John 1: 19-34 :: Son of Godby Ed de la Cour on March 10, 2014
John the Baptist may be among the strangest men in the whole Bible. He is described in Matthew and in Mark as a man who lived by himself in the Judean desert. He wore clothing made of woven camel’s hair, wrapped himself with a leather belt, and ate a diet of locusts and wild honey. That spells strange in my book. Luke says that, although he led a solitary life, as his ministry got underway, large crowds of people gathered to hear him preach. While his preaching was prophetic in content, it was also confrontational in its tone. He shouted at the crowds, calling them, “You brood of vipers!” Even so, the Spirit of God attended his fiery preaching and people were soundly convicted of their sin. Hundreds repented. They confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan River. In Luke 3, you can see how the crowds engaged with John, asking him what they should do and how they should live.
We all want to be first or best at something. Whether it is to be a leader, or a boss, we all have a desire to be in charge. It’s more than a little unsettling for us to see the character of a man like John the Baptist. He was not only content with being an also-ran and a second fiddle; he also saw his own destiny, his purpose in life, as the one who got to announce the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. John was the spokesman, but not the man himself. John was the herald who shouted the news; he was not the news. John was the forerunner who prepared the way; he was not the way.
John lived his whole life in the service of the One who was yet to come. As soon as John’s ministry came into prominence, that is when Jesus arrived on the scene. It wasn’t long before Jesus began to eclipse him. We are taken aback by his humility. We are astounded by his willingness to play second fiddle to Jesus. How many people are happy to be number two? But in John 3: 27, John declared confidently, “A man can receive only what is given to him from heaven.” He went on to make his own popularity forecast: “He must become greater; I must become less.” We could do a lot worse than to look to the example of this man for some clues as to how we might want to live our own lives. I don’t mean we should wear his wardrobe or copy his lifestyle in the desert, but we can glean much from the character he possessed. What can we learn from John?
According to what the Bible teaches, John was one who was chosen and called by God to prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus to begin. While Jesus was already born, already grown up, already coming into His own as a man, the foundation for the way Jesus would begin to minister was set in place by John. God rarely works in our world without preparation. God always prepares the way. He always tills the soil to break up the hard, fallow ground. God always takes measures designed to soften people who are hard of heart.
John’s message spoke directly to the hearts of people and caused them to rethink their way of living life. That kind of message is rarely welcomed, but it is a necessary message for all of us to hear. Yes, John prepared the way for Jesus, but our hearts also have a desperate need to be prepared. The reason the ministry of preparation is so important is that we are captivated by mediocrity. We believe that good enough is good enough. There is no urgency in the way we live. We are upset when our favorite TV show is canceled, but major news events or the spiritual need of our community hardly makes a ripple on our radar. Not so with John. In his heart, there was birthed a great sense of urgency that people need to be made ready to meet God. There was a great sense of expectancy that people needed to be prepared for what God was about to do next. The arrival of Jesus was God’s next big thing.
As our text opens, we see John being interrogated by those who worked for the authorities. Who are you? Are you Messiah? Are you Elijah or the Prophet? Who are you? Basically, John’s answer was, “I am not the droid you’re looking for.”
Curiously, those who were sent to question him were not really seeking after God. They were not really looking for what God might be doing. They were much more interested in intercepting, defusing, and heading off any potential or perceived threat to their religious status quo. They were not seeking the Messiah. They were not looking for Elijah or the Prophet. They did not desire to bow before the one God was sending. No, they were seeking grounds to stop anything that might interfere with their happy little fiefdoms of earthly power. So they demanded of John, identify yourself. “Who are you?” John was not the Christ, and he said so. He was not the Messiah, nor was he Elijah, or the Prophet, or anyone else in whom they’d be interested.
The answer John gave was that he saw himself as the preparer, as the one who paved the road, who made the way clear, who removed stumbling blocks, who opened the door so that the King of glory could come in. He told his listeners not to look at him, not to focus their attention on him, but to lift up their eyes and prepare their hearts because Jesus was coming. Prepare your heart so you can see Jesus. We would do well to adopt John’s manner of living for our own. Why cause people to notice us? Why should anyone be impressed by anything we do? Why not instead point them to Jesus? Why shouldn’t we become voices in this desert in which we live? Why shouldn’t we call Cape Codders to prepare themselves to meet the Lord?
Consider the film, “Son of God” that recently opened across the country. People have many opinions about the movie, but one thing is clear. This film is opening doors for conversation. It is preparing the way. It is raising awareness. It’s opening people’s eyes to see Jesus in a way He has not been seen in some time. Clearly, the movie is not perfect. It’s not a Sunday School lesson and it was never intended to be one. It is not and it cannot be a perfect vehicle for evangelism. But it does raise questions and it starts conversations. Do we need Hollywood’s help in evangelizing America? No, of course not, but I sure appreciate any opportunity offered to have a conversation about Jesus. In many ways, like this film, John the Baptist prepared the way.
