Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 December 11, 2022
“For a Testimony”
Last week we heard, from John 1:1-5, of the Word: the true light, the Lord Jesus Christ. We also heard concerning truths concerning Him. He is very God Himself, He is extant from eternity past with the Father and the Holy Spirit, He was instrumental in creation, and He shines in the darkness, which overcomes Him not. Today, in the second installment of our four-part series from John 1:1-18, we hear of the final Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist. We hear that he was a man sent from God, and we hear that he was a man sent from God for a testimony. Let us learn and recall more as we hear the Word of God read and proclaimed once again in this place.
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The prophetic record, after Malachi, fell silent for over four centuries until the advent of John the Baptist. His birth (cf. Luke 1:5-25) was most unusual, but it resembled that of Isaac about eighteen hundred years earlier. Just as Isaac was born of elderly, childless parents (Abraham and Sarah), so also John the Baptist was born of elderly, childless parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. Luke, led by the Holy Spirit, tells us, via Gabriel’s declaration to Zechariah, both that John would be great before the Lord and that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth—a most unusual occurrence indeed. Matthew, by the same Spirit, tells us that John the Baptist is that Elijah who was to come—prophesied by Malachi over four hundred years earlier (Malachi 4:5, Matthew 11:14-15). Indeed, given such a birth narrative, we may wonder, with the Judean hill country people who first heard and saw this narrative, “What then will this child be?” (Luke 1:66).
It takes the folks in John’s day about three decades to answer the preceding question, but we learn the answer from the Scriptures in much shorter time. John grew to maturity to discharge a ministry of bearing witness to Jesus. For instance, in Matthew 3:1 ff., we find John heralding the Christ Who soon would come. In that passage, we find John in the wilderness of Judea (a most inhospitable place) preaching. He preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and he—unlike too many would-be preachers today—preached the necessity of producing fruits in keeping with repentance. He also preached that One much greater than he comes after him—One Whose sandals he is not worthy to carry. In John’s preaching of repentance unto life, then, we see John heralding the Christ Who soon would come.
We also find John announcing the Christ Who has come. For example, we hear John exclaim, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of Whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man Who ranks before me, because He was before me’” (John 1:29-30). John later teaches his own disciples that Jesus, the Bridegroom, must increase, but that he, the friend of the Bridegroom, must decrease (John 3:30, cf. Ibid, 25-30). Hence, the Apostle John’s parenthetical aside that John the Baptist was not the light (i. e., the Light of the world: Jesus), but was sent from God to bear witness to the light (John 1:8).
John the Baptist came as a witness, bearing witness, to the end that all might believe—that is, that all might believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This happens in two senses: first, intellectually, by assenting to Gospel truth claims, and, second, volitionally, by trusting in Jesus as Lord and Savior to the extent of complete trust and reliance. We shall see next week, God willing, that, alas, many believed not—but others did, with blessings abundant and eternal accompanying.
Jesus, in His final words to the Eleven, tells them that they will be His witnesses—in ever-widening circles to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It appears, then, that we are to serve God in a manner similar to John the Baptist—for God calls us, too, to bear witness of Him. We do this in two ways. First, we bear witness to Jesus Christ with the life we live. We bear favorable witness to Christ when we observe and obey the moral Law—which remains normative for Christians even though Christ Himself fulfilled its demands with His perfect, active obedience to it. We also bear favorable witness to Christ when we display the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness [or faith], gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) for all to see. Our lives, lived faithfully along these lines, cannot help but compel attention from those yet outside Christ’s salvation.
Second, we bear witness to Jesus Christ with our lips—with the words we say. We do this with holy boldness and with Gospel sensitivity.1 By holy boldness we mean an appropriate courage from on high to testify to Jesus, and by Gospel sensitivity we mean an appropriate attention both to those who hear us and to how our message may land best upon their ears. In these ways, then, let us speak words of life, Gospel words of witness, to folks with calm courage and with respect toward our hearers.
Obviously, then, we shall need the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit working within us in order that our lives and lips may speak favorably of Jesus. May He thus empower us, and may we, then, live for a testimony unto our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
1For the following two qualifications for how our speech should testify to Christ, I am indebted to Dr. Harry Reeder, senior minister of Briarwood Presbyterian Church, PCA (Birmingham, Alabama), and author of Embers to a Flame, a now-classic text on church revitalization, in his Embers to a Flame Conference held at Independent Presbyterian Church, PCA, Memphis, Tennessee, April 2010.