ďJohn the BaptistĒ†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† September 21, 2014

John 1:19-34

 

SI:Weíre studying the Gospel of John.

The first 18 verses of chapter one are the introduction, the prologue.

The rest of chapter one through chapter twelve called the book of signs.

†† Consists of signs and testimonies that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah.

Chapters 13 to the end called the book of passion.

†† Consists of Jesusí teaching in the Upper Room, his trial, crucifixion, resurrection.

 

So we begin this morning the first reading in the book of signs.

†† And the first sign, the first witness called to testify is John the Baptist.

 


 

INTRO:In 1969 a psychologist named Nathaniel Brandon published a paper

†† titled The Psychology of Self-Esteem.

In that paper he argued that feelings of self-esteem are the key to success in life.

 

His paper was highly-acclaimed in psychological circles.

†† Then his theory was embraced by California educational system.

And you know the rest of the story.The self-esteem movement swept the nation.

†† Itís moved from psychology and educational theory into American pop culture.

Itís become imbedded in our vocabulary and way of thinking about people and life.

†† ďYou know what her problem is?ĒSomeone says about a girl who is struggling.

†† ďShe has low self-esteem.ĒAnd we nod in agreement.

Yes, if she had higher self-esteem, then she wouldnít have those problems.

 

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago

†† about the self-esteem movement and its effect on education.

ďThere are now 15,000 scholarly articles on the subject.And what do they show?That high self-esteem doesnít improve grades, reduce anti-social behavior, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids.In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be counter- productive.Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work.Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.Ē

 

The article goes on to say that studies have shown that bullies have very high sense

†† of self-esteem.And they use it to intimidate and control others.

Isnít that interesting?The way many Americans interpret it, if they saw a kid

†† bullying someone they would said, Heís doing that because of low self-esteem.

When in fact, the opposite probably true.He thinks of himself much more highly

†† than the wimps heís beating up for lunch money.

 

So how should a Christian think about himself?

†† What self-image should we have?

†† What self-image should we teach our children to have?

The self-esteem framework may be flawed, but it got one thing right.

†† The way you think about yourself is crucial.

 

Calvin said the knowledge of yourself and the knowledge of God are inseparable.

†† And what you think about yourself will affect the way you think about God.

†† And that will affect the fundamental shape of your character.

Thatís why the Apostle Paul says at the conclusion of his greatest letter:

†† ďThink of yourself with sober judgment.Ē

Which brings us to our passage and one of the most dramatic figures

†† in the New TestamentóJohn the Baptist.

When John the Apostle wrote this Gospel, and when he asked himselfó

†† Who will be my lead-off witness to the deity of Jesus Christ?

†† His first pick was John the Baptist.

 

Johnís testimony about Jesus reveals a unique self imageó

†† a self image that doesnít fit into the categories of either

†† low self esteem or high self esteem.

Johnís unique self images produces a remarkably strong character.

†† Itís a self image and character every one of us ought to cultivate.

You may wonder, why are we talking about John the Baptist when this passage

†† is clearly about Jesus?Letís talk about Jesus, not John the Baptist.

 

But as you will see, this examination of John does bring us around

†† to Jesus and how faith in him can change our lives.

 

Three points

1.Johnís self-image

2.Johnís character

3.Johnís secret

 

Credit where credit is due:Sermon by Tim Keller on this passage.


 

MP#1Johnís self-image

Who was John the Baptist?He was a very popular preacher who, for a brief time,

†† captured the attention of the whole Jewish nation.††

But he was a preacher who came up through unconventional channels.

†† He didnít go to an accredited seminary, or sit under an approved rabbi.

†† He wasnít ordained by the priesthood and didnít preach in a synagogue.

 

He was out in the wilderness, out in a lonely place away by Jordan River.

And people came by the thousands from the cities and towns to hear him

†† preach a message that the Messiah was coming.

Historians tell us that there was a strong Messianic expectation in that time.

†† Jews were looking for a kingly figure who would rally them against Rome.

There was also a prophecy in Malachi 4 about a coming Elijah figure.

