Who Is John the Baptist

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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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My Hero….Captain Kirk

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The Plinky Question for this week is:   “Who is your hero and why?”

There could be lots of good answers to this question for me.  Like fiction characters such as Superman, Thor, or Jack Ryan of the Tom Clancy series.  There are some real missionary heroes that I look up to like Hudson Taylor, William Carey, or Mother Theresa.  And there have been some wonderful people who I have known and have influenced my life profoundly.  You can read about them in “God Spoke Through People.

But in keeping with the fun nature of Plinky.com, I thought I would tell you about one of my all-time favorite heroes, namely James T. Kirk, Captain of the legendary starship the Enterprise.  You might wonder if it is because he symbolizes all that I could wish to be.  He’s handsome, popular, sexy; he’s a ‘rough and tumble’ kind of guy (who always gets his shirt ripped to show off his bod to the ladies).

No, my ego is intact enough to not be threatened by such daunting physical qualities.  : )  Rather, it is his qualities of a great leader that make me want to walk in his shoes.  In every situation, no matter how bleak, he always had an answer, he always faced and conquered every challenge.  Just like his spoof counterpart, Tim Allen, who plays Commander Peter Quincy Taggart in the movie “Galaxy Quest“, the motto must go forth: “Never give up, never surrender.

This great phrase makes me think of Ephesians 6:10-18.  We are in the middle of a great spiritual battle for Planet Earth and all its people, whether we realize it or not.  I think one of the key verses in this passage is verse 13.  We are told who are enemies are, the spiritual forces of darkness at work here in the world and in the heavenly realms.  And after this verse we are told what our armament is for this cosmic battle.  But read what verse 13 says,

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

We are to dress (in spiritual terms) for battle, we are to face the battle, we are to engage in battle, and then having done all that, we are told to still keep standing.  We do find out in Ephesians 6 that our strength comes not from us, but from the Lord.  But we must have an attitude like Captain Kirk or Commander Taggart, “Never give up, never surrender.”

And I must say that with this kind of attitude, that Captain Kirk was the eternal optimist.  He always believed that he could do the impossible, and find a way out of any situation.  Like when he and his crew mates were stranded on the planet “Genesis” by the ruthless Khan.  (Star Trek 2: “The Wrath of Khan“…boy, what a movie.)  There was always a back up plan for Kirk.

How does this relate to us spiritually?  Have you or I ever felt like the situation was impossible, that there was no way to accomplish what needed to be done?  Sure.  But that is why we must treasure such a rich promise as Philippians 4:13,

I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength.

Or consider how difficult it is to face and conquer the temptations to do the things that are wrong that hit us from every side and bombard us day after day.  God knew this in advance and gave us the means to escape such powerful temptations that we face all the time in 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

So there you go.  Now you know who my favorite (non-fiction) hero is, and why.  If he were here right now, he would say to you and I, “Live long and prosper.”  But even better than this saying, is the fabulous promise of Jesus, our Lord and Savior,

I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.