19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
From 4th grade until I graduated High School, I spent too much time at swimming pools. Monday-Friday consisted in at least two hours of practice. And most weekends December–March and June–August were swim meets. In the summer, if my friends wanted to hang out, it usually meant we would go to the pool. Now, there are different sets of pool rules: one set for swim team members during practice and another set for everyone who comes for open swim.
I knew all the lifeguards because most of them were also on the swim team. During practice, they were teammates (even though, until I got to High School, they were much older than I was). But during open swim, they were no longer teammates. They were the authorities. I had to obey their commands and comply with their whistles. And, believe me, they made sure I got a whistle for every little infraction during open swim.
So, when I was old enough, I took the class to get my lifeguard certification so I too could get a job at the pool. I received that perforated card from the Red Cross with the words written in bold “Lifeguard Certification.” And I had ascended the ranks. I donned my white tank-top with the bold red cross, grabbed my whistle, shouldered my 50” rescue tube, and climbed to the throne of the lifeguard stand.
Now, I had authority. I could boss around the younger kids who were on the swim team when they came for open swim. I could bark commands at the college kids and adults who dared to hang on the rim of the poolside basketball hoop, run on the deck, dive in the shallow end, or take more than one bounce on the diving boards. The first few months of being on the stand, I was the Attila the Hun of lifeguards. All feared and obeyed me. (But, I’m sure, the swimmers and my fellow lifeguards thought I was ridiculous.)
The point of all that is this: Whenever we are unsure of our authority or position or status, we take every opportunity to assert ourselves to make sure that everyone around us can see that we are important, we are in charge, we have the answers. And, in our minds, those who can’t see that are just plain clueless. So, we respond to their ignorance about our greatness and importance by doubling down on insisting how important we are. The worst part is that we don’t see how sinful and stuffed with pride we have become, and we refuse to repent because we have justified ourselves in our minds.
John the Baptizer was important. He was the forerunner of the Messiah and the last prophet. He was foretold in Scripture. He had the attention of all Judea and Jerusalem as they came out to him. And the religious authorities were sending envoys to him asking, “Who are you?” They wanted to find out exactly why John was doing what he was doing.
John could have easily persuaded and convinced everyone that he was something more than he actually was. But John confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet.”
John stayed in his God-given role, his God-given position, his God-given job, his God-given task, his God-given vocation, “I am not the Christ. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Those two, brief confessions from John can also bring stability, peace, and joy into our lives. John confesses who he is not, and John confesses who he is. When you recognize and trust that you are not your own christ and that you have your own God-given calling and vocation, everything falls into its proper place.
You, like John, are not the Christ. Repeat after me, “I am not the Christ.” You do not have to justify yourself or your actions. Now, let me be clear, there may be times where you are falsely accused of doing wrong and you will need to set the record straight. But even in those instances, there is always some sin you have committed even if it was only a thought or wrong attitude. If we say we have nosin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:8). So, rather than covering your tracks, rather than justifying yourself, rather than trying to be your own christ, your own savior, you are free. Free to ask for forgiveness – from God and from your neighbor.
There is freedom in saying, “I am not the Christ,” because there is a Christ, there is a Savior who is not you. Jesus, the Christ and Savior, sits at His Father’s right hand with His nail-scarred hands and feet. He vouches for you to God the Father saying, “I am the Christ. I am the Savior. I died and rose again to forgive that one there.”
So, confessing, “I am not the Christ,” brings peace and joy. But so also does John’s other statement, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness…”
Now, you aren’t the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, but you are a Christian. And you are a Christian because there is a Christ. You bear His name. You are washed clean of all your sins in His blood. You hear Jesus’ Word. You pray His prayers. You live His life. You have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you (Gal. 2:20). This means that you have your own God-given calling, role, task, and vocation to carry out. So be faithful in those callings and vocations.
And rejoice. Rejoice because there is a Savior who is not you. In Him is your rest. In Him is your forgiveness. In him is your peace. “Rejoice the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Php. 4:4-5). You have no reason to be anxious about anything. You are the forgiven, ransomed, redeemed people of God. You have the Savior. You bear His name and have been made His royal children. And Christ the King, your Lord and Savior, He is at hand. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.