John on the Witness Stand

There is nothing more important that you can do today or any day in 2020 than to listen to and believe in the testimony of John the Baptizer. Listen to his words and see, know the One to whom he points in John 1:14–34.

Pay attention to the voice. John testifies. John the disciple, the author of the Gospel, introduced another John, John the Baptizer, back in verse 6. He was sent by God, he came for witness. His purpose was to give testimony. That is what he does, see verses 15, 19, 32. Significantly he testifies, verse 15 – present tense, as some translations reflect. John the Baptizer had been executed during the public ministry of Jesus, long before John the disciple wrote his Gospel. The testimony of John continues. It is relevant. The text repeatedly identifies John’s speaking as testimony. It is objectively true. Our post-modern world tells you it’s all about you. If you find peace in Jesus, fine, just don’t try to insist that anything is objectively true or universally valid. You have your way, I have mine. Yet even today, our court system refuses to bend to that kind of subjectivity. John is giving true testimony. He is a faithful witness. He is testifying not about earthly things, but matters with eternal consequences.

John points away from himself. John’s Gospel focuses on the witness that the Baptizer gives and on his baptizing. Matthew, Mark, and Luke give some more details about his work. Mark tells us that “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” went out to hear his preaching. Understandably the priests and Levites and the Pharisees sent a fact finding delegation to interrogate him. His preaching of repentance, because the kingdom of God was near, indeed raised messianic expectations. But John denied (confessed freely), “I am not the Christ. ”He denies various other theories about his identity: Elijah (see Malachi 4:5 and Matthew 11:14). He is not the Prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15. Who, then, are you, John? The answer: “the voice”(verse 23, Isaiah 40:3). Voice contrasts with the living, eternal Word. Learn something about your task of being a witness as you look at John’s example. He could have given the details of the wonderful account that Luke 1 records. Instead he goes to Scripture. This is what the Word of God says. Do the same! John’s use of Isaiah 40 contrasts with the direction of the Qumran community, which withdrew, focused on baptismal cleansings, and identified themselves as the righteous ones. Instead, John calls the covenant people to repentance. John’s work was to prepare the way for the Lord, with concrete repentance (Luke 3). No message that panders to felt needs here! The wilderness setting, verses 23, 28, is important, for this is historically where God has met with his people.

Focus on the Christ about whom John testifies. Understand the surpassing greatness of Christ. Although John precedes Christ, Christ surpasses him, verse 15, also verse 30. This was a time when historical precedence was identified with greatness (some Jews argued that Moses was greater than the Greek philosophers because he was earlier – they really were the good old days!), but though John came before Jesus, Jesus is greater, for he really was before John–he is the eternal Word! John, whom Jesus identified as the one than whom there was none greater, sees himself as unworthy to untie the sandal of Jesus, verse 26. John baptizes with water. The Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit. “Noteworthy is the way in which all four Gospels record the preparatory ministry and proclamation of John the Baptist, in particular the contrast John draws between himself and the coming Messiah. His witness in the unit John 1:29–34 is that of the work of Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (v. 29), and ‘the Son of God” (v. 34), climaxes and focuses in the fact that, while John has been sent to baptize with water (vv. 31, 33), Jesus is ‘the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’ (v. 33).” (Richard B. Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost, p. 14) Verse 14 told you that the Word made flesh was full of grace and truth. That grace has impacted you, verse 16. He is full of grace, and we have received grace for grace, grace in place of grace, like breakers coming in on the Oregon shore. “‘And grace for grace.’ We get grace to reach out to another grace, each grace becoming a stepping-stone to something higher. I do not believe in our rising on the ‘stepping-stones of our dead selves.’ They are poor stones; they all lead downwards. The stepping-stones of the living Christ lead upwards; grace for grace, grace upon grace, till grace is crowned with glory.” (Charles H. Spurgeon on John 1:16)John furthers the contrast. The law was given through Moses. He was the intermediary for what was a high point, even the high point of revelation in the Old Testament. But now grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. Because we are sinners, the law alone can only condemn. God has brought grace and truth to you in Christ Jesus. John’s testimony seems to peak in verse 18. No one has seen God, the invisible, eternal Creator. Yet, God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. The Word made flesh is not less than God the one and only!

See the Lamb! John has preached to prepare the hearts of the people. He has baptized so that the Christ might come and be revealed. Then one day it all comes together. John points, and says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” “Right at the beginning of his Gospel John points us forward to the cross and to the significane of the cross.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT, p. 148) Lamb. Where does John’s mind go? He has listened to his father, Zechariah, recount the Bible stories (are you doing that with your family?). He thinks perhaps of the firstborn of the flock that Abel brought so early in human history. He hears the conversation between Abraham and Isaac as they slowly climb a mountain in the region of Moriah, “Father, where is the lamb?” “God himself with provide the lamb, my son.” He thinks of the lamb that each household killed in Egypt and sprinkled the blood on the doorposts, so that the angel of death would pass over that house. With Isaiah 40 on his mind he certainly thinks of Isaiah 53, the Lamb led silently to the slaughter. Which of John’s hearers that day had not followed the details of Leviticus 4 in bringing a lamb or goat as a sin offering, laying his hand on the animal, slaughtering it, watching the priest touch the horns of the altar with the blood, and then see the offering burn? That is how my sin is removed. And this Lamb takes away my sin, and not just mine, but the sin of the world!

What is your priority in 2020? Are you listening to John’s solemn testimony? Do you understand the consequences of not heeding it? Have you heard and do you take to heart the centrality of Christ? Is your focus on him as he comes to you in the word proclaimed in the worship services of the church? Do you know him as the Lamb who has taken away your sin?

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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