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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God sends a witness about the Light
Text:John 1:6-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 66:1,2

Hymn 11:9 (after the law)

Psalm 87

Hymn 84

Psalm 147:1,2,6

Scripture reading:  Exodus 3

Text:  John 1:6-8

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

There’s a saying that’s attributed to Francis of Asissi.  If you don’t recognize the name, Francis was the founder of the Franciscan Order in the Catholic Church – he lived in the late 1100s and early 1200s.  Francis of Asissi supposedly said, “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.”  These words are often quoted.  There are two problems.  The first is that Francis never said it.  In fact, the expression seems to date back to the 1990s, not the 1200s.  I guess someone in the 1990s thought it was something Francis could have said, and before long, he was saying it.  But the more significant problem is that it’s just not biblical.  “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.”  The idea is that most of our preaching the gospel will be through our lifestyle and we should only have to use words as a last resort.  But that fails to reckon with the fact that the gospel is not a message that can be proclaimed without words.  In fact, the biblical idea of preaching the gospel requires words.  The gospel is not our lifestyle; it’s not about us doing anything.  The gospel is good news about someone else who has done something for us to save us.  The gospel is only good news because there was first bad news.  The bad news is that, without Jesus Christ, we’re under God’s condemnation.  We’re under his wrath.  You can’t proclaim that without words.  You can’t proclaim the solution to our bad news without words.  You can only tell people about Jesus Christ and his saving work if you open your mouth and use language. 

Think about it:  did the apostles in the New Testament go around like mimes?  What do you find in the book of Acts?  Words, words, words.  The apostles and all the early Christians with them were word people.  They use their tongues to tell people about Jesus.  Sure, they also do good works for people that demonstrate the love and mercy of Christ.  The apostles heal a good number of the sick and so on.  But the focus of their ministry is sharing the gospel through words.  They want to point to Jesus Christ and the best way to do that, the God-ordained way to do that, is by speaking about him.

In our text this morning, we’re introduced to John the Baptist.  His ministry too was one mainly of words.  He was a prophet, a preacher.  Yes, he also performed certain actions.  He’s called John the Baptist for a reason – he baptized with a baptism of repentance.  That becomes evident elsewhere in chapter 1.  But here the Holy Spirit draws our attention to the main thing about John the Baptist and his ministry.  The main thing was the words.  John came with a preaching ministry.  Moreover, he didn’t come of his own accord.  God sent him as someone to point to Jesus Christ – as a witness to the Light.  We’ll see in this passage that God sends a witness about the Light.  That’s the theme for this morning’s sermon.

We’ll consider:

  1. Who this witness was
  2. Why he was sent by God

The first few verses of John’s gospel introduce us to Christ.  John calls him the Word, the Logos.  In verses 4 and 5, he explains Christ in terms of his role as the light of salvation.  There’s a dark world.  It’s dark because of sin and rebellion against God.  But Jesus came to shine light and to bring life for dead sinners.  His is a powerful light, a light which cannot be conquered by the darkness.  All of this speaks of our Saviour in glorious, wonderful terms. 

Now verse 6 introduces someone else, another remarkable figure.  But this one is a creature.  John says in verses 1 and 2 that the Word was not created, the Son of God has existed eternally, before the universe was created.  Not this one.  He is just a man.  Verse 1 also tells us that the Word was God.  Jesus Christ is God, he is fully divine.  But the figure mentioned in verse 6 is sent from God.  This one is not divine at all.  He’s simply a creature like us and his name was John.

Where did John come from?  What’s his story?  For that, we have to look elsewhere in Scripture.  It’s especially Luke’s gospel that gives all the background to John the Baptist.  Through Luke, the Holy Spirit tells us about John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.  They were childless and getting on in years.  As he was taking his turn as a priest in the temple, the Lord revealed to Zechariah that they would have a child.  That child would be special.  He would be special because he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.  This child would have a ministry “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”  He would prepare the people for the Lord.  Nine months later, Elizabeth gave birth to John.  What’s clear in that story is that John didn’t have an ordinary conception and birth.  His parents were beyond child-bearing age.  He was a miracle baby.  When we say “miracle baby,” we mean that God intervened in an unusual way to bring him in to the world. 

