JOHN:THE GOSPEL OF HEARTFELT BELIEF
Jesus PR Man
Jerry A. Collins
When we think about a PR (Public Relations) person we usually are thinking of someone who can bring the best possible light on something. It is the process whereby people are prepared and persuaded to accept, understand and receive something or someone.
Jesus had a PR man and his name was John the Baptist. Imagine yourself in sandals and camel hair suit commanded by God to go out and begin calling the nation of Israel to repent while announcing that the Messiah is soon to be revealed. You are not certain when or how Her will be revealed. You are to preach in the wilderness so that those in the city must come out to you. You never perform a miracle and live on honey and locusts. This is Jesusí PR man. Just like Jesusí birth announced to and by shepherds in the wilderness, so Jesusí public identity and ministry is announced by the eccentric and humble John the Baptist. It seems that God goes out of His way to place Jesusí ministry in obscurity. Including itís beginning, its duration and its end! What does Jesus PR man, John the Baptist, tell us about Jesus? What do we learn about this man? What lessons are there for us in our Public relations ministry of Jesus?
1. We must refuse to be the center of attention for our own ministry 1:19-28
In these verses we have the testimony of Johnís witness about himself. Here is the first witness brought forward to us by John the Apostle to give testimony as to who Jesus is. This witness is given through a series of questions and answers. The questions are asked by a delegation sent from the religious authority in Jerusalem (vs.19). It seems then, that the religious elite were not going to lend credibility to Johnís ministry by coming first-hand to interrogate him. The interrogation will happen from a group of just priests and levites. By sending this entourage to John, the leaders seem to saying that they are the ones who will call the shots about who has a legitimate ministry or not. They issue religious franchises and John will have to understand that he can only operate with their permission and under their authority. Instead of refusing to be the center of their ministry, they have become the center of their ministry! Johnís response is a candid refusal to be the center of attention for his own ministry.
A. Johns identity Interrogated 19-23
John is questioned four times as to his identity and ministry. The first question is in vs 19 who are you? Even though they do not ask directly if he is the Messiah, John knows the motivation behind their question. I am not the Christ he says to them. Apparently, a majority expected the Messiah to return. We know that crowds were beginning to follow him (Mark 1:5;Luke 3:7-18). He was popular with the people (Luke 1:65-66;3:15). Since the religious were into crowds, numbers and popularity, John was either a threat or was the Messiah. Since he emphatically denied the latter, they pressed further whether he was Elijah vs 21b. John curtly denied this as well. In Luke 1:15-17 Jesus identifies John as one who goes in the spirit and power of Elijah. We know that Elijah did not die but was taken into heaven in a chariot of fire 2 Kings 2:1-17. It seems that many still expected Elijah to return in person. The point is that John the Baptist is a kind of Elijah who comes in his spirit and power to turn the people back to the Lord as Elijah did in the Old testament. So a third question is prompted are you the prophet? His terse reply was no! We can observe that with each question, Johnís response gets shorter. Either he is running out of patience with their interrogation or more likely, he wished to divert any attention on himself but more and more on the One for whom he came to bear witness.
When you are the center of attention for your ministry you will have a competitive spirit. You will begin to see ministry as what I do verses what he is doing. If I see your ministry as a threat to my ministry it will prompt me to compete with you. The major problem with this outcome, of course, is that Jesus has given His body, the church, the same mission which is to be witnesses and make disciples. That does not involve competition but cooperation. We can only do that if we refuse to point out our own piety, convictions, cleverness or whatever may subtlety or otherwise get people to admire us and follow us rather than Christ.
Since these interrogators cannot return without some answers they request that John speak for himself then vs 22. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness make straight the way of the Lord vs 23. The point is that Johnís ministry was a literal fulfillment of a Biblical mandate from Isaiah 40:3. Isaiah told us that before the Messiah came we would hear this voice. John took that literally and began preparing the way for Christ from the Judean wilderness. Today our ministry must be a literal fulfillment of a Biblical command given to or through the Apostles for this age. For example, we are to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), do all things for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:23), and walk worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1).
B. Johns ministry interrogated 24-28
They now question his ministry of baptizing. How can he do that if he has no credentials? John does not debate them about his ministry but once again emphasizes the superiority of the coming One, by whom he is outranked. This coming one is somewhere among them but simply not yet designated vs 26. This One outranks John the Baptist because He existed before John. This One is so much greater than John that he says he is unworthy to loose even his sandal straps vs 27. Meaning that in light of who Christ is, John is not even fit to be His servant. Johns baptism was distressing to the powerful because John was treating Jews as though they were lost sinners in need of salvation. The Jewish religious leaders had convinced Jewish followers that simply being Jewish and keeping the law as they had expanded it was sufficient to save them. Johns ministry said otherwise and put the Jewish religious system under siege. Being born again and raised a Christian does not make a person saved. Christians, those who are identified as Christians due to their church membership and upbringing, need to be saved just as much as non-Christians. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but repentance of being saved any other way than thru Christ is necessary. While this delegation wanted John to talk about himself and his ministry, his focus was to magnify Christ and refuse to become the center of attention for his own ministry.
2. We must make magnifying Christ the focus of our ministry 1:29-34
There is a three-fold testimony of John about Christ that reflects from his three-fold denial about himself.
A. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world vs 29. This is a reference to Jesus as the Passover lamb symbolizing the One who will be sacrificed to remove or take away sin which is anything contrary to the character of God and condemns us. The only sacrifice that can make us clean before God is the one Jesus made. Any sacrifice we attempt to make to earn our way with God is hopeless and leaves us in jeopardy of eternal separation from God.
B. Jesus is the pre-existent One vs 30. This means that Jesus has priority over John. Priority does indicate superiority and despite appearances Jesus really was prior to John because Jesus pre-existed. Why was Jesus baptized by John? Jesus identifies himself with John and with his ministry and message vs 31. John believed that success in ministry meant that Jesus Christ would become more prominent as a factor in the reality of peoplesí lives and he as a servant would become less influential. We must be careful not to use the name Jesus to promote our one ministry. True success in ministry is the extent which people abandon following us for the greater value of following the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible.
C. Jesus is One upon whom the Spirit descends and who baptizes with the Spirit vss32-33. John testified that the Spirit came to rest upon Christ. Now the identity of Jesus is clear. God confirms who he is when John baptizes him. Here Jesus permanently possesses the Holy Spirit and so will dispense the Holy Spirit to others in a Baptism (John 14-16;Acts 1:8;2). Today there is nothing magical about baptism in and of itself. In this age Johns baptism ministry is replaced with the conviction of the Holy Spirit who convicts to repent of sin for salvation as well as fellowship. His ministry includes magnifying Jesus Christ (John 15:26). So, too is our ministry (Galatians 2:20).