On Sunday, January 29, 2017, Eastside Presbyterian Church Lead Pastor Mark Auffarth preached a sermon, during which he said he doubted anyone would come hear him preach in the desert, as John the Baptist had done, but I told him I would come listen to him preach in the desert, especially after such a good sermon message on this day! If you would like to read my summary of Mark’s sermon, “Know Who You Are,” please read on.
“Know Who You Are”
From the “Who Is This Jesus?” Sermon Series
By Pastor Mark Auffarth, Lead Pastor
Eastside Presbyterian Church
Greenville, South Carolina
Sunday, January 29, 2017
Text: John 1:19-34
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Summary of and Editorializing by Bob Stouffer
So we’re talking about John the Baptist today. This passage describes two days in the life of John the Baptist. One day, he interacts with the Jewish religious leaders. The next day, Jesus shows up — the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. These two days are presumably after Jesus had been in the desert for 40 days, prior to his public ministry.
Anyone heard of Milton Lichtman? He’s most famous for portraying thousands of television and radio commercial characters. He died at the age of 87. He was once asked how he was doing? He responded, “I’m alive and well and living in someone else’s face.” In May of 1989, the New Yorker published an article about “The Man with a Thousand Faces.” He considered heaven to be “living in his own face, luxuriating in his own skin.”
Do we know who we are? We can play a lot of roles in our lives. Who are we, when we are lying on our beds at night, and it’s just us as individuals?
John the Baptist knew who he was, and that informed the role he played in worshipping Jesus.
I have two points today: We have identities to remember, and we have roles to play.
Point Number 1: We have identities to remember.
The purpose for John’s Gospel was that we might know Jesus, believe in Him, and, as a result, have life in his name (John 20:31).
John the Apostle does not begin with Jesus’ birth. He begins with Jesus’ public ministry. And that means we begin with John the Baptist preaching in the desert. His mother Elizabeth was a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The Jewish leaders came to question John the Baptist. The people in Jerusalem had heard that John was drawing large crowds in the desert. A delegation of Levites and Priests came to John in the desert. His baptizing was troublesome to them. Ritual purifications were intended for the religious class; Priests did that. What right did this “interloper” have to baptize others?! And he was baptizing Jews who were already ceremonially pure.
Starting in verse 19 of John 1, these Jewish leaders wanted to get on top of something which would cause disruption to Judaism. He told them who he was. He was a voice in the desert, preparing the way for the Lord. Large crowds were coming all of the way out in the desert to hear him. It must have been heady stuff. I know you wouldn’t come out into the desert to hear me preach!
How did he know that he was a messenger for God? God has sent him to baptize with water. The one who received the dove — the Holy Spirit of God — would baptize with the Spirit.
Surely during the first 30 years of John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ lives they had seen each other. They were cousins. But John the Baptist had not known that Jesus would be the Messiah until this time. At the point of this passage, he understands that Jesus is the lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.
John the Baptist was willing to fade away from his purpose after Jesus was announced. Would we fade away, as John faded away? Could we walk away from our pride? We must know who we are and who God is. We need the Holy Spirit to show us who we are and who God is.
Jesus is great. And John the Baptist wasn’t. It’s that simple. John’s purpose was to shed light on and bring focus to Jesus. Brothers and sisters, this is our identity, too. We are not to point to ourselves. We are to point to Jesus.
There is a lot of misinformation about who Christians are. Christians give up our own identities, and we take up a new one. We give up who we are for the sake of someone else, Jesus Christ. Christ-followers understand that we are sheep in a sheepfold following The Great Shepherd, Jesus. We are beggars come to The Bread of Life for sustenance. The sheep come to The Living Water. The sheep follow Jesus by The Light of the World. We do not promote ourselves to be significant. We are significant because of Jesus, the lover of our souls. Jesus.
A Christ-follower is willing to give up his or her life to gain something so much better. Jesus gave up His life for us. So we give up our lives for Him. Jesus is trustworthy, because He gave up His life for His followers. There is nothing better than that!
John the Baptist was willing to give up everything, because he knew who he was, he knew who Jesus was, and he was willing to be Jesus’ forerunner. Later, they cut off his head! So?! He’s not dead! He’s with Jesus!!
Point Number 2: We have roles to play.
John the Baptist told these religious leaders that they were a brood of vipers. He told Herod that he was sinful. That got him locked-up, and, eventually, his head was lopped off. He was really bold, because he had a clear sense of his identity. There’s nothing like confidence and clarity to contribute to boldness.
John pointed everyone to the lamb of God. He said, “Look!” He said, “Behold!” He paused. “Hey! Stop what you’re doing! Look!” Jesus was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That’s a statement of worship. Jesus is in the room! Everyone, look! John was having a worship service, and he wanted everyone to be in on it.
Brothers and sisters, isn’t that our job as well? We’re not trying to get people to follow a bunch of principles. Are we supposed to get people to behave in a different way? We’re not signing people up for a rule book! We’re gathering people to worship Jesus! He is so worthy of our worship! We’re gathering worshippers! We’re gathering people to worship Someone who is the center of our lives.
It’s going to be hard to gather people to worship, if Jesus is not the center of our lives. You’re heart’s in! You’ll bow! We’ve got to show other people that He is worth worshipping.
Here’s the problem. We live in a society in which there are many types of gods. At the heart of our society is “the new moral code,” according to new George Barna poll results and report. Christians are following a moral code in which there is little difference from those who are not Christ-followers. Life is about self-fulfillment. The suicide rate has risen 29% since 1999, because these pursuits are empty pursuits.
James Michener tells a story about a man who was a farmer worshipping a god of death and a goddess of fertility a couple thousand years before Christ. He brought his son to sacrifice for a good crop that year. He dragged his wife and son to the altar. After the sacrifice, the priest indicated one of the fathers would spend time with the temple prostitute. The man’s wife was stunned that her husband eagerly lunged at the opportunity. If he had different gods, he would have been a different man.
God — or gods — make us who we are. Do you know who you are? Who/what do you worship?
The lamb of God — the King — He came to pay for the sins of the world! We need to fall on our knees to worship. Breaking self-preoccupation and coming to Jesus is worship (Eugene Peterson). Jesus gives us safety, security, peace. We must let the people around us know who Jesus is. Christianity is a relationship with the God who is the center of the universe! Not our jobs, children, statuses. Jesus!
When our gods are threatened, we get anxious. But we will never lose Jesus! He is always with us! He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
This is hardly the kind of leader we see in the world today. He’s the leader who became the lamb of the God who was sacrificed at Passover. Before leaving Egypt, the Jews were protected by the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. It is no coincidence that Jesus died on Passover. On a cross. For us.
We’re inviting people to worship Jesus. With your children. As a Father, I messed this up more times than I care to admit. Let your children see your heart of worship for Jesus. You can enforce rules all you want in your home, but those rules won’t mean anything unless your children see you worshipping Jesus.
I think we can join John the Baptist in proclaiming,
“The lamb of god who takes away the sin of the world!”
That’s the Gospel!
And the Gospel changes everything!