Summary: John the Baptist is the exemplar of the Christian witness which always points away from self and towards Jesus. The Gospel is all about Him, not us.
How to Be a Good Baptist
Rev Mark Barber
When I first preached this at Mt. Zion UMC, I put the sermon title “How to Be a Good Baptist” out on the sign in front of the church. You would not believe how many comments I received from people in the community, especially since the next week’s sermon was “Come to the Wine Tasting”. To the people who read the sign, some must have seen it odd that a Methodist should be teaching Baptists how to be good. However, This sermon isn’t about our brothers and sisters in the Baptist Church. It is about the remarkable witness of John the Baptist. Most of us have seen the slogan WWJD “What would Jesus do?” on bumper stickers and T-shirts, implying that we should do likewise. And this is true to a point. But there are things that Jesus has done that we could never do. We could never save ourselves from our sin. We could never do the works required. Jesus did that for us by His sacrificial death in our behalf. It would be better to have the slogan DWJTYTD “Do what Jesus tells you to do”. One of these commandments is to love one another in the same way Jesus has loved us. Another is to bear witness of Jesus Christ.
The word “testify” or “witness” in Greek is the word we get “martyr” from. The word originally meant to testify in court to what the witness knew about the subject at hand. Many early Christians were hailed into Roman and Jewish courts on the charge of being Christians. Rather than pleading the 5th when asked about Jesus, they confessed Him to their earthly loss and their heavenly gain. So many Christians paid for their testimony about Jesus with their lives that the meaning of the Greek word “martyr” changed to one who dies for a cause.
I cannot begin to tell you all how important the word “witness” is to the Gospel of John as is the word “truth”. People are sworn in court to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” under penalty of perjury. And as Jesus calls himself “the truth”, then a true witness confesses Jesus as the Christ.
The first called witness in the Gospel of John is John the Baptist. He is first mentioned in verse 6 as a man sent from God as a man to bear witness of the Light who is later identified as Jesus. John was sent to tell the world to prepare for the coming of the Christ. And John let nothing get in the way of his message, not even himself. His fame went around the entire Jewish world, even to Jerusalem. Thousands came out to hear him. Many believed, repented and were baptized by him. Others did not. John the Baptist did not let his fame lift up his soul with pride. The message he brought was not about him. The Gospel of John clearly tells us that John was not the light, but was sent to bear witness to the light that all men might believe on Jesus. John was faithful to his calling, even to the end. When he bore testimony about Jesus being the Lamb of God, two of his disciples left him. John brought not complaint about this. Later on in chapter three, it is recorded that Jesus’ disciples had gotten to the point that they were baptizing more people than John was, his humble response was that “He must increase, but I must decrease.” He said that he was not even worthy to undo the thongs of Jesus' sandals. When the Sanhedrin sent out a delegation to ask John what he was about, they asked Him “Who are you?” John the Baptist could have simply answered, “My name is John, the son of Zechariah the Priest. But John perceived more in the question they were asking and went out of his way to nip it in the bud. His answer to them is very emphatic in the Greek. He stated “I am NOT the Messiah.” He answers their questions about whether he was Elijah or “the Prophet” with a more simple denial. Then another group from the Pharisees asked him why he was baptizing if he was none of these. His answers fits his character, “I am a voice crying in the Wilderness”, quoting Isaiah 40. John has completely removed himself from the dialogue. He is a voice, nothing more. The other gospels describe this incident in more detail, but the apostle John omits it as a possible distraction from the message. It’s not about Herod Phillip and his wife. It’s not about the Pharisees being a brood of vipers, true though it was. The message was and still is about “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.