Summary: John the Baptist provides a prime example of a preacher's humility: pointing away from himself to Jesus: not seeking to add followers to His own fold, but to Christ, the Son of God.


John 1:19-28

The prologue to John’s Gospel gives an account of how Eternity broke into time (John 1:1; John 1:14): yet Time encroaches on the very timelessness of the account in the person of “a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). This John is not to be confused with the author of the Gospel: neither is he to be confused with the One whom he came to proclaim (John 1:8). John came to bear testimony concerning the main character of the book: Jesus (John 1:15).

Identified as the Baptist (Matthew); the baptiser (Mark); the son of Zacharias, located in the wilderness (Luke): John saw himself as nothing more than a voice (John 1:23). This is typical of the humility of the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 1:6; Amos 7:14). This distinguishes the true minister of God from the false (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Yet the Voice speaks words, and the true witness points away from himself to Another. John spoke concerning the Light, that through him (that is, through John’s testimony) people might believe (John 1:7). This is the task of everyone who seeks to share the gospel with others: to draw attention not to ourselves, and our ministry, and what we are doing for God; but to our Lord Jesus Christ, to what He has done, and what He is doing (John 1:29).

The witness of John is put on record (John 1:19) because the Council in Jerusalem sent a delegation to him, asking who he thought he was, preaching without licence (from them) out there in the wilderness. They surely knew he was a priest’s son, but they wondered whether he was perhaps setting himself up to be the long-awaited (and soon expected) Messiah? Anticipating their question, John emphatically denied that he was the Messiah (John 1:20).

Or was he Elijah, or the Prophet spoken of by Moses (John 1:21)?

Elijah was expected to appear before the “great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Malachi 4:5). John here denies that he is the Elijah of their common expectation, because he was not the forerunner of a triumphant King who would deliver them from the Romans, but of the humble Servant who would die for the sins of His people. Nevertheless, Jesus speaks of John the Baptist as having come in the spirit of Elijah (Matthew 17:10-13).

Moses spoke of a Prophet like himself, who was to come of the nation of Israel, and to whom they should hearken. He would speak God’s words - and woe betide any who did not obey (Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:18-19). This Prophet is not John (John 1:21), but Jesus (John 12:49).

It would appear that the authorities were more concerned with the man (John 1:22) - and what the man was doing, and how he was stepping on their collective ecclesiastical toes - than with the message of repentance which he preached (Luke 7:30). This interview appears to be more of an interrogation than an honest inquiry, and seemed to take on the sneering scorn of an Inquisition before it was over. Familiar with baptism as a means of bringing non-Jews into the commonwealth of Israel, they next questioned his authority to baptise those who were already of the Jewish faith (John 1:25).

John was aware that the Messiah was about to be manifested to his hearers (John 1:26). They did not know Him, and neither would they know Him, for they had no will to know Him. John came to baptise with water, but the One to come would baptise with the Holy Ghost (John 1:33).

John pointed away from himself to Jesus. We too must preach Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

In point of time, Jesus “came” (John 1:14) - was born, and began his ministry - after John. In point of rank, and from the perspective of eternity (John 1:1), Jesus had precedence over John. John saw himself as not even fit for the lowliest task of a slave: loosing the sandals of his Master (John 1:27).

A few weeks before, the baptiser had seen the Spirit descending like a dove, and Remaining on Jesus (John 1:32-33). A day after his interrogation, John pointed to Jesus - perhaps coming back from His temptation in the wilderness - and declared Him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Then the next day after that, John repeated the declaration to some of his own disciples, and was content to see them leave the nursery of the wilderness to follow Jesus (John 1:36-37).

Preachers, after all, should not be in the business of gathering followers into their own fold, but of adding members to Christ, the Son of God (John 1:34).

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