JohnIn light of all that we have learned about Jesus, so far in our study of John’s Gospel, it is mind boggling that God has chosen to use broken vessels to carry His message of mercy, forgiveness, grace, redemption, and salvation to the world. Stop and think about it with me just for a moment. We’ve learned that Jesus, the Word of God, is eternal, having no beginning and no end. We’ve learned that Jesus, the Word of God, is the Creator by whom all things have come into being. We’ve learned that the life that God desires for His people is found in Jesus and that His Life is the Light that opens our eyes to life. We’ve learned that Jesus is the Light, and the darkness has never, is not now, nor will ever overcome Him. Now, if Jesus is all of this, if He is the Creator and Sustainer of your life and mine, if He is the Life that our souls have been longing for, if He is the Light that illuminates, gives us direction, meaning, and purpose so that we can more clearly understand our past, present, and future, then what is He incapable of doing? What can He not do? The answer to that would have to be “nothing,” don’t you imagine? If He can create and sustain His creation then He certainly is capable of getting the word out, of making Himself known, without us don’t you think? He could put together a marketing campaign that would make Nike, Apple, and Kia, stand back in awe, don’t you think? And yet, we will learn from our lesson today that God has chosen to use us, broken as we are, scared by sin as we are, hypocritical as we are, to make Him known, to be His witnesses, and to carry His Light to the world. Mind boggling! Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in John 1:6-8.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8 NIV)

As John begins his Gospel he describes, unlike any other Gospel writer, the glorious Second Person of the Trinity, the Word of God, our Savior, Jesus. Then, all of a sudden, we read, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” It’s kind of an abrupt shifting of gears in John 1:6-8, but then John picks right up where he left off by writing once again about Jesus, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” Some have said that these three little verses must have been inserted after the writing of the Gospel because they seem out of place, but I believe that they fit perfectly.

John, in verses 6-8, isn’t taking the spotlight off of Jesus, he is telling us that God sent a man into the world to shine the spotlight on Jesus—John the Baptist was a witness. It is interesting that the author of the Gospel of John never calls this man sent from God, “John the Baptist.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke all identify him as John the Baptist, but not John. Why is this? Well, I’m so glad you asked. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all three Gospel writers use “John the Baptist” as a way to differentiate the baptizer from John, the disciple of Jesus and author of the Gospel of John. In John’s Gospel, John never mentions his own name. John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” four times. Five times he refers to himself as the “other disciple,” but he never calls himself “John.” It’s not too hard to figure out that the John mentioned in John 1 is John the Baptist if we will just pay attention to what he is doing (John 1:25-26).

In the other Gospels we learn about John the person, but in the Gospel of John we learn about John the witness. Matthew and Mark tell us that John the Baptist wore clothing made of camel’s hair, a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:6; Matthew 3:4) If we only had John’s Gospel we wouldn’t know that John the Baptist was the one who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. John never mentions John the Baptist preaching a message of repentance or the conflict he had with the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke we learn about the person and ministry of John the Baptist, but in the Gospel of John we learn about John the witness. Take a look at John 1:6-8 and I’ll show you what I mean.

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8 NIV)

Here in verse 7-8 we see two important Greek words used, the word for “witness” and the word for “testify.” The first occurrence, “????????” (marturia), is a noun and it means John was a “witness.” The second word, “????????” (martureo), is translated, “testify” in verse 7 and “witness” in verse 8. This Greek word is a verb and it means “to be a witness, to bear witness, i.e. to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something.” John uses this Greek verb 33 times in his Gospel and he uses the noun for “witness” another 14 times. The “witness” who can and will testify to the reality of God’s work done through Jesus is of utmost importance for John. This is why John, the one who baptizes, is not nearly as important as John the witness for the author of the Gospel of John.

We can learn what Jesus thought of John the Baptist by taking a look at Luke 7. John the Baptist is in prison, put there by Herod Antipas because John the Baptist spoke out about Herod’s sin of divorcing his first wife and marrying the wife of his half brother, Herod Philip. Some of John the Baptist’s followers had visited him while he was in prison. While they were there, John the Baptist told them to go to Jesus and ask Him, “Are you the one or should we look for another?” Jesus spoke with them and told them to go back to John and tell him what they had seen. The blind were receiving their sight, the lame were walking, the deaf were receiving their hearing back, and the Good News was being preached to the poor. John the Baptist’s followers left, and when they left, Jesus said,

27 This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:27-28 NIV)

Jesus knew that John the Baptist was the one sent by God to prepare the way for His arrival. Jesus knew that John was a witness. Jesus said, “…among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” That’s a remarkable statement isn’t it? Think of all of the great men and women who have ever lived. World leaders, inventors who’ve changed life as we know it, scientists who’ve discovered cures for diseases and ailments that have robbed people of life, and yet Jesus says that a man wearing camel’s hair clothes and eating locusts and honey is the greatest of them all. John, the writer of the Gospel we are studying, never mentions this. Why? Because he’s not concerned with anything other than John the witness.

