The Humble Messenger
Psychologist Milton Rokeach wrote a book called The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. He described his attempts to treat three patients at a psychiatric hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan, who suffered from delusions of grandeur. Each believed he was unique among humankind; he had been called to save the world; he was the messiah. They displayed full-blown cases of grandiosity, in its pure form.
Rokeach found it difficult to break through, to help the patients accept the truth about their identity. So he decided to put the three into a little community to see if rubbing against people who also claimed to be the messiah might dent their delusion—a kind of messianic, 12-step recovery group.
This led to some interesting conversations. One would claim, "I'm the messiah, the Son of God. I was sent here to save the earth."
"How do you know?" Rokeach would ask.
"God told me."
One of the other patients would counter, "I never told you any such thing."
Every once in a while, one got a glimmer of reality—never deep or for long, so deeply ingrained was the messiah complex. But what progress Rokeach made was pretty much made by putting them together.
John Ortberg, "Leader's Insight: Curing Grandiosity (Part Two)," LeadershipJournal.net (1-29-07)
Most of us don’t struggle with a God/Messiah complex, but we can sometimes think too highly of ourselves.
Working for others
We see in Colossians 3:18-25, rules for Christian households
Colossians 3:22-24, Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
When I work for others, I try to do my very best
I worked for two ministries prior to becoming a pastor
While working with those ministries, I always tried to do my best to make my boss look good
I never felt like I needed praise or acknowledgement for working hard, because I found joy in making my boss look good
I also knew that I wasn’t really serving my boss, but the Lord
That perspective changes everything in the work environment
It was never about me, but rather about the Lord and my boss
Recognizing who we are serving
There are times in our work environment when we really enjoy working for our boss
There are other times when we wish our boss was someone else
During the difficult times, we have to remember that we are really working for the Lord and not for men
We have to come to the realization that it’s not about us, but about the Lord
John the evangelist continues to share about John the Baptist. In John 1:19-34 we see the testimony of John the Baptist. He first expresses his testimony in a negative way (vv. 19-28) and then shares it in a positive way (vv. 29-34). We will be looking at the negative way today. Now this negative testimony is not bad, but rather it’s John the Baptist denying the assumptions of the religious leaders from Jerusalem. John the Baptist was letting them know that his testimony was not about him, but someone else. He wants us to understand that . . .
BIG IDEA – Our testimony is not about me, but about He (Jesus).
GOD (John 1:19-28)
Three Assumptions (vv. 19-21)
John the Baptist had obviously gotten the attention of the religious leaders, which is why they sent a delegation to question him
They were the religious leaders for the people of Israel, but now a large number of their people were following John and being baptized by him
They needed to know why
“The very fact that emissaries from the Jerusalem authorities show up on John’s doorstep serves as a show of power and as a signal that the authorities will not tolerate in the long run a ministry that runs counter to their own purposes.” [Köstenberger, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, John, 59]
The Jews of Jerusalem sent a group to question John the Baptist
This was probably the Sanhedrin
Jon Courson likens them to our Supreme Court [Jon Courson’s Application Commentary, New Testament, 439]
They were the highest religious ruling group in Judaism
Priests and Levites
The priests were responsible for serving in the Temple
The Levites were responsible for assisting the priests in their service
Both groups handled the ritual purification that took place in the Temple, so they would be the best candidates to question John about his practice of baptizing individuals
The priests and Levites came to John to ask him who he was
Because John was baptizing individuals, the religious leaders had a preconceived idea of what time period was approaching – the eschaton (end times)
Since they thought they knew what time period was approaching, it narrowed their view of who John might be
So, they had three assumptions, based on their study of Scripture and understanding of end times
1st assumption – the Christ
Now, John the evangelist doesn’t record the actual question that the priests and Levites ask
But, from John the Baptist’s answer we know the question was whether or not he was the Christ
The Greek word for Christ means “anointed One”
The Hebrew word for Messiah means “anointed One”
So, we see that the religious leaders are asking John the Baptist if he is the promised Messiah, their deliverer
In the 1st Century there was great expectation and anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival
Jesus’ miraculous birth, the announcement of the angel to the shepherds, the shepherds testimony, and the Wiseman’s appearance a couple of years later, helped to feed this expectation and anticipation of the coming Messiah
It wouldn’t have been out of place for the priests and Levites to ask this question of John
We see John the Baptist’s response
He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely
Within Christianity, when we hear the word “confess” we normally think about confessing our sins, but that is not the intent of John’s confession here
“‘Confessed’ does not refer to confession of sins but to maintaining one’s allegiance to Jesus Christ in the face of hostile interrogation, and this is what John is doing here implicitly.” [Michaels, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of John, 96]
We can learn a lot from John’s example here
When faced with those who deny the deity of Christ, the existence of God, the validity of Scripture, etc., we have to maintain our allegiance to Jesus and confess Him to the world
PRINCIPLE – We should never fail to confess Christ.