†† This Elijah figure would be a forerunner of the Messiah.

†† So that was also part of the expectations of the time.

 

The Jewish religious/political establishment was concerned about Johnís popularity.

†† They needed to know:Who is John the Baptist?Or who does he think he is?

The reason the needed to know is because they held their positions of power

†† at the pleasure of Rome.They knew how dangerous Messiah talk could be.

So they sent an investigative team of priests and Levites and interrogated him.

Are you the Messiah?No, John said, Iím not.Are you Elijah?I am not.

Are you the Prophet?

†† In Deuteronomy 18 there was a famous prophecy that predicted the coming of a

†† prophet like Moses.Was this Prophet the Messiah, or an Elijah-like forerunner?

Just to make sure no stone unturned the asked, Are you the Prophet?No.

 

So, who are you then?You have to tell us.We have to take an answer back.

†† John says:Iím just a voice.

†† A voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way for the Lord.

†† In other words, I myself am nothing.Iím only here to point to somebody else.

Now Johnís responses, especially his second one, raises an immediate question.

 

Itís the difference between what John said about self and what Jesus said about him.

†† In Matthew 11, some people asked Jesus about John, wanted to know who he is.

†† Jesus replied:

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist . . . And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.He who has ears, let him hear.

Jesus said:Among all born of women, everybody who has lived to this time,

†† there is no one great than John.And he is Elijah.He is the forerunner.

So who was right?John or Jesus?

†† Jesus had a far higher view of John and his ministry than John did.

†† Jesus believed he was a person of enormous historical significance.

†† But John said:No, Iím not anybody of significance.

Who was right?Well, obviously Jesus was right and John wrong about himself.

†† He wasnít a nobody.He was a man of enormous significance.

†† Here we are 2000 years later, have a world away, studying him.

But John couldnít see his own greatness.He got it wrong about himself.

 

Why?He had low self-esteem.

†† His losing soccer team didnít get trophies when he was a child.

†† His parents didnít have a ďMy Child is an Honor StudentĒ bumper sticker.

Seriously, there are two reasons someone who is really great at something

†† might not know how great he is.

 

One is because he is so focused on himself, looking at himself with such self-

†† absorbed intensity, picking out everything wrong, constantly comparing himself

†† to other people, fretting over judgments of other people, so self-critical, canít see.

Or, itís because heís not looking at himself at all.Heís focused on some great thing

outside himself.That great thing or great personage so enthralls him that he

†† doesnít even think about his legacy or how he is going to stack up against others.

 

That was John.He was intensely focused on the person of Jesus Christ.

†† Weíre going to look at his Christ-focus in more detail in a moment.

But letís note here that John shows us a self-image that is uniquely Christian.

†† Itís a self-image that is unaware of personal greatness.

†† Whenever you encounter it, it testifies to the divine life of Jesus Christ.

 

R.G. LeTorneau was an inventor and engineering genius.

†† He had patents on over 300 different inventions.

The off-shore oil drilling platform, the electric drive wheel, numerous heavy-duty

†† earth moving machines, His earth moving company built projects all over the

†† world.He made millions and millions of dollars and gave it all away to missions.

For 30 years shared his testimony about the satisfaction and joy of serving Christ.

†† Every time he spoke he began by saying,

†† ďFriends, Iím just a sinner saved by grace, just a mechanic that the Lord has blessed.Ē

Thatís not false modesty.Certainly not low self-esteem.Not high self-esteem.

Itís the unique self-image of a man who had the same encounter with Christ

†† that made John the Baptist say:Iím just a voice.That brings us to . . .

 

MP#2Johnís character

Your institution would tell you that a person who is mistaken about himself,

†† and unaware of his greatness would be a person with a weak character.

He would probably be debilitated by shyness, he would be withdrawn, indecisive,

†† unable to stand up to anyone.

 

But you know that was not John the Baptistís character at all.

†† Heís very vividly sketched in all four Gospels and the descriptions of him

†† consistently show us a man who was bold, innovative, and who knew his mind.

You see it even here as John interrogated by this very prestigious delegation.

 

There were priests in the delegation, men of standing in the Jewish community.

†† John understood that.He was the son of a priest.He knew respect due them

There were Levites who functioned as the Temple guard and police force.

†† They were the muscle in case needed to bring John in.

And there were some Phariseesówho were the theological heavy-hitters.

 

Any Jewish person would have been intimidated by this group.

†† But John was not afraid to frustrate them and challenge them with answers.

Are you the Messiah?No.Are you Elijah?No.Are you the Prophet?No.

†† Then tell us who you are.Iím just a voice telling you, you better repent

†† because the Lord is coming.

 

The Pharisees challenge him:If you are not the Messiah, or Elijah, or Prophet,

†† then why are you baptizing?Who gives you this authority?How dare you.

They were very bothered by this and hereís why.

†† Baptism was for Gentiles who wanted to convert to Judaism.

†† There were quite a few who did.Called God-fearers.Join covenant community.

Men had to be circumcised.Women baptized, sometimes men too.

†† Signified washing off their Gentile filth.

 

But John was demanding everybody be baptized.

†† Repent and be baptized.Not just Gentiles, you Jews too, for forgiveness.

He was saying:Weíre all unclean.No one deserves salvation.

†† The salvation of the Messiah is by grace alone.All races equal before him.

†† Jew and Gentile alike stand before him in need of mercy.

It was a bold, innovative, and inflammatory message.

†† But that was John the Baptist.

Remember final conflict with Herod.He said:Repent.Yeah, yeah, said Herod.

†† So John said:Repent, youíre committing adultery.Have taken brotherís wife.

†† People donít like that.Donít like to be told to repent of adultery.It makes mad.

It made Herod mad, but especially made Herodias mad and she got John killed.

†† But John didnít back down from his bold, incisive message.

 

Hereís the point:There is a particular character that can come from the particular

†† self-image that comes from focusing on Christ.

Iíve overused this illustration, but Amy Carmichael is great example of this.

Amy like to write, she had a talent, and she often wrote devotional literature.

†† She took on the pen-name Nobody.That was how she wanted to be known,

†† as Nobody.That seems over the top.Sounds like false modesty.

 

But in Amy it was genuine.

†† She had a profound focus on Jesus Christ and wanted nothing to steal his glory.

You would think a person who called herself Nobody would be timid and uncertain.

†† But she wasnít.She was bold.Nothing stopped her from doing right.

Her story is famous.She arrived in India in 1895 and after leading several Indian

†† women to Christ, she learned through them about the practice of child prostitution

†† in the Hindu temples.This became fire inside her, to rescue these little girls.

 

When she rescued the first girl, a seven year old named Preena,

†† there was a firestorm of opposition.The Hindus were in an uproar, of course.

And the British authorities were too.They wanted to keep the peace.

†† They pressured her to give the child back to the temple.

And even some in the missionary community attacked Amy.

†† They said it was a publicity stunt and would set back their missionary work.

†† Over all these was a very real sense of demonic evil challenged by bold rescue.

But those attacks bothered her but didnít overwhelm her.

†† Over coming decades, this little Scotch-Irish Nobody rescued hundreds of girls.

 

How do you describe this character? Whether John the Baptist, Amy Carmichael?

Not bold or humble, but the rarest combinationóbold and humble at same time.

†† Not incredible confident or self-effacing, but both at once.

†† No arrogance, but no fear either.

Going after injustice, but never taking it personally.

†† Is it possible for us to be like this?

Whatís the ultimate source of this character?Brings us to . . .

3.Johnís secret

Iím working on another seminary degree.

†† Chosen as my area of study the theme of shame in Scripture.

Iíve found that a great many scholars say we canít fully understand shame

†† in the Bible until we reckon with the concept of shame cultures.

The idea is that some cultures, particularly individualistic, Western cultures

†† focus on guilt as the means of social control.Internalized standards.

But other cultures, traditional cultures focus on shame as means of social control.

†† External pressure to conform to the group.

†† And the Bible mostly written in context of shame cultures.

 

I think that applies to this passage:

If you leave God out, there are only two places you can go for your self-image.

