Looking for Something Better

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on Oct 15, 2017

John 1:19-51

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If you would turn with me to John chapter 1, found on page 886 in your pew Bibles. John chapter 1 begins with those famous and staggering truths about Jesus Christ. That, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have beheld his glory, as of the only son from the Father.” It’s almost as if John is beginning his gospel with a hymn of praise to the glory of Christ. And yet tucked into that introduction, into that prologue, there are a couple of references about the ministry and the witness of John the Baptist. Well in the rest of chapter 1, what we’ll read tonight, John is giving us the details about that witness of John the Baptist and how John the Baptist, in his ministry, served as a precursor to Jesus’ own public ministry. And now as these verses are pointing us to Jesus, they’re directing our attention to Him, what we find here is almost an exhaustive glossary or index of terms about Jesus. Just take note of this as we read through these verses. All the terms that refer to Jesus – Son of God, Lamb of God, Messiah, Christ, King of Israel, Son of Man, and many others.

And what I want us to do and to see from this passage tonight is that Jesus is the only answer to some of the biggest questions in life. Now as you talk to other people, and what you see and what you read in the media, even the questions that you may deal with yourselves, some of those questions, some of the biggest questions are, “Who can I trust? What do I do with my guilt or with my sin? And is there anything more significant or more meaningful to life?” We’ll see those questions addressed in this passage as we study them. Let’s go to the Lord in prayer and then read this together.

Our Father, we give You thanks for Your Word. We give You thanks for the way it points us to Jesus and my prayer now is, as the ministry of John the Baptist, that he would decrease and Christ would increase, would that happen tonight; that we would see Jesus and bask in His glory and bow in worship before Him and seek to serve Him with all that we do. We pray these things in Jesus’ name, amen.

John 1, beginning in verse 19:

“And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ 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?’ 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.’

(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, ‘Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’ These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’  Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

Three pressing questions I mentioned a moment ago. “Who can I trust? What do I do with my guilt? And what is more significant in this life?” They will frame our study of this passage as we look through it tonight, and I want us to do so under three points. They are – truth, forgiveness, and wonder. Truth, forgiveness, and wonder.

Truth

First is truth. The main idea of this passage is that of witness. Witness in telling others about Jesus. Just notice how everything in this passage is pointing to Jesus. First, with John the Baptist, if you look back in verse 19, the very first verse we read, “This is the testimony of John.” In verse 31, it says, “For this purpose” – these are John’s words – “For this purpose I came baptizing with water that he,” – Jesus – “might be revealed to Israel.” And in verse 32, John bore witness. “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove and it remained on him.” That’s the witness of John, and it’s actually confirming the witness of God Himself – God’s witness to John the Baptist saying that when you see that, you will know which one Jesus is. And in verse 34, John says, “I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God.” It’s the witness of John the Baptist. And when he sees Jesus coming, he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” And two of his own disciples go and they follow Jesus.

Witnesses to the Messiah

And what happens when they go and follow Jesus? It’s Andrew, one of John’s disciples, follows Jesus and he goes and tells his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah.” And what does Peter do? Peter follows after Jesus as well. The next day, Jesus sees Philip and calls Philip to follow Him. And what does Philip do? Philip goes and he finds Nathaniel. And he says, “We have found Him of whom Moses and the law and the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph.” So not only is Philip sharing his own message about Jesus, but he’s also pointing to the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures. And he’s saying that those things which were written hundreds of years ago, some over a thousand years ago, those were written about Jesus. So John the Baptist, his disciples, God Himself, through John and through the Old Testament Scriptures, those are all witnesses to Jesus in this passage.

And even at the end of this passage when we read that Jesus tells Nathaniel, “You will see greater things than these,” what’s he talking about? He’s talking about the signs that they will see that are recorded in the rest of this gospel which are confirming who Jesus is; those signs which culminate in His own death and His resurrection. Everyone’s attention, including our own, is being directed to Jesus. How do you know who Jesus is and how do you know what Jesus came to do? It is on account of the testimony of these witnesses that are recorded here in John chapter 1, as well as those that are recorded throughout the Scriptures. But is that enough? Is that enough? After all, we live in what some call an age of distrust. Studies show that in general, people’s trust in businesses, in media, in government, in other organization is on the decline.

Post-Truth World

And there’s this paradox about it in our culture; isn’t there? That there’s more information than we’ve ever had before, but oftentimes that information comes with less understanding or with less confidence in the reliability of that information. In fact, over the last few years, at the end of each year, a lot of times the editors of a dictionary, the publishers of a dictionary, will pick the word of the year. Well, some of the words of the year over the past few years have been words like "truthiness." You've heard the word truthiness? It's a word that means something seems true, but it may not actually be true. Last year, the word of the year, 2016 word of the year was "post-truth." Post-truth just means that objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion. That's the kind of world that we live in.

