JOHN THE BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY OF HIMSELF – John 1:19-28

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If each of us were to make a list of some of the most prominent people in the New Testament, several people might come to our minds immediately.  Of course there is the Lord Jesus Christ, and you might think of Paul, and Peter, and John.  One person who may not make it near the top of our lists is John the Baptist.  Jesus, however, puts John the Baptist at the top of His list, and pays Him the highest tribute.

In Matthew 11:11, Jesus said, “among those born of women, there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist“.  In the next three verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus refers to him as the second Elijah, sent by God in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy, and He quotes the following words from Malachi 3:1 and 4:5:  ” Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.”

The first eighteen verses of John’s gospel are called his “prologue”.  If you open a book, you will often find an introduction, preface, or forward.  It normally establishes the setting and gives some background information to prepare the readers for the rest of the story.  John ends his prologue at verse 18 and now he begins to share a biography of Jesus Christ from his perspective.  He is very detail-oriented, especially when it comes to times and places.

Beginning with verse 19 of John chapter 1, we will be looking into the events of the first week of Jesus’ public ministry.  From out of the wilderness came a man whose clothing, diet, lifestyle, and message made his hearers think of Elijah, and his message was stirring up the nation of Israel.  The apostle John tells us very little about the message of John the Baptist, and nothing about how he dressed and lived.  He takes it for granted that these facts, which were written down in Matthew and Luke’s gospels, are now general knowledge.  Matthew 3:1-2 says, “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judah, saying ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand’.”  In Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist is described as wearing a “garment of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  Thousands of people came to hear him, and many were being baptized as a sign of their repentance.

I.  QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERED (verses 19-22)

In John chapter 1, verses 19-22, John the Baptist fields questions concerning his identity.  He knew his calling very clearly, was pursuing it wholeheartedly, and was ready and willing to answer any questions.  A delegation of priests and Levites were sent from Jerusalem in order to get some information from him.  There are two important reasons why this delegation consisted of priests and Levites.  Bible commentator William Barclay explains it very clearly, and these are his words:  “. . . John was the son of Zacharias, and Zacharias was a priest.  In Judaism the only qualification for the priesthood was descent. . . . If he was a descendent of Aaron nothing could stop him from being a priest.  Therefore, in the eyes of the authorities John the Baptist was in fact a priest and it was very natural that the priests should come to find out why he was behaving in such an unusual way.”

This delegation was to ask him the question, “Who are you?”  That’s an interesting question.  Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization of his calling in life?  It may not have become clear to him until just before he began his public ministry.  We don’t know.  But his parents knew his calling before he was even conceived (Luke 1:13-17).  The angel Gabriel told them, quoting the prophet Malachi’s prophesy.  I can imagine that Zacharias and his wife, Elizabeth, were watching and waiting for those words to be fulfilled.

The word translated “ask”, in John 1:19, is a word that was used to make a request of someone who was in a higher position than yourself, such as a person asking for something from God, a child from a parent, or a subject from a king.  It is a word that implies humility and courtesy.  The reason for the use of this word is found in the questions that they ask of him.  When they asked, “Who are you?”, John the Baptist answered the question behind their question by saying, “I am not the Christ”.  Verse 20 says that John the Baptist “confessed and did not deny” (his answer).  He is saying “I promise you, I assure you of the truth of that statement, and I will not back down from it”.  In our society we might say something like “I swear to God”, or “you have my word for it”.  He doesn’t want there to be any question about the truth of his answer.  In so doing, he passed up the opportunity to impress this delegation by boasting about himself.

But that answer didn’t satisfy the delegation.  They said to him, “What then?” (“ti oun” in Greek).  By using those two words, the delegation was expressing their impatience.  Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere and then found yourself in a traffic jam?  As you’re waiting for the traffic to start moving again, have you ever said or thought these words to yourself:  “Come on, let’s get going!  I haven’t got all day!”  I think that’s what this delegation meant when they used the words “what then”.  So they fired some more questions at him.  “Are you Elijah?” 

