Advent 3 – “A Witness to the Light” – John 1:19-28 – 12/14/14

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A little boy wanted to land a part in the school play. He was so excited that his parents were concerned how he would handle it if he didn’t get a part. So when he came home from school they quickly asked him how the auditions went. The boy was ecstatic. He joyfully told his parents that his teacher had picked him out of all of the other kids to sit in the audience and clap as loud as he could.

I think that John the Baptist would have been wanted to land a part in his school play like that one too.

John was “supporting cast” and definitely not the “lead role.” He was the announcer who was to announce that the time had fully come and the curtain was about to rise. He was the light man, not the shoes of the lead man. His part was to shine the light on the main character when He came onto the stage. John’s big line in the divine drama was, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Artwork from the early Church depicts John the Baptist with an overly large mouth and a hyper-extended index finger pointing to Jesus. John was perfectly content to be known as the “big mouth with the big finger.”

John was born to be a witness. “He came as a WITNESS to bear WITNESS about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear WITNESS about the light.”

At his birth, his Father’s sealed lips burst open with prophetic words. “You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways…” (Luke 1:76).

John prepared the way for the Lord by witnessing. “Witnessing” is a legal word and we’re used to hearing it a courtroom. “Witnesses” sit on a “witness stand” and they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

No sooner does John come onto the stage than he is put on the ‘witness stand’ and asked to give his sworn testimony.

A contingent of fellows came from the city out to the wilderness where John was baptizing. They were not the “hospitality committee” come to welcome John with a coffee mug and church pamphlet. They were not sent from God. They were sent from the Sanhedrin – the ruling council of the Jews.

Hiking out into the desert they asked John, “Who are you?” If you listen carefully, you can hear a serpent’s hiss in that question. “Who are you?” “We’re not here to inquire about the one whom you keep talking about, John. We want this to be about YOU.” “Who are you?”

It’s not that they didn’t know who he was. They knew that his father was a priest who served in the temple. They knew that his mother was way past the age of child-bearing when she became pregnant with him and that he was a true ‘miracle baby.’ They knew that he was a very devout and religious person. Just look at the way he dressed. They had to have been impressed with his lifestyle.

And yet they ask him, “Who are you?”

These are dignitaries and high-ranking men of the Temple in Jerusalem. They are men of status and reputation. They interrupt their busy schedules and leave their prestigious offices in the city to go into the wilderness to visit John. How honored John should be that they should be so interested in him. They flatter him with their questions. “Are you the Christ?” “Are you Elijah?” “Are you The Prophet?”

They do all that they can to distract John from his mission which is to draw attention, not to himself, but to the LIGHT OF THE WORLD. The devil wants to do all he can do to distract John from doing what he was “sent by God to do,” which is to “bear witness about the light, that all mighty believe through him.”

The setting is significant. It happens in the ‘wilderness.’ The serpent slithers into the wilderness to tempt John, just as the serpent will again slither into the wilderness to tempt the one to whom John bears witness.

A ‘witness’ is not merely a spectator who reports about what he has seen or heard. The bible’s word for ‘witness’ is ‘martureo,’ from which we get the word, ‘martyr.’ A ‘witness’ is one who is a participant, a member of Christ’s own body. Not only is HE TEMPTED as we are, but we are also TEMPTED as He was. Not only does He suffer with us and for us but we suffer with Him and for His name’s sake. He is put to death for us, and we die with Him.

Paul writes to Corinthians saying, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1). This has nothing to do with trying to mimic someone else’s behavior, or wearing a bracelet that reminds you to ask, ‘what would Jesus do?’ We ‘imitate’ Christ as a child imitates his parents because is of their flesh and blood.

Even in his temptation in the desert by this “broad of vipers” that have slithered out to shake his hand and get his autograph, John is bearing witness to Him who will also be tempted to turn away from the mission that He has been sent by God to accomplish.

The thing that makes John the Baptist so great is that he will not be deceived nor persuaded, no matter how personally rewarding or good for his career it may be. Just think of the honor and dignity John could have had for himself if only he had accommodated these dignitaries with what they had come for. And just think of how much greater influence he could have had from Jerusalem, with the ‘seal of approval’ of the Sanhedrin. Who knows but if he played it right, he could become the chief spokesmen of Israel, the Chief Priest – he had the right bloodline. And THEN just think of the how he could point people to the LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

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