John 1:19 – 28

John’s Testimony Concerning Himself

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.

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In our study today of the Gospel of John, we see that “the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’”  This may appear to be an innocent request from some of the religious leaders of John’s day, but that could not be further from the truth.  These leaders are mystified by John’s ministry, and his success as mentioned in Matthew 3:5 – 6, immediately leads them into a conflict with each other.

You would think that the question “Who are you?” was rather straight forward and simple.  What’s interesting is John’s response, “I am not the Christ.”  Obviously there is more going on here than our text is able to tell us.  Clearly these priests were expecting John to be some great person since they went on to ask him whether he had the spirit of one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, or even the special “Prophet” that Moses hinted about in Deuteronomy 18:18.

In order to understand what is happening, we must look at some of the key words in this text, and then build a picture that makes sense of all of the parts.  Then we will understand what’s going on.  So allow me to give you some important Old and New Testament background, and then let me ask each of us an important question, especially to those of us who are in Christian leadership positions.

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In John’s Gospel, even more than in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the term “the Jews” which occasionally does refer to all members of the Jewish nation, is much more narrowly used by John.  Throughout John’s book, “the Jews” are for the most part the religious leaders (comprised of Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes who were experts in the Law of Moses, the priests, the Levites and the elders of the nation).

And we constantly see “the Jews” debating and arguing with Jesus and ultimately demanding that Jesus be crucified. What first starts as arrogance and skeptical resistance, turns in time to become defiant challenge and then open hostility.  So you can pretty much know then from the start that these are the bad guys, the antagonists to all the men of God, and by extension are found to be the enemies of God.

But they should have known better.  They were the inheritors of the Word of God, and the protectors of the Temple and the religious rituals that were to lead the people into the true worship of God.  And we too see time and time again, that it is the church leadership which has become cemented in its ways of religious traditions that have actually managed to keep people away from finding God for themselves.

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And so they challenged John, what he was doing, where he was from, and from whom he got the authority to lead this spiritual revival.  (It certainly did not come from the Jewish leaders.)  But they figured if John was not sponsored within their religious structures, then perhaps he must be one of the three great people who were prophesied in the Old Testament who would come back to help the nation of Israel.

But even before they speak, John denies that he is not the Promised Messiah, the Christ (or Anointed One) whom God would one day send to rescue the nation Israel and becomes its King.  Unfortunately, the leaders and the people had it wrong and thought God would send a human political Saviour who would rescue the nation from the oppression of the Roman occupying forces in Palestine.

But John also said he is not “The Prophet” who would be just like the greatest Old Testament leader, Moses, who rescued Israel out of Egypt.  In Deuteronomy 18:18, Moses prophesied that a Great Prophet like him would one day come to help Israel.  But that was not to be John.  And in Malachi 4:5, the second last verse of the Old Testament, a prophecy was made that Elijah would return before the coming of the Lord.

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I can say that these Jewish leaders had some good questions in one sense.  They knew that John was special.  They just did not know how or why.  The truth of the matter is that John came as a simple servant of the Lord, and even in the midst of great success, he exercised even greater humility.  And why was that?  Because it is never meant to be about us, no matter how important we think we are at times.  No it is all about Jesus, the Man who would come after John.

So let me ask each of us who are Christians?  Are we more like The Jews, or are we more like John.  Think about it.

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