Summary: When the Pharisees approach John the Baptist demanding to know his credentials John never responds with who he is, but who he knows and who he represents. Learn the value of being an agent for Jesus Christ.
How do you want people to think of you? I guess it depends on the situation-and your age. When I was younger I wanted to be cool, and I was so not. Today I could be thought of in many roles: husband, son, father, pastor, writer, or musician. When I’m with other pastors I could want to be thought of as insightful or funny or sort aloof and above it all. As a father I could wish to be viewed as all knowing, all powerful, all benevolent.
One of the reasons for these roles is that people want to know: what gives you the right to be heard? What are your credentials? Well, today we’re going to see a guy who has credentials like crazy. In fact, Jesus called him the greatest man ever born. Yet he out and out refuses to let those around him define him by those credentials-by who he is. He defines himself by something, or in this case, someone else.
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The Word became flesh. Some in John’s day believed that Jesus only seemed human. Making Jesus something other than a flesh and blood human being has been the theme of several cults, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim Jesus returned in 1918 as a spirit. John wrote later that anyone who did not confess that Jesus came in the flesh was not saved (1 John 4:3).
Jesus was completely human, but he was also completely God. Jesus "dwelt" , "tabernacled" or "pitched his tent" among us. He was the human Tabernacle or Tent of Meeting. Jesus is where we meet God. Jesus wasn’t anything special on the outside, but inside He was the very glory of God. Jesus is "the only begotten" which means unique and special: one-of-a-kind. He is not one of a series of reincarnated "Christs".
Jesus is full of grace and truth. Jesus is the real thing - He is the holy God, but He also offers a free gift to all who accept it.
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The religious leaders of the day were curious about John. They needed to check out any new teaching, check the credentials of the person teaching, and were probably threatened and jealous of the following John was getting.
They pressed to know who he was. To them there were four possibilities: The Messiah, Elijah, The Prophet spoken of by Moses, or a false prophet.
First, John emphatically denies being the Messiah. The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, promised that one would come to "prepare the way before me" (Mal 3:1). In 4:5-6 Elijah himself is identified as coming before "the great and awesome day of the Lord." John said he was not Elijah. Jesus Himself said that John came like Elijah:
Matthew 11:11-14 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.
He also said he was not "The Prophet" which refers to Deut 18:15. This also speaks to the false prophet:
Deuteronomy 18:15-22 "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers-it is to him you shall listen- 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ’Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ’They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ’How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’- 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.