Baptist-Like Faith (John 1:19-34)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: John 1:19–1:34
I. Inspiring Your Faith
I'd like you to think for a minute about someone who has inspired you in regard to your faith. Maybe it's someone you knew personally, like a godly parent or childhood friend. Maybe it was a coach, teacher, or Christian leader. Maybe it was an older believer who's maturity blessed you time and time again. Or maybe it was a younger believer whose passion, whose zeal, encouraged you time and time again.
Or maybe that person who inspired your faith was someone you learned about through a biography. A missionary. A pastor. A martyr. Or maybe he or she was (or is) simply a faithful follower of Jesus making a difference in a secular field; or maybe an ordinary disciple used by God in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.
Okay. Do you have someone in mind? I may be going out on a limb here, but I'm going to say that none of you were thinking about... John. No, not John your former youth pastor. No, not the John you read about in that book on the Swiss Reformation or the Methodist movement. And no, not the John who wrote the Gospel that bears his name. I'm talking about the man referred to by the other three Gospels as “John the Baptist”. That title doesn't mean he attended a Baptist church. It means he baptized. He was a baptizer.
While John is not typically talked about as an inspiration for our faith, I think that idea is inescapable when you consider what the opening chapter of John's Gospel reveals about this intriguing character. Turn if you would to John 1:19 as we resume our study of John's Gospel.
II. The Passage: “This is the Son of God” (1:19-34; 3:22-30)
Now, you may recall that John the Baptist is first introduced in the prologue of John's Gospel, which is found in verses 1-18 of chapter 1. What verses 6-8, as well as verse 15, reveal about John and his ministry are simply an introduction to the verses we'll look at this morning. Before we start in verse 19, it's important to note that John seems to assume his readers already know many of the details preserved for us in the other three Gospels. For example, Matthew 3:5-6 tells us that... Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to [John],  and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
1. “I am Not the Christ” (vs. 19-28)
It's that setting and scope and excitement that sets the stage for John 1:19. We read...
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”  So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to 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, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,  even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
So John is making quite 'a splash', isn't he? (pun most definitely intended). He's such a big deal that the religious authorities in Jerusalem need to know if they should defend or denounce his ministry. So they send a delegation who, once they get some face time with John, run through a list of significant figures the Jews were expecting, based on their understanding of the OT.
Right away, John tells them, “I am not the Christ”, that is, the Messiah. So they cross that one off the top of their list. Moving on: in the final chapter of our OT God declares, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.” (Malachi 4:5) But John gives them another “no”. He was not Elijah back from the dead. Finally, in light of Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses tells the Israelites, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you...”, this delegation of priests and Levites ask John if he's that prophet. Once again, the answer is “no.” So they cross all three names off their list.
If John was not the Messiah, or Elijah, or 'the Prophet', who was he? John answers in verse 23. He simply quotes from Isaiah 40:3. John was a 'path preparer'; he 'readied the road' for the coming of Yahweh. But that answer only leaves the big wigs from Jerusalem scratching their heads. “Huh? So why are you baptizing?” You see, these men didn't understand two things. First, they didn't understand that John's baptism of repentance was precisely HOW the path would be prepared. And more important, they didn't understand that God really was coming.
This is what John is stressing in verses 26 and 27. “There is One coming after me, One who is, in fact, already 'on the scene', who is so much greater than me, I am not even worthy to do what even the lowest of all household servants would usually do; that is, remove his sandals and wash his feet.” So not only does John know he's not the Christ, but he knows exactly why he's not the Christ. But look at how the story resumes in verse 29.
2. “Behold, the Lamb of God” (vs. 29-34)
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, 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 before me, because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
So the very next day, for any who will listen, John publicly identifies this One who would come after him. It's Jesus of Nazareth! Notice what John tells us here about Jesus.
First, even though John preceded Jesus in terms of public ministry, Jesus wildly outranks John because Jesus “was before” John. That takes us back to verse 15 of this chapter. Somehow, John understood that as the Son of God, Jesus “existed” before there was a man named Jesus. He understood that, somehow, in preparing a path for Jesus, he was fulfilling the words of Isaiah about preparing a path for Yahweh, the God of Israel; v. 31, “that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Second, even though John's mom and Jesus' mom were somehow related (cf. Luke 1:36), John did not “know” Jesus; that is, John had not “recognized” that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. How could he be sure now? Because at some earlier point, God himself had given John a sign. We heard about that in verses 32 and 33. Now those verses sound a lot like what, according to the other three Gospels, took place at the baptism of Jesus. But we can't be sure if this is John's description of that same event, or another occasion when God confirmed for John the true identity of Jesus, and his anointing through the Holy Spirit.
