As we read the first chapter of the book of Acts, it appears that the disciples were still struggling with this resurrection thing. Over a period of 40 days, Jesus appeared to them and as Luke says “they talked about the Kingdom”, and Jesus gave them many “incontrovertible” “irrefutable”, “undeniable” proofs that he was raised from the dead. He was alive and well. But, they still are not in focus! They are concerned about one thing: the Kingdom. Their question is simple: “will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?”
But Jesus says something very different from what they expected! “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that have been set by the Father! But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!” THEN HE LEFT! HE ASCENDS IN A CLOUD! They have their instructions. They are to be witnesses of the risen Christ!
But, I am not going to speak from the book of Acts today, though speaking from Acts on any day is a good thing. I want to speak to you from the Gospel of John, specifically about a special witness: John the Baptist
It is a privilege to be back at Oakridge. Good to see so many friends. But as you know, God has called me to preach and that is what I have been doing. I am so blessed!
The Sunday after Easter Sunday is always a bit of a difficult time to preach. After all, what do you say after the resurrection? What compares with the risen Christ? It is this truth of the Risen Christ that gives credibility and power to the Christian message. It is Paul who says, “if Christ is not raised, then our faith is in vain. And we of all men are most miserable.” But, now is Christ risen! For sure, Paul has a point, a very important point.
And yet, the disciples had difficulty getting their minds around the resurrection. They were shocked when the risen Jesus met them in the Upper Room. When he came back the next week, they were shocked once again. And even as we read the first chapter of the book of Acts, it appears that they were still struggling with this resurrection thing. Over a period of 40 days, Jesus appeared to them and as Luke says “they talked about the Kingdom”, and Jesus gave them many “incontrovertible” “irrefutable”, “undeniable” proofs that he was raised from the dead. He was alive and well.
But, they still are not in focus! They are concerned about one thing: the Kingdom. Their question is simple: “will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” It is what they wanted! It is what they had been looking for! It is their dream, their hope! And, why not? It is what all Israel wants.
But Jesus says something very different from what they expected!
“It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that have been set by the Father! But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!”Acts 1:7–8
THEN HE LEFT! HE ASCENDS IN A CLOUD! They are watching, almost in disbelief. Where’s He going? And now the Angel speaks: “You men of Galilee, why do you stand here gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus whom you have seen going up into heaven will come in the same way that He has gone up into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
They have their instructions. They are to be witnesses of the risen Christ! The book of Acts is the record of their success. Or should I say it is the record of ordinary men committed to Jesus and empowered by the Spirit? But, I am not going to speak from the book of Acts today, though speaking from Acts on any day is a good thing. I want to speak to you from the Gospel of John.
We had a couple of Baptisms today—witnesses to the grace of God, and we want to look at what it means to be a witness. And in doing that it seemed to me, given those things, to take a look at John the Baptist. Of course, it is no surprise to those of you who have been at Oakridge any amount of time that I would want to focus on a Biblical character. I love them. I love what we can learn from them. And surely John the Baptist is worthy of our consideration. Remember what Jesus said about John the Baptist: “among men born to women, none is greater than John the Baptist”.
And yet he is a strange man, a very strange man. He eats strange things. He wears strange clothes. His hair is a story all in itself. He says strange things. There are not many preachers who can call their listeners a brood of snakes and get them to stay and listen to the message. There is something special about John the Baptist. Of course, if you know the story of his birth, you know he is going to be special.
So we want to look at him. But we want to look at him for a certain perspective. As we look at John the Baptist we will be able to see what it is that makes him such an effective witness for Jesus! And, let’s be clear: you and I are to be witness for Jesus. As Jesus says, “we are the salt of the earth, we are lights…” So, in looking at John the Baptist we might learn some things that are helpful to us.
As we turn to the Gospel of John, John the Baptist is the very first human we encounter. In verse 6 we hear these simple words: “there was a man, sent from God his name was John.” Keep in mind that up until this point in John’s Gospel, there have been two main characters: God and the Logos! We have seen them in their divine capacity.
