St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

A Voice That Still Cries In The Wilderness

Sermon on John 1:6-8, 19-28

Text: There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

John the Baptist’s ministry was a very unique ministry for a number of reasons. First, he was the forerunner of the Messiah. He was the last great prophet, who was to get the people ready for the coming of the Messiah. His clothing and diet were unique, in that he wore clothes made of camel’s hair and ate locusts and wild honey. Another unique aspect of his ministry was the place where he did his work. You might expect that he would do his preaching and baptizing in the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was, after all, the place where the temple was at. It was the hub of Jewish culture. Instead, we find him in the wilderness, in the desert. However, when you examine things more closely, you see that this is where he was supposed to carry out his ministry. First, it had been prophesied in the book of Isaiah that this was where he was to do his work. John refers to this in our text for this morning. It is also appropriate that he carried out his ministry there because it is a good picture of the spiritual state of the world. It is lifeless. John’s voice in the wilderness spoke of one who would bring life. This picture is still accurate today. By nature, the world is still a wilderness. As a result, there is a need for A VOICE THAT STILL CRIES IN THE WILDERNESS. It Is 1. A Voice With A Mission. 2. A Faithful Voice and 3. A Humble Voice.

John’s mission is described in verse seven of our text, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” He came as a witness to the light. This meant that he was to point people to Jesus. His mission was told to his father, Zechariah, when John’s birth was foretold. The angel said, “He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17) He was to prepare the people for the coming of Jesus. After he got the people ready by proclaiming the law in all its severity, he pointed to Jesus. He said of him, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) This was his mission in life. He was to testify.

You and I have a similar mission in life. God did not just bring us to faith, so that we might twiddle our thumbs until the end of time. There are many places where we are told what our mission as Christians is. For example, we read Jesus’ words to his disciples in Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is our task. We are to go and be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth. We also think of Matthew 28:19&20, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We have the same tools available for our work, as John did. We, first, need to proclaim the law, when necessary. This means that we call sin, sin. We do not do this to feel superior to those we are talking to. We do this so that we might ultimately point them to Jesus. We, too, testify to the light. We use the waters of baptism to bring to faith. Our voices still need to cry out, because there are so many people, who are wandering around in the wilderness of sin. They will be lost forever, without the light of the world, Jesus Christ, who gives life to those who trust in him. Our voices cry out with purpose and a mission.

News of John’s ministry reached the capital of Jerusalem. Many people were talking about that man in the wilderness and his message. This caused the religious leaders to send out a fact-finding delegation. First, they asked if John was the Christ. He said that he was not. Then, they asked if he was Elijah. They were referring to a prophecy in Malachi, which said that Elijah would come to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John said that he was not. The reason for this answer is that they understood the prophecy from Malachi to mean that Elijah would rise from the dead and prepare the way for the Lord. John did carry out the mission that was described in Malachi, in the spirit of Elijah. However, as far as him actually being Elijah, the answer was no. Then, they asked if John was “the prophet.” This refers to a prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15. Moses, in speaking to the people of Israel, said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” They thought that, perhaps, John was the fulfillment of this prophecy. John said, “No.” Finally, because they had to get some answers to take back to those who sent them, they asked, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (Verse 25) They wanted to know who gave him the authority to do what he was doing. ‘Did someone in Jerusalem authorize or sanction your ministry?’ It seems that this was a major issue with the Pharisees, for they also questioned Jesus about his authority to preach and teach.

You would think that these people would have welcomed John’s testimony. After all, as we have seen, they were familiar with the Old Testament. They knew that a forerunner was coming, who would prepare the way for the Lord. However, they were so caught up in their own rules and their own lives, that they did not want to listen to the testimony that John brought to them.

We will find that same thing happening to us when we testify to the light. There will be people who misunderstand what we are trying to tell them. Some will try to twist our words and use them against us. There will be people who will try to question our authority to testify to the light. ‘How do you know that you are right? Don’t all the religions all say that they are the right way?’ When we use the law, they will ask us whom we think we are to judge them. When we speak of the mysteries of the Bible, they will tell us that it is all just superstition or fairy tales. For this reason, we may be tempted to back down on what the Bible teaches. We may be tempted to apologize for what offends the listener. In the face of pressure, whether real or perceived, we may be tempted to mute the testimony that we are called on to make. May God help us to be a faithful voice to all his message as we continue to cry out in the wilderness of the world.

After the delegation asked, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?,” John answered, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (Verses 26&27) In other words, what John was saying was, ‘Don’t be so concerned about me. I am not really the one that matters. Let me tell you about him.’ John continually pointed away from himself and shifted the focus from himself to Jesus. It might have been tempting for John to puff himself up. After all, his coming was also foretold in the Old Testament. He was the one who was to come before the Lord came. However, John knew that he was not the Messiah. He knew his place in history. He was there to introduce Jesus to the world. In his humility, John would later say, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

Here, also, we can learn about our witnessing. When we witness, we want to continually shift the focus of the attention away from ourselves to Christ. If someone is trying to argue with us, we shift the focus away from us to what God’s Word says. It is not about us. It is all about him. Similarly, if by God’s grace, someone is brought to faith, it might be tempting for us to get a bit puffed up. ‘Look at what I have done.’ Rather, let us instead give credit where credit is due. We want to deflect attention from ourselves to Christ. He is the one who saves. He is the one who sends the Holy Spirit into the heart to create the faith. Otherwise, it would be like a hammer taking credit for building a house. The hammer did not do the work. It was a tool in the hands of the carpenter. The honor for the building would belong to the builder. The same is true when someone is brought to faith. God uses us as his tools of sharing the gospel with others. We, too, realize that the honor goes to him, alone.

As we said earlier, our mission in life is to be a witness in the wilderness of the world. Unfortunately, we have not always been very good witnesses, have we? Have there been times when God has given us opportunities to speak up and tell someone about Jesus, but we did not because we were afraid of what others would think of us? Have there been times when we, by our actions or words, have just blended into the background, rather than letting our light shine? We must all say, to our shame, that we have not always been very good witnesses. We might even say, at times, we have been ashamed of Jesus. In many ways, we have denied knowing Jesus, rather than standing up for him. These denials should well condemn us to an eternity of punishment.

How thankful we are that Jesus came to pay for these sins, as well. He was never afraid to tell people what was right and what was wrong. He took advantage of the opportunities to tell others about the kingdom of God, even going to looking for people to tell. Jesus was perfect for us. Then, because we are not perfect, Jesus went to the cross where he paid for our sins, including those times when we failed to be good witnesses. Jesus died and rose again, so that our debt before God would be paid in full. Now he gives us an opportunity to thank him, in that we can tell others about what he has done for us. It may come in the form of a formal meeting with someone to tell them about Jesus. More often, it will come in everyday events, as we rub elbows with people around us. When we live our lives to God’s glory, he will give us opportunities to share what we know. In reality, that is what a witness is. We simply share what we know. We do not have to have all sorts of fancy words or know all the right theological jargon. We simply let our faith do the testifying and let the Holy Spirit do his work. This is another way that we can thank God for all that he has done for us.

At this time of year, there are many people who get so busy with the Christmas season. However, they do not know what it really is all about. They may know something about a baby in Bethlehem and angels singing, because the Christmas carols have told them that much. We can point them to the real meaning of the celebration. Much of the world is still lost in the wilderness, in the dark wilderness of sin. There is still a need for a voice to cry out in that wilderness, as there was when John did his work. May God help us to be such a voice. Amen.