21 February 2012

John 1:19-28

"John answered them, 'I baptise 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'." (vv. 26-27)


Have you ever been mistaken for someone else? John the Baptist came with powerful preaching and a compelling message. He was often mistaken for the Messiah, or as some called it, the Light. But John the Gospel writer is keen to say that the Baptist was not the Light - he came to testify to someone else.

John the Baptist operated in the wilderness and the area around the River Jordan, and was not always easy to identify, or pin down. And so, when a delegation was sent from the Pharisees (the Jewish religious leaders) to question him, it begins like a sharp interrogation (verse 19) ... "Who are you?"

John's response suggests he knew what they were thinking and so he replied "I am not the Messiah". Well, that narrows it down a bit! Two more guesses! The religious authorities knew there was something deeply significant, godly and prophet-like about him. And Israel had a shortlist of heaven-sent agents it was waiting for.

"Are you Elijah?" they offered. Strange question! The prophet Elijah had lived around 900 years previously, and never actually died (he was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind - 2 Kings 2:9-12). But in the last verses of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi prophesied his return (Malachi 4:5-6). Good man to be mistaken for, but John might think he needs to try a new moisturiser!

"Are you the prophet?" they ask him next. This mysterious character was spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15-22- a second Moses? But John denies this too. So who is he? Well, John does identify himself with an Old Testament prophet, and utters words that come at an important turning point in the book of Isaiah (chapter 40, verse 3).

Dissatisfied with this response, they question his practice of baptism, as if this is evidence to the contrary. Not that any of those characters were predicted to baptise when they came - this was an unexpected practice. But John did so with such powerful effect - getting such a great response from the people as he prepared them for the one who was to come - that surely only one of the aforementioned prophets would have such authority. But John is clear on his role, and the limited scope of his work. His questioners have been looking in the wrong place and asking the wrong questions. "Among you stands one whom you do not know" said John. The 'presence' of the Lord was among them. They just didn't see him. Or know him.

To Ponder

In the midst of confusion in life, or in times of searching for who-knows-what, could it be that God is closer than you think? How might you know?

How can we lead people who are searching and questioning to find the presence of the Lord?

How often do we, in the Church, sometimes believe that 'Church' is what people need, rather than 'testifying to the Light' and pointing them to Christ? How might we change our behaviour?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two beautiful children, Phoebe (aged 3 and half) and Benjamin (who's just turned 1). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and into Northamptonshire), having moved there in the summer of 2016.