But now we encounter John. He is man. And in some ways he is the dominant character of the whole first chapter. And, he is a major player once again in the 3rd chapter of John’s Gospel. The beginning words of the first chapter are some of the most famous and most powerful words in the entire Bible. You probably know these words. Many of you could say these words from memory.
In the beginning was the word. The word was with God and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life and that life was the light of me. The light shined in the darkness and the darkness could not apprehend it. [Could not understand it – could not perceive it – could not destroy it].John 1:1–5
Now it is in this context of darkness that John the Baptist will find himself! And don’t think for a moment that this darkness is mere physical darkness. It is not like John needs a flashlight to find his way around. The darkness here is spiritual darkness. And in a sense, as John the Apostle describes darkness, it is an aggressive darkness. He will say in the third chapter “men love darkness because their deeds are evil”. He will tell us in the first chapter that when the light came into the world, the world did not recognize it. When the light came to its own, that is when Jesus came to Israel, they would not receive him. The darkness is not just dark; it is evil. As the Apostle says again [3:20] “Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light…”
Of course, when you live in darkness all of the time, the darkness seems quite normal. In fact, you can even come to believe that the darkness is light. You think you can see, when in fact you cannot see. This is the problem with the Pharisees in John 9. They think they can see! And because they think they can see, they remain in their blindness. In fact, after Jesus has given sight to a blind man those Pharisees would rather believe that they had been continually tricked by this blind man than believe the truth. This kind of blindness is common in the Gospel of John. In fact, it is one of John’s major themes.
What we need to do is to recognize that the world in which we live is spiritually very much like the world in which John the Baptist lived. It is a dark world; a very dark world. It is a world in which:
- God is seen to be created not creator
- Jesus is seen as an enslaver not the truth who sets us free
- Christian values are seen to be oppressive and manipulative
- Feelings are important and reason is irrelevant
I am sure you can add to this list! It is a very dark world indeed! It is a scary world. But three things must dominate our thoughts:
- It is a world that God loves
- It is a world for which Jesus died
- It is a world in which God placed you and me.
As Paul puts it in Philippians: we are like stars shining in the universe. The darker it is, the brighter the star. Clearly, John the Baptist was a bright star. What is it that made him so effective? That is the question we want to answer and in answering that question we will get direction for our own lives.
John The Baptist Knew He Was Sent [1:6]
The Biblical text puts it this way: “There was a man sent from God!” He did not become a witness by accident. He did not become a witness because that is what he thought the world needed. He did not become a witness because he thought it would bring him praise. He became a witness because that is what God sent him to be! It sounds so simple. But it is profound. SENT!
When I say SENT is profound, think of this: The Son was SENT [“as the Father sent me”]. The Apostles were SENT [“so send I you”, “You shall be my witnesses”] Sent, Sent, Sent! And here is the deal: YOU ARE SENT! You are to be salt. You are to be light!
But, let’s look at a second thing now.
John The Baptist Knew Who He Was [1:19-23]
Without doubt, John the Baptist drew a crowd. We have already noted how in many ways he was a very strange person. And, he had a very unique message: repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In one sense, it was a very welcome message. There was nothing the Jews wanted more than the Kingdom. Could it be here?
But then there was that other word REPENT. What gave him the right to tell people to repent? That was the job of the Priests and Levites. Who was he to be doing such a thing? [In actuality he was in the priestly line.] Was he the Christ? No! Was he Elijah? No! [nobody knew where he was!] Was he the prophet that Moses had spoken about? No! Who was he? He is the one that Isaiah had spoken of in Isaiah 40. He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness make straight the way of the Lord!
You can make a big deal about that and for sure it is a big deal. But bottom line is this: he knew who he was. He was to prepare the way for the Lord and that is exactly what he was doing. John the Baptist knew who he was and he made and impact.