My Next Step Today Is To: Speak up and confess my allegiance to Christ when others question and deny Jesus as Lord.
He told them that he was not the Christ, the Messiah
He wasn’t about to claim this name for himself
Our testimony is not about me, but about He (Jesus)
After John denies being the Christ, they move on to the next end time figure
2nd assumption – Elijah
If he was not the Christ, then perhaps he was Elijah
This tells us that the religious leaders knew prophecy
Malachi 3:1, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
Malachi 4:5-6, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
The religious leaders were taking the words of the prophet Malachi, literally – Elijah would return in person
They held to this belief because they knew the history about Elijah from the Scriptures
They had learned that Elijah never died, but was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11)
So, when they read Malachi’s prophecy about Elijah preparing the way for the Lord, they understood it in a literal sense
Jesus explained that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy concerning Elijah
Matthew 11:12-14, From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 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.
Matthew 17:10-13, The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
An angel prophesied to Zechariah (John’s father) about him prior to his birth
The angel was telling Zechariah all that his son would accomplish
Luke 1:17, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
John certainly fulfilled the prophecies from Malachi and the angel of the Lord – he was making the way ready for the Messiah
Perhaps John the Baptist even resembled Elijah
Mark 1:6, John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
2 Kings 1:8, They replied, “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
So, John’s wardrobe resembled that of Elijah
It wouldn’t have been a stretch for the religious leaders to make this connection and then misunderstand and misinterpret prophecy
John foils their second assumption, by telling them that he is not Elijah
3rd assumption – the Prophet
This assumption is again steeped in Jewish history and the promise of Moses found in Deuteronomy 18:15-19
Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19, The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to him . . . I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.
John’s answer to their third assumption is, “No.”
He was not the Prophet that Moses promised
Perhaps the priests and the Levites were baffled at this point, because John denied all three of their assumptions about who he was
Who are you? (vv. 22-23)
The priests and Levites know they can’t return empty handed to the Sanhedrin (Jews of Jerusalem)
They finally ask John to explain to them who he was
Have you ever struggled with remembering someone’s name when you’re trying to tell another person who you saw?
The other person starts throwing out names and you have to say “No” to everyone of their guesses
The person’s name you’re trying to think of is right on the tip of your brain, but having to respond “No” to the guesses distracts you from pulling the person’s name out of your brain
That can be so frustrating
I wonder if John the Baptist was getting exasperated with the priests and Levites
Perhaps he was thinking, “just let me tell you who I am!”
I find it fascinating, but not surprising, that John uses the words of the prophet Isaiah to answer their final question
John quotes the prophet Isaiah
Remember, the religious leader’s assumptions were all based on Old Testament prophecies about the Christ, Elijah, and the Prophet
John hits them with more Old Testament prophecy, which they probably already knew
John is not the Christ, but is rather a voice
The messenger is not as important as the message
“Though Jesus is the Word, the Baptist is ‘a voice’ directing his audience to Jesus.” [Köstenberger, 62]
Our testimony is not about me, but about He (Jesus)
PRINCIPLE – Disciples of Christ should always point people to Jesus.
Our personal testimony is the most powerful tool we have in sharing the Gospel, because no one can deny what happened to us
Now, in sharing our testimony we have to be careful that it doesn’t become about us
Greg Laurie in his book Tell Someone gives some great guidelines about sharing our testimony, especially concerning our past life of sin and rebellion against God
Don’t glorify or exaggerate your past [pg. 85]
Don’t boast about your work, boast in His [pg. 86]
It’s not about you; it’s about Him! [pg. 87]
“Our story is the bridge, not the destination. The point of sharing your story is so you can tell His story: His love for humanity, His death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead.” [pg. 87]
We are simply the voice, the messenger, pointing people to Jesus
What we see next is a change in location of punctuation from the words of the prophet in the book of Isaiah to the words of John the Baptist in the Gospel of John
In the desert
Isaiah 40:3, A voice on one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”
The Israelites were being released from captivity during Isaiah’s day
They would be returning to the Promised Land
“In the original context, the Old Testament prophet is calling for a (metaphorical) improvement in the road system of the desert to the east, a levelling of hills and valleys and a straightening of the curves, to accommodate the return of the covenant people from exile.” [Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Gospel According to John, 144]
In our lives
Here in the Gospel of John, we see that John the Baptist is the voice in the desert
His message, as the voice, is to make straight the way for the Lord
“‘Make the Lord’s path straight’ conveys the image of ‘preparing a roadway by clearing away the obstacles’ (Morris 1995: 121). The task of witnessing to Jesus today is similar: clearing away obstacles that may keep people from coming to Jesus, the most glaring being their sin and need of repentance.” [Köstenberger, 62-63]
“We might liken it to constructing an interstate highway or autobahn for Christ in our lives.” [Borchert, The New American Commentary, John 1-11, 131]
John the Baptist was calling people to repentance and pointing them to Jesus Christ
Even after John explains who he is, the priests and Levites are still stuck on the fact that he is not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet
Authority questioned (vv. 24-28)
Some Pharisees question John about why he is baptizing
If he’s not one of the eschatological figures they assumed him to be, then why is he baptizing people?
