John 1:6-8, 19-28
By Rev. Dr. Sergio E. Arevalo, Jr.
Dec. 14, 2014 (3rd Sunday of Advent)
The name Osama Bin Laden is still ringing in our ears since he masterminded a lot of bombings in many countries, especially at US properties. On August 7, 1998, bombs exploded simultaneously at the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, where 213 people were killed and 4,500 were injured, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, where 11 people were killed and 85 were injured. Al-Qaida took credit for the bombings.
Then, on October 12, 2000, a small boat loaded with explosives plowed into the hull of the U.S.S. Cole, an American naval destroyer docked off the coast of Yemen. 17 sailors were killed and 38 were injured. Bin Laden took credit for that incident as well.
A federal grand jury in the United States indicted bin Laden on charges related to the embassy bombings, but with no defendant there could be no trial.
In August 2010, they traced bin Laden to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, about 35 miles from Islamabad. For months, CIA agents watched the house while drones photographed it from the sky.
Finally, it was time to move. On May 01, 2011, President Obama and some mission leaders was in the “situation room” in the White House to monitor the attack in Pakistan. John Brennan, the U.S. counterterrorism chief said, “We were able to monitor on a real-time basis the progress of the operation, from its commencement, to its time on target, to the extraction of the remains.” He adds, “We were able to have regular updates to ensure that we had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation.”
On May 01, 2011 (May 2 in Pakistan), a team of Navy SEALs burst into the compound. They found the al-Qaida leader in an upstairs bedroom with a pistol and an assault rifle nearby and shot him in the head and chest, killing him instantly. “Justice,” said President Obama in a televised address to the nation that night, “has been done” (history.com/topics/osama-bin-laden).
Like that operation, God sent his messenger with a mission. The only difference is that when God sent his messenger, John the Baptist, God came through Jesus Christ in the life of the people.
Clearly in our passage (John 1:6-8), John the Baptist was sent by God. He was not just sent from God, but he was also a witness about the Light. He was not the Light, but he was “holding” the Light so that others could see the Light. “The Light that no darkness has or will ever extinguish” (Feasting of the Word, p.71). Meaning John the Baptist was sent by God to be a witness so that others could see and experience the true salvation brought by Jesus Christ.
The messenger was from God, and he sacrificed his whole life just to do the will of God. We know that he suffered in jail, and was consequently beheaded by King Herod.
Wiersbe told a true story about Polycarp (A.D. 70-155) who was bishop of Smyrna and a godly man. He had known the apostle John personally. When he was interrogated and asked by the Roman proconsul to renounce Jesus Christ, Polycarp said: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
“I have respect for your age,” said the official. “Simply say, ‘Away with the atheists!’ and be set free.”
He knew that if he would do it the crowd would be mad at him. Anyways, the aged Polycarp pointed to the pagan crowd and said, “Away with the atheists!” The crowd got mad, and they asked the Roman Consul to burn him. He was burned at the stake, and gave joyful testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ.
A messenger of God when sent by God, is like a soldier sent to battle. Expect to die for your faith and for your God.
II. The Messenger is Interrogated (Jn.1:19-24).
John the Baptist, the messenger, was interrogated by religious people, especially rabbis. They asked him who he was, and who sent him. He did not claim he was the Messiah, or a prophet, or the resurrected Elijah. He just said, “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness” (v.23).
John Wesley explains that John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ of whom Isaiah speaks. He was the voice. As if he had said, “Far from being Christ, or even Elijah, I am nothing but a voice: a sound that so soon as it has expressed the thought of which it is the sign, dies into air, and is known no more (Isa.40:3; J. Wesley’s Explanatory Notes).
John the Baptist did not want to be the center of his mission, but his message, “prepare the highway of the Lord” (International Standard Version). Why ISV uses “the highway”? King James and Revised Standard Versions use “the way.”
In Greek it is τὴν ὁδὸν, ten hodon, hodon/hodos which may mean “a traveled way.” When the New Testament, the KJV, and the RSV were written, translators did not know yet what’s freeway. The writers just translated hodos with “way.” Freeway was just coined in 1925-30. “Free + way” means “a major road that can be used without paying a toll” (Wikipedia.com). Freeway is symbolical for me, since the salvation of Jesus is free for us, although he bought it with his blood. It’s “freeway” towards salvation, it’s “freeway” towards Jesus.
The message of John the Baptist, “prepare the freeway of the Lord” is a call for repentance before the coming of the Lord. One who heard this message must do it as soon as possible, actually it means “repent now!” Repentance as we all know that we should change our mind and heart, we change our way, and we change our direction towards God’s direction.
Pastor Gipsy Smith narrated a conversion story happened in South Africa. He said there was a fine, handsome Dutchman came into their worship service, and God laid His hand on him and convicted him of sin.
The next morning he went to the beautiful home of another Dutchman and said to him, “Do you recognize this old watch?”
“Why, yes,” answered the other. “Those are my initials; that is my watch. I lost it eight years ago. How did you get it, and how long have you had it?”
“I stole it,” was the reply.
“What made you bring it back now?”
He answered, “I was converted last night, and I have brought it back first thing this morning. If you had been up, I would have brought it last night” (sermonillustrations.com).
III. The Messenger Introduces the Messiah (Jn.1:25-28).
John 1:25 says, “They asked him, ‘Why, then, are you baptizing if you are not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I am baptizing with water, but among you stands a man whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal straps I am not worthy to untie.’ This happened in Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.”
People questioned John’s authority, and he pointed to the Messiah. He did not claim any honor or position. He just humbly said, “The one who is coming after me, whose sandal straps I am not worthy to untie.”
From 1921 until his death Professor Karl Barth, a Swiss Reformed theologian, kept over his office desk a copy of a painting by Matthias Grunewald. The crucified Christ hangs in the center of the picture, and to right side stands John the Baptist with his right index finger pointing to Jesus. (Feasting on the Word, p.72).
As you can see in our passage, even though John was sent by God he did not lift up his name, but instead he point the mission to Jesus Christ. He showed his humility and his love to Christ.
Everybody has his own motive in doing missions. John’s motive was “to prepare the freeway for the Lord.” How about us, what’s our motive in doing missions?
When Hudson Taylor was director of the China Inland Mission, he often interviewed candidates for the mission field. On one occasion, he met with a group of applicants to determine their motivations for service.
“And why do you wish to go as a foreign missionary?” he asked one.
“I want to go because Christ has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” was the reply.
Another said, “I want to go because millions are perishing without Christ.”
Others gave different answers.
Then Hudson Taylor said, “All of these motives, however good, will fail you in times of testing, trials, tribulations, and possible death. There is but one motive that will sustain you in trial and testing; namely, the love of Christ” (sermonillustrations.com).
Do we have this motive in our hearts? The love of Christ?