In fact, I had a student tell me not that long ago, he said, “You know, I’ve just learned not to trust anybody. I’ve just learned not to trust anyone.” And that may be a common sentiment, but it’s a sad conclusion to draw from our circumstances and our situation. It may be easy to see how somebody could come to that conclusion, because we’ve all been let down by someone we respect. Someone turned out to be someone that we didn’t realize they were. We’ve all been betrayed. We’ve had our heart broken by those who were closest to us; those people who should have had our best interests in mind. And yet it’s impossible to live without trusting others. For one thing, none of us have the authority to determine right from wrong. None of us is the arbiter of truth. And none of us are able to go out and to determine and to test everything to find out whether it’s true or not. We all rely on what others tell us and what others pass on to us. And we use that information to make our own decisions; to form what we know. In fact, most of what we know, even going back to the earliest days of our lives, aren’t they formed by what others have told us to us and passed on to us because we held them to be trustworthy and we were told from multiple different people that we trusted?

Are They Trustworthy?

And so the question then, is this, “Are the witnesses to Jesus trustworthy? Are the witnesses to Jesus reliable? Sure, John the Baptist was a bit unorthodox in his methods. Wasn't he? He lived out in the wilderness, he wore clothes of camel hair. He ate wild honey and locusts. But his message was true. After all, the priests and the Levites, we read about them coming out to him from Jerusalem. They wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. Why were the crowds going to John the Baptist? Well, it's very evident that the crowds held John the Baptist to be credible; didn't they? And any commotion that he caused came not because he was insane; it came because he was so sane. He spoke truth, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the consequences. In fact, that's what got him into trouble with Herod. Wasn't it? He spoke to truth to Herod and it ended up costing him his life and losing his head. We're told in another gospel that all the people held that John the Baptist was a prophet. He was a credible witness.

And his character backed up his credibility also, didn’t it, because everything we see about him in this passage he comes across with complete humility and deference. He says, “No, I am not the Christ. I am just the forerunner.” And his witness is to one who is greater than him. He says, “I am not even worthy to untie His sandal strap.” He’s lower than a slave in comparison to Jesus. It’s complete humility. And he does not even prevent his own disciples from leaving him and following after Jesus. John the Baptist is convinced of what he has seen regarding Jesus. And even if he, later on, has his doubts, as we read about in other gospels, doesn't that give us, even more, reliability about his witness because the gospels, the Bible is not presenting to us some cleaned up version of the witnesses. They're presenting to us real people with flaws, and yet John the Baptist in his character and his credibility are there for us to believe. And what's more, is that everything that John says about Jesus, all those terms that we read in this passage, they confirm the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures. And everything that Jesus does in His ministry and what is recorded here in this gospel, it confirms the witness of John and it confirms the witness of the Old Testament Scriptures as well.

I saw a testimony from a man recently. He’s a Jewish man who had come to faith in Jesus. He was raised in a typical Jewish family and he knew something of the Old Testament Scriptures, and yet he started to read the New Testament, he started to read about Jesus, and he was compelled about this message of Jesus. And he says that as he came to faith in Jesus he recognized that it was the most Jewish thing that he could do. He said, “This is the one who was promised in our Old Testament Scriptures.” You see, the Scriptures confirm the witness of John the Baptist. And if anything is more compelling than all the ways that Jesus fulfills the Scriptures, it’s that at the end of this gospel He is raised from the dead just as He said would be done. The resurrection confirms the testimony of Scripture. The resurrection confirms the testimony of John the Baptist. The Christian witness, the Christian message could have been discredited very easily if there had been a body in the grave, if the body of Jesus had been brought out and demonstrated to the crowds. It would have all fallen apart. And yet, the disciples, from those earliest days, they were convinced of the message of the resurrection so much so that they took the message of the resurrection to the far points of the earth and they died for the sake of their message, for the sake of the message of the resurrection. You see, this is no leap of faith. This is not blind faith by which we come to the gospels and we come to faith in Jesus Christ. The Gospel message is built on solid testimony. We can trust this message about Jesus Christ.

The Bible is True and Reliable

I went to Back to School Night a few months ago here at First Pres Day School and we were sitting in there and hearing just about some of the things that were going on in sixth grade this year. And Leigh Anne Moore, which many of you know, is one of the sixth-grade teachers. She’s the Bible teacher as well. And she told this story at Back to School Night that she opened up one of the classes and she was saying just some of these difficult questions about the Scripture. “How do you know that it’s true? How do you know that it’s God’s Word?” She was getting into the things that they were going to be covering over the year in sixth-grade and learning about the Bible. “How do you know that it’s true?” And she said that at the end of that, as she posed those questions to them, one student came up to her with the Bible in hand and tears welling in their eyes and said, “You can’t make me not trust this Book. You can’t make me not trust this Book.”