As I was studying this section of Scripture this past week it was this truth more than any other than struck at my heart. What’s most important in the lives of the followers of Jesus? Is it finding the right mate? Who we choose to marry has far-reaching implications for our future there is no doubt, but is this of greatest importance? Is it finding a good job so that we can provide for our family? I would say that’s pretty important, but of greatest importance? Hardly. Is it going to the right school, gaining a great education so we can “position” ourselves for a wonderful future? Education only informs, but it doesn’t shape a person’s character and integrity. Or maybe I should answer along the lines of the vast majority of Jesus’ followers—“What’s of greatest importance? Just being happy.” The people who are most familiar with the emptiness of the pursuit of happiness are those who have indulged their every desire and found that everything they tried to make them happy only left them empty in the end. All of these things I’ve named are of great importance for people in general, but that wasn’t my question. My question was, “What’s most important for the followers of Jesus?” I think I’ve discovered it in John’s take on the life of John the Baptist. He was a witness. Period. Nothing else that he did was really of any significance in the big scheme of things.

Remember, to be a witness you must know and have had experienced the event. In law, a witness is someone who provides testimonial evidence, either oral or written, of what he or she knows about the matter. When you look at “witness” from this perspective then it is easy to see that being a witness entails knowing Jesus, experiencing Jesus, and then sharing that information with others.

John was a voice testifying to what he knew about Jesus. We are to be that voice in our day. What is it that we are to tell? We are to continue the message that was on John’s heart and that he declared to the world. Let me give you some examples.

Jesus is Lord

First, we are to declare that “Jesus is Lord.” A little later in the first chapter of John, the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites to quiz John, to try and find out just who he was. We can read John’s answer in John 1:23. John said,

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.'” (John 1:23 NIV)

What’s really interesting about John’s answer is that he is quoting from Isaiah 40:3 where the “Lord,” is God Himself. And that is just who Jesus is…He is God and we are to declare it to the nations.

The Sin Bearer

The second declaration that was on John’s heart and that he declared to the masses was that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” We find this in John 1:29 where we read,

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NIV)

There is no other. My friend, for you and me, and for every person who is alive on this planet today, our guilt weighs us down. We know what we’ve done, we know we are not right, we know that we are broken not just because of what has happened to us, but because of what we have done. No kind words from a friend or family member can alleviate our guilt and shame. Time will not erase the memory of what we’ve done. As hard as we try we can’t fix the brokenness that seems lodged deep in our souls. What are we to do?

While Connie and I were in Paris for our 30th Anniversary we visited the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and stood at the grave of Oscar Wilde. Oscar wrote the novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” a story of a young man who embraces a life of hedonism, pursuing nothing more in life than beauty and fulfilling his fantasies of debauchery. Dorian, the subject of Oscar’s novel, was really a reflection of Oscar himself. Oscar’s antics eventually caught up with him. He was arrested and charged with gross indecency. At his trial Oscar Wilde said that his aim in life had been self-realization through pleasure rather than suffering.

Oscar had lived out his dream of pursuing pleasure. He was married, had two sons, but more than anything he loved wild parties and erotic pleasure. Folks have debated whether Oscar was bi-sexual or homosexual, but as he drew near the end of his life, he died at the age of 46, he was living in a rundown hotel in Paris and his lover, Robbie Ross, was there. Oscar asked Robbie, “Did you ever love any one of those young boys for their own sake?” Robbie looked at Oscar and said, “No, I never loved anyone for their own sake. I loved them for my sake.” Oscar said, “Robbie, neither did I. Get me a priest.” The life that Oscar had chosen for himself had broken him, left him empty, but carrying the guilt and shame of what he had done.

In Oscar Wilde’s most famous poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” he writes about a man who slit the throat of his wife and hanged on the gallows while Oscar was in prison. In that poem, Oscar writes,
And thus we rust Life’s iron chain
Degraded and alone:
And some men curse, and some men weep,
And some men make no moan:
But God’s eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.

And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
Its treasure to the Lord,
And filled the unclean leper’s house
With the scent of costliest nard.

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?

And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.

And John the Baptist cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” What was true in John’s day was true in Oscar Wilde’s day, and it is still true in our day. If you want to be forgiven for your sins then there is no place else to turn—you must turn to the Lamb of God, the One who took our sins upon Himself on Calvary’s cross.

He Must Become Greater. I Must Become Less.

Last of all, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are merely broken vessels who have been entrusted with the glorious message of God’s saving work through Jesus. John put it this way in John 3:30. “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30 NIV) It is important for you and me to be reminded of the context in which John the Baptist spoke these words. In John 3, some of John the Baptist’s followers came to him and said, “Hey, that guy who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, He is baptizing folks, and everyone is now following Him.” They were concerned that John was losing his following, they were concerned for the “brand,” and they wanted to know what they should do? Here’s what John had to say to them.

