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TEXT: John 1:6-8
SUBJECT: Advent 2013 #3: The Word and John
Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, and Christians all over the world are meeting to remember the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. By any standard, the Incarnation of God is a great story; even people who don't believe it is true wish it were--and are deeply moved by it. After attending a midnight mass some years ago, a wistful Englishman wrote in his diary--
There is no record in the world like this record. If it were really true, there would be no unsolved secret to elude mankind century after century. But what informed man can now believe that the heavens opened and the star appeared? The legends are gone and with them, the faith is also gone. No compromise can arrest it. Modern man walks unguided through a bleak world, struggling convulsively until he finds a foothold in some new faith. The Christian story can only fill him with nostalgia for a loveliness irretrievably lost'.
In a lifetime of reading, this is one of the saddest quotes I've ever come across--a man who wishes God became Man--but knows He didn't.
How different the world would be if people like this educated man could see through the miasma of sophisticated unbelief and join the simple shepherds in--
Glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
But can we believe a story filled with angels and pregnant virgins and stars signaling a Man's birth? The heart aches to believe it, but the head says 'It cannot be true'.
Or can it? Can a thoughtful person really believe in the Incarnation of God without surrendering his brain? Without becoming like those people who have seen Elvis Presley at 7-11, are sure that President Kennedy is still alive, and have spent time in a flying saucer?
Millions of people far smarter and more skeptical than I am, find the birth of Christ completely reasonable; in fact, just the sort of thing they'd expect God to do. And did do. At a real place in a real time.
Why do they think this way? Unbelievers are sure to break out words like, 'Gullibility, Superstition, Wishful Thinking, and Mindless Tradition'. They also point out the Authority of a Church that brutally indoctrinates innocent children and compels simple souls to believe silly stories.
Is there any truth in what they say? Sure there is. Some people do believe in the Incarnation of God because they're naive or because their parents taught them to. This accounts for some belief, but what about the rest? Why do people who are not gullible or superstitious or brought up in a devout home believe that, in Jesus Christ, God became a Man?
The best way to find out is to ask them, and wherever their story begins, it won't be long until the get to the word, evidence. They have heard or read the story of Christ's birth and after thinking it through come to think it's true--not 'feel' it's true--but think it is, and more than merely 'think it is', they have bet their lives on it.
How do you prove something? Scientifically, you do it by experiment and repetition. If you drop a ball a thousand times and a thousand times it falls to the ground, it won't be long until you come up with something like 'gravity'. The first time the ball goes up or sideways instead of down, you know your theory is wrong. Science depends on the ability to replicate and falsify.
History doesn't work this way, and how could it? Everything we do is unique and unrepeatable. You don't have to shoot the President every day to know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford's Theatre on the night of April 15, 1865.
Why would anyone believe he was? People on the scene had physical evidence: a dead body, a smoking gun, and so on. But only a few people were at the scene of the crime, and pretty much everyone knows what happened. Why do we all believe this way?
In 1865 people believed it because of eyewitnesses, honest people who saw what happened. All those people are dead now, but we believe it because their testimony was passed down to us by scholars, school teachers and books. I'm sure there's a handful of crackpots who believe President Lincoln was not killed that night, but they're wearing aluminum foil on their beanies, and are not taken seriously.
When it comes to history, the most important piece of evidence for or against anything is reliable witnesses. Not dreamers or visionaries or crackpots or half-wits or charlatans or known liars, but honest people who know what they saw and said so. This is the basis of our Justice System and is rooted in the Law of Moses that says--
By the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word is established.
JOHN THE WITNESS
The word witness is a legal term and means just what it means in a court of law: someone who has sworn to tell 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God'.
John is no fool; he knows his story is unlike any other, and that no one is likely to believe him unless he produces witnesses. And that's what he does, calls seven witnesses ranging from God Himself to the Samaritan Woman. But before he gets to them, he names the most respected man in Israel at the time, John the Baptist.
