November 28, 2004     


                                                                   John 1:20-51

Sermon Notes


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                                                   DO YOU CATCH THE DRIFT ?


John the Baptist is a startling character. Thousands came to him, and yet his concern was not with himself. He divested himself of disciples as a MAIN AIM, and testified of truth without regard to the cost. It was not, How do I add Christ to my busy life ? It was rather, How do I testify of Christ as the aim of my life, since life, the world and eternity are all lost in the end, without Him; how do I live for Him !


In this morning’s text, we find a great interest in him, many coming, high and low, to his desert retreat.
Let us then pursue John 1:20ff..


1.  WHO HE IS NOT – John 1:20-21


John is clear that he is not the Christ; nor is he Elijah returned in flesh; nor is he ‘that prophet’. All of these in some sense were expected. He, John, confessed clearly and openly that he was NONE of them. No desire for glory was his. His answers appeared from the report, to be pithy: No, No, No! three denials to three questions.


How then could his baptising be justified ? This was the question the put to him.


The great prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18ff., was to supersede Moses, and this was written in Moses, but it was not he. Elijah was used as a symbol of one coming before the end, to prepare men for it, as in Malachi 4:5, and obviously this was preliminary to Christ, in one seen as doing prodigies of reconciliation like Elijah, lest the earth be smitten with a curse: it was indeed a prelude to the actual coming of the King. It was one before the Messiah, on the scroll of coming events at this stage, in epochal terms, and Christ attested as much saying (Matthew 17:12ff.):


“ ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.’  Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.”


You will notice that Christ in a cryptic fashion refers here to John the Baptist as ‘Elijah’, that is the bold, fearless man of God remembered for ever in his epoch; and yet John does not accept the question: Are you Elijah ? The reason for this is clear and twofold. Firstly, John was NOT that man called Elijah, and that was the question. He was no resurrectee at this stage! He was John. Secondly, when the Master Himself designates Him in the terms that ‘Elijah has indeed come, but they did not know him’, He both gives His own stamp to this role for John, and shows that it is of course NOT the same person, but a man who was typified by Elijah, as such to come and who did come as John, the antitype. Likewise, He said of Himself, the Son of man will suffer ...


Because of this, it is evident as from Malachi where that prophecy was made, that the very next personage is Christ Himself, who will thoroughly purge His threshing floor (Matthew 3:12, Malachi 3, 4). Who, asks Malachi, can stand the day of His coming! This is spiritual for the time of His purge of the temple and exposure of the frauds who were priests, and is to be judicial when Judgment sits, and HE is the judge (Acts 17:31, Malachi 4:1), on the day which God has appointed. To those who fear His name, however, not as a furnace but as the Sun of Righteousness He will arise, with healing in His wings (Malachi 3, 4:2).



2.  WHO HE IS – John 1:22-23


John did directly declare his own mission, as God had shown it to him:


“the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord’


as in Isaiah 40:3.


In this way, he has negatively removed misconception that he is a resurrected person, or the new focus on the one hand, something for which he made enormous efforts; while positively he has shown that HE IS THE VERY INTRODUCTION TO CHRIST! PREPARE the way of the Lord. This focusses Christ, John’s objective, drawing people to Him! John came to feature the One who came for man.  You will notice that he is not out to ‘fulfil his life’, but to fulfil his mission; and at that, not his own, but that of the Lord; and as Christians, we must do the same. SAVE your life, and do your own will, and you lose it; lose it for Him, and by, in and with Him, you have it. Autonomy is death; yielding is life, when it is your home! (cf. John 14:1-9, Luke 14:30ff.).



3.  WHY HE DOES IT – John 1:24-28


Why, they then asked, did John baptise ? This new sacramental thing seemed strange as he was only a forerunner! How refreshingly different John was: instead of trying to maximise his personal life, he was maximising the testimony of Christ, the truth! The fact was that he was using precisely that method of baptising which Ezekiel 36:25-27 shows to be relevant to the Jews when they become Christians. There was in that case first the sprinkling, signifying spiritual need of cover and cleansing, and willingness to have it met, then the cleansing and then the new heart. Repentance into faith, with baptism for the new Jew formerly merely circumcised, is in view, and with this change so symbolised, there is the cleansing through faith and a new heart, the gift of God. Here was Jeremiah 31:31’s new covenant at hand!


