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John

Building A Desert Road

John 1:15-36

This lesson introduces us to one of the enigmas of the New Testament: John the Baptist. He is greatest among the prophets of the old covenant, but we know very little about him. We shall examine him today in three ways:

  • The servant of God
  • The workman of God
  • The friend of God

15John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” 16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only,££ who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

19Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.£

21They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ “£

24Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26“I baptize with£ water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

35The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

The Servant of God

If you wish to be the servant of God, you must acknowledge his supremacy. It is a natural principle; try telling your boss what to do and see how long you’re employed!

Christ is superior to us because…
  • “He was before me.” Before I ever existed, Christ is. He is the eternal one, and therefore has a supremacy I can never hope to match. (This also makes it a bit easier to chuck my ego).
  • “He blesses us…” Without a doubt it’s the greater person who blesses the lesser person.[1] We don’t ask any favors from the down and out, but the high and mighty. And with what does he bless us, but the fullness of his grace. It’s his, and it is complete. We cannot match that.
  • Our way is by rule and regulation; his way is by grace and truth. Even the divinely given Law of the Old Testament gives way to the conjunction of grace and truth.
  • Finally, he is superior by position, for he is the one who knows God and sees God directly.

Sounds a little obvious, doesn’t it? But how often have we treated Jesus as our buddy? As one old friend phrased it to me, it’s “Me and Jesus in a telephone booth.”

The true servant of God knows himself

Consider the temptation spread before John. The power of his preaching has caused the religious leaders of the land to spread before him the possibility of being Elijah – the quintessential prophet who is to come before the Christ; or perhaps the prophet prophesied by Moses; or indeed the Christ himself.

John knows himself. He knows his mission. Though he has been appointed since before his birth, he knows his own worth. He tells them he is not worthy even to unstuck the Velcro on Christ’s sandals.

It’s the flip side to grace. If you must receive grace, then you are not worthy in and of yourself. The victor does not beg mercy from the vanquished. How, then, does John reconcile this humility with the powerful prophetic ministry?

To know yourself is also to know the tasks to which God has assigned you. John was not a volunteer; most prophets weren’t. In fact, they most commonly suggested that God had misread the street address. The task is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we should have humility enough to accept that – and courage enough to go and get the job done.

Give God the glory

Isn’t that the problem? We want people to think we are wonderful (or at least OK.) But John is not concerned about that. He does not concern himself with what the Pharisees think about him; rather, he is concerned with what they will think of Jesus. He gives God the glory. How?

  • First, in sacrifice. To live the life of the prophet in the desert is not easy. It means giving up a lot. (What have you done without for the sake of the Lord?)
  • The easiest way to give God the glory is in praise. (What have you spoken on his behalf?)
  • The most noticeable way to give God the glory is in service. Men may not be impressed with what you say, but your actions are your credibility.

This prophet understood the glory of God. He did not consider himself great, but gave the glory to God. For this, he was privileged to have a task in the kingdom. He became the voice in the wilderness. It is a voice we could use again.

The workman of God

There is an air of virtue about the word, “craftsman.” We take it now to mean one who does things right. We as Christians must exceed that; we must not only do things right, but also do the right thing. Then we may be considered the workmen of God.

The Shepherd

See how John tends to the flock given him. His disciples could not have missed his self-sacrificing spirit. In a way he reminds us of Moses, who refused to let God wipe out Israel and make of Moses a great nation. Rather, he stood before God to beg their lives. Paul had much the same sense when he said he could wish himself cursed if the Jews would come to Jesus.

It is in this spirit that John delivers his disciples to Jesus, or at least those who would be called to it. There is no sense here of resentment on that; rather, there is the sense of being a team player. I planted, Apollos watered – but God gave the increase.

The Teacher

The true function of the teacher is to prepare his students for the test. The test does not so much measure the knowledge of the student as it does the skill of the teacher. How then does John teach?

  • He begins with the baptism for repentance. This is to clear sin from their lives – for sin is the great barrier between God and man.
  • Before Jesus arrives, he teaches about the Christ. When he arrives, he points him out. John carries through. (What did I tell those little leaguers?)
  • In the end, he delivers his students to the test of the ultimate reality in the universe. He has prepared them for a rough road; now the guide to that road has arrived.
The Prophet

It is in the role of prophet that most of us see John. This is not surprising; his coming before the Christ is prophesied in the Old Testament. Even the Pharisees recognized this – as we can tell by the questions they asked. Like all prophets, he has two things to say:

  • First, he is forthtelling – warning those around him of the Messiah to come, and calling them to repentance. We know that our Lord is returning soon; what’s our reaction to that?
  • He is also foretelling. This is not always negative, like Jeremiah. The warning is there, but also the prophecy of blessing.

The Friend of God

We don’t often think of John the Baptist in this light. But consider: how did he know that Jesus is the Christ? God revealed it to him. He told him that he would see the Spirit descend upon him like a dove. So John encounters all three persons of the Trinity – a rare and personal privilege.

Purpose: that he might be revealed to Israel.

We need to remember that John has a purpose. That purpose is that Christ be revealed to Israel; everything he does is towards that end.

  • We see it in the testimony he makes to the Pharisees. He tells them directly who he is, and who Christ is.
  • He baptizes for repentance, so that sin might not stand between Israel and her Redeemer.
  • He also identifies Jesus by the title that proclaims his coming sacrifice on the Cross: the Lamb of God.
Is the ascetic closer to God?

John is a man of the wilderness, one who eats locusts and wild honey – not a diet that even my doctor would inflict on me. John is ever so much the Old Testament prophet, and it seems to some that this is the key to friendship with God.

But consider Abraham, the man originally called the friend of God. He was rich; he was well fed. How then can self-denial and asceticism be a path to God?

The secret is simply this: neither man put anything between themselves and God. Abraham even went to the point of sacrificing his sown; John lived the life of an ascetic who gives up everything for God. The issue is not what’s in your life; it’s what in your life is between you and God.

Make straight the way

Did you ever conceive of your task like that? That the thing God wants you to do is to make the path smooth – so that someone else can come to God? How many search for God in all the wrong places. They look at us and say, “That doesn’t look like the path!” The path we show them is twisted; visibility is short. But what if we straightened that path, so that they could see clearly just who Jesus is?

But how? Let us return to the Old Testament to learn:

3 A voice of one calling:

“In the desert prepare

the way for the LORD£;

make straight in the wilderness

a highway for our God.£

4 Every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

the rugged places a plain.

5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,

and all mankind together will see it.

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

 

Do you not see it? It is ours to work – real, actual work, not just in theory – to smooth out the obstacles in the path of any who would follow Jesus. But if we are to smooth out his path, then is it not obvious that we must be on that path? To fill in the potholes, you must be on the road. Find the potholes between someone and Jesus – and fill them in with your own hard work.

All this is to a purpose: that the glory of the Lord be revealed. (Basses will recall Handel’s magnificent handling of these words in The Messiah). If you are working for his glory, he will bring your reward.

About us

  • Do we give God the glory? Do we acknowledge Christ as superior to us in every way (including the advice we give and take?)
  • Are we craftsmen for God, whether shepherd, teacher or anything else? Do we perform the tasks given us to the best of our ability, or with what we have left over?
  • Do we clear the obstacles out of the way so that others might see Jesus?

“If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” Let us therefore lift him up.


[1] Remember Melchizedek?

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