who then is he?” So the delegation presses forward:
“Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
And John responds:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
John is the herald of the coming King. He is not the Light, but he is a witness to the Light.
Who are you, John the Baptist? – The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’
This reference is from Isaiah, chapter 40, which prophesies that the glory of the Lord will be revealed. It reads:
[Isa 40:3-5 ESV] 3 A voice cries: “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.”
John’s answer is the humble, “I am a voice crying in the wilderness.” Not the messiah, nor the prophet, but simply a voice.
2. WHO IS CHRIST?
John then has answered who he is, but he very quickly turns his attention—and the attention of the members of the delegation—to a greater subject. Who is Christ? [REPEAT: Who is Christ?]
While answering the question, John explains three ways in which Christ is greater than he is.
A.3 ways in which Christ is greater than John the Baptist.
(1) John baptizes with water, but Christ baptizes with the Spirit
The first of these three ways in which Christ is greater than John the Baptist is that John baptizes with water, but Christ with the Holy spirit.
John’s baptism couldn’t take away sin. It was with water. But Jesus’s baptism is with the Holy Spirit. It gives life. The baptism of water is a sign pointing to this greater reality – as water cleans dirt away from us, so the Holy Spirit cleans away our sins. Surely the washing away of our sin is the far greater of the two.
(2) Not worthy to untie his sandal
John also shows that Christ is greater than him when he says, regarding the one who is to come, that he is not worthy to untie his sandal!
Untying the thong of his master’s sandal was the task of the lowliest slave. Feet are dirty, gross. And the dirt and sand and sweat of walking in the desert might have surpassed even the smell of a AT hikers boots. You may know that in Middle Eastern cultures, so negatively do they view the bottom of shoes that showing them, showing the bottom of your shoes, is a great offense. You should not sit cross-leged in the Middle East such that you show the bottom of your shoe to another. And remember when the statues of Saddam Hussein came down and the people took off their shoes and hammered the statue with them as a sign of contempt or scorn.
So much greater is Christ than John that John is not even fit to do the lowliest of tasks for Christ.
(3) He who came after me ranks before me.
Then, we come to the third of the three ways in which John says the Christ is greater than him. He says:
“after me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.”
We saw this same statement in an earlier passage. Jesus is coming after John, but because Jesus is God, He has always existed. And, being God, Jesus is perfectly holy; something neither John nor any other man can never measure up to. Christ ranks before John.
We see that John the Baptist’s ministry is all about someone greater than himself. He is constantly pointing to Jesus. He is the witness, the herald, crying in the wilderness, that all might prepare the way for the coming King.
John the Baptist, who was identified as the greatest prophet among those born of women, identified Jesus Christ as the greatest prophet of them all.
But we have more in the text than just the comparisons between John and Jesus. There is a positive answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” [REPEAT: Who is Jesus?]
B. Jesus is the Lamb of God
In verse 29, we read:
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Jesus IS the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Who is Jesus? He is the Lamb of God. He takes away the sin of the world.
In various Old Testament passages there are lamb sacrifices. Most prominently is the account of the Passover in the book of Exodus.(Chapter 12:1-13)There, a lamb without blemish is killed so that its blood can be put on the doorposts of their houses. When the Lord then comes in the night and strikes down the first-born children of all of the Egyptians, he passes over the houses of the Israelites who have the blood of the lamb on their doorposts.
But all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament were insufficient to take away sin. The people of God still needed a messiah, one who was to be “a lamb that is led to slaughter.”
1 Peter 1:18-9 tells us that this did indeed happen in Jesus Christ:
“you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that lamb without blemish or spot.”
The sacrifices of the Old Testament had no power whatever to atone for sins, but that they were only figures, the truth of which was manifested in Christ himself.
Jesus is the Lamb of God. He takes away the sin of the world. Who is Jesus? He is the Lamb of God. He takes away the sin of the world.
C. Known by Revelation
Before we move on to the third and final question, “Who are you?”, we must note that all of this which John the Baptist tells us, all of his testimony, rests upon divine revelation. That this Lamb of God was Jesus was revealed to John by a direct message from God. John’s knowledge of who Christ is, is revealed to him from God. It is not a lucky guess on his own part.
God had told John:
“He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
When John then saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and remain on Jesus, he KNEW that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world.
III. WHO ARE YOU?
So we know that John is the voice in the wilderness, and Jesus is the Lamb of of God.
We then come to this question: WHO ARE YOU? What do you say about yourself?”
It is ok to answer that with your profession, or your family, but more importantly the question is:
Are you a Christian? Do you believe in Him who takes away the sin of the world? Is Jesus the Lamb of God for you?
It is my great hope that you all can answer this question, “Who are you?” and say “I am one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.” “My identity is in the Lord who made heaven and earth.” “I am forgiven in the blood of the lamb.”
John the Baptists message was “The Messiah is here.” He has borne witness that this is the Son of God.
You have heard his testimony; you have heard the message. Do you behold the Lamb of God? Do you see him in this passage, and understand that Christ alone is the only savior, the only one through whom sins are forgiven. Understanding this, then Believe in Jesus Christ. Believe in his Word and trust in Him as your savior, the lamb of God. Amen.