JOHN 1:19-28 (NIV – UK)
John the Baptist denies being the Messiah
19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’
21 They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’
He said, ‘I am not.’
‘Are you the Prophet?’
He answered, ‘No.’
22 Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”’ [Isaiah 40:3]
24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, ‘Why then do you baptise if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’
26 ‘I baptise with water,’ John replied, ‘but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY FOR THE LORD
John the Baptist is here questioned by the priests and Levites sent by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (v. 19). John the Baptist had caused quite a stir with what he was doing down at the River Jordan, calling people to repentance and baptising them in the river. People were flocking to John the Baptist, hence the Jewish leaders being interested in what was going on.
Note this, though: John the Baptist is under no illusion of his own position. He could easily have taken on the mantle of Messiah and no doubt have convinced many people he was the one. But he doesn’t, he denies being the Messiah (v. 19). John the Baptist knows precisely his calling – he is the one who Isaiah had prophesied about – ‘the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord”’ (Isaiah 40:3). John the Baptist knows that he isn’t the focus – that he should not be the object of glory, but that one would soon come who deserved that place of honour.
Note also that John the Baptist has a right view of Jesus, ‘the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie’ (v. 26). John the Baptist is under no illusion and has no ideas of grandeur about himself. Although John the Baptist was calling people to repent and be baptised, he knows that he himself also needs to repent and be baptised.
John the Baptist was a true titan – a prophet and an inspiration – yet when placed alongside Jesus he shrinks to insignificance, even by his own reckoning! John the Baptist is eagerly anticipating the revelation of the Messiah and his whole life is orientated around that very thought. He knows that he is broken and he long awaits the saving grace of the Messiah. It forces us to ask the question, ‘how do I measure up when I am placed next to Jesus?’ I suspect, as it is for me, it’s a quick answer – ‘not very well’. If so, then we are in good company, but just like John the Baptist, if we give our lives to the one whose sandals we are not worthy to untie, our unworthiness is irrelevant because he welcomes us into his arms regardless.
Question: Are you challenged or insulted at the thought of not being worthy of something? How does it make you feel to know that, despite our unworthiness, Jesus wants us anyway?