John witness to the Light
John 1.6-8, 19-28
Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Have you ever been accused of something wrong that you did not do? Your accuser insists that you have violated some law or rule. Your accuser may not have physical evidence, but he strongly feels that he is correct. We have probably all ben there, it’s not a great position to be in. When you’re accuser gives no physical evidence; it is very difficult to refute his arguments. The conversation will devolve into him saying, “You broke the rule!” and you saying, “No I didn’t!” Now what, the argument can just keep going in a circular fashion, never really coming to any conclusion. After it is all said and done, no matter how strenuous your defense of your position, you are never really vindicated. This is the position in which John the Baptist finds himself in our Gospel reading. John the Baptist is being questioned; the men sent from the Sanhedrin want to know if he is the messiah.
We are told by St. John that this man was sent by God, and came to be a witness to “the light”. Who was this “Light”, later in the chapter 8 Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” After Jesus says this the Pharisees challenge him saying, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” Jesus’ response is, “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true”. He then goes on to say, “I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” This exchange obviously takes place much later in the ministry of Jesus, but two important points are uncovered; first that Jesus is the light and second is that you need two witnesses to prove something to be true. First, when John the Baptist said that Jesus is the light, the religious leaders would know exactly what he was talking about. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, in Exodus we read, “the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night”. So the religious leaders would understand what John the Baptist was talking about when he referred to “the light.” The light led the Israelites to the Promised Land, Jesus leads us out of sin to the Promised Land, salvation.
So how is John the Baptist a witness? What kind of witnesses do we think of today? A witness can be someone that watches a special event, like a wedding. A witness can be a person that saw an automobile accident and has to tell the police what they saw for the “accident report”. A witness can be someone that tells the great things that Christ has done in their life. Or in this instance, a witness can be in a type of court. A witness tries to tell the truth, without having what they are saying getting distorted. The message that John the Baptist was trying to get across, “is the Messiah is coming, Get ready!” There will be other witnesses, thousands, all the people that saw Christ’s signs and wonders.
We read that the Jews had sent priest and Levites to question John the Baptist in regards to who he was and what he was doing. The priest and Levites would have been sent by the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. The members of the Sanhedrin had a pretty good life, they had the whole of religious society looking to them; any messiah coming in would mess that up. Is that what you do? Does the Messiah mess up things for you? Does Jesus make you reevaluate things your life? Is the idea of faith in him and not your own works create a problem for you? Is surrendering your salvation to someone else seem too hard? The Sanhedrin had the same problem, they would investigate any claim that someone said they were a prophet from God, to see if they truly were from God.
The priest and Levites asked John the Baptist, “Who are You?” With an interesting answer, John the Baptist says, “I am not the Christ”; he knew the question they were really asking. We read in the book of Luke that people were wondering, “if john the Baptist ‘the Christ?”’ Now there were no first century driver’s licenses that said, “John the Baptist” or “Messiah” on them, so they asked again. “What then? Are you Elijah?” What Elijah? He went to heaven hundreds of years before this, how could he be Elijah? In the last chapter, in the last verses of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, said, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes”. John the Baptist answers no, he is not Elijah. But he does come in the spirit of Elijah, telling the people to repent from theirs sinful ways. As we prayed at the lighting of the first advent candle, Advent is a time of repentance. Are there sins in your life that you haven’t dealt with? Things that you keep doing; or something you haven’t confessed? Advent is an excellent time to examine your life and see where the Messiah fits into it.
They then asked, “Are you the Prophet?” Here the Jewish leaders were misinterpreting Deuteronomy, were it says, “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”. They thought that the prophet would come with the Messiah. Actually the “Prophet” that Moses wrote about was our “Prophet, Priest and King”; Jesus. John the Baptist, who was in every sense of the word a prophet, answered correctly when he said, “I am not, Thee Prophet”. What this exchange shows us is that they thought John the Baptist was something special, because if he was not the messiah, he must be one of the two prophets they have been waiting for. So they say, “look, we were sent here to find out who you are, give us something to take back to our bosses”. He was something special; his job was the same then as it is today, to point us to Jesus. John the Baptist then quotes from our Old Testament reading from last week when he says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.” In the wilderness of our daily lives, it is easy to forget; we are celebrating the birth of our savior and get caught up in everything else.
Then the priest and Levites asked John the Baptist, under what authority are you out here in the wilderness baptizing people. They said, you aren’t the Messiah, you’re not Elijah and you’re not The Prophet, how can you be baptizing people. Baptism was not unknown to them; ritual washings had been being done for many years. John the Baptist says that he is baptizing in anticipation of the coming Messiah. The baptism that John is giving is not the same as the Baptism which will be coming from the Messiah. The Baptism by the messiah will bring the Holy Spirit.
That is what our Baptism brings us. That is why baptism is so important for us today. Jesus wants all believers to be baptized. In the last chapter of Matthew he says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. We talked earlier of how “The Light” was a way the Jews referred to the Exodus, and the crossing of the Red Sea, into the Promised Land. The Israelites went through water to salvation, we do too when we are baptized.
But what does it do? What’s the benefit? Isn’t it just plain water? Let’s take the last question first, yes and no. It is just plain tap water, nothing special, hopefully warm so the baby doesn’t cry. But it is water that is combined with the word of God. It is what pastor says while administering the sacrament. What is the benefit? It works forgiveness of sins; it gives us salvation, because this sacrament was implemented by the one that died for our sins. Jesus said in Mark, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”. This tells me he is serious, and he wants us to do it. But what does it do you might say, “John the Baptist was baptizing, isn’t that the same thing?” No, with the baptism we have the words and promises of Christ, that this baptism brings washing and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
Here you might say, “So what does all this mean?” that as a Baptized child of God, you are forgiven your sins through Christ, the old Adam is drown, and each day you can repent and be forgiven. The connection between you and God has been made through Christ and you will have ever lasting life with and through him.
The religious people at that time and even people today, feel they are justified by the law. They thought that if they kept the law perfectly they would make God happy and he would save them. We hear it today people are always saying things like, “she’s so nice, she’s so good, obviously she’s going to heaven”. But we know and Jesus told us enough times, you can never be good enough to make the standard that God has set up. God’s standard for heaven is perfection. Because he loves us, he sent his son to die for us and gave us baptism. The baptism which we receive is a visual sign that we are redeemed only because of the blood of Christ. As we are told in Romans, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life”.
We are like John the Baptist; no, there is no one asking if you are the Messiah. But you are witnesses for him, you can witness as to the true reason for this season. You can tell anyone that will listen, that we celebrate our Savior’s birthday on Christmas; and look forward to him coming again.
In the name of the Light of the world, that will take us to the Promised Land.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.