Baptism in the 1st Century was not a foreign concept
It was considered a form of ritual cleansing or purification
In the Jewish cultural it was reserved for Gentiles who converted to Judaism
Baptism was a way for Gentiles to be prepared for the final judgement, therefore, the Jews thinking John was the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet
The Jews obviously didn’t need to be baptized, because they were God’s chosen people (a misconception)
So, when John begins baptizing fellow Jews, it obviously creates a red flag in the religious leader’s minds
They need answers!
We see John’s response
He baptizes with water
“Water baptism for John’s disciples was a ritual act of cleansing demonstrating repentance and anticipation of the Messiah.” [Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary, John, 14]
What they didn’t realize is that Jesus was already there
I’m getting ahead of myself, we’ll talk about that next week
We see the humility of John
What the religious leaders are really saying to John the Baptist, in this final question is, “Who do you think you are and by whose authority are you baptizing, our fellow Jews?”
John could have thrown down his credentials at that point, but he doesn’t
“If I had been John, I would have probably said something like, ‘I’ll tell you who I am: I’m the last of the Old Testament prophets. My birth was declared to my father by an angel. The Holy Spirit empowered me for this mission when I was still in the womb. The Son of God called me the greatest man ever to walk the face of the earth [Matt 11:11]. That’s who I am! Who are you?’” [Carter and Wredberg, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in John, 30]
But John knows that his role is to become less, so that Jesus might become greater (John 3:30)
PRINCIPLE – Followers of Jesus should be characterized by humility.
John says that he is not even worthy to untie the leather straps that hold Jesus’ sandals on
In the 1st Century, the disciples of a Rabbi were to obediently do anything that was asked of them, except washing their feet
This task was reserved for the servant or slave (the lowest position in the culture)
John’s humility places him below a servant or slave
He again points to Jesus as the One who comes after him – the Messiah
Our testimony is not about me, but about He (Jesus).
Think for a moment about your testimony
Would you say that it is more about the glorification of your past and boasting about the things you’ve sacrificed?
Are there changes you need to make when sharing your testimony, so that your story is simply the bridge to telling God’s story of salvation through Jesus Christ?
My Next Step Today Is To: Review my testimony to make sure that it focuses more on Jesus and less on me.
My Next Step Today Is To: Take time this week to write out my testimony, so I’m ready to share it with my family, friends, and coworkers.
John the evangelist shares one more important note
The location of where John was baptizing disciples for Jesus was in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan
This distinguishes it from Bethany in Judea where Lazarus, Mary, and Martha lived (that location was near Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives
The actual location is lost to us, perhaps because it was not a highly populated area in Galilee
We should never fail to confess Christ
We should be characterized by humility when sharing our testimony
People need us to confess Christ, because the world’s message seems to drown out the message of the Gospel
We need to get our story out of the way, so God’s story can be seen clearly
"If you work hard, good things will happen . . . to someone else."
So goes the motto of the All-Joes Team. Each year USA Today honors overlooked and often unappreciated football players by naming them to what the newspaper calls its All-Joes Team. Now in its tenth year, the All-Joes award celebrates men who sacrifice their egos for the good of their team.
For all their hard work, these grunts receive little glory. "You have to know your role," says William Henderson, fullback for Green Bay's Ahman Green. "I'm there to create a cavity for Ahman to get through and to protect the quarterback from bodily harm." Guess who gets the accolades when Green runs for 1000 yards? "People don't respect the position," says Henderson.
But teammates notice. Fullback Mack Strong blocks for Seattle's Ricky Watters, and Watters depends on him. "Mack does all the dirty work in the run game. He does everything. I mean, if the goal posts fell, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go over there and hold them up."
As a result of being named to the All-Joe team, some players have gone on to further glory. Previous All-Joes have made it to the Pro Bowl, including Washington defensive end Marco Coleman, New York Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet, and Seattle offensive tackle Walter Jones.
We as Christians need to work for someone else's glory too. Our role is to diminish so that Jesus may increase. If we make this our goal, Jesus will make sure our efforts won't go unnoticed.
Steve Gertz, Wheaton, Illinois; source: Larry Weisman, "All-Joes honor fullbacks for dirty job well done," USA Today (12-16-02)