WORD OF GOD SPEAK — JUST ONE VOICE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
April 28, 2007
What if your feet were literally shackled together all day long as you sit on a dirt floor rolling cigarettes? What if you had to dive down to the bottom of the river to untangle your masters’ fishing nets, after your best friend had just drowned the day before doing the same thing? What if your father had a drug addiction so he sold you into slavery to get his next high? What if you crushed boulders into gravel with a heavy hammer all day long until you were breathless, sun burnt and bleeding? This is the case for many men, women, and children around the world today.
Many people don’t have the freedoms that you and I do. They don’t own their time, money, food, or water. They don’t even own themselves! These people can’t come and go as they please. They are slaves. I’m not just talking about sweatshop labor here, I’m talking about actual slavery that is every bit as sick and ugly as it was in our country two hundred years ago. There are in fact more slaves today around the world than at any point in history. Some people might say that it’s not their business just because these slaves are an ocean away or because they have a different skin color. But we had better make it our business because what if it were you?
These are the challenging words of a teenager named Zach Hunter. He is leading a revolution called Loose Change to Loosen Chains whose primary aim is to find the estimated 10 million dollars of pocket change hiding inside the couches of Americans and using that money to mobilize his generation to end slavery. He knows (because he is one) that teenagers want to give their lives to something big, and right now there’s not much bigger than ending the trade of human beings around the globe. Zach is ready to help them understand what they can do by providing stories to ignite their passion and practical tools to mobilize them into action. His is just one voice. But his voice is being heard. If you want to help Zach and the justice generation eliminate modern day slavery, I’ve got his website and book info on the screen, you can check my blog next Thursday, or see me afterward. I hope you’ll consider supporting him. Word of God speak.
Today I want to zero in on another voice. This one crying out in John 1:19-23. My main point today is if each one of us has a voice, each one of us, like Zach has a testimony. And if ours is like John’s, it’s got to be primarily about Jesus. And so I’m going to talk how I hear John 1:19-28 teaching us about that. But before I go any further, I just want to remind you that at the end, in about 20 minutes, I’m going to give you an opportunity to share a few thoughts as well. Specifically, I’d like you to highlight any one thing this passage spoke to you or meant to you. What you won’t forget when you leave church today. It could be something I said or often may be something I missed. But if the word of God speaks, we should be able to hear it right? So be thinking about what this passage is speaking to you while you’re listening. And consider sharing with us a short take away from it this morning. What something personal means to you. If we can’t apply the truths we learn, why bother listening? You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to, but I hope some of you will. It’ll be fun. Will some of you be thinking about that? Maybe a teenager. A grandparent. Just one voice.
John 1:19-20 [NIV] says, “19Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Christ.’”
Do you see why I say that if everyone has a voice, everyone has a testimony? The Bible says “Now this was John’s testimony.” So each voice has a testimony. And this one is about John’s. But what was his testimony? Let’s back up to where it actually begins in the Prologue to John 1 that we studied last week. Verses 6-8 [NIV] say, “6There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.”
So right away we know two things about testimonies. They come from God. And because they come from God, they’re personal. “There came a man who was sent from God.” But God hasn’t just sent John. He has also sent you. If you don’t believe me, go with me to 2 Corinthians 5:20 to find your diplomatic immunity. “20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” The Bible says we are Christ’s ambassadors. We are His diplomats. We, like Zach, are on a mission. That’s why the Bible says God sent John and as surprising as it sounds why God sends us too. And if we’re involved, that makes the invitation personal. How do we know? Because He knows our name! The Bible says His name was John.
You don’t have to get all deep and theological. You don’t have to worry that what you share won’t be significant. If it means something to you, and you’re significant to God, whatever He shares with you will be significant too! So these world changing messages and testimonies come from God. They’re personal. But thirdly, they’re primarily about God. John 1:7 adds, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” We talked about this one last time. How the chiastic structure of John 1 teaches us that God meets us where we are. So that through him all men might believe. John the Baptist came to “Testify concerning the light.” And who did we say last time is the Light? Jesus! Right! So testimonies are from God. Personalized for us. But primarily about Jesus! But that’s not always the case is it?
Have you ever been in a place where the speaker was giving their testimony and it sounded more like they were running for office? Or sometimes the stories told inadvertently glorifies the person’s past life of sin? Or when music is the message that sometimes the music is directed not toward God but seems to be glorifying the musicians? I’m not convinced when that occurs it’s sinister or even intentional because sometimes we all focus on the wrong stuff. Right? We all make mistakes. All of us are better at asking for things than praising God for things. As we’ve been learning on Wednesday nights, even after we come to Christ and are baptized, we all sincerely fall and keep falling short of the glory of God. And will until Jesus literally returns.
But what I hear the Gospel of John telling me is that what makes a testimony powerful and revolutionary and world changing is that its content is primarily about God. It glorifies God. One of the cool things that Zach Hunter said in an interview on Good Morning America is that what the hippies did without God, we could do with God. I’ve always read that passage in Luke 4:16 and following about spiritually freeing the captives and those who are oppressed. But why not take it literally too? Zach Hunter is!
But the question is when we start talking about that kind of thing is how to do it. And imbedded into the DNA of the Gospel of John I believe there is a clue on how to do that. Which is the last thing I want to share today. If prayer is the most powerful tool in Christian’s belt, what is becoming increasingly obvious to me is that radical humility is the 2 nd most powerful evangelistic tool we possess. The 2 nd most powerful tool used to be doctrine. When everyone cared more about believing than belonging. But that’s not the case anymore. People these days want to belong before they believe. And they will not belong to a group of people who think they’re better than everyone else. Which is why just one simple voice of a 15 year old can be so effective these days. And why so many of ours aren’t. Unless we become like John’s. Humbly crying in the wilderness.
