21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
What an example! Courage, humility, and faith . . . let's dig into it!
We have looked on the surface at John, someone who was much misunderstood by the people of his day. He attracted swarms of people who came to satisfy their curiosity, to look on this man who acted so strangely and led such a different life than they did. Some of them were truly attracted by and responded to his message.
But some were sent by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. The leaders were wealthy, powerful men who people feared and respected. To be on their radar meant that you were out of the ordinary. I expect that they felt threatened by his popularity. So on the pretense of finding out more about him, they sent their "minions" to do their dirty work -- to question him about "who he was."
I think most people would have been nervous to have been questioned -- kinda like how people feel when they think their tax returns might be audited in our era. (Grin) But John didn't avoid the questioners or the questions; he "confessed freely."
John (the gospel author) is anxious that we hear the "not" of John's confession; he really adds up the negatives in verses 19 and 20. The first thing that John the Baptist says is "I am NOT the Christ." And he keeps making his point as they fire the questions at him: "Are you Elijah?" John responds "I am NOT." "Are you the Prophet?" John replies, "No."
Finally, in verses 26 and 26, John the Baptist makes his point for sure:
“John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
These are the nots (knots) that we must untie in order to be an effective, courageous witness for Christ, just as John the Baptist was. We must show humility as well, and faith. Here is what I mean: John wanted to hammer home these points -- I am NOT the light, I am NOT the Christ, I am NOT Elijah, and I am NOT worthy to untie the sandals of the Messiah. I am simply a voice, a witness to the light, the Christ. And He is coming.
Let's check out something else that John said:
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:38-30)
John is trying to make them understand -- No, I'm not Him. And when He comes, and everyone looks away from me to Him, my job will be fulfilled, and my joy will be complete.
And so, we, too, will feel, when we have given a courageous and humble witness to our Lord, and explained our faith. All attention will turn to Christ, away from us. And our joy will be complete.
We won't begrudge it. We won't pout.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,These are the "nots" that we simply must untie, in order to effectively witness for Christ. We must untie the knot of fear, and be courageous. We will need to untie the knot of pride, and be humble. We must untie the knot of faithlessness, and increase our faith and trust in God.
but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love
and your faithfulness! (Psalms 115:1)
We must decrease, and He must increase. We need to make much less of ourselves than we do of our Savior.
“What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Corinthians 4:5)