”Identity and Witness”
Third Sunday of Advent, Dec 17th 2017.
Main Passage – John 1:6-8, 19-28;
The 1970s – which some of us grew up in or remember – has been described as a musical era when many music icons came to birth. It was a decade when many great films were made – including a small film you may know called Star Wars. And tucked in that era was a film – called Flash Gordon. Film known for being mad as a hatter, and with a great soundtrack by Queen. All about a sportsman, a female journalist, a crazy scientist, help save the world from a galactic rule who seeks to destroy earth. In that film, there is a moment when the hero – Flash Gordon – has been captured by the bad guy – Ming the Merciless – a great name no hiding if he is for you or against you – and he asks Flash: Who are you?
Who are you is what we heard being asked, again and again. John 1 says –
”There was a man sent from God whose name was John.”
That is all we learn of his identity.
And the gospel doesn’t give us any more – no physical description, all we know he is a voice and has an incredible self awareness of God’s calling upon his life and an astonishing humility. In Luke we learn how he was a child of promise – two parents elderly who have not had children – akin to Abraham and Sarah – and similarly to that great patriarch and matriarch – this child would bring blessing. The angel Gabriel tells his father Zechariah (Luke 1), that his son will be filled with the Spirit before he is born, he will go before the Lord in the spirit of the great OT prophet Elijah and he will bring back many to the Lord their God, turning the hearts of disobedient parents to their example of their obedient children. Later his father, after his birth prophesies -his son will be a prophet to prepare the way for the Lord God, through him people will know they can be saved through their sins forgiven, this all possible because God’s light will shine from heaven upon those living in darkness or in the shadow of death and he will be a guide for people into the path of peace. John will be someone great in the eyes of the Lord. That is how we are told his calling. How he would live, he would be someone who would never drink alcohol. And he ate locusts, wild honey, lived in the wilderness regions, and he had clothing of camels hair.
The Jewish leaders send priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He knows who he is not, and he knows who he is. Can you look at the front page of the bulletin… and read to yourself those statements which say you are secure, significant, accepted…
…. how do they make you feel? Do you agree with them? Accept them? Believe them?
Each of them – and there are many more, are found in New Testament statements of your identity – who are you – if you are a Christian, that is part of your identity on that front page.
As Christians, it is important to know who you are. To know who we aren’t and who we are not. We are secure, we are accepted, we are significant, we are loved – not because of what we have done, because of what the Lord has done through Christ – the Word made Flesh, the Light of the World. Who are you – give us an answer to take back to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself? John replies using Scripture – ”I am a voice”. John’s response is ours: where is our identity – found in the word and what Christ has done. Our identity can be based on many things – what people have said about us or to us; a work experience; what parents have said, what church tells us we are or are not, what social media says. Someone noted once that on Facebook you create your own identity don’t you – you put the photos on that you want people to see, and delete off your phone those that you wouldn’t want folks to see.
John is clear who he is and who he is not. And we are similar. As we soak upon the Scriptures and recall who we are in Christ – secure, accepted, loved, significant – then when the self talk comes, when people treat us in such a way, when we are accused or blamed, or run down – we can reply like John – I am not that, but I am this…
So don’t only focus upon what the scriptures say you are to do, though that is important,
don’t focus upon only the scriptures that say who God is, though that is important,
but consider and embrace also what scriptures are saying who you are in Christ. How God sees you and how how your identity is different now you are in Christ. John saw himself as God saw him. Can we?
Returning to v6-8. John is called. He has personal commissioning – he was sent from God. His message was Christ centred – he was a witness to the light. His goal – the goal of the One who sent him – that those who heard him would be won to a personal faith, regardless of their spiritual condition, background or attitude – that all might believe.
John is a man who is sent. As you read this gospel, the word for sent is very common – 60 times it is uses, twice as much as the other gospels and it is usually used when God sends. As we read the gospel we see how God sends John the Baptist, then he sends Jesus, and then sends us into the world – ”as the Father sent me so I send you” he declares on Easter Sunday.
John is to be a witness. Greek word used is ”Martur” which gives us the modern word martyr – suggesting we witness and are willing to be a witness to the point of death / if our witness may cause our death – a threat many brothers and sisters in Christ are facing this very day in different parts of our world. The gospel uses the noun and verb to witness more than the other three gospels put together. If you worked through the Gospel we see the many ways Jesus is witnessed to: it is not just John who is a witness. Jesus is witnessed to: by people, such as the blind man and Samaritan woman (John chapters 4 & 9); by the witness of the Father (5:39 & 8:18); by the scriptures (5:39, 5:46), witnessed to by the crowds, witnessed to by the disciples (15:27), witnessed to by the Spirit (15:26), and of course Christ bears witness to himself in words and by his works (5:36, 10:25, 14:11). Finally ”that all might believe” – used many times, and the reason for writing this gospel – ”that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:31).
So John becomes a picture for an individual Christian and for a church. John was sent, with a message about Christ the Light of the World, with the heavenly goal that all might believe, that all might be invited to believe regardless of their spiritual background, condition or attitude. John is a man of astonishing humility. His ministry has borne much fruit and yet his focus is upon the one he witnesses to. He is a man of great renown – why are the Jewish leaders sending priests and Levites to him – yet he says, he is not worthy to untie his sandals. He points, as we read on, his followers away from him to Christ. John is all about OUT – send to bring people back. Our God is a missionary God – as 2 Peter 3 reminded us – he will return,
”the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.”
John is a witness – as we are all called to be. Some of us are called to different roles by God, called to be teachers, called to be clergy, called to be business people, called … so many callings we have. So different. Yet we are all called to be witnesses. Acts 1 – that same word, ‘witness’ loved by John’s gospel is reused:
”But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the world.” (1:8).
As we read Acts, we see how these first generation Christians knew it was not those first 12 disciples to be witnesses, no they were all to be witnesses – whether they traveled to different countries, or remained in their villages and towns for their lives. In fact they were not only called to be witnesses, they were sent to be witnesses. As John the Baptist had been sent, they too had been sent. And we have been sent – called to witness to Christ, through words, talking about him, talking of his teachings, talking of his claims, and through actions, loving, caring as he did. Doing this all in the power of the Spirit.
Who are you? Your identity in Christ – who God says you are in Christ, not who you think you are, or who others say you are. Who are you? Called – sent – to be a witness, in words and actions, with a message about Christ, in the hope that some, all, might believe.
Shall we pray:
Lord Jesus, who at your first coming sent your messenger John to prepare your way before you.
Grant that we may likewise prepare and make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient and those in darkness
to the wisdom of the righteous, to the light, to the way of peace.
That by the time of your second coming, we may have played our part to help grow the numbers watching and waiting for your return.