The Testimony of John
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John 1:19, 23, 26-27: Now this is the testimony of John…”I am not the Christ…I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: make straight the way of the Lord…I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…John was asked, “Who are you?” One wouldn’t have thought it was so difficult of a question. But John’s answer shows that he is not the least bit interested in talking about himself. He has someone else he wants to talk about, and so he says: “I am not the Christ, not Elijah, not the Prophet.”
This, of course, leaves his questioners unsatisfied. They HAVE to have something to say to those who sent them. They must bring an answer back to those who didn’t come to ask their own questions. John simply has to fess up to who he is. They press him; they inquire of him, and so he basically says, “Fine. Call me a voice, a voice crying out in the wilderness, just like Isaiah foretold: Make straight the way of the Lord! There, are you satisfied? That’s me. I’m that voice!”
But no, they are NOT satisfied with that answer. Because if John is not the Messiah, and if he is not Elijah, and if he is not the Prophet, then why in the world is he baptizing? By what right does he plunge people under the water and lift them out again as a people prepared and waiting for the Lord? Why is he doing this?
And John’s answer to that question is very interesting. “I baptize with water.” And when he begins like that, we would expect him to go on and talk about the One who is coming who will baptize with the Spirit and with fire. That’s what we expect. But that is not what we get. Instead, John takes off in another direction, saying, “But there is one among you whom you do not know.”
Was Jesus standing in the crowd watching the whole thing unfold? Did John’s eyes twinkle a bit as He said it, and glance toward the Lord as he spoke? The Jesus whom the Jews missed is his theme. John the Evangelist put it like this: “He was in the world and the world was made by him, and the world did not know him” (John 1:10).
How easy it was to miss the Man who looked just like any other man. There was nothing special in His outward appearance, even as Isaiah said (53:2): “He had no beauty that we should desire him.” He looked like an ordinary Joe in a crowd of ordinary Joes.
But you see, that IS why John came baptizing. He came baptizing because the One who sent John to baptize told him: “The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, He it is who will baptize with the Spirit.” John himself confesses: “I did not know Him; but that He might be revealed to Israel, I came baptizing.”
The baptism of Jesus by St. John the Baptist is the great revelation of who Jesus is: He is the Beloved Son of the Father; He is the One on whom the Spirit rests, and He is the one who gives the Spirit without measure. He is the divine Second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity in human flesh and blood, true man and true God. And John would see this as he baptized Jesus. But it was only a momentary glimpse………. and then, suddenly, Jesus looked the same as always, just an ordinary Joe again.
But John, having had that momentary glimpse, knew that his calling, his whole ministry consisted in pointing people away from himself and to this One who once stood with him in the water and was declared God’s only-begotten Son. His testimony to Christ by-and-large flew in the face of what people actually saw.
And that is how it always was with Jesus. Shepherds see the heavens opened and hear angels singing and are told that the Savior Christ is born, but when they arrive in Bethlehem to worship Him all they see is a poor baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger in the stable-cave. When they crept in and knelt before Him and looked at Him, there was nothing visibly divine about the little One; there was no halo around His head as some Christian art depicts. He was just a baby. To be sure, every baby is a miracle, but this baby who was God in the flesh was very much your ordinary Joe of a baby. And yet he had been revealed to them as the Son of God.
The wise men, with their gifts, must surely have marveled and must have been quite surprised that the one honored by a star as the newborn King should look so plain and peasant-like. They had come to Jerusalem to find a King; but they ended up worshipping before an ordinary-looking child on his poor mother’s lap in a cattle stall. This is the King so many have waited for? This is the King that all the Scriptures foretold? But the star did not lie. It revealed the truth that they could not see.
John said, “There is one among you whom you do not know,” and John’s ministry was to make Him known. His ministry was to invite us to look beyond what we see, and, instead, to believe what we hear. John, the greatest prophet of all, confesses himself utterly unworthy to get down on his knees and unloose that One’s sandals. The job of a menial slave was far too great for the greatest of the prophets to perform on the likes of Him.
John said, “He who coming after me was before me.” For though he was born in the flesh after John by some six months, in His divine nature He was before John, before Zechariah and Elizabeth, before David, before Moses, before Abraham, before Noah, before Adam… before time itself. He was after John and yet He was before John. As our Lord would later say: “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:48)
Jesus is the One John witnesses to. We are not worthy to serve Him in the least way; and yet, miracle of miracles, He who was before time came into our flesh in order that He might serve us. He came to off-load our sins and to carry them all with Him to His cross. He came to die there on that cross the death that was ours, and so to break the bondage of sin and destroy the dominion of death. He came to rise again to open the way into the Kingdom of heaven for all believers. He came to restore us to the glorious destiny God had planned for us all along, which is to be His children and to share in His divine glory as heirs of the Kingdom.
But until our Lord Jesus comes again on the Last Day, He comes to us now and dwells with us in tangible ways while we await that glorious day. He comes among us in His humble and hidden way. For the same One who was laid in the manger, the same One who was worshipped by Shepherds and wise men, the same One who stood among the crowds, unmarked by any but His prophet and fore-runner – He is among us: in ordinary-looking bread and wine that are His body and blood, in Words spoken, read and preached, in water and words – in His usual humility and tenderness. He comes to give us forgiveness and to lift us to the life that never ends.
So, you see, dear friends in Christ, it’s not about John. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about who or what we are. It is all about who Christ is and what He does: our Jesus, the One who is among us, Emmanuel. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.