THOUGHT FOR THE DAY Tuesday 14th April 2020
Today’s passage is found in John 1:19-28. I’d encourage you to read it once or twice before you continue and invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you. Then take a couple of deep breaths and let us proceed together.
These are uncertain times. Times filled with unanswered questions. From the young child, whose parents barely get a break from the constant ‘why?’ and ‘when?’, to those of us who search the internet for answers. When can I get a delivery slot? Is the curve any flatter? And How long… (O LORD)? We all have questions. Not to mention those thousands of people whose biggest question is how they’re going to answer other people’s questions as the pressure to make the right decision in uncertain circumstances continues to increase. We’ve all got questions. A whole barrage of them.
Our text today is full of questions too. The Jewish leaders have sent people to John the Baptist to ask him a few questions. The entire situation sounds rather like an interrogation, demanding answers in short bursts of bullet points. Like an inquisition armed with a machine gun. Who are you? The Messiah? Elijah? The prophet? We need an answer now! Why are you doing these things? Tell us! Now! I wouldn’t be surprised if John found his head spinning as much as some of us do.
As we think about what God might be saying to us today through this passage, a couple of things are worth noting.
First of all, when asked if he is the Messiah, the Bible in my NIV version says in verse 20 that John ‘did not fail to confess, but confessed freely: I am not the Messiah.’ It would have been quicker to say: ‘John denied he was the Christ’, but far more than just denying, John is positively witnessing by emphatically pointing away from himself to the real deal. Although no doubt rumours and expectations would have reached Jerusalem to cause the delegation to bring their questions in the first place, John sticks to the ministry he has been given: To be the voice of someone crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way for the Lord.
Secondly, it is remarkable that among all the questions flying left, right and centre, one question is missing. That question is this: “Who is the Christ then?”. Surely, if John is not the Christ, then the next question should be: “Who is? Where is He?” But no. It appears that despite the Jewish leaders discerning that something is going on, their motivation is not to find the Christ and become acquainted with Him. Once their delegation has ticked the boxes on their questionnaire, they return to Jerusalem.
I wonder whether I am the only one who can sometimes be tempted to try to take people’s pain away when faced with difficult questions, suffering and pressure to ‘do something, anything!’ to lighten the burden? Don’t we all sometimes just wish we had the right words, the right answers? I often find myself grappling for the right thing to say. I come up short. My words often fail me.
That’s when it helps to remember that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. John walked with people into the river Jordan, the river that the Israelites had crossed many years ago when they entered into the promised land. You can read in Joshua 3 how the Israelites crossed over. The priests picked up the heavy ark of the covenant and walked out into the river before the people and stood there for a good few hours until the flow of the river stopped from somewhere upstream and people could walk across. John’s ministry is similar. He walks with people as they recognise that they are not where they would like to be. He walks with them in their need for a Saviour. He helps them to express their desire to walk into God’s promises. But John stops there, in the middle of the river. He is not the Messiah.
Neither are we.
But someone is. Tomorrow’s passage tells us about the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, once and for all. The One who can carry the burden that we cannot and should not carry. The burden which, when rightfully placed, glorifies Him who has the power to save.
Let us confess together today: I am not the Messiah. And in confessing, let us point to the One who stands among us, whose sandals we are not worthy to untie, but who nevertheless stooped down and untied ours and showed us that love is patient. Patient enough to wait alongside people for the moment when a straight path appears in the wilderness and the right question can be asked: If you are not the Messiah, then who is?