But best of all, third, what stands out from this passage is the opening exclamation: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That's the very first proclamation concerning the Messiah's ministry: he will, like a sacrificial lamb, make atonement for sin. And not just for Israel... but for the world. Though he was not the Christ, John the Baptist clearly confirmed the who and the why of Him who was.
3. “He Must Increase, But I Must Decrease” (vs. 3:22-30)
Now, even though the story goes a different direction in verse 35 (which we'll talk about next time), John the Apostle has more to tell us about John the Baptist. Flip over if you would to 3:22. Some weeks or maybe months later, this is what the Gospel writer tells us about John...
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. [to clarify, 4:2 reveals that “ Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples”]  John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized  (for John had not yet been put in prison)[again, he assumes his readers know about this].  Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.  And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”  John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”
So John has moved on from his original location at Bethany on the Jordan to a place called Aenon. But he has not moved on from bearing witness about Jesus. Do you see that? In fact, it is his absolute joy to make much of Jesus. He's like the best man at a wedding who does everything in his power to make sure the groom (and the bride) are both connected and celebrated. As is still the case today, it's the groom who gets the attention; it's the groom who gets the gifts; best of all, it's the groom who gets the girl. And the best man? He fulfills his role with joy, and quietly slips away as the newlyweds drive off into the sunset, cheered on by a crowd of well wishers.
Brothers and sisters, that is John. And if you know Jesus, that should be you as well.
III. A Daily, Three-Fold Faith
As I mentioned in the previous message, the way that John the Apostle writes about John the Baptist leads us to believe that some of the author's late, First Century readers were wrongly inflating the role of the Baptizer. Whatever the specifics of their misconceptions, the Gospel writer is clear about John's position and his passion; about his focus and his faith. If anyone could be described as “Christ-centered”, it was John the Baptist. And because that's true, I believe we should have a Baptist-like faith.
What does that mean? It means walking each day in the same, three-fold faith that John confesses here. What's his first confession? “I am not the Christ.” Second, he declares, “Behold the Lamb of God...”. Third, his final words in this book say it all: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Are these the confessions of your faith? Of your faith each and every day? They should be brothers and sisters. Think about it...
Each day, like John, we need to walk in the truth of that first confession: “I am not the Christ.” Even when things are going well; even when you're the center of attention; even when you feel spiritually fruitful and powerful, you must remind yourself, “I am not the Christ.” When you want to fix things, when you want to change things, when you want things to go your way, you must remind yourself, “I am not the Christ.” When you feel confident, capable, competent, when you feel right and righteous, you have to remind yourself, “I am not the Christ.” John knew he was not the Christ, and he knew why. Do you?
But wonderfully, that confession helps us make the second confession: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” As one who knew himself to be unworthy, John knew that Jesus was his only hope. As a sinner, he knew that only the Lamb could take away his sins. He knew that Christ was before and he was after. And he understood it was God who gave him the spiritual eyes to see the truth about Jesus. Brother, sister, will you watch for Jesus each day? And when you see him, will you declare to your soul, “Behold, the Lamb of God...”? Will you remind yourself that he “takes away the sin of the world”, including your own? John was not ashamed to make much of Jesus, was he? Yes, he recognized he was not the Christ. But even better, he rejoiced in the One who was.
And that points us to our third and final, Baptist-like confession of faith: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Some mistakenly come to Christ because they believe that somehow He exists for them. John knew that wasn't true. He... we... exist for Him. We exist because “in Him was life.” (John 1:4). Human life was made “through Him”, but also “for Him” (Colossians 1:16). In contrast to our modern world, where the unique self it to be celebrated above all else, John (and John) remind us that the self is most satisfied when Jesus is celebrated above all else; when Jesus is out in front. Christ doesn't wash you away. Only in Christ are you most you! Will you stop trying to shape God to your plans, and allow him to shape you to be more like Jesus?
How are such confessions possible, especially every day, for people like us? The Baptist gave us another wonderful reminder in 3:27, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” Do you believe that? If you do, then pray. Even though he is long gone, let your heart be prepared by John's ministry, that is, come to God with a heart of repentance; a heart remorseful over and rejecting of sin. But also pray in light of John's ministry, specifically his witness. Did you see how wonderfully he points us to Jesus? May we do the same with others, as we remember how the Lamb of God gave himself on the cross for us so that we might also walk in this same three-fold faith: “I am not the Christ”, “Behold, the Lamb of God”, and “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Make it so, Father!