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 anxiously 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 whose part it was to declare that the time had fully come and the curtain was about to rise. He was the light man whose job was to shine the spotlight on the lead man 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 guy with the “big mouth and 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.”
Already 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. We’re used to hearing it a courtroom. “Witnesses” sit on a “witness stand” and they give their testimony. They tell their story to the court.
No sooner does John come onto the stage than he’s put on the ‘witness stand’ and asked to give his sworn testimony.
A contingent of men came from the city out to the wilderness where John was baptizing. They weren’t exactly the “hospitality committee” come to welcome John with a coffee mug and a church pamphlet. They were NOT sent from God. They were sent by the Pharisees.
Hiking out into the desert they asked John, “Who are you?” What they meant of course was, “Who do you think you are?” Evidently there was some scuttlebutt going around that this strange man with his strange clothes and strange diet might be the long awaited Messiah. But “He confessed and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’”
“What then, are you Elijah?” 400 years before John, the prophet Malachi said that Elijah would come before the Messiah appeared. They wondered if John was Elijah. After all, John certainly dressed like a real prophet. Jesus would later say that John was the Elijah that Malachi had spoken of, “if you can believe it.” But would not apply that honor to himself. “I am not,” he said.
“Are you the Prophet?” And John’s testimony is short and sweet, “no.”
“So they said to him, ‘who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us.” “We’re on an expense account and we’ve got to justify this trip to management at the home office.” “What do you say about yourself?”
John answered by reciting a few verses from the prophet Isaiah which John understood had been written about him. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way for the Lord.”
Now they’re starting to get a little irritated with this really strange guy and they say, “they why are you baptizing if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” As if to say, ‘you know, you’re causing quite a fuss out here and you’ve got a lot of people wondering about you and asking lots of questions. We’re the authorities. We’re the officials of the church. And we don’t like not knowing what’s going or what you up to.’
But John is unfazed by their threats and demands that he answer their questions. He just keeps pointing and mouthing off about Jesus. “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
John wants to tell these church inspectors, “listen fellows, you’ve got it all wrong. This is not about ME. I’m just the ‘forerunner’ whose job it is to go before the King and blow the trumpet so everyone is aware that He’s about to come that they may be ready to receive Him rightly. So you should listen to my preaching because my preaching is all about the Christ who is ‘AT HAND.’
‘Even though I was born 6 months before He was, He is before Me since He is the Son of God and there was never a time when He was not. He’s the one whom you should really pay attention to. You don’t know Him, but He’s the One whom you must come to know. You need to listen to everything He has to say and pay careful attention to everything that He does and cast all of your hopes for salvation and eternal life upon Him and put your trust in Him.
‘This is the One whom all this ‘trumpeting’ I’m doing out here in the wilderness is all about. As for me, I am not worthy to even untie the strap of his sandal. As for Him, He is worthy of your complete trust and love and devotion.”
Of course, we know how these men and those whom they represent responded to all of this. They didn’t listen to John’s sermon and preaching at all. All they were interested in was his person and credentials for carrying on the way he was. It was the same when Christ came. They would listen to His preaching but would reject all of it. Eventually they would rejoice to hear that Herod beheaded John. And they would plot and scheme to have the Christ he announced, crucified.
The evangelist puts it like this, “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to His own, and his own people did not receive him.”
It’s not much different today? There is nothing more important for men and women to hear and believe than that Jesus Christ has come into the world to deliver them from sin, death and the power of the devil and bring them into His heaven and give them eternal life in paradise – and that He is worthy of our complete trust and confidence.
It’s the work of the church in every day and age to blow the trumpet and announce the arrival of the Christ who has reconciled the world to God the Father, ‘not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.’ Say it with me… “This is most certainly true.”
The last thing in the world we ever want to do is point to ourselves and trumpet ourselves as though we had all the answers and all the power to reconcile a single soul to the holy, holy, holy God in heaven. No, we preach Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead.
And just as it was for John the Baptist, it is for us. The vast majority of people have little or no interest in our message and either ignore it altogether or consider it to be utter foolishness. They’re so wrapped up in their work or their family or their money or in their busyness, by which they try to satisfy their hunger and thirst for significance and purpose and meaning for their life – even while they refuse to hear the good news that this Jesus Christ and through faith in Him, we are loved and cherished by God Himself and free to engage this world in whatever our calling and vocation might be – not for what we need to get out of it for ourselves – but for what we are able to give for the sake of others.
To all who want to have a god in their own image who appreciates and rewards all of their good works and righteous living with heaven – we testify to a baptism that unites them to Christ and His death FOR THEM and to His resurrection from the dead FOR THEM and restores us to His holy image in which He made us in the beginning – not because we have earned it or deserve it BUT SOLELY BECAUSE He loves us.
And so many laugh and scoff and even despise and hate us because of our testimony, because they have so much invested in their own righteousness that they refuse to let go of.
But as it also was for John the Baptist, so it also is for us. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13). And every time a single soul lets the testimony about Christ take root and produce its good fruit of faith and hope and life, the angels in heaven rejoice and John the Baptist rejoices with them.
We must never fall into the temptation and become misled or sidetracked from the single most important work that the church is called to do. We are to testify to Jesus Christ – whether anyone listens or not, whether anyone repents and turns or not – simply because there is no other gospel by which men may be saved. This is the chief article of the Christian faith and anytime this article is pushed aside for any other – the church has nothing left to say that can help, let alone save men and women from sin, death and hell.
This is what made John the Baptist stand firm and “confess and not deny but confess.” Let it be the same for us. It is the one thing most necessary. Let us listen to John’s testimony ourselves, so that our own faith in Christ may be continually revived and strengthened. And let us use our mouth and our finger to point others to Jesus as John did – without fear. For even if we should lose our head for it, we know that our head is Christ and we cannot lose Him. Even death is no threat to us – for Christ Jesus is our life.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.”