Our Lord’s Witness to John
Alan H. Linton, Bristol, England
From John’s witness to Jesus we turn to consider Jesus’ witness to John. The Lord Jesus was always warm in His appreciation of any service rendered to Him but sparing in His eulogies. John, however, was singled out from all who had preceded him and our Lord spoke of him in terms of the highest honour. He voiced these eulogies when John’s brief ministry was all but over, and as he languished in a prison dungeon in the fortress of Machaerus on the east side of the Jordan.
News of the Lord’s activities of healing and raising the dead, and the testimonies of the people that ’a great prophet is risen among us’, and ’God has visited His people’, Luke 7. 16, reached John in prison. This raised questions in John’s mind as to whether or not Jesus was the Christ and he sent two of his disciples to enquire, ’Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?’ Luke 7. 19. It is a comfort to us to know that someone as great as John, and to whom the signs of Messiah’s identity had been given, should have doubts. Scripture does not conceal the failures and weaknesses of God’s servants and, under the pressures of incarceration, John was a prey to doubt and disappointment. Having seen the surpassing compassion of the Lord and witnessed Him at work, the disciples were sent back to tell John all they had seen and heard. The inference was that he should reflect on the credentials of the Messiah as foretold by Isaiah, Isa. 35. 5, thus encouraging His faithful servant to rest on the word of God.
Many in the crowd would have heard the Lord’s closing comment to John’s disciples, ’Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’, Luke 7. 23. They might have supposed it to be a rebuke but the Lord was careful to ensure that His faithful servant should not suffer any reproach.
So it was that after John’s disciples had departed to their master, Jesus put a series of rhetorical questions to the crowd, each introduced by, ’What did you go out into the wilderness to see?’, Luke 7. 24. The answer to each of these was self-evident.
i. ’A reed shaken by the wind?’
A reed bent before the wind was a picture of someone without strength or resolution to stand alone; but, infers our Lord, the crowds would never have flocked to the wilderness to see such a man. John was no reed bent before winds of opposition and adversity.
ii. ’A man clothed in soft garments?’
The people would remember how John, dressed like Elijah before him, lived a life of spartan austerity in the desert. He had no use for the soft garments of ease or the rich fare of self-indulgence. John had been stern and steadfast, not only in the desert, but also before the king. He had the iron strength of self-discipline and integrity.
iii. ’A prophet?’
The crowds acknowledged that John was a prophet, Matt. 21. 26, and the nation went to the desert to hear this last of the prophets after four hundred long years of silence. But the Lord continued, ’Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet’. Others had been sent to foretell the coming of the Messiah, but John was unique in preparing the way and proclaiming the Christ. He was the last in line of the prophets of the Messiah and brought this special ministry to a close.
From rhetorical questions the Lord passed to direct speech, ’among them that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist’, Luke 7. 28. John stood out in front of all; even Abraham, Moses and Elijah; men would never see the like of him again. He was the last of the prophets living under the old dispensation; but he belonged to the age of preparation for the new. Yet, those who are least in the Kingdom of Heaven know greatness to which John was a stranger. He was only the ’friend’ of the ’Bridegroom’; they were to be the bride. But the most striking of our Lord’s great eulogies to John was when He said, ’He was the burning and shining lamp’, John 5. 35. Jesus was on trial by the religious leaders for Sabbath- breaking and blasphemy and they called up various witnesses to His claim to be divine. John was one of those witnesses. John’s lamp of testimony had fulfilled its function – he had illuminated the way to the true Light and had proclaimed Him to be the Son of God. What the world needs today is men and women prepared to shine for Jesus Christ. Jesus said, ’You are the light of the world, let your light shine before men’, Matt. 5. 14, 16. John did not hide his light under a ’basket’; nor should we! The churches in Revelation 1 are described as lampstands. ’God . . . has shined in our hearts . . . if, now, our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing’, 2 Cor. 4. 3, 6.
Keep me shining Lord,
Keep me shining Lord,
In all I say and do.
That the world may see
Christ lives in me,
And seek to love Him too.
A lamp is of no value unless it gives light, and a lamp can only give light as it burns! The domestic lamp of John’s day was a simple, earthenware vessel containing oil, a wick and a flame. John was a wick and a wick only exists to be consumed. He was a burning and a shining lamp; he was a man aflame for God, wholly consumed!
What do we know of this? Jim Elliot, one of the ’mid-century martyrs’, when a student 21 years of age, wrote in his diary of 1948:
’God I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one, like You, Lord Jesus’.
The same year he also wrote:
’He makes His ministers a flame of fire – am I ignitable? God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ’other things’. Saturate me with the oil of Thy Spirit that I may be aflame. But flame is transient, often short-lived. Can’st thou bear this my soul? Short-lived? Make me Thy fuel flame O God’.
Four centuries earlier, in 1555, Hugh Latimer, when about to be burnt at the stake for his faith, outside Balliol College in Oxford, encouraged his companion in martyrdom with the words:
’Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light a flame, by God’s grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out’.
Are we prepared to burn out for Jesus Christ too? May our prayer be, ’Take my life, my will, my all, take myself and I will be, ever, only, all for Thee’, (F. R.Havergal).