Do you know who you are? Do you know how God has gifted you? It doesn’t have to be some big deal. You don’t need to be a Prophet or a Priest or a Levite. You just need to be you. Can you encourage? Encourage. Can you sympathize? Sympathize. Can you motivate? Motivate. It is simple! But here is the thing – God has given you a gift that the world needs. He has given you something that will make you a star shining in the universe. Get at it.
There is a third thing that we want to note about John the Baptist.
John the Baptist Knew Who Jesus Was
In one sense what I am saying here sounds silly. After all, John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus. His mother and Jesus mother were relatives. He should know who Jesus is. But then remember that Jesus has brothers and sisters and they don’t really get who Jesus is. So, being a relative and knowing who Jesus is are not really the same thing.
But John the Baptist really does know who Jesus is. We see this in the latter part of the 1st chapter of the Gospel. One day John the Baptist is with his disciples. Jesus comes walking by. John the Baptist calls out: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
After saying this, he tells us more about Jesus. He tells us that even though Jesus comes after him in time, He is greater than John is. He tells us more. He tells us that while he baptizes with water Jesus will baptize with the Spirit. He tells us that not only is Jesus the Lamb of God but he is the Son of God. And he knows this because when he baptized Jesus, the spirit of God came down like a dove and God spoke and said this is my beloved Son. [Luke]
One more time Jesus will walk by where John the Baptist is and the Baptist calls out once again: “Behold the Lamb of God.” There can be no doubt that John the Baptist knows who Jesus is! He is the Saviour! He is the Son of God! He is the King. He is the authority. And that means some simple things for you and me.
- When he sends us, He expects us to go.
- When he gifts us, He expects us to use those gifts.
But, there is one more thing that we need to see in the life of John the Baptist.
John The Baptist Knew It Was Not About Him
I suspect that for those of us who grew up memorizing Scripture, we would have memorized a little verse from John 3. John 3:30 “He must increase; I must decrease.” In the first three chapters of John’s Gospel, this point is made abundantly clear. I have just mentioned the one verse. But now look at two others.
15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.John 1:15–18
29 The next day he *saw Jesus coming to him, and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He in behalf of whom I said, ‘After me is coming a Man who has proved to be my superior, because He existed before me.’ 31 And I did not recognize Him, but so that He would be revealed to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 And John testified, saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”John 1:29–34
Every time we see John speaking about Jesus in John’s Gospel, it’s about the superiority of Jesus. It is about how he is the servant of Jesus. It is about how he can make Jesus known. It is about how he can honor Jesus. This is how it is to be in our lives!
- Sent by Him [Know you are on a mission.]
- Gifted by Him [Know who you are]
- Know who Jesus—Master, Saviour, King, Son of God
- It is all about Him. It is not about you.
Lew is a retired career pastor and professor with a long-time connection to Oakridge, who currently resides with his wife, Marguerite, in London, Ontario. Lew did his undergraduate studies at Moody Bible Institute and Houghton College and his graduate studies at Cornell, Lehigh, and New York Universities. His career has taken him in both the educational and pastoral realm, having served as Dean of the New York School of the Bible, Chairman of the Philosophy Department of the King’s College, Chairman of the Pastoral Studies Department at Ontario Bible College. In addition, he has served as a faculty member at The International School of Theology in Budapest, Hungary; Linguistics University in, Moscow, Russia; and the Kazak American Free University, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. In recognition of his academic achievements and contribution to the educational process in Kazakhstan he was awarded the degree of Doctor and Professor. In addition, Lew was a founder and the director of the Central Asia Leadership Training Centre in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He was also a founder and faculty member of the Centre for Advanced Theological Studies in Moscow, Russia. He continues some of his work overseas serving as Leadership Consultant for the Brethren Churches of Romania, and he also continues in a teaching and consulting role in several Eastern European countries. Presently, Lew helps churches that are in transition.