Theme: John the Baptist as a Witness
In this week’s lessons, we consider how John the Baptist served as a faithful witness to Jesus, and what that means in our witnessing as well.
Scripture: John 1:19-51
Indeed, in one way, you can look at the Gospel of John as a series of witnesses to who Jesus Christ was, always by people who, like John, had received a revelation in advance. Sometimes they discovered who he was as they interacted with him, but in the end, they always give a testimony. Apart from the testimony of John the Baptist pointing to Jesus Christ and saying that he is the light who was to come into the world, nobody would have paid any attention.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, one of my predecessors at Tenth Presbyterian Church, told a story from his experience preaching long ago in the early months of the Second World War. He was in the British Isles at the time, and was preaching every night in a series of meetings. Because of the German bombardment that everybody feared, there was a blackout each evening. There was a certain time set every evening when all the lights were supposed to be turned out, and that would happen during the preaching services that he was conducting.
Now it was in the fall, as the days were getting shorter. The first night, the lights would all be turned off at 7:41, then the next night at 7:39, and then the next night at 7:34, and so on. Barnhouse said, “It was an interesting experience because the lights would be on as the people came into the church and filled up the pews, and then as that time approached, he would be in the midst of the preaching, and all of a sudden all the lights would go out. And there’d be a moment while everybody sort of got hold of where they were and they readjusted, and then he would go on preaching in the dark.
It happened that on one of these evenings, somebody who was stumbling around in the back of the church thought he was turning on a light to a back room so he could find something, and accidentally he turned on the switch that threw on the lights to the entire congregation. Everybody had been sitting there in the dark, and Barnhouse said it was a most memorable experience, standing there, looking out over the congregation when the lights suddenly came on. Everybody had slumped into their seats of course. Their heads were down. Nobody was looking anywhere because they couldn’t see in the dark, and, he said, suddenly all of these heads came popping up together when the lights went on.
He said one thing particularly caught his attention. Down in the front there was a man sitting next to a friend with whom he had obviously come, who suddenly began pawing at his neighbor. And he was saying out loud, so Barnhouse could hear him, “What happened? What happened? Why did he stop? What’s going on?” Why was the man reacting in that way? The reason is because he was blind. The lights came on, but because he did not know, it he was confused when Barnhouse stopped preaching. His friend then said to him, “It’s all right. It’s all right. Somebody turned on the lights, accidentally. They’ll go off again in a moment.”
That’s what John the Baptist did. He came into the world to point to Jesus Christ and say, “The light is on!” and the world looked up with its blind eyes and said, “What is light?” Now that’s the message of the first chapter of John’s Gospel. That’s the message that we have as well, to say “the Light is on” and point to Jesus Christ. The world is going to do exactly the same thing to us. The world is going to say, “What is light? Who is Jesus?” until God gives them illumination. But the way he does it is through our testimony.
The point I’m making is that witnesses, like the witness of John, are essential today, and the question that follows upon that is, “What kind of witnesses?” If we need witnesses today, what should witnesses be like? And John gives us the answer to that. I want to suggest that the outline, not only to the kind of witness to Jesus Christ that John was, but an outline to the entire first chapter of this Gospel, is found in verses 6 to 9. Those are the verses that first introduce John. He was a man who came from God. “His name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light. He came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
Why is John the Baptist described as pointing to Jesus as the light who was coming into the world?
Go through the Gospel of John and make note of the various witnesses to Jesus that John the Evangelist wants to record.
Application: How are you called to be a witness for Christ? What kind of a witness are you?