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 toward 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.”
John finishes his Prologue (or Overture) at 1:18 with the statement, “No one has ever seen God; it is God the only Son … who has made him known!”
The focus on the Word might lead us to think it’s all about Jesus, and yet it is equally about God. The emphasis on Jesus is because Jesus is God made visible; what John wants us to “get” absolutely clearly is the God of grace and truth whom Jesus reveals, in order that we, like Jesus, might become children of God (1:12).
From the get-go, John is clear that Jesus is the Light who will draw many to him, but send those who are opposed to what God is doing scuttling for the darkness (1:6-13). That is what begins to unfold immediately in this interrogation by the “priests and Levites from Jerusalem”.
We discover that, in John’s hand, the Baptist’s sole purpose is to reveal Jesus and announce his mission. Jesus is the Lamb of God, who is to take away the sin of the world (Easter). And he is to baptise with the Holy Spirit (make us children of God). The Baptist has come to point to Jesus and urge first his own disciples and then us as readers to follow Jesus from within a Spirit-filled community of disciples that John calls “children of God” (1:35-37).
John will construct his narrative so that Jesus is killed on Thursday, at the very moment when the Passover lambs are being killed in the temple. His arrival is a New Exodus, celebrated by those longing to be part of a community of justice and peace (the “abundant life” of 10:10), resisted by those who prefer “darkness”. Will we welcome him and follow, or walk away?
Of course we welcome you, Jesus! We’re the Church – how could we do otherwise? And yet … if you call me to give up everything I have invested in the way things are … My job. My pension. My reputation. My possessions. If you are altogether serious about how different living as a child of God is … Do I really welcome you? By your Spirit, open my heart to say yes to your call. Today. Amen.
Lawrence Heath-Moore, Mission & Discipleship Mentor, NW Synod