Having given to us the urgency concerning the advent of God the Word, John here tells us of the herald of the very Word. Through the Prophet Malachi, we learn that word of the Lord, “Behold, I will send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me.” (Malachi 3:1 LXX). Now here, the apostle tells us that this John (the Baptist) is “sent from God,” and thus, being the Lord’s messenger, we must recognize that the words that he speaks are not the words of a mere man, but rather they themselves are a message from the Lord. The sheer fact that the Lord refers to him as a “messenger” implies that he speaks not for himself, but for He who sent him. A postal employee doesn’t deliver his own letters, rather words that are written by others. Thus was John the Baptist merely a courier for the message of the Lord.
And, what was this message exactly? For what purpose was John sent? This Forerunner of Christ was sent to reveal that God the Word was this light which the apostle had already proclaimed to be the light which leads to life for all who walk in it. And yet, one may say, we know that God “will not receive the testimony of men.” (John 5:34). So, if God required not the testimony of men, then to what purpose was John sent? Rather than that those who believed not would come to believe, but instead that those who would believe would be able to learn form one of their own. John came to prepare those who would believe for the coming of the Lord. “That all through him might believe.” This word believe gets used so much in our contemporary culture, especially concerning the things of faith. And, while this mental assent is a portion of faith, the word believe means to trust fully and completely in. Which is why so often when we read about obedience, it is in reference to the phrase “that your faith might be perfected.” (1 Corinthians 2:5, 1 John 4:17, Philemon 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 3, etc). As we read later, while John’s testimony was used by Jesus, it was overshadowed by the witness of the Holy Spirit. We read that “If I bear witness to Myself, My witness is not true…you have sent John and his witness is true…he was the bright and shining lamp and you were willing to rejoice in his light.” (John 5:31,33,35). But, we also read that “I have a greater witness than John’s, for the works the Father has given Me to finish bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” (John 5:36). See, John, who was received by men, serves as a witness to the coming of the Messiah, and yet, his witness is only partially effective compared to the witness of the works of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. John’s strongest witness was bourne in his witness to teaching those who did believe and leading them to the Messiah. He was sent as a herald and a prophet that by the voice of a man, other men might be prepared by one of their kin for the coming of the Messiah.
But, lest any should immediately assume that John himself was of a divine nature, the apostle immediately adds, “he was not that light.” See, this becomes imperative, because so often our nature elevates the messenger as being more responsible for the message than the one who sends the message. I think of the very leaders whose names define their movements. Consider the number of denominations named after the theologian who devised the denomination rather than the God that they serve. I have heard it said that great movements of God begin when the founder of the movement truly knows God…and those same movements die when the followers only know the founder. The death of the Church as we have come to know it will be when the followers of the Christ become very familiar with the words of the teachers, but cease to know God. When God is reduced to the exponent in an equation and His Holy Scripture is reduced to a Hermeneutical formulary created by man, rather than the “double edged sword” that Paul writes about in Hebrews. When the 2000 year old traditions of the Church are erased to pave the way completely for theological relativism, the Church as we have come to know it will no longer be. When the very children of God, about whom the Lord wrote, “this is how they will know you are My disciples, by the love that you have for one another” (John 13:35) divide and argue over different teachers, proclaiming this teacher to be better than that teacher (circa 1 Corinthians 1:12-13); and judging one another’s beliefs rather than trying to edify one another.
This light which John came to bear witness to was not himself, nor any of the apostles, Rabbis, Scribes, teachers, nor any other man; but was Christ Himself. “And all the light was the true light that was given to every man.” See, this light is offered to all, not any particular elite group of elected individuals. Not to any particular ethnicity or lineage. No, God does not select an elect group of people to save and then deign that the rest should perish. Peter teaches us that “the Lord is not slack concerning His promise…but is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). Paul teaches us that God “desires that all men be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4).
God desires that all men be saved and that none should perish, but then John tells us that “He came down to His own and His own did not receive Him.” What do we do with that verse? Pretend it’s not there? Consider this, God came down to His “chosen people,” His elect nation; the Jews. And yet, they were the very ones who rejected Him. Now, in absentia of our own will, what does this say about our Lord? If He is not willing that anyone should perish, and desires that none of us perish but all come to knowledge of the truth; and yet His very people are able to reject His, then one of two things must be true. Either, God has no power to save us, or God allows us to freely choose to either accept or reject Him. Obviously it could not be the former, for we know that God is all-powerful, thus, it must be the second. That this light which leads to life is offered to all, and yet we have freely the choice to accept or reject it. The apostle goes on to state that “as many as receive Him, He gave the right to be sons of God.” And this “right” is not an inalienable right; it is the word “exousia,” which literally means the “power of choice, the physical and mental power, the authority.” Thus, as many as receive Him, He gives them the power to choose to become sons of God, the authority to become sons of God. Do you understand what this is saying? When we receive Christ we are given the ability to become sons of God, we become children of God by adoption and by grace we inherit that which God is by His very nature. We become “co-workers of God” (1 Corinthians 3:9), “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
And this adoption is based neither on ethnic descent (of the blood), neither natural birth (will of flesh), nor man’s own decision (will of man). No, this adoption is of God, it’s a spiritual birth by grace, through faith, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. We freely receive the gift which the Lord, in His grace, offers us, and are baptized. And through this baptism, we are born “of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5), are “buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him in faith” (Colossians 2:12, Romans 6:4); thereby becoming “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Ultimately, we restore, through God’s grace, the original theanthropic form into which He created us, where “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20), and we can truly proclaim with St Paul, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14). This is what the Scripture means when it says that we must “die to ourselves,” we must put to death all of these indulgences that we have grown so accustomed to embracing. We must no longer pursue the things of the flesh, but rather, pursue the things of the Spirit. To “deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Him,” means that we must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow in His footsteps. It’s not allegorical when He says to deny ourselves, it means that there are certain things in our lives that we must actively resist, and other things that we must be willing to be removed from us. I heard a priest recently who posed a very important question to his parish, one which I feel that we must all truly, deeply meditate on; and answer in all honesty. Think about your sins; now if you could push a button and remove that sin from your life completely, would you? Think of your favorite sin, maybe it’s lust, maybe covetousness, maybe dishonesty, maybe drunkeness. Your favorite sin could be completely removed from your life; would you do it? See, it’s easy to say, “I want to be free from sin,” but it’s hard to honestly say “yes,” because we tend to love our sin. See, Jesus frees us from sin’s power over us, but He still allows us our free choice, and so often, we return to those things because we miss the pleasure that they bring. As Peter writes, quoting from Proverbs, “‘A dog returns to it’s vomit,’ and ‘A sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.'” (2 Peter 2:22). So are we when it comes to sin. We must be freed by the grace of Christ, but then we must be willing to continue to choose against it. Praying that the Lord would free us from the sin of pornography will do little if we keep websites bookmarked and photos on our phones. He may free us from the bondage, but then, through our own choice, we return to the same filth which He freed us from and find ourselves in the same situation.
We are adopted as children of the living God; heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ. Because of that, our lives should reflect it, in all aspects of them. When Peter tells us that we are to “be holy, as the Lord is holy,” it is not merely by proclamation of our faith that we are made so, but also through the life that we present to our beloved Lord. We must be holy, and we are empowered to do so through the grace of the Lord, but we must also choose that path, that walk, that we may continue on the road to healing. We must pray for the grace to be freed from our slavery to sin, but we must also put forth the effort that displays that grace. As John the Baptist states, “bare fruit worthy of repentance.”
May the peace of the Lord be with you, my beloved brethern.