Signs and Wonders - the Testimony
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.
The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’
And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
Thank you, God, for the gift of the scripture.
Like a Trial
Perhaps, like you may have had, I have had the privilege of being called for jury duty, but never have I ever been selected to serve as a juror. Either the jury has been selected before I was questioned for consideration or when I have been questioned and my answers have caused me to be quickly released. It seems that defense attorneys tend to not like to have a clergy on the jury. I have been a witness in a few legal proceedings. Mostly, I have been called to testify to a person’s character. The happy proceedings have been for the adoption of a child.
If you have been a party to courtroom legal proceedings, you are aware that when an attorney or a judge calls you to testify, they use a common line of interrogation. First, a witness is asked to identify themselves. Often as a part of identifying comes a statement of occupation and how a person relates to the matter before the court. I am bringing all of this up today, because of the Gospel of John. If you are familiar with the stories of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, you know that as you get towards the end of a Gospel Jesus is arrested and placed on trial. It is based on the outcome of this trial that Jesus is sentenced to brutal punishment and crucifixion. The Gospel of John is a little bit different.
A Three-Day Cycle
Yes, in the Gospel toward the final chapters, John records the trial of Jesus. What’s different about the John’s Gospel is that the entire Gospel is written as if the story of Jesus is one long trial. John calls forth witnesses to testify to Jesus, the Word. Witnesses called to testify to the truth of God’s word include: God, the Scriptures, Moses, John the Baptist, and those with whom Jesus ministers. Just as in a trial today, sometimes the one on trial gets to testify on their own behalf. In this case, sometimes Jesus gets to state his own case directly to us. You and I, the hearers and the readers of John’s Gospel are the jury. We will hear the testimony of the witnesses. We will acquit Jesus of any wrongdoing by coming to faith in him. Or, we will judge him to be a false prophet and condemn him. Ironically, if we condemn him, it is we the jury that will take the punishment.
The story in these verses from chapter one, John masterfully records the first witness’s testimony to the divinity of Messiah Jesus. Let’s go to the interrogation of John the Baptist and hear with fresh ears. “The Gospel proper begins with the testimony of John the Baptist given on three days, days which have symbolic rather than strictly chronological import. On the first day John the Baptist’s testimony about his own role is largely negative; on the second John the Baptist testifies positively to what Jesus is; on the third (which we did not read today) John the Baptist sends his own disciple to follow Jesus.” (Raymond E. Brown, 45). This threefold progression may be thought of as first, John the Baptist was not the light; second, he was to testify to the light; third, through him all will come to the light. (Brown. Dodd, Tradition, 248).
The Baptist’s Interrogation
There are two interrogations on the first day. Like in our modern legal proceedings, establishing one’s identity is vital. Lawyers from Jerusalem have come done Mount Zion into the Jordan River valley to interrogate John the Baptist. Like any lawyer worth their salt, they only ask questions for which they think they will know the answers. Their purpose is to trap a Loonie-toones imposter so that they can put him away. John the Baptists answers are simple, emphatic and not what the lawyers assumed. He says, “I am not the Messiah… I am not … No!”
The lawyers want to know if he is claiming to be a messiah. Their follow-up question is “are you Elijah?” Then, “Are you a prophet?” Answering yes to any of these would warrant a trip to prison without trial for the charge of blasphemy.
John the Baptist goes on to explain who he is. He is merely,
‘a voice in the desert crying out, “Make the Lord’s road straight!”
The “B” claims for himself no authority, no power, merely a voice. However, he is quoting Isaiah. He is not even claiming to make a way for people to get to God. He is claiming to make away for God to come to the people. The barrier to keep God from coming to you is sin. Repent from sin, God comes.
Under interrogation who would you say you are before God. Do you think of yourself as one who has power? Do you think of yourself as one who can do great deeds? Do you think that perhaps you’re channeling one of the great Bible characters of the past? Or, maybe just a minor character?
During his second interrogation of the day, John the “B” goes onto define his purpose and role. Now, if you read the book Ezekiel and Zechariah in the Old Testament, you know that the Hebrews thought that water baptism not only cleaned up a repentant believer, but God also put a new heart – a new spirit – within the person. John the Baptist will not claim giving new hearts for his purpose. He is merely – get this image, not his words but mine – to be a washer woman. He merely helps a person scrub the dirt from their lives. He says, “I am only baptizing with water…”.
Run for the Phones!
What comes next, the lawyers from Jerusalem could not have imagined in a million years. What comes next, is so shocking that if this were a court room movie in the 1940’s, the reporters in the courtroom would be scrambling over each other to get to the phones in the hallway. It is something so scandalous that there was no way to get John the Baptist for a crime. John the “B” says, “but there is one among you whom you do not recognize – the one who is to come after me, and I am not even worthy to unfasten the straps of his sandal.” I can only imagine the lawyers blinking, then, looking at each other shaking their heads and walking away. I just wonder if Jesus isn’t standing right there in the middle of them.
As odd as this may seem, John the Baptist’s purpose was not to preach and to baptize. The purpose of John the Baptist was to draw people’s attention to the Word become flesh who dwelt among us. Isn’t this our purpose as well? We each have our own identities and jobs and families and hobbies. At the end of the day, as Christians, aren’t we just billboards with big arrows pointing to the Word, the Light of the World? Day two of John the Baptist’s testimony drives home the point.
The next day, the Holy Spirit has revealed to John the Baptist the identity of Jesus as the Word, the Light. He shouts, “Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin.” Not just Lamb but embodiment of God’s Spirit, pre-existent one with God. The Baptist assists people to repent of sin and seek a new path. Now, he points to the one who both delivers people from sin and removes sin. By the Lamb of God, that which keeps you in strife with God and with each other and with all of creation, ceases to exist. Power of sin and death die. In the place of sin in your life you get the Holy Spirit.
Spin the Arrow
You and I are to be sign spinners for Jesus. Pointing people to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – who takes away our personal sins as well. Do you want to help someone get on track? Take a few pointers from Kendric Washington, 2020 World Sign Spinning Champion.
Kendric, a theology and political science student at Georgetown, says if you are going to be a sign spinner, there are five things you need to do to be a champion. Point to the purpose of your sign. Smile and wave to the people to whom you are showing your sign. Do something to get people’s attention. John the Baptist preached and baptized. Kendric does tricks. Be creative. Present your sign so that people can see to what you are pointing. Finally, repeat. Listen to Kendric tell the story to News Legend Pat Collins.
So, spin your sign. Have fun pointing people to Jesus.