Summary: Examining the testimony of John the "Schitzophrenic".
Sermon: John the Schitzophrenic’s Testimony.
Text: John 1:19-34 (yes, I know the BCP stops at v28)
Occasion: Advent IV
Who: Mark Woolsey
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, December 18, 2005
Audio link: http://providencerec.com/Sound%20Files/Srmn05-12-18WoolseyJohn01;19-34AdventIVJohnTheSchitzophrenicsTestimony.mp3
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Two very important things are said about Jesus the Christ today, and I would like to elaborate on them. Before I do, however, I plan to examine the strange and seemingly contradictory man who said these things. We might even whimsically call this man John the Schitzophrenic.
II. John the Schitzophrenic
John, of course, was not schitzophrenic, not even in the popular way I’m using the term, even though he was a Baptist. However, there is a certain "splitness" from the normal, which is at the root of schitzophrenia, that characterizes various aspects of his life.
First of all, his birth was split from the run-of-the-mill "begottens" in the rest of the Bible. His parents were old and barren when an angel appeared promising them a child. To top it off, John’s father Zecharias was struck mute for the duration of John’s gestation.
Secondly, John was split off from his family by his vocation. His father was a priest, and his mother was descended from a priest. Yet John was never recorded as having taken up the "family business", instead God had a very different direction for his life.
Thirdly, John was split from the mainstream of society by living in the desert apart from others, eating locust and wild honey, and wearing clothes of camel’s hair. Have you ever been to a big city and seen a street preacher talking to a crowd? Or maybe a cartoon of a man walking around with a sandwitch board sign that says, "Repent, the end of the world is at hand"? Remember how strange he appeared to you? John was strange like those people; but instead of being a parody of a prophet, he was the real thing.
Fourthly, during John’s ministry, there appears to be a split between what an angel and Jesus said about John, and what John says about himself. When Zecharias was confronted by an angel and told that he was going to be a father after all, the angel announces that John "will go before Him (God) in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). Even Jesus Himself testified of John that "if you are willing to receive it, he (John) is Elijah who is to come." (Mat 11:14). Yet in our Gospel passage today, during an interview by some priests and Levites, they asked John, "’What then? Are you Elijah?’" He (John) said, ’I am not.’" (John 1:21). Is John lying, or simply confused about his identity? The angel at his birth ties him to Elijah; Jesus, sometime after this interview, does, too. If John is wrong about who he is, how can we trust his testimony about Jesus?
III. John and Elijah
We need to dig a little deeper into this interview between John and the priests and Levites. First of all, why would they even ask John if he was Elijah? Well, it turns out that even though John had separated himself from society by living in the desert, he had still managed to attract quite a following. Crowds used to come to hear him preach and to receive baptism from him. There was a certain expectancy in the air that the annointed one, ie, the Christ, would come soon. Could John possibly be him? When he denied that, John’s interragators went down a list of other personages they are expecting. One of them is the forerunner of the Christ who was predicted in the last few verses of the OT. Mal 4:5 & 6 state:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and stike the earth with a curse.
So was John Elijah, or wasn’t he? Well, he was. Jesus and the angel can’t be wrong. Then why did John deny that he was? I see at least two possibilities here. The first is that he was denying that he was literally Elijah himself, as if Elijah had somehow been dropped out of heaven and restarted his ministry on earth. In that sense he surely was not Elijah and makes sure the priests and Levites realize that. The second possibility is hinted at in Jesus’ statement about John in Mat 11:14. There He says "If you are willing to receive it...", implying that if you are not willing to receive John’s message, then John is not Elijah as far as you are concerned. Since John knew the religious hierarchy did not accept his message, he did not function as Elijah for them. Whatever the solution to this mystery, we do find what John said about Jesus to be unambiguous and important.