The Malachi 4:5-6 the Old Testament prophet Malachi said, “Behold I am going to send Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord.  And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”  The Jewish leaders were looking forward to the return of Elijah.  They remembered that he did not die physically, but left this earth in a fiery chariot.  So they concluded that the identical person would reappear.  John the Baptist must have looked like Elijah because of the clothes he was wearing.  He must also have sounded like Elijah in his preaching on repentance.  But John the Baptist gives a simple answer:  “No, I am not.”  His answer to them was true.  John was not the Elijah who went up into heaven in a chariot of fire.

Their next question was:  “Are you the prophet”?  The prophet they were referring to was the one foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, which says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”  His answer to that question is “no”.  Have you noticed that his answers have been getting shorter with each question?

Finally, in verse 22, the delegation stopped guessing and asked John the Baptist to give his own description of himself.   They needed to have some information to bring back in their report, so they decided to give up their interview-format and preconceived ideas, and allow John the Baptist to control the conversation.  They are no longer demanding information from him; they are pleading for it!

II.  JOHN THE BAPTIST’S DESCRIPTION OF HIMSELF (verses 23-28)

A,  A “VOICE” (verse 23)

What he gives as an answer may have created even more confusion in their minds, but I’m sure that his brief answer was written down word-for-word.  His answer should have been easy for them to remember because John the Baptist quoted Isaiah’s prophesy in Isaiah 40:3 as his answer to them.  This quote made by John the Baptist can be found in all four of the gospels.  Here in verse 23 John says, “I AM A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD’.”

We need to read Isaiah chapter 40 and see John’s quote in the context of this amazing chapter on the greatness, the sovereignty, the power and the love of God.  We need to see these words of John in the context of God’s mercy, His faithfulness, and His wonderful plans for His people.  The Babylonian captivity is about to occur and Isaiah has been describing God’s condemnation of them for their sins, and the things they are going to experience in captivity.  The Jews at the time of John’s Gospel were under the “captivity” of Rome.  Without that context, we won’t see what John the Baptist wants the nation of Israel to see about their God and about the preparations that need to be made in anticipation of His coming.  The time has come.

As John the Baptist has already said, he is not the Messiah (the Word), but he has the God-given privilege and responsibility of being the “voice”, proclaiming the Word loud and clear.  He spoke in a loud, strong voice, filled with emotion and conviction, so that all would hear him (whether they wanted to or not)!  I was listening to one of Billy Graham’s first crusades at Madison Square Garden.  He was preaching his message at the top of his lungs!  Microphones and sound systems weren’t as powerful and as sophisticated in the mid-1950’s as they are today, and he wanted to make sure everybody heard every word he had to say to them!  His preaching at that crusade gave me a better impression of what John the Baptist must have sounded like.  And he didn’t have any microphones or speakers in his day!  God must have given him a powerful set of lungs and vocal chords!

The words “make straight the way” were a familiar expression in that day.  Before a king would visit a town in his realm, a messenger called a “forerunner” would be sent ahead of him to announce his coming.  This gave the townspeople some time to fix the road, removing any obstacles, and to make themselves presentable to him before his arrival.  John was saying, in effect, “The King of heaven and earth is coming.  Get your hearts cleaned up and your lives prepared to welcome His arrival!”

B.  A LOWLY SERVANT (verses 24-28)

Verse 24 may not seem significant, but John’s wording tells us otherwise.  He says, “Now they had been sent by the Pharisees.”  Would it come across more clearly if it were translated:  “Oh, by the way, those priests and Levites were sent by the Pharisees.”  Who gave the Pharisees the right to tell the priests and Levites what to do and what to say?  The Pharisees had no authority from God.  The word “Pharisee” means “separated” or “separatist”.  The movement started about 150 B.C., and by the time of Christ, this sect had become a very powerful and corrupt part of the Jewish religious hierarchy, even though they were neither priests nor Levites.

In verse 25 the delegation said to John the Baptist, “Why are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  They are saying, “Who gave you the authority to baptize?”  The Lord Jesus addressed that question of authority in Matthew 21:23-27.  The chief priests and elders asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority.”   In reply Jesus asks them a question about John the Baptist.  They were speechless.  Here is a portion of that conversation:  “I will ask you one thing too, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things.  The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” . . . “We do not know”. . . . “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do things.”

