In a world of contradiction, deception, and destruction we may wonder how to communicate to others what we consider vitally important and critical to the wellbeing of not only ourselves, but also to others. In a world of relativity and cynicism regarding even the idea that truth can be known, we realize that when lies are embraced it leads to self-deception, false assurances, damaging relationships, and even life itself. Jesus assured us that living in falsehood was slavery to the lie. Only truth could bring freedom.
Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
The bible clearly teaches us that truth is found not in propositions or ideas alone, but it is ultimately found in a person. Truth is not divorced from love, grace, and understanding. For all these qualities are found in God, Himself. God is love. He is full of grace and truth. Jesus said in regard to himself in John’s gospel, answering the question of finding the right path or way:
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
To prepare the people of Israel which had high expectations of the coming Messiah, God sent a prophet to speak to the nation, to prepare their hearts. Many had unrealistic and false expectations which, if left unchecked, would lead them astray. We are introduced in the early part of John’s gospel to a man called John who was baptizing people as an expression of their repentance and preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. Here we see in John’s gospel the role and heart of a witness. What we will discover is that John is simply a voice speaking God’s message. What can we learn from John’s life and ministry that will help us best represent the truth in an age of deception, confusion and lies?
THE FIRST THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND TO REPRESENT THE TRUTH IS TO EXPERIENCE THE TRUTH
You cannot pass on what you have not experienced. The message is not just to correct people’s misinformation, but rather it is to point them to someone greater. It is not about winning arguments, it is about leading people to a person called Jesus.
A. John testified to the coming Messiah.
We all must keep this in mind. Ministry is not about us, nor is it ultimately about the people we are ministering to. Ministry is ultimately to be a witness of Jesus Christ. One of God’s purposes in giving us Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit is that we would be empowered to be effective witnesses, both in word and deed.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
It is not enough to simply have the narrative understood or that we know what to say, rather the message must be demonstrated by our lives and how we live. Jesus made this very clear in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Let’s peak into John’s life and ministry as he has been called to prepare people to receive their God.
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.
Why were they confessing their sins? Because John was preaching a message of repentance. He was challenging the people to turn from their sins to God.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ [In other words, we are Jews or covenant people – a mere confession] I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
What is John saying? That our profession of faith in Jesus must be evidenced by a changed and changing life. There must be the fruit of the Spirit developing within us, and that fruit is love. We know that the result of the Holy Spirit in our lives is love as Paul explains to us in Galatians.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
While this is the positive aspects of love being expressed, we also see the necessity to address our sinful nature. We turn away from fulfilling it by giving it no place to operate in our souls.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Paul also defined love to the Corinthians in this way.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
B. John was not the Messiah.
Let me begin by saying, it is not about us. Have you ever been challenged when you are sharing God’s message? Who do you think you are? John certainly experienced that in his hour. The question from those in authority was simply, who gave you the right or authority to speak on behalf of God, especially if challenging the evils in the lives of others.
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.
The actual Greek word translated Jewish leaders is simply, ‘the Jews’ sent priests and Levites. The NIV accurately explains that this is those Jews who were leaders. In light of much Antisemitic thought over the centuries we need to understand John’s use of the term ‘Jews’ in his gospel.
It is frequent in the Fourth Gospel, and because it commonly occurs as the designation of those who oppose Jesus, it has attracted much discussion. Some see in the expression evidence of Christian anti-Semitism; others think it refers primarily to Jewish leaders, not to the people at large; others think it reflects geography (a Galilean might well refer to his fellow Israelites from Judea as ‘Jews’);…In fact, careful examination of the seventy or so occurrences suggest John uses ‘the Jews’ in a variety of ways. Sometimes the expression is rather neutral, explaining a ritual for readers removed from Palestine (e.g. 2:6). Elsewhere the expression bears decidedly positive overtones (‘salvation is from the Jews’, 4:22”; Jesus himself is a Jew, 4:9). Some Jews believe (11:45; 12:110; others, unfortunately, seem to come to faith, and then turn away again (8:30). In 7:1, the expression takes on geographical colouring: the people of Judea. Most commonly it refers to the Jewish leaders, especially those of Jerusalem and Judea (as here in 1:19), and usually they are cast as those who actively oppose Jesus, fail to understand him, and who finally seek his death. …Not all Jewish leaders, however, are presented negatively: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea fare much better.
Coming to John, this delegation asks on behalf of the religious leaders who John represents, or who does he think he is, the Messiah?
He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’
John knew who he was and also who he was not. However, he did stand up and confessed freely.
Since John’s reply was a negative one, it is strange that it should be introduced by the words ‘he confessed and did not deny.’ We might have expected ‘he denied that he made any such claim’. But the evangelist will have us understand that even John’s denials were part of his positive witness or confession. Had John made such a claim, he would have found many willing to accept it. …But John refused to entertain any messianic claims for himself, whether royal, priestly or prophetic.
The word Messiah means ‘anointed one,’ and John sought nothing for himself. We need to represent the truth without expecting anything. Often what comes from it is difficulty, criticism and suffering. But our faithfulness to God will bring light, love and grace to many others.
They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah? He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered ‘No.’
