Did you ever have a situation where someone was dressed in some sort of outlandish fashion and then when you starred at the person, they were offended? Last summer, I was waiting to make a left turn onto Garland Groh Boulevard coming out of the Centre at Hagerstown parking lot. That is really not a good idea, since you have to wait and wait for so much traffic to clear! To my right, a car pulled up alongside me to make a right turn. It was now in my direct line of vision to my right, and as I looked that way, I could not help but see the woman driver who had rainbow-colored hair. We both had our windows down, and she yelled at me in an angry voice, “What are you looking at?” I was too stunned to answer!
Today’s passage features an eccentric character called John the Baptist. He is described in greater detail in Matthew 3:4-6 where it says, “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”
This fellow was not a freak show for the sake of being eccentric. He was not hustling a crowd to sell them on any product of his own. It was clearly his preaching and message that drew the throngs of spiritually-starved people to him. Yes, living essentially in the wilderness made him an odd-looking fellow for sure. But his message had a ring of truth and relevance to it, and crowds began to gather and the word began to spread about him.
And the news of this John the Baptizer had come to the ears of the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem. They were accustomed to various false claimants of Messianic identity – for in that time, there was a heightened level of expectation of a prophetically-promised messiah figure who would, in that context, beat up the Romans and the enemies of Israel. Could this John be that guy? He had the look of (what we would term) an Old Testament prophet. Those historic figures were rather eccentric as well. So who was this latest fellow? Certainly the masses of the people liked him; and therefore the religious leadership faction from their Jerusalem headquarters sent out a delegation to investigate and interview John.
Now understand, these entrenched religious types were not excited about messianic figures who disrupted the status quo and threatened their leadership and lifestyles. They were the epitome of “peace at all costs” and “don’t change anything” types. But they were also not completely sure and unified about what the prophetic Scriptures actually taught relative to a coming Messiah. And so they begin to go through a list of the variant popular views in their query of John …
1. Are you the Messiah? Answer: “I am not the Messiah.”
2. Are you Elijah? (Some people expected Elijah to come based upon a passage in Malachi.) Answer: “I am not.”
3. Are you the Prophet? (Some people wrongly interpreted Deut. 18:15 as predicting a prophet to come before the Messiah.) Answer: “No”
4. So who are you? Dude, we can’t go back to Jerusalem without an answer! Answer: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
So John does claim to be a fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah 40 … simply of one who would be a voice to point to the Messiah. He was not it … not the Messiah … not the light in the darkness. He was simply a bird dog pointing to Jesus, the Christ.
5. So what’s with all this baptism stuff you’ve got going on? Answer: John explains that his water baptism (wherein people confessed sins and identified themselves with his message of repentance and expectation) was a mere physical event … whereas the greater one who would come after him would baptize in a greater way with the Spirit.
The actual revelation of the identity of this greater person happened the very next day. As Jesus appeared before John, the Spirit revealed to John that Jesus was the one to come – the Messiah, the Lamb of God (anticipating the sacrifice of Christ), the Eternal One, the baptizer with the Spirit, the Son of God. John and Jesus were relatives through their mothers, though it is clear from this passage that before that moment, John had no idea that Christ was the Messiah … and perhaps they did not even know each other.
So what are you looking at? We should be looking at Jesus, which is our purpose in this series – to look at Jesus and to see him as “God Up Close.” Too often we get caught up in looking at certain preachers who currently seem to be all the craze, or ministries that have the great crowds assembling, or studying what communicative techniques best reach our culture … when we should rather be looking at Jesus.
John 1:19-34 John the Baptist and His Testimony
John the Baptist Denies Being the Messiah
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize withwater,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
John Testifies About Jesus
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”