daily biblical sermons

John the Baptist was a voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord, for the Messiah is near
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, Christmas Weekday, January 02, 2023
1 John 2:22-28, Psalm 97 (98), John 1:19-28

Scripture quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“And this is the testimony of John [the Baptist], when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ They said to him then, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.’ Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ This took place at Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing” (John 1:19-28).



John the Baptist made a great sensation in his day, for there “went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:5). “The people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ” (Luke 3:15).



So the religious authorities in Jerusalem sent a delegation of priests and Levites to John in the desert by the river Jordan to question him and find out whether perhaps he was the Messiah, or if not, who he was.



The Jews believed that a great prophet like Moses would one day come (Deuteronomy 18:15). So they asked him whether he was the prophet. They also expected that Elijah would return in the last days, according to the prophecy of Malachi, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5).



So this delegation asked him whether he was Elijah or the prophet, and John answered no to both questions. So they wanted to know who he considered himself to be and why was he preaching a baptism of repentance. So he told them that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23 quoting Isaiah 40:3).



This is John’s own testimony about himself. In the other gospels it is the evangelists that tell us that John was the fulfillment of this prophecy, but they don’t tell us that John considered himself to be its fulfillment. But here we see that this is not only the evangelists’ explanation of who John is, but it is his own self understanding that he is the fulfillment of this prophecy of Isaiah.



And why is it that he is calling people to repent of their sins and receive his baptism as a sign of their repentance? It is because the Messiah himself was about to appear, and John was his forerunner, preparing his way, as he says today, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know [the Messiah], even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). This is how he describes the Messiah – as one “whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27). It was the job of a slave to tie and untie an important person’s sandals. John says that he is even less than a slave in the service of the coming Messiah, that he is not even worthy to do this menial task for him.



Why does John deny that he is Elijah, when Jesus himself says that he is Elijah, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John [the Baptist]; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:13-14). We can solve this problem by looking at what the angel Gabriel said to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, when he announced to him that his wife would give birth to John, that “He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:16-17).



So Zechariah is not promised that his son will be the person of Elijah, but that his son, whom he is to name John, “will go before him [God] in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). There is a difference between believing, as it seems the Jews did, that Elijah himself would personally return before the Messiah comes on the one hand and believing that John the Baptist will perform the ministry of Elijah and go in his spirit and power, but not be the person of Elijah. So John spoke the truth when he denied that he was Elijah.



So what was John? “He was a ‘voice’, but not a mere voice; nor was his ministry a mere voice of words, as the law was, but it was the sweet voice of the Gospel, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah; encouraging men to believe in him; calling them to evangelical repentance, and publishing remission of sins in the name of Christ, and pointing him out as the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John Gill, 1697-1771).



What does all this mean for us today? John’s ministry was unique, he was the forerunner chosen by God to make the final preparation of Israel to receive their Messiah. He preached repentance of sins as the way to be prepared for his coming.



For us the Messiah has come. But he has not come to everyone yet. Many in our world today do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah and do not accept him with faith and love. Many – even those who claim to be Christians – do not make him the ruling force of their life. Many have not heard the gospel and have not put their faith and trust in it and have not reformed their lives in accordance with it.



Therefore we need ministers of the gospel today. John the Baptist was a minister in his day, calling people to faith in the Messiah by calling them to sincerely repent of their sins. We need ministers of the gospel today as well to call people to faith in the Messiah so that they may receive him and his salvation and have their sins expiated by him and become reconciled to God and be declared and thereby made righteous by God and begin to live a new life as new men and a new creation through faith in Jesus the Messiah.



This is our task today. Those who have been chosen and ordained as priests and ministers of the gospel are to clearly preach this message, announcing that God has sent salvation into the world so that each person’s sins might be thoroughly and totally expiated so that they might be reconciled to God, live in love with him, and grow in holiness through a life of good works.



How many people – even those who proclaim themselves to be Christians – have not really heard this gospel message, this good news, in a way that it has really affected and changed their life and transformed them into adopted sons of God, into new men and new creatures in Christ?



How many feel called by God to spend their lives preaching this gospel among their circle of friends and acquaintances or on the Internet to all who will listen (or read)? In this sense John the Baptist is a model for us today, showing us what our mission in life should be. We should be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23).


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