Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. (NRSV)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and creator, from Jesus Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
This part, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” is very important. This sets up the theme in John’s gospel, which is all about what Jesus IS and what everybody else is NOT.
John had said very clearly: I am NOT the messiah.
People thought he was. They jumped right to that conclusion, as people will do. The religious authorities from Jerusalem needed to check him out. They had heard rumors from the people but they needed to know for themselves. What was this John all about? What were his claims? Where was he fitting into the big religious picture of first century Roman occupied Jerusalem? We cannot say whether these officials were coming with the openness of inquiry or if they were there to discredit this preacher and teacher so they could go back to their comfy status quo. John answered their questions directly. He didn’t apologize for not being the Messiah. He said it matter of factly, “I am not the Messiah.” John wanted to make sure all the people—common people and officials alike—knew it was not him, but he was preparing the way, but he was NOT the Messiah.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says “I Am” over and over. You will remember. Some of them are:
“I am the bread of life.”
“I am the light of the world.”
“I am the door of the sheep.”
“I am the good shepherd.”
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
It is the device that carries the theme of the book. It hearkens back to God in the burning bush at Moses’ commissioning. God had spoken to Moses after getting his attention with the bush that was on fire but not consumed. God told Moses he wanted him to go back to Egypt and lead his people out of slavery. Moses wasn’t so sure and took quite a bit of convincing. At the end of it all, however, Moses was convinced it actually was God speaking to him. He was almost ready to agree but asked who he should say had sent him. God said, “Tell the people that I AM is my name.” “Tell them I AM sent you.” ( You can read the whole story in Exodus 3.) God, the creator, is the great I AM, who is from before the beginning until after the end, always in the present. There is no past or future with God. God is always in the present. Jesus, also I AM, declares his closeness to God, even while being bound in human life and earthly time.
It is in John’s gospel, the last one written, the parallel between God who is named I AM who came to Moses and Jesus who says I AM, cements Jesus’ divine nature for all of history. The others introduce it, but it is John’s gospel that makes the strongest case.
In John’s gospel, John’s function is that of a witness. He baptizes people for repentance for sure, but his real function is to tell what he has seen and heard from God about Jesus. He is the voice that tells the truth and the voice that gives hope and the voice that says “Hang in there. Jesus is here for you, even if you do not know who he is.” “He is there among you even before you recognize him.” In John’s gospel, Jesus is available. All you have to do is open your eyes. Open your heart. He is here. He is yours.
The gospel of John’s theme is that Jesus is for everyone. He is from the beginning and will be forever. John the witness came to prepare the way; to let everyone know there was a new spirit blowing through. People were waking up and turning to God. They were preparing themselves by responding to John. The Spirit was stirring.
Jesus is the light that shines on all. Jesus is the light that will light up your path. If you keep with the light, you will not stumble on your way. You will see clearly where the bumps in the road are so you can step over them. You will know where the danger lies and can keep from it. It is in the dark that we are most at risk for falling. When we are in the dark, danger is at hand, but when we are in the light… we can be much more secure.
Now remember, there is no guarantee, even in the light of day, that evil forces won’t overcome us. A person can stumble with a momentary lapse of attention, even in full daylight. Likewise, a follower of Jesus can make a mis-step on our journey that causes us to fall and hurt our spirit and weaken our witness. But when we are walking in the light, close to Jesus, when we do fall, it is much easier to get up and get going again because of the life-giving love of Jesus for each one of us. So we are invited to live in the light and to spread that invitation far and wide.
John the Witness stands for all who believe in Christ as the hope for the world. John the Witness is us in John’s gospel. It is our task and calling to stand with John and be the voice that tells the truth of what we have seen and heard in Jesus.
John has come to draw attention to the light, to pave the way for the Christ. We are called to step into the role of The Witness. You see, John is the example set for us in the gospel of John. We are invited to bear witness to what God is doing in the world, (ie loving, forgiving, being merciful, and compassionate) where God’s love is active (ie in ourselves and in our neighbors), and what God’s loving power is drawing us toward in the course of history (ie a unity of spirit and an ever-present hope of the good that triumphs over evil, that life overcomes death every time, that each one of us is here with a purpose, value and meaning. Our most convincing witness is when we tell what we have heard and seen first hand… how God has helped and strengthened us; when God has forgiven us and given us the power and will to turn our lives around; where God has healed and given us new life.
It is for us to seek this experience of God. Knowledge of who God is is one thing, but the personal experience of God in your life is a whole different story… a much more powerful story… one only you can tell. I invite you to tell your story. The highway of our God goes through you.
Please join me in prayer.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.