Let's set up the story here.
Character One: John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin and was born six months before Christ. As an adult, he preached about 30 miles from Jerusalem in the wilderness of Judea. John had two purposes in preaching. First of all was to bear witness of Christ (verse 15) and second, was to reveal "the record" about Christ (verse 19).
John had an unusual way of living. We know from Mark 1:5-7 that he dressed in camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist.He also had an unusual diet of locusts and wild honey. Yummy, right? We also see that John was very humble. Even as the Jewish leaders confront him, he doesn't make great claims for himself or try to draw honor and glory for himself.
Character(s) Two: When the word Jews is used in the Gospels, it is generally meant to refer to the Jewish religious authorities.
There are two different types of Jewish authorities that we are going to focus on here.
The first is the Levites. They were of Jewish descent, most specifically from the tribe of Levi (one of Jacob's twelve sons). They were God's chosen servants and were called specifically by God to serve as his priests and/or workers in the temple. However, by the time of Christ, they were not the devoted followers of God that you would imagine a called servant of the Lord would be. By the time of Christ they had become calloused, cold-hearted, and self-righteous. They were obsessed with tradition (think "Fiddler on the Roof") and were no longer following God out of devotion, but out of duty and routine.
The second group of Jewish authorities that we will focus on are the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group of men who emerged during the four hundred "silent years" before Christ's birth (between Malachi in the Old Testament and Matthew in the New Testament). These men believed that because Israel did not follow God's law, this was the reason why they were taken into captive in the Old Testament times. So, they believed that to return to the true nation of Israel, they needed to bring Israel back to God by strictly following the Old Testament Laws. Was it such a bad idea that they had? What are some examples that you can think of that can be used to illustrate the Pharisees and Levites as described here?
Now, in this passage, the Jewish leaders approach John with five questions to figure out just what this crazy man was doing and preaching to their people. What are these five questions and how does John answer them? Why do you think they came asking John these questions.
Let's look a little more closely at the Spiritual Condition of the Jewish Leaders. They are suffering from three different spiritual "ailments". The first one is Spiritual Ignorance. Isaiah 40 gives a complete prophecy of John the Baptist. In fact, it is almost verbatim in its description of John. So, the Jews should have known and recognized John as the prophesied forerunner. However, they still come and ask him "who are you," hinting at the fact that they don't recognize him even there.
They also suffer from Spiritual Pride. They come to question him because they are afraid of the power that John might have and the fact that he might steal their job. It's almost like they're saying, "who do you think you are to tell men to repent? You aren't one of us!!!! You don't have the right religious education and training, like us!" So the question becomes, did John have the right to baptize? Why? Well, John stands his ground under their pressure and confesses, first who he was, and second, he didn't deny who he was or what he was doing. He knew that he was called by God and in the right.
Lastly, the Jews are suffering from Spiritual Confusion. After questioning him and hearing his answer, they still ask him if he was Elijah ('that prophet"). Now the reason they ask him this is because at this point in time, the Jews believed that Elijah, who if you recall, had not dies but had been lifted up to heaven in a whirlwind (1 Kings), would come back to earth. So, they were thinking he was truly Elijah. As an interesting note, we see that the disciples weren't confused in Matthew 16:13-14. They knew exactly who the true Christ was, and they didn't have the educational background!
Enough about the Jewish Leaders. Let's look at what John does to place Christ in the spotlight despite the blindness of the Jewish Leaders. First of all, John calls himself a voice. This is very significant. If you remember in the beginning of John 1, Christ is called the Word. Think of it this way:
1. The Word exists in the mind before the voice utters it--Christ, the Word, had existed before John, the voice, came to announce Him.
2. A voice is heard, not seen. In other words, as we see in this passage, John didn't put himself in the spotlight, but continued to point to Christ.
3. The Word remains after the voice is silent. Even after John was silenced, Christ remains.
We see on the next day in Bethabara, or "Bethany beyond Jordan," that John continues to exalt Christ and place him in the spotlight as the Lamb of God. This is when Christ's baptism takes place. It occurs the day after the Jewish leaders had publicly questioned John. In fact, we see in verse 30, that John refers to the questions of the day before and then reveals that Christ was the very man they were looking for. However, they weren't really looking for Jesus as we know him. They were looking for a prophet, Elijah, a king. They didn't want the spiritual Savior that Christ represented. And this sets us up for the constant battle between Christ and the Jewish leaders as they reject him and all that he represents.
So, the question becomes, who do you line up with most in this story? Who can you identify with the most?
If you line up with John, what are you doing to exalt Christ and put him in the spotlight?
If you line up with the Jews, which Spiritual Condition are you struggling with the most? What can you do to escape Spiritual Ignorance, Pride, and/or Confusion? How can you help others who are struggling with these?