By Tyson Thorne

May 30, 2019 (Updated June 1)

John 4 Large

Yesterday we examined the first 18 verses of John, his prologue to the story of the Messiah. Starting in verse 19 of chapter one we enter the first of four stories about the Messiah. This first cycle is The Peaceful First Coming of the Messiah (1.19-4.54). At the start we are dropped into a day in the life of John the Baptist who is being challenged by the Pharisees in a way that bears resemblance to how Jesus will be questioned by this same band of religious leaders. Unlike Jesus, John answers them without riddles or questions of his own.

"Who are you?" the Pharisees asked. The question says a lot about John's ministry. Why would they be interested unless John had a great following? And why would they come from Jerusalem to investigate, unless word of John's baptisms had reached their ears? We know from other Gospel accounts that the Pharisees do their good works for all to see, so John's popularity must have been seen as a threat to their power. They asked their questions not because they were interested in the answers but because they wanted to know if he was a threat. John's first answer may have alleviated their fears: "I am not the Messiah!"

John the author is emphatic about John the Baptist's response, stating twice that this was a confession rather than a denial. The author wants us to understand that this first reply, even though it does not mention Jesus, was a confession about Jesus. The Baptist clearly did not want to talk about himself, as is evidenced by the next exchange. "Are you Elijah?" they asked. His reply was even shorter than the first: "I am not!" Again, the Pharisees had to be relieved. If John wasn't claiming to be a Messiah or a prophet then he couldn't challenge their authority. They pressed on, asking John to testify about himself. Even though John finally speaks about himself, he only does so to shift the conversation back to Jesus.

"I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ’Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said" (Isaiah 40.3). Any good Jew would recognize the reference. The Baptizer was claiming to be the forerunner of the Messiah. This announcement intrigued the Pharisees, and their question could be rephrased as "by what authority do you perform baptisms then?" John tells them that his baptism by water is a symbol of commitment to the coming Messiah who is already in the world and as yet unrecognized by the religious leaders.

The very next day Jesus comes to John, and the Baptist is only too glad to announce what Jesus would not disclose, that the Messiah had arrived. "LooK!" he said. "The Lamb of God!" John tells three truths about Jesus: (1) Jesus takes away the sins of the world, (2) Jesus is the Messiah, and (3) Jesus (like God) has always existed. Interestingly, John says he did not recognize Jesus. The two were related (even as Mary and Elizabeth were) so what did he mean? He meant that while he may have known Jesus, he did not recognize him as the Messiah until he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him. This event empowered John to testify that Jesus is Messiah.

The next day (day three in this short account) John shouted out Jesus' identity and (verse 37) two of John's disciples went and followed Jesus. We know from verse 40 that one of them was Andrew, who immediately went and brought his brother Simon with him. It would be Andrew, Simon and a disciple of John's that were following Jesus when he stops walking in verse 38, turns to them and asks them "What do you want?" The want to know where Jesus is going, and when they get there Jesus changes Simon's name to Peter (verse 42), but first Jesus has a challenge for the three: Come and see." I imagine Jesus saying it with a wink and a twinkle in his eye, but that might just be me.

This was the start of Jesus' public ministry and the Spirit's re-initiation of the Kingdom of God. Brace yourself, it's going to be a wild ride from this point forward.

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