We get to hear who John the Baptist says he is. In yesterday’s reading we heard one of John the Baptist’s comments about Jesus; “He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me” (verse 15). This identified Jesus as present in the beginning but now appearing in the flesh. Jesus is ready to take the scene and John is wetting the people’s appetite.
Today John the Baptist is approached by a group who was sent by the religious leaders. Their mission was to find out who John the Baptist really was. They had some ideas but they wanted him to confirm or deny them.
The method of questioning John reminds me of playing “I spy” or 20 questions. If he wanted to, John could have gotten very creative with his answers to the inquisitors.
“Who are you?”
“I am me. Who are you?”
“I asked you first. Why are you being difficult? Just answer the question!”
“I did. In case you need further explanation, my name is John.”
“We know that. But who are you?”
“What do you mean who am I? I just told you. Did you possibly mean what am I doing and Whose authority am I operating under? Or maybe you are looking for a specific role for me to fulfill. Which is it?”
They could have gone around for hours like this but John helped them out with his first answer; “I am not the Christ” (verse 20). Did they originally think he was the Christ? He cleared that up right away. Now the questions get more specific. They start throwing out possibilities that line up best with what they have been hearing and seeing from him. “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the Prophet?” OK. I have a question here, who is “the Prophet?” Which one, of all the prophets that had gone before, were they referring to? Didn’t matter really because John said, “Nope”, to all their guesses.
“We give up! Who are you then?”
John knew his calling and what was written about him. He had learned this from his conception onward. This was revealed to him not only by his parents but by the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb. His whole life had been about this one task. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (verse 23).
“Oh. Is that all? Then why are you baptizing people?” I take it baptizing people was something reserved for the prophets or the Christ. I was curious about that so I went to my favorite answer group, GotQuestions.org where they address the question of the origin of baptism. They say that baptism was for converts to Judaism and may have originated with the ceremonial bathing God called for in the law. It wasn’t something just anyone did on the street corner or on the river bank; thus their question.
John didn’t answer their question directly. He simply told them that there was something even better than what he was doing right on the horizon. In fact the One bringing that something better was standing right there with them, but he didn’t point Him out. It wasn’t time yet. Jesus had to present Himself for John’s services before John would share Jesus’ identity. A proper time and place for everything.
I wonder if this group of inquisitors started looking around trying to figure out who John was referring to. They wouldn’t have much longer to wait.
Father God, is it the orneriness in me that brought the earlier conversation to mind? It reminds me of playing games like that with my kids or of things my own father would have done with us. I know these men were serious but they could see the evidence right in front of them, they just refused to accept it. John made no secret of his mission or his credentials. All anyone had to do was listen and accept what he said. Instead this group has to try and pigeon hole him into their expectations and requirements.
Thank You that You do the unexpected. Thank You for “thinking outside the box.” By using something so unique You got the attention of everyone. If John had conformed to standards there wouldn’t have been such a big fuss about him. It’s ok to be different. It’s ok to do things the way I see them. Just because I don’t write in “study note” format doesn’t make what I share less worthy or relevant. My uniqueness is a gift from You and meant to be used to reach where others might not be able to. Thank You for showing that to me just now. Thank You that You bring something personal to me every time we meet! I love seeing how You bring about those “ah ha” moments. You REALLY get me!