Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 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.’ ” Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. – John 1:19-28
Welcome to the book of John. I have been off the water for a few days. Just needed a break. The end of the term is approaching and this often correlates with increased workload and stress. It will be good to float along for a bit and see where God leads. My past experience with reading John has given me the impression that his style is one of mystery and metaphors. I really like the way He begins:
“En arche ēn ho Logos, kai ho Logos ēn pros ton Theon, kai Theos ēn o Logos.” —- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – John 1:1
This equating of the underlying logos (often translated “the word”) that underpins and is within all things with God and Jesus is striking and rings true in my soul. I am excited to explore this stretch of water and see if John will use water imagery and metaphors in a similarly profound way.
In this familiar passage John is confronted by religious leaders, priests and levites, who want to know who he is and by whose authority he is baptizing people and forgiving sins. That would be a bit like sending the pope and Billy Graham to find out about what a street evangelist is saying and doing. Bringing in the “big guns”. This event must be pretty important as some version of it is shared in all four of the Gospels.
In Matthew I reflected on how were are all adopted stones (Matthew 3:7-12). The main nugget I gleaned from Mark was that we are all adopted stones. The religious leaders, aka “brood of vipers”, wanted to receive special treatment and privilege because they were more than mere stones. They were gems! Jesus and John make it clear that our value lies not in our position or prosperity but in our position relative to God.
In Mark we also found John by the Jordan baptizing with water (Mark 1:4-11). In this account the emphasis is less on the religious leaders and more on the people coming to be baptized. God thinks the symbolic act of baptism is a really important spiritual act that He participated in Himself. The wondering souls that arrive at the Jordan River to be baptized are stripped down to their souls so they can be rebuilt in God’s spiritual image.
In Luke we found that we are all wondering souls seeking answers (Luke 3:15-17). “It is the question that drives us Neo…” The question is not “What is the Matrix”. The real question is “What does God require of me?”. He wants us to walk humbly into his arms so He can carry us like a son or daughter across the great river that no on can cross.
Each of these versions of the story had a little different perspective and focus. This account seems quite clinical in its description of the scene, recounting the event as it might appear in a newspaper article, blog post, or court deposition. John uses words like testimony and confess. He answers the questions about his role and meaning with the words of Isaiah, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.” This simple answer said unequivocally that he was not claiming to be the Messiah but he would usher in His arrival.
The religious leaders want to apply their old way of thinking about atonement and redemption so they question by what authority John is forgiving sins. They have been mistakenly thinking that forgiveness of sins was their job when in fact it was always God’s job from the beginning. Finally john says “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know.” Jesus will soon be baptized by John in a symbolic act of revelation and redemption.
The take home message for me is that baptism is about commemorating the beginning of a soul transformation rather than a spiritual “switch” that is flipped. It is the beginning of a journey to the undiscovered country that has many hills and valleys. God wants us to become more and more reliant on Him and one another. This difficult road is a feature not a flaw of our life as God followers.
Prayer: God you showed us the way to turn around and follow You through baptism. Help us to walk with you daily as we are transformed into new people in your image.