When the delegation asked John the Baptist why he was baptizing, they really meant “why are you baptizing Jews?”  In their minds baptism was meant only for Gentiles who wanted to adopt the Jewish faith.  They were angered at the suggestion that they needed repentance and baptism.  In answer to their question, John gives another description of himself.  He describes himself as a lowly servant, not even worthy of such a humble service as untying his Master’s sandals.  That was considered to be one of the most demeaning jobs that a servant could be called upon to do for his master.  Once again John the Baptist turns the focus of the conversation away from himself and onto the Messiah.  He also tells them that the Messiah is already in their midst but they don’t know Him.

CONCLUSION:

If someone asked you the question, “Who are you?” or “Who do you think you are?”, how would you respond?  John’s focus was on the Messiah, and he was a “voice”, preparing the way for the Lord.  His words were “repent and be baptized”.  Jesus’ words in Mark 1:13 were:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Any day now, any moment now, the Lord Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God” (I Thes. 4:16-17).  God has called Christians to be a “voice”, pointing people to Him.  The message is still the same:  “Repent” – turn from your sins and your control over your life, “believe” in Christ as your Lord and Savior, turning your life over to Him, and “be baptized”, make a public declaration of your faith to your family, friends, and community.  If you haven’t made that decision, there’s no better time than now.  Please, don’t put it off any longer.

Christians, whenever you are tempted to think that you are indispensable to the work of the Lord, remember John the Baptist.  The fact that God uses us is no excuse for pride.  Instead, it is a reminder of Christ’s worth and His glory, and the privilege of being a voice for Him and a light that reflects His glory.  The King is coming!  Let’s let the whole world know before He arrives!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

The blueprint of John 1:29-34 is on the drafting table, the Spirit of God is the Architect overseeing the project, and construction will begin soon.  Hope you will come back again.  God’s Word is a never-ending, construction project, and our lives are “concrete examples” of the effects of working hard on the project.  May we, as His workmen, grow wiser, stronger, and better equipped to serve Him with each working day.

 

 

PATIENCE APPLIED AND EXEMPLIFIED – James 5:9-11

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INTRODUCTION:

Writer and humorist Mark Twain once said, “Don’t complain and talk about all your problems.  Eighty percent of people don’t care; the other twenty percent will think you deserve them!”  As the saying goes, “those who complain about the way the ball bounces are usually the ones who dropped it!”

i.  PATIENCE APPLIED ( verse 9)

James’ reading and listening audience appears to have problems with complaining.  The Greek word literally means “groaning” or “grumbling”.  I get the feeling that it starts deep down inside a person and increases emotion as it reaches the lips.  How many times have we been in difficult or frustrating situations and felt the desire to express those aches and frustrations in anger to someone else?  As a child, or a teenager, can you ever remember saying these words to your parents: “Aw, do I have to?”  And the usual reply was:  “Yes, you do!”  Complaining didn’t get us very far as children, did it?  And it usually causes more harm than good as adults!

This word James used may also have been intended to remind his audience of a situation in the Old Testament where grumbling and complaining affected a whole generation of people.  In Numbers 14, when the twelve spies returned from spying out the land of Canaan, the people of Israel believed the negative report given by the 10 spies rather than the report given by Joshua and Caleb.  Exodus 14:2 says, “And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron . . . ‘would that we had died in the land of Egypt  , , , it’s better for us to return to Egypt.’ ”  God’s punishment upon them affected a whole generation of the nation of Israel.  God said in verse 31, “Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey – I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected.  But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness.”  That was a high price to pay for their “grumbling”, and failure to believe in God’s power and promises.  James might be implying, “That’s what God thinks of grumbling and complaining against Him.  You may want to reconsider your attitudes and actions toward each other”.