We trust this Book because this book is true and it is reliable. And John writes in chapter 20 in verses 30 and 31 that “These things were written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in His name we may have life in His name.” Life. That’s what this is giving to us. That’s what these witnesses are pointing us to – life in Jesus’ name.

Forgiveness

Now one of the aspects of that life that we have in Christ’s name is that of forgiveness. That’s our second point. The second nagging question that this passage answers – “What can be done with my sin? What can be done with my guilt?” You know if we’re honest with ourselves, one of the reasons that we struggle to trust other people is because we know deep down that we’re not always very trustworthy ourselves. We’ve let people down and we’ve done things that have messed up. Maybe we’ve messed up in big ways; maybe we’ve just messed up in small ways in our everyday responsibilities. But I’m sure that everyone here feels like they could be better, they should be better. To be a better parent, a better spouse, a better friend. For children here, feel like you could be or should be a better child to your parent. We’ve hurt people with the way that we talk to them or talk about them. And we’re oftentimes not as committed to Christ and this church as we should be. Are we? We know that we could read the Bible more, we could pray more, we could give more generously. Sometimes we feel like a fake. And there’s no way in a group like this, this size, that there’s not someone here struggling with the guilt that comes from sexual immorality of some kind – a broken marriage, a serious addiction. We struggle with guilt. What do we do with our sin?

Ravi Zacharias tells a story. He says it’s an old story about a man named Saphronias. And Saphronias forbade his daughter from going to spend time with this other person who was known to have a bit of loose morals; had a carefree reputation. He would not let his daughter go be with her. And she said, “Why not? What hurt will it do? Do you not trust me?” And so Saphronias reached into the fireplace. It was a dead fireplace; it was a cold fireplace but there were coals in there. And he handed out a coal to his daughter and said, “Here, take it.” She said, “No, I do not want the coal.” He said, “Why? It will not burn you.” And she said, “Well, it may not burn me, but it will blacken.” And at that moment, she realized the lesson that he was trying to say to her. It’s that sin stains and the guilt of sin is like the soot on that dead coal from the fireplace. It spreads into other areas of our lives. That guilt may cause us to lash out at other people. It may cause us to hide from others. And we become experts, don’t we, at rationalizing. We become experts at justifying our behavior or just ignoring it and acting like it’s not there. Maybe it will just go away. But none of those tactics work. Do they? We all know deep down that it’s still there and that we need something better. That’s what we find here in this passage. It points us to someone better.

The Lamb of God

John the Baptist, he came, doing what? Verse 31, “He came baptizing with water in order to prepare the way for Jesus.” His message, you see, it was to repent and get ready for the coming of the kingdom of God; get ready for the coming of Jesus. And his baptism signified the need for cleansing from sin. It signified the need to be spared from God’s judgment. Luke chapter 3 tells us that “John went around all the region around the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And when he saw Jesus coming, what did he say? “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John is identifying Jesus with all those sacrifices from the Old Testament. Whether it was the substitute in the place of Isaac and Abraham; perhaps it was the Passover lamb as the people were freed out of slavery in Egypt. Or the lamb in Isaiah that, “like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” John is identifying Jesus with that lamb from the Old Testament; the Lamb that is provided by God to take away sin.

And this Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world does not just take away the sins of the people of Israel but for anyone who will trust in Him. That's a remarkable thing that John is saying here about Jesus. He's saying that before Jesus' ministry even begins, His very purpose in coming is to die. And His death is to be the once and for all sacrifice to take away sin and guilt. What can be done about our sin and our guilt? Jesus has taken that guilt on Himself. Jesus took our sin to the cross. "My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! O my soul!" You see, if you trust in Jesus, the Lamb of God, and rest in His death and His resurrection, your sin cannot condemn you. You are free from the stain and from the blemish of sin. You are free from the burden and the weight of your guilt. And you are free to turn to Jesus, to turn to God in repentance and to confess your sins to a heavenly Father who loves you, who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. And who loves You so much that He sent His Holy Spirit to give you new power to enable you and to motivate you to change and to walk in righteousness and to live a life that is pleasing to God. That is grace. That is the grace of God, which is the only way for us to deal with our sin; the only way for us to deal with our guilt. And that grace is at the heart of the new life in Christ.

