It might seem strange that John the Baptist would appear so early in John’s account. It points to one of the heresies John the Gospel writer was addressing: there were groups of people in as late as 200 A.D. who were still worshiping John the Baptist as the Messiah.
God knew the Gospel writer John was sympathetic. The apostle John himself had started out as a disciple of John the Baptist. John had known the Baptist well, had admired and respected him, had seen him as both mentor and rabbi, and had initially thought to become one of the Baptist’s acolytes.
John the apostle of Jesus was the perfect candidate to gently undertake redirecting misunderstandings about the Baptist, so he quoted the Baptist several times as saying he was not the Messiah, but a messenger.
John 1:6-13, The Witnessed Word
There came to be a person who was sent from God whose name was John, who came as a witness, so that he would testify concerning the light, in order that all might believe through him.
That one was -not- the light, but rather in order that he would -give testimony- concerning the light.John 1:6-8
The emphasis here is verse 8, the Baptist understood that he was not the light, but he was to prepare the people to believe the true light when they saw it.
The task of a witness is to point to the truth. You know the phrase “to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” We use that in a court of law because that is what everyone is expecting the witness to do, to bring out the truth.
In fact, everyone who knows Who Jesus really is, is called to be a witness to the truth. Witnessing is both verbal and nonverbal. To keep integrity, the words have to match the life of the person saying the words.
This the Baptist was well-known for. He lived blamelessly, and honorably, with all the markings of a prophet from God. Then, John the Baptist identified Jesus—who otherwise looked like an ordinary person—as the true light.
Some would be repelled by the light, and others would be drawn to it.
Yet, tragically, most people did not even recognize the light in spite of the Baptist’s testimony.
The true light which enlightens all people was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world through him came into being, and yet the world did not know him (did not come to know by observation and experience, the world did not recognize him, did not “get” who he was).John 1:9-10
The Creator came and the creatures did not even know who he was.
“World,” “cosmos” in Greek, is another word John often used, in most cases, to refer to the created order that is now in rebellion against the Creator. John said this light was coming into the created order which was now in darkness, in rebellion, against the source of light. The world could not apprehend the light because of spiritual blindness.
But even more amazing, in verse 11, is that Jesus came to His own home, that is the sense in the Greek, and even his own people did not recognize him.
These were the covenant people of God, who had been entrusted with
- God’s law
- God’s covenants
- God’s promises
. . . for thousands of years.
These were a people who had been actively waiting for their messiah since the days of Moses. God had specially made these people to be his own treasured possession. Of all people, these people were by far the best equipped to recognize and receive the Messiah. But they did not.
Nevertheless, there -were- those who did receive the Light.
But, however many took hold of him, he bestowed to the ones who believed in his name privilege, capacity, and authority to become children of God—these not out of blood, nor out of the will of the flesh, nor out of the will of a man, but rather they have been brought forth out of God.John 1:12-13
Every human being comes into this world by birth. There is simply no other way to get here except to be born.
And the same is true for those who enter the kingdom of God, you must be brought forth, as though born.
John listed the ways that people mistakenly think they can come to God.
- This is not of blood, or by natural descent, in other words, not by inheritance, or by human ancestry. Being raised in a Christian home and going to church all your life, going to a Christian school, being involved in lots of Christian activities does not automatically make one a Christian.
- This is not of the will of the flesh, something that just happens. When we were born into this world, it happened because two people . . . well, you know. Being brought forth into new life will not happen that way. This is not something someone can simply make happen.
- This is not the will of man, or some translations say “husband.” This is not by human caveat. No one can decide for you and me. By that same token, you and I cannot decide for someone else, either.
Jesus gives his life to all who receive him and believe in his name
Each individual must respond to Jesus’ light on their own terms. This is between each person and God.
No amount of ceremony, or reciting of words or saying special prayers or creeds, or going forward, or performing certain rituals brings a person “forth out of God.” John was saying that God’s children can only be brought forth out of God by God within the human heart. Because it is all God’s doing, and no one else’s, it is accomplished beyond any human effort.
And it is available to all who, as John put it, “take hold of,” or even “seize hold of” the Word:
- who with their mind accept the facts and understand the light,
- who with their emotions respond with desire for the light,
- who with their will give themselves to light, to Jesus, and take hold of Jesus as their own.
This experience takes place deep in the human spirit, as God accomplishes this mysterious transformation.
It is not something you or I can do, and we might not even feel it happening. A mother does not feel the moment when a baby is first formed deep within her, and yet there that baby is, tiny and growing.
New life has begun, and God knows the moment. The Lord nurtures that new life and is in charge of its growth, and with that life comes light, the ability to understand God’s revelation of God and of spiritual things, in the world around us and in the Bible
[John the Baptist | James Tissot / Public domain]