Returning to James 5:9, what James has said in this verse may also fit in with his illustration of the farmer in verse 7.  For the most part, farmers don’t tend to complain to each other and get into arguments with each other.  They are too busy for that sort of thing!  They have more important things to do!  There is a harvest to prepare for, get underway, and finish!  All over the world you will find agricultural cooperatives, also known as farmers’ co-ops, where farmers pool their resources (such as land, machinery, feed, seed, fertilizer, etc.) for the benefit of all.  They know how to “cooperate” with each other!

James ends verse 9 by saying, “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door”. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 7:1 and 2, “Do not judge lest you be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by the standard you measure, it will be measured to you.”  God is “standing right at the door” and He hears everything you say and sees everything you do.

II.  PATIENCE EXEMPLIFIED (verses 10-11)

A.  THE PROPHETS (vs. 10)

Here in verse 10, James says, “Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.” Joseph, the son of Jacob, would be considered a prophet, and one of the great reminders of suffering and patience in the Old Testament is called “The 50:20 Principle” because it is found in Genesis chapter 50 and verse 20.  Here Joseph says to his brothers, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”  This was the attitude of the prophets both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.  They were patient and content, knowing that God was sovereign and would use their sufferings and their deaths to bring glory to Himself and to accomplish His purposes.

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?”  Why not?” He replied.  “They are the only ones who can take it.”

The Scriptures don’t give very much specific mention of what each prophet patiently suffered.  However, we do have general mention in several places. The last book of the Hebrew scriptures is II Chronicles.  Chapter 36, verse 16 says, “but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets.”

The Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Near the end of His life, when Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem, He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Matthew 23:37)  The Lord Jesus patiently endured His own sufferings and death, as did Steven, the church’s first martyr, because it was God’s will, and they were looking forward to being in the presence of God.  These words and images may have come to the minds of the recipients of his letter as he mentions the prophets as examples of patience.  And, even though the book of Hebrews was probably written after this letter of James, his Hebrew-Christian readers and listeners were familiar with the sufferings of the prophets and others as described in Hebrews 11:37.  “They were  stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword . . . “

B.  Job (verse 11)

Probably the best-known example of patience in the Old Testament is the patriarch Job.  To correct any misunderstanding, Job was a real person, not a fictitious character.  He lived in a real location, was married and the father of ten children, and was a prosperous businessman.  Forty-two chapters describe the details of his life and sufferings.  The prophet Ezekiel twice includes his name along with the names of Noah and Daniel (Ezek. 14:20,24).

It’s hard to imagine the grief and suffering Job experienced, and the sense of rejection by God and his friends.  He loses all his possessions, all his children, and his health in a matter of moments.  His wife tells him to curse God and die, his friends condemn him, and God is silent.

When James speaks of Job’s endurance, he’s not trying to sanctify Job and put him above the level of humanity.   “Did not Job grumble about his circumstances, self-righteously proclaim his innocence, and generally question God’s way with him? . . . Yet there is still a sense in which the Job of the Old Testament can be seen as a great example of steadfastness.  For although Job did complain bitterly about God’s treatment of him, he never abandoned his faith; in the midst of his incomprehension, he clug to God and continued to hope in him (Job 1:21; 2:10; 16:19-21; 19:25-27)” (Douglas Moo, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, JAMES),  William Barclay says, “Job’s is no grovelling, passive, unquestioning submission.  Job struggled and questioned, and sometimes even defied, but the flame of faith was never extinguished in his heart.”

The following poem from an unknown source beautifully and clearly depicts for the Christian, the relationship between suffering and the sovereignty of God:

My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me

I cannot choose the colors He worketh steadily

Oft times He weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper and I the underside

Not til the loom is silent and the shuttle ceases to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.

The prophets were willing to die for their faith, and counted it a privilege to suffer for God’s sake.  Job was able to trust God and cling to God in the midst of all that he suffered.  Can’t you and I, by the grace of God, accept our circumstances without complaining or holding a grudge?  You know that the answer is “yes”, don’t you?  And I believe that this is what James is trying to communicate to his brethren in Christ then and now.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, in all patience and long-suffering.

I don’t know if you remember these initials which were popular back in the 70’s:  PBPGIFWMY (Please Be Patient, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet).  Those words are true for all of us, so be patient and “hang in there”!