Wonder

And that new life in Christ comes with great joy and great wonder forever. And that’s the last thing I want us to see from this passage. It’s the wonder of Jesus and how that glory that surrounds Jesus is the answer to that question, “Is there anything more significant in my life? Is there anything better than the here and the now?” Now maybe it’s because we live in Mississippi that we sort of appreciate, don’t we, deep down, this interaction between Philip, Nathaniel, and Jesus in verse 45. I think you know why we appreciate it. Because Philip says that they found the one that had been promised in the Scriptures, Jesus of Nazareth. And what does Nathaniel say? “What good can come out of Nazareth?” It’s so memorable and yet it’s so dismissive. You see, Nazareth is the beacon of insignificance. Nazareth is the home of the burned out and the washed up and the over-stressed and the broke-down and the dead-tired. Nazareth is the land of the looser and the overlooked and the outcast. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Come and see.

The Glory of Jesus

And Jesus meets Nathaniel and He tells him that He saw him when he was under the fig tree. We don’t know exactly what that means, but whatever it means, it was obviously miraculous knowledge that Jesus had of Nathaniel. And what does Nathaniel say? He says, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” He recognizes, doesn’t he, that something good can come out of Nazareth. In fact, nothing better has ever come out of anywhere else but Jesus coming out of Nazareth. But what does Jesus say to Nathaniel? “You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” What’s Jesus’ referring to there? He’s referring to Jacob’s dream back in Genesis chapter 28 when heaven was opened and the glory of heaven came down. And he’s referring to Daniel’s vision in Daniel chapter 7 where the Son of Man is promised dominion. He’s given dominion and power over an eternal kingdom. You see, this is the glory of Jesus. And this is what will be demonstrated by all of the signs that Jesus will carry out in His ministry which culminates in His death and resurrection. These are the greater things which Jesus is promising that Nathaniel will see. This is the glory which all who follow Jesus, all who trust in Jesus will see one day.

And maybe you feel like you’re living a Nazareth life. You think, “How many more sporting events can I sit through?” Or, “How much more time in front of a screen can I endure and think there has to be something that is more satisfying?” How many of you think, you read the news stories, you see the news and how many more stories about President Trump’s tweets can I read without thinking, “There has to be something more important than this. There has to be.” How many of you are worn out by the pace and the busyness of your schedules and your responsibilities and you just want more, more significance, something better?

In our house, we have two indoor cats – Princess Buttercup and Reeses. Don't judge! They're indoor cats, they have a great life, they're well cared for, but something I think they look out the window and they see the other animals running around and they think, "There's got to be something better out there!" Maybe we think the same thing sometimes, don't we? Something better has got to be out there for us. Well, that's what we're told about Jesus in John chapter 1. It's that He is better and we will see greater things than whatever we struggle with today. And whatever has us bogged down today, we will see greater things. And we will see and spend eternity in the presence of the glory of Christ. And that is the hope that we need to serve God well today and tomorrow and the next day. Listen to what Paul writes in Titus chapter 2. This gets right at the heart of what we're talking about here. Titus 2 verse 11, "The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works."

The Hope of Glory

You see what Paul is saying there? It is the hope of glory. The hope of glory gives us a wonder and an awe that provides an ultimate significance and meaning for all of our lives for those who are trusting in Jesus Christ. And it turns everything that we do into worship for God. That’s significant. Everything we do is to worship God. My invitation to you, if you do not know that hope, is that you would hear this call from Jesus. Come and see. Come and see Him. Trust Him, and follow Him, and find the life that is promised to us in this Gospel. And if you trust in Him, if you trust in Jesus, remember again what is the main idea of this passage. What’s the pattern of this chapter? It’s that of being a witness – that we, as Christ’s followers, are called to be witnesses to Christ. You know what? We can be confident in that work, in that task. Why can we be so confident? Because our message is true. It’s built on solid testimony. Our message is one of forgiveness. It’s the answer to the biggest problem, the central problem that all people face, and that is sin. We have forgiveness with Christ. And our message is one of unmatched wonder. You see, the Gospel strikes at the most pressing questions and struggles that people face. We have a message to tell.

You know, I got done preparing this sermon and thinking through it. The three points I had were truth, forgiveness, and wonder. And I thought back through it again and I realized, “You know, I could have changed that and it could be faith, love, and hope.” Faith, hope, and love. Those are basically the ABCs of Christianity; the ABCs of the Gospel. The very basics of the Gospel message. You see, even at the most basic, at an ABC level, the Gospel has an answer to the most pressing questions of our lives. We cannot afford to keep silent; not for the sake of others and not for the sake of the glory of Christ. So let’s join in that work of being a true disciple of Christ and join in that task of being a witness and say, “Come and see. Come and see. Jesus is better.”

Let’s pray.

Father, we thank You that You have called us to be Your disciples, to be followers of Christ, and to live lives of freedom and joy. We pray that You would, as we go out from here, that You would fill us with joy and freedom and love for You and love for our neighbor, that we would serve You well and preach, proclaim, witness, testify of what You have done for us and how much better Jesus is. We pray that You would do that for Your glory and we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

© 2017 First Presbyterian Church.

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