5: John the Witness (John 1:6-8)

5: John the Witness (John 1:6-8)

5:John the Witness

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” (John 1:6)

John the apostle introduces us to John the Baptist. His introduction contrasts with the way John has introduced Jesus. John The Baptist is introduced as a man. The Logos “was God”. John therefore had a beginning, unlike the Logos, Jesus, who was there “in the beginning”. He was created, Jesus was the creator: “All things were created through Him.” That would include John. Jesus created John the Baptist to come before Him and make a way for Him.

As John himself said of Jesus:

“After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:30).

John was sent by God, Jesus was an essential part of the Godhead that sent him. We straight away learn John’s name. We have not yet learnt the earthly name of the Logos. John is a man. An amazing man, but a man. Jesus is not just a man. Not even just an amazing man. He is so much more.

“He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.” (John 1:7)

John was sent by God as a witness. A witness is someone who is called into the dock in court to speak on behalf (hopefully) of the truth. That witness should confirm the innocence or guilt of the one on trial. If the witness is brought on behalf of the defendant, then they are expected to give evidence that serves that defendant’s case, proving that they are not guilty. Such witnesses are sent to the court by the defense lawyer, who wants to prove to the court the innocence of their client.

God did not send John into the world as a defense lawyer would send a witness to the court. God the Father does not need the courts of this world to prove that His Son is innocent. Jesus Himself is not a “defendant” who is looking for John the Baptist to back Him up against the court of human opinion. Jesus is not worried about being judged by us.

When God sends a witness into the world it is not for His sake, to somehow prove His case. He in no way needs to be justified, proved right, exonerated or declared innocent. No, when God sends a witness into the world it is for our sake, not His. Jesus is not on trial here in our court. The reverse is true. We are on trial in His Father’s court.

That we are guilty as charged is without doubt in the court of heaven. It is us that cannot see it. As a result we are facing a dreadful sentence. Not only do we not know that it is coming, many of us are unaware that we are even guilty, never mind that we have already been charged and judged and sentenced.

God sends us, graciously and undeservedly, a witness. Someone to help us see that we are guilty and facing a terrible sentence. Someone to help us see that we are in desperate need of a Savior. John the Baptist witnessed about us before he witnessed about Jesus.

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” (Matthew 3:1-3)

John the Baptist firstly witnesses about us that we are sinners and we need to repent of our sin. Then he points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who will take away our sin and guilt and judgement.

John, the writer, goes on to point out that John the Baptist wasn’t totally sure who Jesus was until he saw the dove of the Holy Spirit come upon 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.’” (John 1:33)

He did not know Jesus for sure straight away. But he seemed to know us for sure straight away. He knew that we were sinners and that we stood guilty before the court of heaven and we needed to repent before we found ourselves standing in that court.

John the Baptist came to testify concerning the light. He began by witnessing about the darkness.

When we testify about the light, do we start with the darkness? Do we bear witness to our sinfulness and that we stand guilty before a righteous judge and face a terrible sentence as a result?

If we don’t, we present Jesus as a gift wrapped Christmas present from the Father that will benefit us in our life now and in our eternity. The reality is that He sent Him into the world as the lowest of all servants, to suffer and die on a cross because we absolutely, desperately need Him.

The first form of the gospel (which isn’t the “good news” that we need) produces admirers of Jesus but not lovers of Him. It produces consumer Christians who expect to get from Jesus what they need, rather than true disciples who lay down their lives for love and give Jesus what He is looking for. The first keeps me and my needs at the centre. The second causes me to die to me and my needs and put Jesus at the center (again for love, not for religious duty) trusting me and my needs and my life into His hands.

John the Baptist came to testify to Jesus as the light of the world but he started by testifying about us, the darkness of the world. The world didn’t make us darkness, we made the world darkness. When we get that, we are more prepared to receive the light.

It is “the people who walk in darkness” who “have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:2). If we don’t think we are walking in darkness then we don’t realise our need for light and won’t appreciate it or submit to it when it comes. We will put the light (Jesus, the Light of the World) as a nice accessory in our homes, a mood lamp to switch on and go to when we need comforting and warmth.

