John 1:6-8, 19-28: A Voice, Mouth, and Finger

What made John the Baptizer such a powerful witness?  Well, you can’t be much of a witness if you don’t know what you’re witnessing about or what you’re supposed to do.  John didn’t have that problem.  He knew he was witnessing about the Messiah prophesied from of old.  He knew that he was “sent from God” to do just that.

Every facet of John’s life testified of Jesus.  He lived as someone who first sought the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  John trusted that God would take care of everything else in His own way and timing.  John lived as someone who placed his entire life in the hands of his coming Lord.

John was too busy to let mundane details concern him: What he would eat, drink, or wear.  Food, drink, and clothing mattered little to him.  Camel’s hair and leather were enough, as were locusts and wild honey for food.  John had other tasks to do.  The kingdom of God was near.  The One who is creation’s Lord, Judge, and Savior was near.  A people needed to be prepared for His coming.

So, what made John such a powerful witness?  John knew what God sent him to do.  God sent him “to testify about the light, so all might believe through him.”  This so consumed John that Scripture simply describes him as “a voice” and “the Baptizer.”  That’s how John spent his energy–preaching and baptizing.

John brazenly tossed aside whatever got in the way of what God had given him to do.  For the end times are no time for frivolity.  The end of all is near.  John recognized that.  And so if he was busy, he was busy preaching and baptizing.

Today, we are busy.  We are especially busy during this holiday season, this holy day season, which is anything but a season of holy days.  Our busyness adds noise to our lives; it’s a deafening distortion that drowns out the words of our witness.

What do the people around us learn when they watch us?  Do they see a people eagerly looking forward to our Lord’s second coming in glory, a coming that could come at any day or hour?  Do they recognize that we are celebrating God’s incarnation at Christmas?  Do they hear from us that God reached down to become one with us in a baby boy named Jesus?  Do they hear that Jesus is God, born of the Virgin Mary for us and our salvation?

Will they know that this same God who once dwelled in Bethlehem now dwells for us in the mouth of the minister, in the bread and wine of the Supper, in the water of Baptism?  How can they know that?  They can’t, not unless someone tells them, not unless we testify to the Light who has shone into the darkness of our hearts.

The Church’s task is to be John the Baptizer for her own age.  The Church is to prepare people for the visible coming of Christ by teaching and baptizing.  We are to set aside everything else that gets in the way.

But that is going to take a witnessing Church of strong courage and conviction.  It will take a church that does not care what people think of her.  We will have to be a church that doesn’t worry about the trappings of success, a church with focus and intensity.  We will have to be a church confident in her God, knowing the true purpose of why she exists.  It will take brave Christians who will risk all, even their own lives, to testify to God’s vast mercy made known to us through Christ Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptizer has much to teach us today.  He did not come to serve the idle whims of others.  He didn’t come to massage people’s felt needs, pander to their expectations, or satisfy their religious curiosities.  And he wasn’t afraid to upset the status quo, to ruffle feathers, or to make people uncomfortable.

Instead, John called everyone to repent.  When the religious types of his day balked at being washed in the same water with Gentiles and prostitutes, John called them a hypocritical brood of vipers and sons of Satan.  Clearly, John did not set out to win friends and influence people.  He set out to proclaim the coming of the Greater One who is both Savior and Judge.  If that made him more enemies than friends, then what of it?

What a model for the ministry John is!  Today, we want our pastors to be salespeople and winners who project a winning attitude to attract winners to the Church.  Isn’t that what we honestly expect?  Be honest.  We also want our pastors to be gentle, nurturing, and–dare I say it–even “motherly.”  Would you want John the Baptizer as your pastor?

John came as a witness.  That’s the word Scripture uses to describe John: a “witness.”  And what does a witness do?  A witness doesn’t talk about himself, his feelings, or what he thinks.  A witness talks about what he has seen and heard.  His personal stuff is irrelevant to his testimony.

And how many times have you kept silent because your witness would upset a delicate family balance, provoke a difficult conversation, or threaten a friendship?  Would you let your friends and family meet the Day of the Lord outside the umbrella of God’s grace instead of jarring them from their indifference?  Does your silence testify against you?  Would you, instead, let your neighbors suffer in eternity than make yourself uncomfortable?

When needed, John was not afraid to antagonize.  He swam against the prevailing currents of popular opinion.  He spoke out where others were politely silent.  He stuck out in a crowd.  John didn’t even keep silent when King Herod took his brother’s wife as his own.  John told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4).  That, in the end, cost John his head.  It’s no coincidence that “witness” in the New Testament Greek language is our word for “martyr.”

The strength of John’s witness was that he knew who he was and who he wasn’t.  He wasn’t the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet.  John was the first to confess that.  John knew that he was a voice, a mouth, and a finger.

John was a Voice calling out in the wilderness, calling all to repent.  “Make straight the way of the Lord.  Repent.  Confess your sins.  Be baptized.”  John was a mouth preaching the coming of someone greater, who would baptize with the fire of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  The only “personal testimony” that John gave was about Jesus.  “He must increase, and I must decrease.”  John was a finger directing others to the sacrificial lamb, Jesus, “who takes away the sin of the world.”

The tune that played through John wasn’t an elaborate symphony, or even a modest sonata.  There was little that came from John that tickled the ears of his contemporaries.  His tune was a note that rang out loud and clear.  “Repent.  Be changed in your minds.  Be turned to the Christ.”  That’s what John had to say.

John lived, worked, and witnessed as someone who had nothing to lose.  That’s what made his witness strong.  He didn’t care what happened to him.  He didn’t care what people thought of him.  He didn’t care what others would do to him.  John was nothing.  Christ was everything.

John is also a model for us.  For the Church is John the Baptizer of these end times.  We are to call sinners to repentance and baptism, preparing the way of the Lord before His second coming in glory.  You are witnesses to the Light, Jesus Christ, who shines on you, in you, and through you.

But know this: Your witness is not about yourself–your life, your decisions, and your feelings.  They’re irrelevant.  You are a voice in this present-day darkness, calling to a world that needs so desperately to hear: “The Lord is near.  Prepare His way.”  You are that finger directing others to the Lamb in Word and Sacrament.  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away your sin!”

We can, indeed, learn from John.  For our mouths will open when we stop focusing on ourselves, when we stop worrying about what others think of us, and start worrying about what others confess of Jesus.  Is He the Messiah, the Christ?  Is He the Son of God who saves from eternal death?

Like John, we are nothing.  Jesus is everything.  For the One whose sandals John was unworthy to bend down and unstrap is the One who bent down to unstrap the burden of guilt from your shoulders, including the sin of your silence.  In your baptism, you have been buried into His death.  “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  You no longer live.  It is Christ who now lives in you.

What does that mean?  It means that you have nothing to lose that you haven’t already lost.  The worst that could happen to you has already happened to Jesus.  What then do you have to fear?  If others reject your witness about Jesus, so what?  They haven’t rejected you.  They’ve rejected the One who sent you, Jesus!

That’s freedom to witness.  We are to direct others to the Savior, to our Lord Jesus, who is crucified, risen, and reigning.  He has anointed you in your Baptism to “proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  God has sent you to testify.

Yes, like John, you are a voice, a mouth, and a directing finger.  You are to call others in your life out of their comfort zone to receive the gifts of Jesus, the Savior, directing them to Baptism, to the Word, and to the Supper.  Through His Church, even through you, God is preparing a people for the Day of Christ’s coming.  Amen.