Everyone around the globe including myself wants to be known or associated with someone or something. For example.....
- We want people to know who our favourite sports team is.
- We want people to know our favourite music and books.
- We want people to now our education by our accolades that we hang on our walls.
- We want people to see how successful we are by the size of our business or how successful we are at our employment.
- We want people to see how beautiful our family is through Facebook or photos we hang on our walls.
- We want people to see what kind of person we are by what we wear, how we talk and how we behave others.
If this isn't true! That we really don't want people to know anything about us, then why is Twitter, You Tube and Facebook so popular? We are a society [human race] of people trying to stand out or fit in with the crowd…But how is it when it comes to the things of God we blush or hide ourselves from the people we try so hard to impress with our own lives? See there is nothing wrong with having a successful business, pictures of our families or a favourite sports team “Go Leafs”. But I never ever want these things to overshadow where my true identity is found…..in Christ Jesus. The question could be asked with what we see here in this portion of John’s letter! “Who are you?” Some would think this is a rude and pushy question! But I think it’s a really good question to ask John and especially to the church today. Think about it for a moment!
There’s this straggly man on the scene who is speaking loudly to the people that is before him. And to top it off he was preaching repentance and the pending dome for those you disregard his message. So it makes perfect scents to ask this question. Let’s fast forward some 2 thousand years. What if a total stranger came up to you and asked that same question “Who are you?” What would you say? Now be honest because God knows your heart! The people were being stirred, challenged, confused with this strange man from the wilderness. This son of Zechariah was preaching to the people about the coming Messiah! Remember Jesus’s isn't on the scene yet. And the religious leaders are counselling and trying to figure out what this man is doing and try to prove with unorthodox religious practices! See John was the first witness called by the Apostle John to testify to the truth of Jesus.
Look at the opening verse in [v19] “this is the testimony of John”. “Testimony” by definition is “to testify” What was he testifying too? In Matt 3:1-12 we read about John’s ministry and his encounters with the opposing. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'" Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Picture John saying these things to the high elite Religious leader? It’s not surprising that they would ask the question in [v19] “who are you?” Again remember this is the first time someone has spoken about the coming Messiah to the masses in Nation in over 400 years. John was to pave the way for the Saviour…. As a farmer preparing the fields for the Harvest. So they ask John the question “who are you” and John the Baptist responds [v20] “I am not the Christ” Basically what John is saying is “I’m not the One whom our patriarchs spoke of” Why? John knew his subordinate position or role as the forerunner….not the superstar or main attraction. We understand his role [ministry], by what John says in [v27] “he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
But this answer did not satisfy the religious leaders, so they dug a little deeper with their questioning! So they asked him “Are you Elijah?” [v21] Why would they ask this question? Well the bible speaks about Elijah returning before Jesus’ earthly kingdom. In Mal 4:5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” Do you know that even today many Jewish people leave an empty seat at the table for Elijah when they celebrate the Passover? Even in Malachi 3:1 we read “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. This was speaking of John not Elijah!
So I can see why they would ask such a question…..John had similar characteristics to Elijah. They both were hairy to some extent! John wore a camel hair coat, while the bible says Elijah was a hairy man, and they both warned people of the coming judgement. John was not Elijah…at least not in a literal sense, but in the same likeness of spirit and power with a message for the people of God. Same could be applied to you and me as God’s children or earthly representatives to the King. Remember what Paul wrote the church in Corinth in his second letter? 2 Cor 5:17-21 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
But the religious leaders were still not satisfied with John’s answer. So they ask him “are you the prophet?” [v21] Again I can see why they would ask such a question after so much silence from God previously. See they would have asked this question by what they read from Moses….Deut 18:15-18 "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' And the LORD said to me, 'They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” These men thought that John might have been Jeremiah, Isaiah, or one of the other prophets resurrected. Reason being they were saying that about Jesus! In Matt 16:13-14 “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is? “And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
But I love John’s answer………… “No!” [v21]. Can you picture the frustration from these so called educated religious men? Look at their response! [v22] I’m sure the level of frustration was being exhibited by the tone in their voice as they ask the question again with why they needed an answer! “So they said to him, "Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" And I love the directness and humility in John responds [v23] I’m just a “voice” not even a man worthy of honor proclaiming the good news that is coming. John treated his ministry as only a voice not a mna worthy of honor or fame. So they asked him a different question [v25] “why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophets?” Again John responds with directness and humility [v26-v27]
It wasn’t strange, rude or out of the ordinary to ask a question like this? Why? John was different! John’s ministry was to prepare the people for the everlasting Sustainer who would cleanse their sins completely for all eternity [past, present and future]. As the promise said in Heb 9:28 “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” This is good news and that’s what John was sharing with his people……preparing the way for the Saviour [Jesus Christ]. This was John’s hope……this is our sustaining hope each and every day as we wait eagerly for His return. Living on the promises of God found in His word [His truth] through the gospel that saves.
- We are very much like John!
- We are different, strangers, foreigners in a waste land of sin.
- We are a people today who are doing the same thing with the Gospel "a voice".
- We are a people who are to point lost sinners to the already finished work on the cross.
- We are a people who are to spread the good news or pave the way so that people can find forgiveness and restoration and most of all eternal life.
- We are a people who are to plead with sinners about the pending dome for those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ.
- We are a people with a testimony of the grace already been given as John was a testimony of the grace coming to mankind.
Again we are very much like……..John, Elijah, and the prophets! The set apart ones crying out to a world that is hardened and evil and wants nothing to do with the One who saves to the uttermost. We may be strangers with a message that is unacceptable and hostile to sinful world……but never forget it’s this same message that saved you and set you apart. Our identity is hidden in the light of truth found in Christ! Our identity makes us unique and unusual like John…….don’t be surprised when someone asks you that question “who are you?” My question for us is “has anyone asked you that question lately?”