“Witness to the Light”
(John 1:6-8, 19-23 – Advent 3 – December 13, 2020)
John 1:6-8, 19-23 – 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light…. 19Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Dear children of the light in Christ Jesus:
When there is a full moon shining in the night sky, light is reflected everywhere, and you can see better than usual at night. The moon, by itself, would not be able to shine any light on the world. The moon is not the source of light. It only shines because it reflects the sun’s light. In the darkness of night, the moon’s brightness testifies to the sun’s shining presence.
This is like the role of John the Baptist, as described in verses 7-8: “This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.” John’s purpose was not to draw attention to himself, but to Jesus as the Savior and light of the world.
It is the same for you and me. God has put us in the world as witnesses to the light. We are here to reflect the glory of Jesus, as the light of the world and Savior for all people. As we think about what it means to be a “Witness to the Light,” John the Baptist’s example reminds us that 1) We are not witnesses to our own glory, but 2) We are witnesses to our Savior’s glory.
1) We are not witnesses to our own glory
As we read in our text, we see that John could have claimed glory for himself. He was in the limelight at this point. Many people were looking at him as someone special. Those days in Israel, the longing and expectation for the Messiah had reached a high pitch. The times leading up to His coming had been fulfilled as prophesied. Kingdoms had risen and fallen, as foretold by the prophets. Israel had come under the rule of foreign powers; and the people longed for the Messiah to come in power to deliver His people and establish His Kingdom.
So when John appeared among the people like an ancient prophet of Israel, preaching with great power that the kingdom of God was near, the whole countryside stirred with excitement. People flocked to hear John’s sermons, calling them to repent of their sins and to prepare their hearts to welcome the Messiah. Many confessed their sins and received the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins that John administered (Mark 1:4). Not only did some regard John as a great prophet; they began to wonder if he could be the Messiah, the Christ they had been waiting for.
Even the Sanhedrin, the high court of the Jews, took note of him. It was their duty to settle all religious questions. So they sent to John a delegation of priests and Levites to see what claims he made for himself. What did he seek to gain?
With all this attention John was receiving, did he use it to witness to his personal glory? No! Verse 20 says: “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ”
When they pressed him further asking in verse 21: “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” God’s Word had said Elijah would come as a forerunner to the Messiah (Malachi 4:5). This meant that a prophet in the spirit and power of Elijah would come to prepare the way for Christ. In this sense, Jesus later did identify John as that Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14). But here, since the people wrongly thought Elijah himself would be reincarnated and come back from heaven, John did not want to mislead them. He did not want the people to cling to him as one coming from heaven. He wanted them to cling only to the Savior who had came from heaven.
The same was true when the delegation asked him in verse 21: “‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.'” In Deuteronomy 18:15, God had told Moses about one who would rise up as a Prophet among the people. The Messiah would come as the Prophet of prophets, fulfilling all prophecy with His Messianic reign. John did not want the people to cling to him as that Prophet, but only to Jesus.
Finally the delegation of Jewish leaders asked John in verse 22: “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” And John said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” ‘ as the prophet Isaiah said” In last Sunday’s sermon, we heard that prophecy in Isaiah 40:3, fulfilled in John as the one who went ahead of the Messiah, preparing the people to receive their King of Glory.
You see, John acknowledged that he was no one great in himself. He was not the one they should focus on. His importance was only as a voice proclaiming the truly great one who was coming: Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah, the Savior of sinners.
John’s role was like that of the moon in the night sky. The moon reflects the true source of light that gives light to the world. But when morning comes and the sun rises in the sky, the moon fades away. As John would later say of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
What a great example John gives us as a witness to the light! There will be times when people look at us and ask: “Who are you? What claims do you make for yourself? What does it mean that you are a Christian?” How will we respond? Will we use people’s attention to point to Jesus’ glory or to our own?
Jesus said in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” God gives us our gifts and abilities to use for His glory. This should give us complete joy and fulfillment in life, to bring praise to our God. But at times, do we use our moment in the limelight to show off what we have and what we can do, to receive the praise of men? This is not pointing to Christ’s glory, but to our own.
As we go into the world, what kind of witness do we get across to people? Like John, do we share Jesus as the Savior for all people as we have the opportunity, or do we shy away from shining the light on Him? If so, what is left in our witness but that people look too much at us? Certainly that is not what we want. We are not here to say: “Look, being a Christian means you can be as good as I am!” That would not be pointing to Christ’s glory, but to our own.
If it were not for the sun shining on it, the moon would be completely dark in the night sky. Even when the sun does shine on it, the moon still has its dark side. As Christians, don’t we confess similar things about ourselves? Even after we try our best to live as shining examples, we must confess our dark side. We have not always done all that we should have done; but too often, we have done what we should not have done. If it were not for the light of Jesus’ salvation shining on us, we would be like a black moon, lost in a dark sky.\
2) We are witnesses to our Savior’s glory
That is why, like John, we want to shine with our Savior’s glory. And we do! Because Jesus is shining the light of His salvation upon us!
As Isaiah prophesied of Jesus’ coming in Isaiah 9:2: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” Thanks be to our Savior who came to set us free from darkness. We were lost in the darkness of sin, lost in the darkness of Satan’s kingdom, living in the land of the shadow of death. But God, in His grace and mercy, sent His own Son into our darkness to exchange it for His light and life.
Though the holy Son of God knew no darkness, He let Himself be enshrouded in the darkness of our sin and death. On the cross, Jesus suffered hell’s darkness in our place, dying under God’s wrath against our sin. But then He overcame the darkness, rising in glory for our life and salvation. Now for Jesus’ sake, God shines the light of His grace on us. He forgives all our sins. He sees only Jesus’ purity shining in us. God is pleased to call us children of the light in Jesus (Ephesians 5:8).
Jesus said in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” It is because Jesus is the Light of the world, and His own righteousness shines on us, that He can now say to us: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). 1 Peter 2:9 tells us: “You are… His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” By God’s grace, He has now given us the privilege He gave John the Baptist. He has made us witnesses to the light. He sends us to share His Gospel of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in Christ with all people.
As Christmas approaches and we celebrate the first coming of our Savior into the world, we have a special opportunity to witness to His glory. We can invite people walking in the darkness to come and see the Savior who was born for them.
Don’t we realize how many people around us live in the darkness of guilt and sin, fearful of meeting God? We can shine the light of His salvation on them. We can tell them: “See how much God loves you, that He came in person to save you? He did not come to us in unapproachable light, like the burning sun; but He came to us as a Baby, humble and tenderhearted. He came to you as a Savior you can hold in your arms and in your heart by faith. Trust in Him, my friend.”
Don’t we realize how many people around us live in the darkness, troubled by the burdens of life, living under the shadow of coming death? We can shine the light of Jesus’ salvation on them. We can tell them: “See, your Savior comes to lighten your load and give you hope and a future. Jesus says: ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). He brings you rest for your soul today, and at last eternal rest in heaven. Lay your burdens on Him, my friend.”
When we see a full moon reflecting the sun’s light over a world covered by night’s shadow, let it be a reminder that we are witnesses to the Light. God has shined the light of His love in the night of our sin-darkened world, in the face of Jesus our Savior. Like John, let us boldly proclaim the Savior who has come for all people. Let us share the light of His truth and salvation. May all our words and deeds declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.