28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. (John 3:28-29 NIV)

John’s joy was complete. He wasn’t trying to gain followers…He was a witness. He wasn’t the Light…he was merely a lamp that held the Light up to the world. Now that the Light had come, John said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30 NIV)

As followers of Jesus we must never, ever forget this lesson. We are nothing more than witnesses of the grace, mercy, and redeeming power of our King. I have to be honest with you and tell you that it troubles me to see men and women of God, who have been gifted by God for some kind of ministry or another, either in the local church or on a broader reach, begin to magnify themselves or the gifts that God has given them.

There are Christian conferences that take place every week across our country. The success of those conferences has more to do with the “names” that are printed on the front of their brochures than the “name” of our glorious King. There is something in us that desires that we be recognized, that our name be known by others. I know the pull of this temptation all too well.

Years ago, when we were a tiny church in number and in ministries, compared to today, there was a movement, a focus, on turning around old, dying churches. Our church was one of those churches and yet we were growing in numbers and ministry. I was contacted by some folks with the National Evangelistic Association about helping other churches. They sent me publicity posters with my picture on it that they would send to churches where I would go and speak and share our story. I liked it. They would pay for my travel expenses and pay me some money for my time. I liked it. I went to a couple of churches, shared what God was doing at BCC, and how they could see the same turn-around happen in their church. I liked it. The truth is, I liked it too much.

Then, I got sick. I came down with Shingles and Bells Palsy at the same time. I couldn’t talk. My voice was weak and strained. My face was paralyzed. My doctor said he didn’t know when I would get back my ability to talk, if I got it back. I was told to go home and rest. Week after week went by—six weeks went by. I stayed home, read God’s Word, and it didn’t take long for me to realize what God was doing in my life—He had my attention.

God called me to teach, lead, and love the people of Britton Christian Church. He never called me to travel around and have people come to hear the story of BCC. He didn’t call me to “increase,” He called me to faithfully magnify His name in this community. He wanted me to share His story, teach His Word, and love His people right here in this church. I had to decrease in order that He might increase. There is a direct correlation my friends. If you “increase,” if you start reading your press clippings and thinking that you are God’s “big catch” then He will decrease. You will diminish the truth of Scripture that teaches us that we are saved by grace alone. Paul wrote,

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

This pride manifests itself in our lives in another way. There are plenty of followers of Jesus who don’t have great notoriety in society, but who are full of self-righteous pride. They’ve gone to some Bible studies, learned a few verses, maybe even studied some of the great doctrines of our faith and this knowledge has puffed them up, they’ve become spiritually arrogant, and they look down their noses at the rest of us sinners. Let me tell you, there is no greater witness to the character of our Lord than someone who is full of grace towards others, especially those whose sin has shattered them. Let me close our time together with a story of what I’m talking about.

Jim Bakker and his wife, Tammy Faye, were the head of a huge ministry called PTL back in the 70s and 80s. By the early 80s they had built Heritage U.S.A in Fort Mill, South Carolina, the third most successful theme park in the United States.

People got to snooping around and looking at the books. They found out that Jim and Tammy had stolen millions of dollars from donors. Then it came out that Jim had been having an affair with Jessica Hahn and had paid her $279,000 to keep it on the “down low.” In 1988, the extravagant lifestyle came crashing down all around them and Jim was indicted on 8 counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud, and 1 count of conspiracy. In 1989 he was found guilty and sentenced to 45 years in prison. He only served 4 years because of some technicality.

When Jim Bakker got out of prison he shared his story on a TV talk show one day. He said that he was cleaning toilets one day with water sloshing all over his coveralls when a guard came in to see him. The guard said, “There’s a man here to see you.” Jim said, “I don’t want to see anybody.” The man said, “You need to see him.” Jim was ashamed and embarrassed so he said, “I don’t want to see anybody.” The guard said, “You need to see him. Go see the man.” Jim got up, his coveralls nasty, and looking like, well, like a prisoner, but he didn’t even care. When he walked through the door there was Billy Graham with his arms open wide. Billy walked towards Jim Bakker and held him in his arms while Jim Bakker cried. Then Jim Bakker said to a national audience, “Do you know what it feels like to be the most despised preacher in the country and to be embraced by the most admired preacher in the country?”

I don’t know what that feels like, but I do know what it feels like to be a broken sinner and have the Holy, Righteous, Son of God hold me in His arms and whisper, “You are forgiven. I’ve taken your sin. Now come and follow Me.” If that is what Jesus has done for me, then how dare me without that grace from any other sinner, how dare me look down my nose at another brother or sister in Christ who has fallen into sin’s deceptive trap. I’m called to be a witness and if I’m going to be a witness then I must not only speak of my Savior’s love, I must love as He loves. I’m called to be a witness, but I can’t stop with speaking of His mercy and grace, I’ve got to show His mercy and grace to those who desperately need it.

There’s someone here this morning who knows all too well what I’m talking about. Like Oscar Wilde and Jim Bakker your sin has left you a shell of the person God created you to be. You’ve looked for a solution elsewhere, but none has proven effective. His arms are open wide this morning. Won’t you fall into the arms of Jesus?

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 5, 2013

Can I Get a Witness?
John 1:6-8
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