†† What other people think about you or what you think about yourself.

Other peoples standards, expectationsówhether family or peer group.

Or my standard, my goals, what I want to accomplish in life.

†† We live in a culture that emphasizes the latter.

†† Be true to yourself.Define yourself.Follow your dreams.

†† John lived in a traditional culture with strong group pressure.

 

But he didnít look at either.He didnít sayóLook inside or look at the group.

He said:Look!Itís a word used to focus attention on what is said next:

†† Behold!Listen up!Pay attention!Take note!

†† The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

What did John mean?

†† This title for Jesus, the Lamb of God, has become so much a part of our

†† vocabulary that it seems obvious to us that it is referring to his sacrificial death.

†† And it is.But our familiarity with it makes us miss how special it is.

 

The title ďLamb of GodĒ is not found anywhere in the Old Testamentó

†† John the Baptist coined it, and itís unique to him.

†† Itís here in verse 29, and then John says it again in verse 36, no other place.

Where did John get this title if itís not in the Old Testament?

†† It seems that what he did was he thought so deeply about Christ,

†† that a number of threads came together in his mind.

 

He thought perhaps about the story of Abraham, when God told him to sacrifice

†† his son Isaac, the son of promise, on Mt. Moriah.

On the way to the mountain, Isaac said:Father, here is the wood, fire, knifeó

†† but where is the lamb?Abraham said:God will provide the lamb, my son.

You remember that when the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham,

†† he looked and there in the bushes was an animal, but not a lamb, a ram.

†† Abraham took and sacrificed in place of Isaac.

John perhaps wondered:So, where is that lamb that Abraham spoke of?

 

And then there was the Passover lamb.John probably had that in mind.

The Israelites were slaves in Egypt.Moses told Pharaoh to let people go.

†† He refused so the Lord sent ten plagues on Egypt, last one was going to be

†† his death angel, who would kill firstborn son in every home.

In that patriarchal society, all hopes in oldest son.A terrible judgment.

†† But the Israelites were not to be automatically spared.

†† Sin is a debt and they were sinners too.

Only way firstborn could be spared was to kill a lamb and sprinkle blood on door.

 

John also knew, as all spiritually-minded Jews knew, that the animal sacrifices

†† themselves accomplished nothing.They were just pointers to something else.

So he certainly thought of that messianic figure in the later chapters of Isaiahó

†† the Suffering Servant, and those great verses in chapter 53.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has

†† laid on him the iniquity of us all.He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his

†† mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter . . .

 

For John, all the threads came together and he said:I get it.

†† All the sacrifices, the son of promise, the firstborn son, the suffering servant.

†† Jesus Christ is the Lamb who saves.

Thatís how the Messiah is going to comeóas a lamb, humble, in weakness, to die.

†† And at the same time in boldness and courage to take on evil and bring salvation.

 

Do you see:Humble and bold at the same time.Confident and self-effacing.

†† Not arrogant, but not fearful either.Thatís Jesus Christ.

†† And as John saw him, and gazed on him, he was changed.

Now, hereís whatís amazing.I hid something from you earlier.

 

That passage in Matthew 11 when people asked Jesus about John, Jesus said:

†† Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist . . .

But I skipped the next thing he said.Here it is:

†† Yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Thatís us.Why was John the greatest person in all history to that point?

†† Because he grasped the greatness and fullness of Jesus more than anyone else.

†† That caused him to say:I am nothing.Only a voice declaring him.

 

But every single Christian living today understands the greatness of Christ

†† better than John.He didnít see the cross.He didnít see the resurrection.

†† He didnít see the worldwide spread of the Gospel to the nations.

†† He didnít know what we know.

So that means that you have the capacity for more humility than John.

†† You have the capacity for that wonderful self-forgetfulness he exhibited.

It also means you have the capacity for more boldness than John.

†† You can be a voice that speaks the truth in love about Jesus.Ď

 

And in so doing, you can become a person not defined by the way other people

†† think of you or even how you think of youóbut who Jesus is.

†† And you can become a voice, like John.

So that when people encounter you, they hear about Jesus.