Jesus is not an accessory. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings and He has come to set the whole earth ablaze with light, not just bring comfort to our lives. He has come to rule our darkness, not just give us hope in the middle of it.

That is why John baptised with water for repentance. He was preparing us to meet the light.

Baptism meant open, public, confession of sin. If you wanted to be baptised by John you had to walk into the water, lined up behind prostitutes, tax collectors and unjust soldiers, acknowledging the fact that you needed a good wash every bit as much as they did.

“I am a very great sinner,” you would be saying “and I need to be cleansed”.

Open, public confession of sin opening the door to real life. John was preparing them to meet Jesus. Come into the light if you want to meet the light of the world.

“He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.” (John 1:7)

So that all may believe. John the apostle is unequivocal, here at the start of his gospel, when He talks about the scope of the Father’s heart for the world. So that all may believe. Whatever else we read in the following chapters, John the Apostle has set the boundaries of God’s loving heart as being universal.

There are verses in the rest of John that support this view: “for God so loved the world that He gave us (the world) His only Son that whoever (universal again) believes should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

There are verses that point to a more restrictive or exclusive view of God’s redemptive plan: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).

One appears to point to a God who loves everyone and gives everyone the same opportunity to repent and be saved. The other appears to point to a God who loves everyone but not everyone gets the same opportunity to be saved because He chooses some and not others.

That may be an overly simplistic way of unpacking what John is saying in His gospel, however, my point is this: He says both. He says that God loves everyone and appears to open the door to anyone to be saved but He also says that we cannot be saved unless the Father draws us in the first place.

Wherever you land in that discussion, what is clear is this: When John the Apostle sets out the landscape for his explanation of the gospel, the good news, he doesn’t put any parameters on the recipients of God’s love or His desire for their redemption. He sent John the Baptist into the world “as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.” (John 1:7)

The Apostle John’s aim seems clear. He wants all his readers to believe that there is a God who loves and cares for them. So much so that He sends His own Son as a light to all those in darkness. So that through Him (Jesus) all might believe (and therefore be saved). John wants everyone to believe that salvation is possible for them. This is a theme that is underlined throughout the gospel as John highlights people from different backgrounds and even nations who are all offered an opportunity to believe in Him and be saved.

This is very important because, whilst John doesn’t shy away from the truth that God the Father sovereignly chooses later in the gospel, he does not start that way. When we begin our sharing of the gospel with an exclusive mindset, we are in danger of immediately restricting it’s scope but we also, unwittingly in many cases, are doing an inadequate job of representing the heart of God to those we are witnessing to.

Right from the beginning the Holy Spirit, through John, wants us to know that God’s desire, His heart, is that “all may believe”. So everyone reading this book can continue reading it because it has been made clear that this book offers life to everyone.

“He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:8).

Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest born of woman. But the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than he.

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11 & Luke 7:28)

Why? Here is not the full answer, but certainly part of an answer. John is not the light. Jesus is the light. All who have Jesus also have the light. In Christ we become the lights of the world. Jesus told us so.

“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14)

In a very real sense John the Baptist was a “light” in this dark world. But John was clear that he was not the light of the world because the light of the life of Jesus Christ had not fully come into him (although He was filled with the same Holy Spirit). He was not the light of the world, Jesus was. And we are the light of the world when we are in Him and He is in us.

John the Baptist came to bear witness to that light. He started by opening our eyes to our own darkness. By acknowledging our sin openly, and actively showing a willingness to repent through the waters of John’s baptism, we are now ready to receive that light. Not just receive the light, but love Him and live for Him.

Are we loving and living for Jesus? If not we might want to start with asking the Holy Spirit to shine the light onto any sin in our lives that is holding us back. “Where is the darkness in me, Lord, that is keeping me from loving and living for the light?” If you are really serious then ask a spouse, pastor, good friend or family member to help you see what you cannot see by yourself.

If the Holy Spirit shows you something, then can I recommend that you bring it into the light (however shameful it may be) by openly confessing it to someone more mature in Christ who can help you.

When you do that, you are preparing the way for a deeper and more life changing encounter with Jesus, the Light of the World.

That was John the Baptist’s message. That was his testimony. He came to bear witness to the light.

Posted on: April 5, 2017Peter Todd

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