It was not however yet the time for the national return of the Jew to the Lord in the New Covenant such as Ezekiel depicts; and John simply returned that HIS BAPTISM was with water, but there was another among them, unknown to them. In Matthew 3:11, we find his baptism described as little compared with that ultra-ceremonial, that super-baptism to come when the Messiah was found; for this baptism was not with water but with a vital dynamic BY NATURE, with fire and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11 cf. Acts 2). This, John's then current baptism was preliminary, preparatory, with the deep sound of repentance like the roaring of the oceanic breakers; but for all that, it was textured on the prophetic mode to come, just as it could be applied in the case of Jesus (Matthew 3:13ff.), for "righteousness’ sake"!


This, John's then current baptism was preliminary, preparatory, with the deep sound of repentance like the roaring of the oceanic breakers; but for all that, it was textured on the prophetic mode to come, just as it could be applied in the case of Jesus (Matthew 3:13ff.), for "righteousness"!


The Messiah, he indicated, was so great that he, the popular prophet was unworthy even to untie his shoe strings. Water baptism was thus directed to be associated with the revelation of Christ to Israel, the mission depicted for it in the end. He had been told by God that the One on whom the Spirit would come and rest would be the Messiah, and he John had seen just this, and knew and confessed the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is He, said John, who is the SON OF GOD! (John 1:34).


In what way would righteousness however be fulfilled if a non-sinner (I Peter 2, Hebrews 4:15-16) should be baptised in a setting meaning REPENTANCE! It was not a confession of sin which led to the willingness of John to baptise Jesus, but an appeal to the opposite, the fulfilment of righteousness. Christ was coming as a religious person, and the sprinkling would signify consecration to a priestly work, as in Numbers 8:7. Thus even touching a dead person required sprinkling with water, and in this world, Christ was ceremonially sanctified for His work, like a surgeon with a-septic gloves on. This was to fulfil all righteousness, whereas a baptism for repentance would have merely mocked it.


Although without sin, and in need of no repentance as John so correctly indicated - for on that topic, the roles would be reversed, yet for RIGHTEOUSNESS’ sake, this setting apart for service in the midst of an unclean world was an act of recognition of his role, the world's pollution and his service to come to it. As usual, He took the lowliest estate, though occupying the highest, so proceeding to give to the uttermost to those willing to receive Him.


"For we have not an high priest who cannot be touched

with the feeling of our infirmities;
but one in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.


"Let us therefore  come boldly unto the throne of grace,
that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."


The Messiah, he indicated, was so great that he, the popular prophet was unworthy even to untie his shoe strings.


4.  WHAT RESULTS ? John 1:29-51


In John 1:36, two of his disciples were redirected by John to Jesus, the Lamb of God. These then follow Him, for John’s work was practical and demonstrative, as well as testimonial. He was guide as well as prophet. Interrogating Jesus, the disciples were asked to see for themselves, as the Lord does: TASTE AND SEE THAT THE LORD IS GOOD! (Psalm 34:8). One of these was Andrew, who found his brother Peter.


The next result is that Christ characterises Peter. This disciple is not called a rock, for ONLY GOD IS THAT (II Samuel 22:32,47, Psalm 62), but a stone, perhaps one you could flip, as Satan tried to do with Peter not without some success at first; and yet, something solid! (cf. Matthew 16:18,23). Stones can move, but petra does not. Peter is not called petra but petros, not mass of living rock, but movable stone item; and how movable he was, this first pope of Rome, no Pope at all, but the one who actually and actively tried to have Christ not even be crucified! (Matthew 16). The petra, the foundation (I Cor. 10:11) was the Son of the living God as revealed in Peter’s testimony, His Christ: this being the point of the Christ’s preceding question, “But who do you say that I am ?” Here is the "I am" of John 8:58, made the more precisely impactive since the topic is time, the point being Christ's declaration that Abraham knew Christ BEFORE He came to earth, and was glad at the day of His coming.


This all done, the disciples grew: Jesus wanted to go to Galilee: so finding Philip, he told him, “Follow me!”. Philip, from Bethsaida, city of Peter and Andrew, was used to add Nathaniel, the latter frankly amazed that Jesus had recognised him as one of His own, before he they met, while he was under the fig tree! This was ‘an Israelite in whom is no guile!’ - Christ declared. ‘You,’ said Nathaniel, ‘are the Son of God, the King of Israel.’


Greater things than these will you see! Christ told him, even angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man, his title from Daniel 7, which means the One to whom all nations will come and who is Lord. So does the Christian find greater things than those of his or her first spiritual birth, as the pilgrimage continues, when it is done as was John’s, testifying of the truth, the Lord, with life and deed, voice and virtue, conviction and zest. Let us draw near to God, and finding our life in Him, go far for Him, but never far from Him; for He is your life, and if for anyone, He is not yet that, it is because your life is dead to God, and a tomb to truth. Repent therefore and live! But for some even now, You ARE His ? Act like John, fearless and faithful, fervent and true.