Have you noticed, in John’s Gospel, we are not told the actual story of Jesus’ baptism. There is no clear indication Jesus himself is baptised, or even that the two men know each other as relatives! With this Gospel, the story is told differently. However, we hear John the Baptiser offering a clear testimony when he is challenged by the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem. They came to establish John’s identity and the source of his authority to be baptising repentant Jews, and offering God’s forgiveness. Given the tone of the story, I suspect the Jerusalem religious authorities were hoping to stop him. John said:
I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said. (John 1:23)
However, we are told John the Baptist clearly and openly, testifies and identifies Jesus as the Son of God, to his interrogators.
I baptise with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal. (John 1:26-27)
The day after this confrontation, we are told John saw Jesus and he clearly identifies him
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him: but I came baptising with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel. (John 1:29-31)
When the Holy Spirit descends and remains on Jesus, it confirms for John, as God who sent him and has told him, this is the ‘Son of God’ who will baptise others with the Holy Spirit. John’s humility in this story is profound. He focuses only on Jesus and his ministry, so Jesus can be revealed just as God desires, rather than having people focused on John’s own work of baptism for the repentance of wrongdoing.
John does a number of things in this story. He identifies Jesus as the one who will take away the sin of the world, in other words – healing, restoring humanity in the power of God’s love, providing justice, hope, and peace. John testifies to what he has seen. John trusts God’s plans in all their fullness, and he stands as a clear and unambiguous witness to the greatest story ever to be told.
And we know this is a story Isaiah and many of the prophets had previously prophesied as God spoke before the dawning of the world, in the great cosmic arc of human history just as God desires. Jesus is the one who takes away the sin of the world by shining light and love into our spiritual darkness and into our lives, making new life possible for all of us as we are born again. Isaiah said:
The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. …I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:1, 6)
In John’s Gospel, John does not speak of fire and eternal damnation or of what practical repentance looks like as Luke does in his Gospel, instead John’s Gospel points to the Word made flesh, who removes the separation between humanity and God and who restores God’s creation. In John’s Gospel, John’s ministry is not about proclamation but about testimony and witness and in my Pew Sheet Reflection, I repeated Jesus’ question to his new disciples: What are you are looking for?
What do we see when we look at the world? What are you witnessing and offering testimony about to your families, friends and neighbours? Do we see the dreadful poverty in the world? Do we acknowledge 80 % of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day? Do we understand the difficulty of living on Newstart Allowance in our country and increasing homelessness caused by our greed? Have we acknowledged the murder epidemic of women and children by men in our families, as 3 out of 5 women experience domestic, family and intimate partner violence? Do we see the suffering of citizens killed by their governments around the world and in Australia? The unending number of Aboriginal deaths in custody? Do we truly see the sins of the world? Are we willing to testify to it?
More importantly, though, do we see the Spirit of God at work in this broken world? Where do we see and find Christ: is it in the hungry, homeless, sick, the alien, prisoner, widow and orphan? Can we see God’s Spirit being upon them? Can we together and individually see the risen Christ, taking away the sin of the world literally in this world? If so, and if John’s claim is true, Christ is present, then the church, the body of Christ must itself embody this presence.
Our churches are called to be the incarnation of self-giving love which has the power to overcome the separation of people from God and the resulting violence of this world. It is into this conclusion we then ask ourselves, if this is what we are looking for, then it is to make a difference – Christ’s difference in the middle of the world’s brokenness. As I think about John witnessing and how I do so as well, I reflect on these facts:
Jesus’ question then about ‘what are you looking for?’, leads me to ask you: We give testimony standing as witnesses in the middle of this broken world in which we all live; a world filled with war, poverty beyond understanding, famine, disease, natural catastrophes and tragedies. In this testimony, do we see a world which God loves enough to enter and save? If we do, then how is our testimony reflecting in practice this truth and faith.
Today we are invited to give witness and testimony wherever we are and whoever we are with, to share this understanding of God in the world, offering new life to all and committing our lives to working with God to reveal Christ in the world.
The Lord be with you.
Jarvis, J.C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2015. Feasting on the Gospels. John, Vol.1. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Long, T. G. 1989. The Witness of Preaching. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.