Advent 4 Sermon, 2021

“And they asked [John], ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ [And] he said, ‘I am not’” (John 1:21).

But Jesus says in Matthew chapter eleven: “If you are willing to accept it, [John the Baptist] is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:14-15).

This seems like a contradiction, but it’s not.

There are many things you can’t claim for yourself—by yourself.

If a man says, “I am the most humble man on earth,” you know he’s not.

You don’t loudly claim humility for yourself.

And—if a birthing person who happens to teach Women’s Studies at an inner-city community college claims that 2+2 is 5, you know she’s lying.

There are objective facts that don’t care about your feelings, that cannot be changed by sheer force of will.

Likewise, no human being claims salvation for himself.

Lots of people say, “I am saved because I…”

But that’s not true.

There is salvation only because God…

There is not salvation because I…

Dead things cannot choose to become alive.

And Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).

Salvation requires God’s action and work—not man’s.

So when John denies of himself what Jesus Himself ascribes to John—both are correct.

John can’t choose to be Elijah any more than Mary chose to be the mother of God.

But he is who Jesus says he is—Elijah who is to come.

He is who the Lord through Isaiah says he is, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23).

You don’t choose the cross God gives you—but neither do you back down from bearing it.

Today, we should learn what to say about ourselves—and what to say about God.

The priests and Levites ask John six questions.

He had six opportunities to make the conversation all about himself.

“Who are you?” they ask him, and he could’ve told them that he was the son of Elizabeth, who was advanced in years and barren.

If you were granted a seemingly miraculous birth, you’d be sure to share it. Today—you can make a lot of money telling and selling a story like that.

Lots of people do.

“Who are you?” they ask him, and he could’ve told them that he was the son of Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, the mother of God.

If God were your cousin, you’d be sure to share it. Your profile picture would have Him in it, and you’d be sure to include Him in your bio.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know—and who you’re related to, right?

“Who are you?” they ask him, and he could’ve told them that he should’ve been named after his father Zechariah, a priest before God who was made mute by the angel Gabriel for not believing the angel’s word.

If you had a story like that, about an angel of the Lord who personally interacted with your dad, you’d tell it. Every few years a book is published about something like that.

“Who are you?” we’re asked, and we love to tell our story.

Really, though, we’re like drug addicts.

The minute you take a drug, drink alcohol, or smoke a cigarette—when you get a like on social media or a follow or a share—all of those experiences produce dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure.

And that gives you a high.

And since it’s difficult to predict what, exactly, will be liked—the high increases exponentially as content goes viral.

But the fall is worse.

Like a drug addict, again, fewer likes or none leads to paranoia. You blame the algorithm and your friends.

You blame everything you can think of to keep you from putting your phone down and going outside.

This may not be you—but it’s all around you.

That’s how science measures it, but I think it has a closer parallel in Eden when Satan convinces Adam and Eve that they’re the main characters of the Bible.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The serpent says to Eve, “You will not surely die. You will be like God” (cf. Genesis 3:1-5), and then, everything will be about you.

That’s what we like.

So today, learn from John what to say about yourself.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, and John remembered the words.

He is who and what God made him to be: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23).

John isn’t the main character.

And neither are you.

The Bible is the story of your salvation, but it’s the story of your salvation in and through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

John’s role is to prepare the way of the Lord.

This he does, turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers through the preaching of repentance.

Our role is to receive the Christ, to hear His word and believe it. To fear, love, and trust the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

This is how to speak of yourself. Answer the question: “Who are you to God?”

If you’re a sinner, you’re a forgiven sinner. If you grieve, you grieve yet with hope. If you’re weak, He is your strength. If you’re sick, He is your health.

Better than a cousin, you are God’s own child.

Share that!

He has marked you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified and claims you as His own.

“Who are you?” we’re asked from time to time.

And the Psalms give this answer:

“I am yours [O Lord]; save me” (Psalm 119:94).

And He has.

This is where to begin, when you speak of yourself.

But today, we should also learn what to say about God.

It’s given to John to prepare the way of the Lord.

So he does, and in doing so, Jesus says that John is Elijah who was promised, “turning the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers” (cf. Malachi 4:5).

John is not the Christ.

So he makes sure he can’t be confused for the Christ.

He says, “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” (John 1:26-27).

“Now this was the manner of attesting in Israel, the custom in former times concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other” (cf. Ruth 4:7).

John the Baptist is not the Christ.

He’s not the Redeemer.

So he won’t even touch the sandal of the Christ, lest anyone be confused about who is and is not the Redeemer.

Yes, John is being humble.

Yes, the feet and sandals are dirty, and John’s saying that he’s dirtier and more defiled than the dirt on Jesus’ feet.

He gets right what Uzzah got wrong (2 Samuel 6:6-7).

It is meet and right so to do.

But more than that, in mentioning the sandal, John recalls when Boaz redeemed Ruth.

“When the [other man] said to Boaz, ‘Redeem [the land, Naomi, and Ruth] yourself,’ he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘You are witnesses this day that I have [redeemed them]” (cf. Ruth 4:8-10).

The sandal was the manner of attesting in Israel, the custom in former times concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other.

John the Baptist prepares the way of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and identifies Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

He is the Redeemer.

John is not.

So John says of himself that he isn’t worthy to untie the sandal—that he must decrease and the Christ must increase (John 3:30).

He who has ears to hear, let him hear—and be content with what the Lord says and does.

There are many things you can’t claim for yourself—by yourself.

In the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the Lord claims you.

In the water and the word, the Lord claims you.

Rejoice!

The Lord comes to His people and redeems them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 4 Sermon, 2021
John 1:19-28
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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