It is worth noting that while the first Three Gospels call John the Baptist (or, baptizer), the Fourth Gospel does not. As important as it was to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the man's baptizing doesn't matter to John the Apostle. To him, the Baptist is first and foremost--
He calls him that three times in four verses. And, knowing John's economy of words, it must have meant a great deal to him.
Why? Because of where John came from, what he came to do, and how the people thought of him.
Where did the Baptist come from? V.6 tells us--
There was a man sent from God.
John's birth was not like yours or mine. It was announced by an angel, attested to by prophecy, and seen by all as a portent of good things to come.
At thirty, he might have entered the priesthood, but he didn't do that; the word of the Lord came to him at that time, he set Israel on fire with his bold preaching. No one doubted John's calling from God; even King Herod who had him killed fear and respected him, knowing he was a true prophet and a real man of God.
His greatness was such that some mistook him for the Messiah, a tribute he refused with a vengeance. At his death, Jesus called him more than a prophet, but the greatest of men born of women.
First Century Israel had its share of prophets and rabbis, and as with preachers today, some were more respected than others. But with John, there was consensus--all the people took him for a prophet--the Bible says, and not even the Ruling Council had the guts to say otherwise!
John the Apostle brings in John the Baptist as his first witness to Christ--and what a stroke of genius that was! The most revered man in Israel feels no reservations in bearing witness to Christ.
When asked to compare himself to Jesus, John said it's something like a groomsman to a groom--in other words, there's no comparison, one is far more important to a wedding than the other! If the best man doesn't show up, you make due. If they groom bolts the scene, you've got no wedding!
What John the Baptist says of himself, John the Apostle develops a bit in v.8--
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
Suppose the electricity in your house goes off tonight. What would you rather have? A flashlight or a man who says, 'The flashlight is over there'? You may well need the man to tell you where the flashlight is, but once he does, his work is over, and what really matters is the flashlight.
That's what John was to Israel, the man who told his people where the Light was--in Jesus. Later in the chapter, while all eyes are on him, John turns the people's attention to Someone Else--
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
As if this were not enough, he adds--after taking a solemn oath--
I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.
Why did so many Jews (and others) in Israel believe in Jesus? It wasn't because they were stupid or naive or believed in the Easter Bunny! They believed in Christ because they had good reason to! The greatest prophet who ever lived bore witness to Him, and--
No prophecy of the Scripture is on any private origin, for no prophecy came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
To reject Jesus, therefore, is to call John the Baptist a liar or a fool. And worse than that, to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, who assured him of who Jesus was and is!
Why did John do this? An egotistical man would not have done it because by pointing people to Jesus, he was pointing them away from himself--and everyone wants to be popular. There was no false humility in it either. John was not stooping to conquer you might say. He not only believed, but wanted Jesus to increase and himself to decrease. Nor was he just 'going through the motions', doing 'a dirty job he'd rather not do, but somebody's got to'.
John did what he did for a reason. He pointed men to Christ so that--
All through him might believe.
His power and zeal and credibility were not put into the service of self, but into the service of others--John wanted others to believe in Christ.
Why? Because He is the True Light and outside of Him, there is nothing but darkness: ignorance and vice, lostness and damnation. Just a couple of pages later, he says--
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
If there's nothing but darkness outside of Christ, there's nothing but light in Him. Holiness, Truth, joy, forgiveness, reconciliation, in a word: Abundant Life now and forever.
John was a rough-hewn prophet, but he was also a man brimming with love for others--not just the people in his day, but you too. He wants you to believe in Christ; I want you to believe in Christ; all the saints want you to believe in Christ; the church wants you to believe; the Spirit wants you to believe.
And, as millions have proven over the years, you don't have to be a fool to believe in Christ. You can believe in Him without losing your mind; in fact, when you do, you'll be found like the demoniac--
Sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in your right mind.
God bring it to pass, for Christ's sake. Amen.
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