John pointed to Jesus is verse 29 and declared Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is your sacrificial lamb. He is the one appointed by God to bear the brunt of His wrath against sin. Jesus will carry your shame with Him and to be nailed to the cross along with every one of your sins. Don’t look at these bronze crosses or to the golden jewelry you wear and think how sweet it is to have Jesus as your Savior. Look instead to the cross itself and remember that all of your shameful deeds, every word of cursing, your every act of hatred and lust was carried on the shoulders of this Man Jesus who willingly went to the slaughter for you and for me.
John was baptizing people, but getting baptized wasn’t the point of what he was doing. We want you to be baptized, too, but getting wet is not the point. The point is Jesus. The point is always Jesus. The point is placing your life below the life of Jesus and acknowledging to God and everyone you know that you are now under new management, His management. In your heart, you are delighted to be second fiddle to the Son of God. In those days, baptism was an act of preparation. Today, baptism is an act of declaration. Baptism is the sign that you have surrendered control of your life and yielded that control to Jesus Christ your Lord.
John baptized with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Nowadays that term seems to have had its meaning changed into a mystical act which is followed by strange behaviors. But that was not the intent here. When you are baptized with water, you are making that declaration of new ownership and control over your life. You have not merely gotten wet. When you are baptized with the Spirit of God, you are now indwelt by God’s Spirit. You are not simply wet or immersed, you are drenched, you are now infused by the presence of Jesus and power of God. Jesus has come to live in you. According to Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Because of the Holy Spirit’s entrance into and filling up of your life, your relationship with God is no longer a surface thing, but you are now swimming in the deep waters of the life of God. Your relationship with God is growing more and more intimate every day and the quality of your life is changing before your eyes.
It is very interesting how John identified Jesus as the One who was sent from God. When John saw Jesus approach that was when he first called out that Jesus was the Lamb of God. But how did he come to that conclusion? In verse 33, John said that God told him, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.” John received revelation that day of who Jesus is. He saw the presence of God come upon Jesus “and remain on Him.” I don’t think the Spirit’s presence was widely observed and I don’t think people thought a pigeon had landed on Jesus. I believe John perceived the presence of God and that gave him courage and insight to declare unequivocally “that this is the Son of God.” Jesus had done nothing and said nothing to draw attention to Himself. All that happened was the Holy Spirit came and remained on Him. That was John’s cue. Every part of his ministry was now aimed toward magnifying Jesus and not himself. Everything John did was done for the sake of the Son of God. That was his motivation.
John was not just a follower of God, not just a preparer of the way, or an announcer of the coming Kingdom. John had a strong intentionality about the way he lived his life. Do you live your life on purpose? Are you intentional about the way you follow Jesus? Most of us go along with whatever flow is happening. For me, this is the reason why I find John such a motivating figure in the Bible. He was not weird or strange at all. He was simply committed to the purposes of God. Everything he did, he did for the sake of Jesus, he did for the One who would come after him. Jesus was the One who would take John’s disciples. Jesus would take John’s fame. Jesus would overtake John’s influence.
God is seeking people who are willing to be intentional about living for Jesus. Many religious societies have gimmicks and programs, but God is looking for people who are willing to lay down their desire to reign in first place in order to live for the Son of God. God is looking for intentional Christians.
John the Baptist consistently turned attention way from himself and he pointed to the One who was to come. The Gospels are consistent in the portrait of John the Baptist that is presented. John was amazingly humble. He saw himself as an unworthy servant. In verse 26, John said, “He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Humility is the hallmark of the Lord’s servant. One of the signs that a person might be working for the other team is a lack of humility.
When the angel of the Lord came to Mary, part of her response to the assignment given to her by God in Luke 1: 38, was “I am the Lord’s servant.” The lowly estate of the servant of the Lord yet carries with it a sense of privilege and honor that the person has been called to be a servant of God. When Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, he started his letter to them by identifying himself as “Paul, a bondservant of Christ Jesus.” In Greek, the word for “servant” is “doulos,” a word that also means “slave” or “bondservant.” James 1: 1 says, “James a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” A bondservant is a slave and is one who gives himself up into the service of another and to the will of another. In this case, a person gives himself over to Jesus Christ. In writing Ephesians 4: 1, Paul asks of his readers, “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Friends, this is the calling we have received from God.
If you are a Christian, if you are a follower of Jesus, if your life has been redeemed by His shed blood, I have news for you. You’ve been promoted! You are now a bondservant of Jesus, just like John the Baptist, just like Paul, just like James. You have surrendered yourself over to the will of God and into the service of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Congratulations!
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.