19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 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?” 23 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.”
24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Five interrogative questions were addressed to John the Baptist by the delegates from Jerusalem, because the news of the great revival in Israel had reached the ears of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. For hundreds of years they had been waiting for a revival. They had been waiting for the Messiah. They desperately wanted a Messiah that would set them free from the Roman occupation. They wished for a Messiah that would restore the kingdom of Israel to its golden era of David and Solomon. And so when they heard about the revival at the Jordan River, they urgently came to investigate. John started the revival. He preached repentance in an urgent manner. He urged the people to be baptized, to be cleansed of their sins. This urge echoes the promise of God in Ezekiel 36:25:
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
John the Baptist, a Levite, the son of a Priest, informally performed the priestly duty of cleansing. His authority came from heaven as the Holy Spirit was upon him. People came from all corners of Israel to listen to him and to be baptized by him.
But the religious leaders had to interrogate John. They needed to know whether John was the promised Messiah, Elijah, or The Prophet – principal eschatological figures as DA Carson would call it. And John the Baptist denied all three titles. He said that he was none of those. So, the delegates had to press on. They could not return to Jerusalem with just John’s denial of the important titles. “Who are you?” they asked. John then quoted Isaiah 40:3 in order to identify himself:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
But the delegates were not satisfied, especially those sent from the Pharisees, and thus asked John:
“Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
This question is a telltale sign that they were having problems with John baptizing. Even though John was of a priestly lineage, he was never officially a priest in the temple. And from the sound of their questioning, apparently John’s movement was not authorized by Jerusalem. They could not figure out how a nobody (not Christ, not Elijah, and not the Prophet) with no legitimate authority was able to start a great revival. What’s more puzzling was that people genuinely came to John to repent and be baptized as the sign of their true repentance.
The most puzzling, however, was his testimony about a newcomer from Galilee, who had nothing to be proud of humanly speaking whether in religious order or political ladder or even in the business world, that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Chosen One of God or in other words the Messiah (v. 34). Because this kind of testimony should have come from a legitimate priest or prophet from the established religious order, whereas John the Baptist was not authorized by Jerusalem whatsoever. In the past there had been numerous false Messiahs that started rebellion after rebellion, but vanquished by the Roman Empire as soon as they rose to power. The religious leaders did not wish to follow another false Messiah. So they found it difficult to believe.
Doubt is the name of the disposition of the delegates’ heart. This disease did not only plague them 2000 years ago, but also and always plague the entire humanity. Thus we too, who are living in the 21st century, are plagued by this disease. Many people today still doubt the existence of Jesus. Many still can’t bring themselves to believe that the Messiah has come, has lived on earth, has died for us, has been raised from the dead victorious, has ascended to heaven, and is currently sitting on the right hand of God the Father. Historically Jesus’ existence can’t and mustn’t be doubted. Yet the hearts of sinful humans continue to harbor doubt.
Even among Christians, there are many who are still keeping the seed of doubt in their hearts. We are not exempt. You are not exempt. I am not exempt. Even the great Christians of the past and now, at one point or another, were and are often shaken by the attack of doubt. This disease attacks especially strongly when our antibody of faith is weakened by the worries of life, by the pressures of the world, and by sufferings. Fear is more often than not the catalyst of doubt. When we fear for our life, we quickly hide behind doubt. When we fear for our future, we quickly embrace doubt and won’t let go. This disease is an opportunist, it exploits us when we are weakening in our belief. Matthew 28:16-17 recorded a stunning revelation of the fact of the eleven apostles:
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.
This is the eleven apostles Matthew is talking about. Yet even among the eleven, some couldn’t bring themselves to believe Jesus. Shocking!
The question that remains for us is “How can we overcome our doubt?” When life troubles surround us, can we cling to faith? When our savings is depleted and only 25,000 rupiahs remain in there, can we trust that God will provide? When our loved ones are sick and their condition seems to be worsened, can we trust that God is in control? When we are in a life or death situation, can we trust God that our soul is safe in His hands? Brothers and sisters, these questions are never easy to answer. When we are not in those situations, it’s easy to answer “Yes we can!” But when we are in it, I assure you, our lips will readily say “No we can’t!” Quite often, when doubt attacks during our weakest time, we would find ourselves even doubting whether we believe the right God. And sometimes we also doubt whether Jesus truly saves us. It is not difficult to find that we too can’t easily believe.
What is the antidote? How can we overcome doubt? The gospel of John, even all the gospels, and even the entire Bible, reveals the antidote, which is to fix our eyes upon Jesus. John the Baptist proclaimed:
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
John’s proclamation to behold Jesus was repeated by Pontius Pilate twice in John 19:5 & 14:
5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”
14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”
No, it’s not beholding with our physical eyes. For our physical eyes can only detect the physical matters. John saw things beyond the physical world. Our passage records:
32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Twice John said that he did not know Jesus, yet with the eyes of faith he believed. John believed God who sent him to baptize. He believed God who told him about the Spirit descending upon the Messiah. Appearance wise, Jesus was not appealing. Seven hundred years prior, Isaiah prophesied about Jesus in Isaiah 53:2-3:
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Yet John’s testimony was powerful. Those who behold Jesus with the eyes of faith would overcome their doubt. But those who behold Jesus with merely the physical eyes would be bullied by doubt.