One of the most significant points the book of John repeats from beginning to end is that true ambassadors of God are radically humble servants of God. How do we know? In Matthew [3:3], Mark [1:3], and Luke [3:4] the Baptist is described as a “voice crying in the wilderness.” Which is a quote and fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 which says, “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” But John alone reports the Baptist as saying, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He will not claim a place and a name for himself.
Matthew [11:14], Mark [9:13], and Luke [1:17; 9:19] compare John the Baptist with Elijah, but in the 4 th Gospel John specifically denies that he is Elijah. John 1:21-23 says, “21They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ 22Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the desert, make straight the way for the Lord.’”
In choosing to describe himself as just “the voice of one” crying the desert, the 4 th gospel intentionally minimizes the ttitles for the Baptist and multiplies the titles for Jesus. Which we’ll talk about next time [vs.1,8,18,29,38,41,49,51] when we discuss verses 29-34 so that’s your homework for next time. But notice for now in verses 24-27 that John is teaching that the people who truly know Jesus describe themselves in the humblest of terms. “24Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ 26‘I baptize with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’”
Which is interesting to me. Because in verse 33 the Baptist says even he would not have known Jesus unless through divine revelation. So how can he say he knows Jesus so well now? Maybe he should have said, “Among you stands one neither you nor I know very well.” But one thing we do know is if our testimony is primarily about Jesus, it installs the humility of Jesus. Who though He was God, did not consider equality with God something to hold on to, taking the very nature of a servant.
But the radical humility of John the Baptist becomes even more obvious when compared with the 3 rd century saying of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi. He said “Every service which a slave performs for his master a pupil will do for his teacher, except loosing his shoe” [The Interpreter’s Bible p.482]. Which sounds weird to us. Because we just kick off our flip flops or Crocs or Berkenstocks or whatever kind of sandal you wear all by ourselves. But that’s not how it worked back then. Because back in the day when the Baptist lived, it was normal for top notch teachers to have their pupils, their disciples, to wash the teachers car or chariot or whatever, in addition to mowing their lawns and fixing tasty meals upon request. The student back then had to pack their own lunch and their master’s! There was no hot lunch program! But there were limits to this slavery. Which is what the word servant in Greek literally means. To preserve the student’s dignity within that culture, as was still reflected in the writings of that 3 rd century rabbi, one task was forbidden. He could not be required to tie or untie the teacher’s sandals.
So we should see in the Baptist’s statement of John 1:27 his radical humility. Jesus is so great that untying His sandals would be a greater honor than John feels he deserves even if he were asked to do so. Which you would totally understand if you were a typical pagan in Ephesus just picking up the book of John for the first time and having just finished reading its Prologue. Because in that Prologue the greatness of Jesus is seen in the fact that He preexisted the Baptist! John 1:1 doesn’t say, “In the beginning the Baptist.” It says, “In the beginning God and then in startling fashion announces that Jesus is God.”
We also know this radical humility of the Baptist, not so obvious in the other three Gospels, was not something fleeting. That He only used once or twice. Only at the beginning of his ministry and not the end. There are additional clues within the book of John and in Acts that this radical humility was something, perhaps the most significant something, that identified his message and testimony through his lifetime. For example, talking about more about Jesus, he said in John 3:30. “30He must become greater; I must become less.”
Which is ironic. Because historians suggest that some of his followers didn’t always follow his humble advice. One commentary I read suggests that since the Baptist was martyred because of political involvement, [remember how he accused Herod of marital infidelity], the movement may have found common cause with the zealots and other violent revolutionaries during the war with Rome between 67 and 70 AD. This is implied before John dies as well when his disciples approach Jesus to ask Him, as Pastor Nathan preached a couple weeks ago, that if he really was the Messiah shouldn’t He be about ready to get on with it and overthrow Rome?
But the good news is there were those whose hearts resonated with both the Baptist’s radical humility and holy boldness. And it was through these leaders that the testimony and message of Jesus was spread to the early church. And I believe it is through these kinds of people, who are humbly but boldly sharing more about Jesus, that the message of Jesus will light the world on fire. And it’s already happening I believe.
Proof of this can be found in the book of Acts 18 and 19. Turn with me to Acts 18 first and let’s look at verses 24-26. “24Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus [where John the disciple returned from Patmos and wrote the Gospel of John before he died of old]. He [Apollos] was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.”
If you read Acts 19:1-7, you can read about 12 other men who Scripture says through the ministry of the Baptist later spoke in tongues and prophesied. Which suggests to me that what makes radical humility genuinely radical is because it has more to do with Jesus than us. Most folks, even Christians, sometimes lose focus. By the stories we tell or the way we tell them, sometimes by the songs we sing, the glory doesn’t go to God to ourselves. But that’s not what the Gospel of John is saying. Remember, it’s saying that testimonies are from God, that they’re personal, and primarily about God. Maybe Apollos read a copy of John floating around Ephesus. We know he had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And was taught about Jesus accurately. So what made his preaching radical is that like John’s, it was humbly focused on Jesus!
Verse 28 says, “28This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.” Some people get confused because they know that there was a town called Bethany where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives, less than two miles from Jerusalem. But there was also a town called Bethany on the other side of Jordan River east of Jerusalem. And it was in this Bethany that all this stuff was happening. And if that happened east of the Jordan and it later occurred west of the Jordan, I think it could happen here as well. East and west of Toledo. More and more people coming to Jesus. Humbly serving Him. Sharing a message from God. Primarily about God. If we each have a voice, we each have a testimony. Let’s make ours about primarily about Jesus. Because with His, He changed the world.