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.”
So, right away we see the Jews coming to John questioning his identity. Who are you? They want to know? Why? The Jewish culture was flooded with the Messianic Expectation. What is that? We’ve gone over a lot of Israel’s history in the past few weeks, but what you need to understand right now is this is a people under oppression. They are seeing in the scripture where God is telling of a Messiah or Anointed One who will come save the people and bring peace. The Israelites were expecting this Messiah to save them from the Roman Tyranny. They looked forward for the Messiah to come.
Just like how you all were waiting eagerly to hear how I explained this passage in John and write a one page summary on what you learned. I know I can see it in your eyes…No. More like how you eagerly wait for the meal after church, especially on Sunday. Yeah, I know… When I was younger I’d always love to go to church Sunday nights because we’d always go out to eat afterwards. It was a big treat because my family wouldn’t go out that often. This one time we were at Wendy’s, I was about five or so and I got a real delectable treat: a Frosty. I was so excited to take my first bite. I scooped it up, brought it to my lips, and slurped down the first bite. What I didn’t know was that my pastor had unloaded a salt shaker into my frosty. And I was like “ew!”
We often look at future things with great expectation (not the terrible book, mind you). As a child I looked forward to going out to eat and eating a Frosty. These expectations have a tendency to disappoint. The Jews looked forward to a Messiah to save them from the tyranny of the Roman rule. But Christ gives us a greater hope. We look forward to a savior who is coming to save us from the tyranny of sin. Our great faithful one will not disappoint, yet we live as if there is no one coming. We do not share the Gospel in such a way expecting a redeemer. We do not live a life holy unto God expecting him to return at any moment. We do not wake up every morning rejoicing in tears at the fact that today could be the day I could rejoice with the Almighty Creator who loved us enough to step down from his thrown and save us wicked people.
Why? Maybe we’re content with calling ourselves Christians yet living as if God doesn’t exist like the rest of the world lives. If that is true let us understand the warning of scripture, “let us fear lest any of us should seem not to have entered that rest” and “if you say you have fellowship with him while you walk in darkness, you lie and do not practice the truth.” We can say we believe in Christ all we want, but if we do not live the way we ought to, believe the things we ought to, and love those we ought to, scripture tells us we are in a dangerous place.
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.
Here we see the nature and identity of the people that came to John and their quest for the Messiah does not disappoint. John affirms the Messianic Expectation in the one who comes after him. Notice John’s response to the Christ: John is not even worthy to untie his sandals. The least of all the servants would be the one who would untie the sandal and John the Baptist, the Great Forerunner was not even worthy in that least position. Look at John’s humility. We see this all throughout scripture. When Moses sees Christ he falls to his face in worship. When Joshua sees Christ, he falls to his face in worship. When Isaiah sees Christ, he cries out, “Woe is me! I’m undone! I’m coming apart at the seams!” Why? This is the greatness of Christ that deserves veneration.
Now look at us. You turn on your Christian radio and most of the songs sound like they are singing to a girlfriend rather than the sovereign Lord of the universe. We use Jesus not as the ruling Lord, but as the butt of our Christian jokes, clichés and ‘Jesus jukes’. I can’t tell you how many countless times I’ve been at camp when some youth group incessantly chants “go God!” as if God were trying to accomplish something and we are his cheerleaders. What kind of mockery is this? Even more so, for us who strive to serve Him faithfully, do we dare repeat what John has said and say, “I’m not even deserving to be called the least of his servants”? No, somehow we praise ourselves enough to think that we deserve to serve the Lord, or that we are entitled to serve the Lord. The truth of the Bible is that “every inclination of the heart is wicked.” That is, even when we do our best to serve the Lord we somehow praise ourselves for doing so in the process.
It is only by the grace of the Lord that we do anything good! Why should we exalt ourselves? Christ is the only one deserving of any praise because anything that we do that is worthy of praise is only by God’s grace that allowed it. Let’s not only look at John’s example of humility in service to Christ, but look at Christ himself, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We see Jesus Christ high and exalted on his throne stoop down, become man, and die a terrible death on the cross for our sake, and reply, “I said a prayer one time,” or , “I did my ABC’s.” What kind of mockery is that? Salvation is not you one time repented and believed in the past; salvation is that you continually repent and continually believe.
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.”
Now we want to understand why John calls Jesus a lamb. Is it because Jesus is a party animal? Or is John calling Jesus dumb (sheep aren’t exactly the smartest animals out there)? Why is Jesus called a lamb? Does anyone happen to know what Leviticus 16 is about? Well, there is a special day in Jewish history called Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement. On this very special day, the high priest would place his hands on a lamb for this lamb would bear the sins of all of Israel. Then, the lamb was slaughtered. The wrath that God had toward their sin was satisfied and the wall that the people built against God would be torn down. But this sacrifice would be done over and over again every year. Why? Because the blood of lambs and goats were not sufficient, a human had to stand in our stead, one without spot or blemish: the Lamb of God.
Again we have John as our example. When he first sees Christ, what does he do? Testify about him. John is a faithful witness. When the Jews question John’s identity, he testifies about Christ. When the Jews question John’s motivation, he testifies about Christ. And when John sees Jesus coming, he doesn’t say, “phew, my job is done.” No, he again testifies about Christ. We are to be faithful witnesses to Christ. This doesn’t mean we hold obscene picket signs declaring God’s hatred such as the heretics at Westboro Baptist Church. That also doesn’t mean we become the Christian socially awkward nerd pestering people, “hey, do you know Jesus?” No, be real with people, get to know their hurts and desires, and share with them the true Gospel of the scripture. Be a faithful witness.