First the evangelist wishes his readers to know that John neither did, nor could, claim to be either the Messiah, or one of the great Old Testament figures who would, it was believed, be reincarnated before the Messiah came.
Let me just add, that this expectation was not realized in the way that they expected as a people. Their ideas regarding the nature of ministry of the Messiah were political rather than spiritual in nature. We often find ourselves looking for political solutions to spiritual problems. We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers (cf. Ephesians 6:10-13). Our weapons are not the weapons of this life, but they are spiritual ones (cf. 2 Cor. 10. 3-4), like prayer, love, forgiveness and words of life, light, hope, and also calls for repentance.
The Jewish people in John’s hour were right in expecting the Messiah to come, but as to the details and what was about to happen, they were filled with misunderstanding and therefore deeply disappointed. Yet, there were some who rejoiced to see and experience the ministry of Jesus. Knowing that Elijah was to come before the Day of the Lord, and that Elijah had not died but had been taken up to heaven, they expected him to return. In hindsight we can see that the spirit and ministry of Elijah would go before the Messiah. Jesus spoke of John the Baptist in this fashion, but John, himself never saw himself in that way.
For all the Prophets and the law prophesied until John.
And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.
In other words, John the Baptist was fulfilling the ministry of Elijah in turning the hearts of the people back to God and to receiving him.
Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
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.’
On the contrary, when the Jews sent priests and Levites to interrogate him, on the first day of what was destined to be a memorable week, he asserted without any reservations and with deep humility that he was neither the Christ, nor Elijah redivivus, [come back to life], nor the prophet, of whom God had spoken when He said he would raise up a prophet who would be a second Moses (see Deut. 18:15). John’s lowly estimate of himself was that he was a voice (23), though, to be sure, no less a voice than the voice which heralded the release of Israel from the Babylonian exile (Is 40:3). It was a voice both stern and comforting. It cried out in the wilderness of the world’s need and pointed men to Him who alone can satisfy it; but it also called upon them to prepare the way for his coming by removing all that was crooked in their conduct and narrow in their outlook, like men turning a winding, narrow track in the desert into a royal highway, broad and straight. It is true that John acted as well as spoke. …He baptized and was engaged in that work when the Jewish deputation found him…
THE SECOND THING WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND TO REPRESENT THE TRUTH IS THE ACTUAL MESSAGE OF THE TRUTH
Since truth is a person, what is the best way for us to represent Jesus to our world? How did John go about preparing people for Jesus?
A. He was a herald preparing the people by his words and actions.
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.”’
His was a call to repentance, which is simply to change our minds about Jesus and begin to obey him as the ultimate authority in our lives. As we have seen, John didn’t compromise the message. Sin was seen as an enemy to God’s people. It destroyed and marred the image of God in their lives, even as it does in our lives. We need to remember that John is calling God’s covenant people back to himself. Paul in writing to the Ephesian church regarding the nature of those who are not in relationship with God as ‘spiritually dead in their transgressions and sins.’ This description shatters our culture’s view of humanity as intrinsically good.
Once you [believers] were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins.
You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.
All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger just like everyone else.
Fortunately, the good news is that God did something about that which we could not do for ourselves.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)
B. John is challenged in his ministry.
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’
I baptize with water, John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know.
He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
This group is now frustrated because John has not answered them according to their Messianic expectations. If he is denying that he is not one of those mentioned, then who is he? Obviously, John is urgently calling people back to God. Really their question is, by what right and whose authority is he engaged in this ministry? John’s answer is simply that he was baptizing with water, but his real witness is to the one was among them that they did not know.
…I do indeed baptize, I have authority from God to do so; but I am nothing compared with the one to whom I bear witness.
Here we see the proclamation of the Messiah. I am not worthy to untie his sandals. John’s task was simply to introduce others to Jesus. Is that not our task as well? We are not bringing people to ourselves, or even our church; we are bringing people to Jesus.
C. John points others to Jesus.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.
I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.
Here we have John’s answer for baptizing. So that the Messiah would be revealed to Israel. John explains the nature of the Messiah’s work as being the Lamb that would remove the sin of the world.
…not until he witnessed the promised sign did John know who the Coming One was. But he knew that his own baptismal ministry was divinely intended to serve as the curtain raiser for the public appearance of this Coming One.
So, how was John sure that Jesus was the Messiah?
Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.
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.’
I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’
It is obvious that Jesus had already been baptized by John and had left, and now had returned. John was about to testify about who Jesus is because of that experience. The same is true for us. Once God has revealed to us who Jesus is, we are able to point others to Him.
Here we read that Jesus was anointed at His baptism, as the Spirit of God rested upon him in the ‘form of a dove.’ John now relates that though he baptized with water, Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.
In Ezekiel’s prophecy of restoration, God promises not only to purify his people with clean water but also to impart to them a new spirit – his own Spirit (Ezek. 36:25-27).
So when God comes into our lives by His Spirit, everything changes. Listen as Paul describes this life in the Spirit in the book of Romans.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
So, how do we best represent the truth? First of all by coming to know the person of the truth, the Lord Jesus. Once we know Jesus, who is the truth, we live a life both in word and deed that testifies who Jesus is. Like John, when asked for the hope that is within our lives, we are able to testify to the truth, because he has not only been revealed to us, but also is now being revealed through us.