Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sermon: John 1: 6-8 John the Witness

Have you ever noticed in newspapers that sometimes the articles don’t seem to flow properly? Perhaps there was more space than story, so they had to pad it out, adding irrelevant additional reporting, which didn’t really seem to fit. Or worse, there was a problem in the editing process, and two stories were mangled together with paragraphs that didn’t belong in the story accidentally thrown in which led to confusion rather than clarity.

We’re continuing in the opening verses from John’s Gospel, and this morning I want to focus particularly on verses 6-8. Just look at those verses - why are they included at all? Is it one of those unfortunate editing errors or an irrelevant addition? After all, in verse 5, John is writing about the light that shines in the darkness. Jump to verse 9, and it could easily move straight from 5 to 9 - the true light was coming into the world. Think as well about the big picture - if this opening section is about how the Word (who was with God and was God in the beginning, who created all things, who is life and light) how this Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood, and the whole Gospel is about this word, Jesus, then why do we have these three verses about this other guy, John seemingly slotted in at random?

It’s often the ‘strange’ things we come across in our Bible reading, those bits that don’t seem to fit, or the times we wouldn’t have expected it to say just ‘that’ - as we study and think and reflect on them - we actually come to see just why they’re there. The strange things can turn out to be the key to the whole thing. Hopefully we’ll see that we can’t just get rid of these three verses; that we can’t just get rid of John - that John is important - both in terms of salvation history, and also for our own discipleship.

Let’s keep three questions in mind as we consider these verses - who, what, and why. Very simple questions, and hopefully effective as we see John’s importance and example.

First of all, then, who. ‘There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.’ We know his name is John - but immediately, to avoid any confusion, let’s be clear - it’s John the Baptist we’re thinking of, and not John one of the disciples, who wrote this gospel account. John the Baptist, he was sent from God.

From Luke’s Gospel we get more of John’s back story - his miraculous birth to the aged Zechariah and Elizabeth, his time in the wilderness, his ministry of baptism and all that. But in this Gospel, we’re simply told that John was sent from God. Commissioned by God for a special task, sent with authority.

John is on a mission - not for the secret service, like a James Bond spy; no, there’s nothing secret about John’s task. It brings us to the ‘what’ - what he was sent from God to do:

‘He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light.’ We’re all probably familiar with the idea of a witness - either through being in court ourselves or seeing a courtroom in a drama or even a TV soap. What is it the witness does?

I hope it doesn’t happen, but if you were to see a traffic collision on the way home from church, then you might be called to be a witness. You aren’t expected or wanted to give your personal opinions and make decisions - you’re simply asked to say what you have seen or heard or experienced. So, the white car drove through the red light and hit the bus, or whatever it might have been.

But here, John isn’t just reporting on what happened in an accident. Rather, he has been sent by God as a witness, to bear witness about the light. He is called to proclaim what he knows about the light of the world - Jesus. Jesus is the content of his message, the subject of his witness - and you can see that further down the chapter - across the page as John calls the people to be ready for the arrival of the Lord; and as he says out: ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ v36 (who takes away the sin of the world v29).

He is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness - as John is sent to witness, he has to use his voice! While it might make good TV, here there would be no point in John being a silent witness! John’s job, indeed, his whole life, is all about pointing to Jesus, proclaiming about Jesus, telling people about Jesus.

This theme of witness is a big one in John’s Gospel - throughout its pages there are presented a number of witnesses pointing to Jesus - including John the Baptist, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the disciples. Just as those first disciples were called to be witnesses of what they had seen and heard (those who had walked with, watched, lived with, talked with and experienced the risen Jesus), so we also are called to be witnesses to Jesus, pointing to him.

And I know that as soon as I say that, some of you will immediately feel the panic rising. Oh no, you think, here comes the guilt trip about not telling people about Jesus. Not so fast. You see, I reckon that each one of us are fairly good at being witnesses in all sorts of ways.

Think back over the last week. Perhaps there was something that particularly pleased you, something you really enjoyed. Maybe it was the new Terry’s Chocolate Orange McFlurry in McDonald’s, or a nice meal in a fancy restaurant. Maybe you picked up a bargain in a shop or down at the Christmas market in Belfast. Whatever it was, you simply had to tell people about it. So you rang up your good friend Agnes, you shouted over the back fence to your next door neighbour, you put it on Twitter, Facebook and texted your three best friends. What were you doing? You were being a witness!

You experienced something, and you had to tell people about it. With the coming of Jesus we have something much more important than a good feed or a quare bargain, we have light, and life, and peace. For each of us there will be different opportunities, different people, but all of us will have some place to witness to Jesus, to point to what Jesus has done, particularly at Christmas time.

We’ve thought about the who - here it’s John the Baptist, sent by God, and the what - to witness to the light, to Jesus. Why is it that John was sent? Why is it that God still sends us to be witnesses for Jesus?

Verse 7 tells us: ‘He came... that all might believe through him.’ This might be another of those surprises - we might expect this to be speaking of Jesus, so that all might believe through Jesus. In fact, it seems to be saying that all might believe through John. Does that seem strange to you?

Throughout John’s Gospel and the rest of the New Testament, it will say that we believe in Jesus, but not through Jesus. So Jesus is the one we believe in - he is the object of our faith - he is the one we depend on and trust in; but John is the one through whom we come to believe - his witness leads us to believe in Jesus.

You might be thinking to yourself - John had nothing to do with me believing in Jesus. As good reformed people, you might even be thinking that we’re saved by faith alone in Christ alone - and you’re right. But let’s not forget John’s unique place in salvation history. John is regarded as the last of the Old Testament prophets, but he’s also the first person to point to Jesus, as he prepares the way for Jesus.

He is found in each of the four gospels, just before Jesus’ ministry begins; calling people to be ready and identifying and pointing to Jesus when he comes. As we’ve already seen, he is the voice crying out in front of Jesus; the forerunner; the police motorbike outriders who clear the way and announce the arrival of the special visitor.

It is precisely because John has pointed to Jesus, witnessed to who Jesus is, that the first disciples came to follow Jesus, and therefore John’s witness has led all who believe in Jesus to believe through him. We see that across the page in 1:36. John is standing with two of his disciples when Jesus walks past and he is the witness: ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ he says, and the disciples move from following John to following Jesus. Andrew and the other (who was probably the apostle John) come to believe in Jesus because of John’s witness.

While John’s role was special and unique, the why of our witness is exactly the same. We want to see people hearing the message about Jesus and believing in him - it’s the very reason John has written this gospel in the first place: ‘these [signs] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:31)

So as we take courage and speak about the Lord Jesus to friends, family and neighbours, we remember the reason we bother to do it at all - we want to see them come to believe in Jesus too.

John the Baptist was not the light himself, and yet Jesus describes him as ‘a burning and shining lamp’ (5:35) - an instrument that allows the light to shine. Will we also be willing to be lamps, allowing the light of Jesus to shine in us and through us to the surrounding world of darkness? We need God’s help, so let’s pray together.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 19th December 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment