John the Baptist Announces that Christ Has Come - Third Sunday in Advent
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
John 1:6-8, John 1:19-31
December 13, 2020

We continue our theme through the Sundays in Advent and the Christmas season of how God has not kept us in the dark about His plan of salvation in Christ. God has announced His plan from the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the garden. He has announced it throughout human history in many and various ways. He continues to do so here and now. In continuation of this theme, we come to John the Baptist announcing that the promised Christ has arrived. We look at the account of this from the Apostle John’s Gospel this morning.

John the Apostle introduces us to John as a man who had been sent by God. Think of it. There had been at least 400 hundred years of prophetic silence from God for the people of Israel before John came. Then, suddenly, this character by the name of John the Baptist appears on the scene. People are flocking to him, confessing their sins. He is baptizing them in the Jordan River.

What is going on? It prompts an investigation by the authorities in Jerusalem.

The Apostle John tells us that John the Baptist came for the purpose of testimony. He came to testify about the Light. The purpose of his testimony was so that people might believe in the Light through him. John the Baptist was not that Light. He came to testify to the Light.

This Light is the Messiah, the Christ. He is a light that shines in the darkness. He is a light that the darkness cannot overcome. This darkness is the darkness of sin, evil will, death, despair. It is a darkness of not being able to turn oneself around on the inside. It is a darkness of having no hope of a gracious God. It is the darkness of fear.

This Light brings a gracious God. He brings atonement for sin. He affirms how God created humanity and affirms true humanity in you. He brings a turning us around on the inside toward acknowledging the truth and latching on to the promise that God forgives our sins and turns a gracious face toward us. He anchors us in Himself. And He has come to bring His ministration. He baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist testifies to him. He has come. He is here. And this is who He is for you. So prepare for Him in honesty, humility, and hunger for the truth.

I mentioned the investigation by the authorities from Jerusalem. They sent priests and Levites to John to find out about Him. “Who are you,” they ask John.

This question shows that they don’t know who he is. So they haven’t authorized him to preach and baptize. They have not sent him. So they demand answers from John.

But John was sent from God. It was God who authorized John. And his authorization from God is certified by the purpose for which God sent him: to testify that the Christ had come into the world; to call people to repentance in accord with God’s truth and God’s ways, to prepare them to meet the Messiah. Not going God’s way is a lost way.

God does not first ask the governing authorities for authorization and permission to speak His Word, to send His prophet, to send His Christ into the world, to establish and send His church. He does not first run the truth of His will and His ways past the governing authorities for their approval. He does not first ask scholars whether His truth and His Christ pass their critical evaluation and accommodate their theories. He does not first ask society if it regards His word and His Christ as true. The truth exists independently. It is there to be heard or discovered and then testified to. Humans are called to testify not to determine.

John answers their questions. He speaks truthfully about himself. Then he testifies about the Christ.

The question put to John is who are you? John “confessed” and did not deny, but confessed “I am not the Christ.”  

The Apostle John uses the word “confess” here. This word involves a solemn statement of what one regards as the truth before God, who is truth.

Paul speaks about confessing in Romans. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, solemnly believing this to be the truth, before God, you will be saved (Romans 10:9, 10). Here John the Baptist confesses: “I am not the Christ.”

Why would stating that one is not the Christ require such a solemn confessing? Isn’t it obvious that John was not the Christ, we might think.

I don’t think it is so obvious if we think about John in his own context. As I mentioned earlier, there had not been a prophetic word from God for a long time. There was also a great deal of Messianic expectation in Israel in John’s time. It is not at all surprising that the Jewish authorities and religious leaders would want to know if John thought of himself as the Christ in light of what John was doing. Many other would-be Messiahs did announce themselves and tried to make something of themselves. This most often took the form of violent revolt against the Romans, which revolts were not successful.

John, however, knows who he is and who he isn’t. He isn’t the Christ. He states this as the solemn truth before God. He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord. He is a witness to the Light, but he is not the Light himself.

And in our own day, it seems that we cannot take for granted that people, thinkers, religious figures, causes, governments, have John’s confession straight: I am not the Christ. How it seems that a Messiah complex is nearly unconstrained today in various ways. You can save yourself. Or join our cause and we will save humanity. Or the government will save us. Or some particular person will be our salvation.