With the eyes of faith, John trusted the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Then he passed on the truth by testifying himself that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Some of John’s disciples believed his testimony and started following Jesus. John 1:35-41 records:
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 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?” 39 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. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).
The two disciples of John did not hesitate. They immediately followed the Messiah merely basing their confidence on the testimony of John the Baptist. They did not doubt like the delegates from Jerusalem. As we have known, in the end Jesus’ disciples, minus Judas of course, did remarkable things. These simple people, who merely believed based on testimonies, spread the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the world. Because of them, billions of people have believed in the salvation of the Lord. Despite difficult life, persecutions, sufferings, rejections, and even the threat of death, they did not quit proclaiming the good news of salvation.
This antidote has not changed even in this 21st century. Many have doubted. And many have interrogated God. They even put God on trial. People like Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russel, Anthony Flew (before he finally became a believer), Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and many like them have assumed the judge’s seat and judged God with their own set of rules and laws. But great people like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Abraham Kuyper, GK Chesterton, CS Lewis (who was an atheist), Ravi Zacharias, RC Sproul, and many other greats have humbled themselves at the hearing of the testimonies of simple Christians and believed in Jesus Christ. These humble people, even at the troubles of life did not waver, but they pressed on in their faith. They trust God. They did not interrogate God. They did not put God on trial. They did not judge God by their own set of rules and laws. But they submitted to God’s sovereignty and authority.
Let me tell you of my dad. My dad was a very simple man. He grew up in a small village in East Java, named Asembagus. He grew up in a Chinese Confucian family. When he was a teenager he went to a church nearby, but it did not last long. He abandoned church and never believed in the Lord for a long time. As I grew up I never knew him to be a believer or churchgoer. But one day, after I finished my Masters’ study in the US, I tried to talk to him about Jesus. He refused at first, but then he showed interest. Our conversation led him to believe in Christ. Then he became hungry and thirsty of the truth of the gospel. So I brought him to the Reformed Church near home. Ever since, he attended church every Sunday non-stop as long as his body allowed him. A few months after he first believed, he suffered a neck injury because he fell from the second floor. And he was paralyzed from the neck down. He was operated in China to restore his condition. He had one year physical therapy before he could walk again. What’s surprising to me was he never blamed God. He never even interrogated God for his misfortune. He bore it in patience. He waited for the Lord. I bought him a Chinese bible so he could read God’s word every day. Then I went to the US with my wife for my PhD. My dad never stopped believing in God. After he could walk again, his health was not getting better. He became weaker. He felt pain all over his body. He was losing his hearing. Every step he made was painful as if thousands of needles were pierced into his hips, knees, and ankles. Then I returned to Indonesia in 2007. I witnessed with my own eyes my dad climbing the stairs to the sanctuary with a great deal of pain, but he persisted. The church’s sanctuary was on the second floor, so every Sunday my dad climbed the stairs in pain. But, what’s amazing to me, was that he never complained. He never complained to God whatsoever. My dad sat at the very front because he wanted to listen to the word. He found it difficult to listen even with hearing aid, but he never missed a church service unless he was severely ill and bound to his bed. A simple man, who just found his faith in Christ, plagued with misfortunes and sufferings, yet this wonderful person did not doubt the Lord. He accepted God’s decision for him. He trusted his Master. No pain, no misfortune, no difficulties of life, not even a life threatening situation could stop him from believing God. He loved the Lord with all his heart and soul. My dad is with the Lord now. He passed away in January 29, 2011.
Brothers and sisters, I do not know what your situation is now. But whatever it is, I encourage you to fix your eyes upon Jesus. My dad was just an ordinary man. He was no giant of faith. He was no theologian. But for me he had a big faith. He had his ups and downs in life, even quite extreme at times, but ever since he believed in Christ, he never doubted Him one bit. Do not be like the Pharisees, the Priests, and the Levites sent by Jerusalem to investigate John the Baptist. Even after all the signs and miracles and wonders were performed in front of their very eyes, they still did not believe. They did not believe John the Baptist’s testimony, and they also did not believe Jesus the Messiah, who performed the great miracles. They did not believe the words of God that John and Jesus uttered in their hearing. Today, in hearing His words, I encourage you to trust the Lord even in an impossible situation. When you are in doubt, fix your eyes upon Jesus and believe. Gaze upon Him with the eyes of faith. This is God’s grace for all of you. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Amen.