John 1:19-28

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

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.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize 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.”

This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. John 1:19-28

One of the problems in reading words on a page is the lack of social context. We can’t hear the tone of voice or read the body language (the heart of 90% of our communication with one another.) So I hear the question, “Who are you?” and my imagination runs with it.

Is the question a simple search for information? “We don’t know who you are. Can you please help us know you?”

Or is the question a barbed pre-attack? “Just who do you think you are?”

That matters.

The first question would come from a place of open-mindedness and thus from a position of humility. We don’t learn anything new if we aren’t open to new ideas and humble enough for those ideas to potentially change our minds.

The second – Just who do you think you are? – is the very opposite. It is a power play. It is a threat. It is smug, self-satisfied. It is the kind of question a bully would ask.

The optional identities that his questioners offer to John are all signs that the questioners are bringing preconceived ideas and expectations. They have invested a lot of themselves in expectations around “the Messiah”, “Elijah”, or “the prophet.” If anything, they are seeking validation of what they already know and believe – again, the opposite of open-mindedness and humility. Not hearing the answers they expect, their next question is much softer. “What do you say about yourself?”

John reaches into their memories with a quote from Isaiah. And then John models the humility that his questioners lack. John is a signpost pointing beyond himself. John’s baptism is about preparation, not yet about fulfillment. That will be the work of the one standing among them, the One whom they do not yet know.

Jesus was in their midst and they missed him. As will we if we come to Jesus from a position of suspicion, close-minded, full of ourselves and our pre-conceived ideas. It is only when we let go of ourselves and surrender, let go of control and trust, that Jesus steps forth in our midst and we realize he was there all along.

Let us pray: Thank you, Lord, for John and for all whom you have used throughout the years to reveal yourself to us. Thank you for bursting through our defenses of pride, fear, suspicion, and control to take us by the hand, to put your arm on our shoulder, to gently, or even not so gently, lead us to faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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