Yet there is only one God and One Christ, whom God has sent. And all things are in His hands. Everyone else is just His servant.

And we Christians also must keep John’s testimony straight. We Christians also are not the Christ. You cannot save anyone, and neither can I.

So what are humans called to do; what are governments called to do; what are we Christians called to do? To testify. To bear witness to the truth, on whatever issue is placed before us. And we Christians are called to testify that the Light has come and shines in the darkness. The Light Himself and His Spirit must do their work. But we are called to testify, and to testify as if sent by God to speak the truth, to testify to His Christ.

If we do not testify according to God’s Word, we may use a lot of words and do a lot of things, but we have no truth and salvation to speak. If anyone in the church speaks,” says the Apostle Peter, let that person speak “as one who speaks the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11).

In this speaking we can only testify to God, whom we are not, and to His truth, which we do not fashion for ourselves, but receive from Him. We are witnesses to something that we are not, but which we embrace in solemn and firm faith and speak in solemn and confident confession, because God has spoken and we have said, Amen.

This is not about us. If it were about us, then John would have stated that he was the Christ, but he did not so state.

This also prompts me to think about this. We all have our vocations, our jobs, and we have to earn our living in them. So in a sense, we cannot completely separate self-interest from our jobs; we need to make a living. But John inspires us to also have a higher view, and it is this: to strive to find the truth in whatever our vocation may be; to be humble and faithful in this regard. This is because God also strives to do His work through vocation. As you are aligned with God in Christ, as John also was, you then are sent from God in your vocation to seek, to find, and to confess the truth your vocation requires in a universe in which God is King, which God Himself has made, and which is accountable to God. Christ will be with you every day along the way. Sometimes this is not an easy road.

So John the Baptist was faithful in his calling to testify about the Christ. He testified to the Christ faithfully. One is coming after me, John solemnly testifies. This One is very special. I am not worthy to even loosen the strap of His sandal. His dignity is supreme in comparison to me, for I am a lowly, sin-corrupted, mortal, who stands in need of redemption.

John expands on this theme by speaking a rather mysterious sentence: “The man who is coming after me ranks before me, because He was before me” (John 1:30).

Why is this sentence mysterious? First, because John speaks of a man, a real human being. Second, because John says that this man ranks ahead of John. Third, because John says that this man ranks ahead of John because He was before John. He existed before John existed. This man John speaks of is Jesus.

Wait a second. This man comes after John, which means after John in time. We know this from the order of their birth. John the Baptist was at least six months older than Jesus. So if Jesus came after John in time, how could He have existed before John existed?

Here Scripture brings us into the most holy place, and this holy place is the incarnation of the Son of the God. There is no holier place one earth than this, and He is present here. Nothing on earth is as important as this.

This man, though He came after John in time, existed before John in being, from all eternity. And so He ranks before John. And so John is not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal. How profound it is that this man, who was before John in being, even wears sandals, like you and me, and walked this earth, which you and I walk, like you and I walk it; this earth that He created. Yet, He is before us all in being. Indeed, John testifies: I have seen and I have testified that this one, this Man, is the Son of God (John 1:34).

Yet, John also testifies about this man, who ranks before Him, who is before Him in being, though He came after John with respect to birth: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The One who is before us all in being, now makes Himself a lamb to take away our sin.

Speaking of a Lamb should remind us of Passover, when God passed through the land of Egypt to slay all the firstborn. The lamb then was also slain and its blood was applied to the doorposts of the houses of the people of Israel. When God saw the blood of the lamb on the doorpost of a house, He passed over that house, and it was spared slaying of the firstborn.

Now this One who is before us all in being is the man come as the lamb whose blood causes God’s wrath to pass over us. He is the One in whom God embraces us in forgiveness in His grace and love. He truly is Light and Savior. He is the Christ. The Christ is the lamb whose blood sets us free from God’s judgment against our sin, and opens the way to life, peace, and joy in God.

So John testified that we may believe it. We believe it and rejoice in this salvation. And may we also be about the same testimony, so that as it was said of John, it may be said of us, Christ’s church; so that many will come to believe through our testimony and then rejoice with us in Christ, who has come to save us.

His Name is Jesus, and He is the hope of the world.

Amen.



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