That background is packed up into the words of verse 6, especially when we read that John the Baptist was “sent from God.”  From the beginning of his life, John was extraordinary.  But that’s not all that means.  There’s more.  That John was “sent from God,” that also speaks about his commission and his authority. 

John the Baptist started his public ministry shortly before Jesus did.  He came as a prophetic witness.  But he didn’t do this because he thought it would be a great idea.  It wasn’t as if John was sitting around in the desert and one day decided to become a preacher.  What John did was not of his own initiative.  No, the Bible is clear that John’s ministry was God’s idea.  He was behind it even from before the time of John’s conception and birth.  God sent John.

That word “sent” also carries with it the notion of authority.  Like Moses in Exodus 3, John came with the authority of God backing him up.  We’re to think of John exactly on the lines of Old Testament figures like Moses and Elijah – men who were appointed by God for a special purpose at a special moment.  John was commissioned to speak on God’s behalf, as his representative.  People were supposed to listen to John the Baptist, not because of any personal qualities he carried in himself, but because God had given him prophetic credentials. 

God sent John the Baptist as a witness.  “Witness” is central in this passage.  The idea of witness is inherently outward looking.  The idea is that you speak about something or someone that you have seen or heard or had an experience with.  You speak about something or someone and you do that to someone else.  So you use words to communicate testimony to someone else who hasn’t yet heard.  Witness involves words to someone.

John’s calling was to bear witness to the Light – to the Light of Salvation.  He was sent and called to bring words about the Word – about Christ Jesus.  Now it’s true that he didn’t do that right away.  If you read elsewhere in John and in the other gospels, you see that the ministry of John the Baptist basically divided into two parts.  The first part was preparatory – by preaching the call for people to turn from their sins, to repent, he was preparing the way for Jesus.  That part of his ministry was about getting people to humble themselves so that they would be ready to hear the Christ.  The second part of John’s ministry comes later after he encounters Christ – this is really where he begins to explicitly “bear witness about the light.”  He did that before to a certain degree, but it becomes even more pronounced further into John’s ministry.

So what did John’s witness about the light sound like?  There’s no need to guess about that, because Scripture directly tells us.  Look ahead to verse 29.  John sees Jesus coming and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  He’s bearing witness about the Light of our salvation.  He’s saying that Jesus is the one who will take away sin.  Jesus will turn away God’s judgment from sinners, just like the Passover Lamb turned away God’s judgment from the people of Israel on the eve of the Exodus.  If they didn’t put the lamb’s blood on their doorpost, their first-born sons would also fall under God’s wrath.  “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  John was bearing witness to the Light.

Then look ahead to verse 32.  John bears witness to the Light by saying that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven upon him.  He’s saying that Jesus is filled with the Spirit of God.  He bore witness that Christ wasn’t filled with demons, like the Pharisees said later on.  No, the Holy Spirit publically came upon the Light of the world.

Verse 34 goes further.  John bears witness to the Light by saying that he is the Son of God.  He’s not merely a human being.  He has God for his natural Father.  This speaks of Jesus’ privileged position and that speaks of his ultimate authority.  That also speaks of his perfection – after all, could we say that a sinner is the natural Son of God?  God hates sin and he has nothing to do with sin.  Anyone who would be called the Son of God must be morally perfect before God. 

There’s one more element to John’s witness.  In 1:20, John the Baptist insists that he is not the Christ.  He does the same thing later on in chapter 3, verse 28 – but there he makes it even more clear.  He’s not the Christ, but Jesus is.  Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of God long-promised, sent into the world for the salvation of sinners. 

So taking all of that together:  John’s witness to the Light proclaimed who Jesus really was and what he had come to do.  John’s witness announced with words that Jesus was the Spirit-filled Messiah, the Son of God, who came to bear sins and bring forgiveness.  John pointed to Jesus as the Saviour, the Light of salvation.

John’s work as a witness tied directly into his office as a prophet.  John can be considered the last of the Old Testament prophets.  Even though he appears in the New Testament writings, he really belongs to the Old Testament, he’s even compared to Elijah.  But there’s no doubt that he’s a prophet.  A prophet was called to proclaim, to witness to God’s truth so that people’s lives would be transformed and changed.

There’s where the line can be drawn to you today.  Brothers and sisters, all Christians are prophets.  We confess in Lord’s Day 12 that we share in Christ’s anointing and as part of that, we’re prophets.  What does that mean in concrete terms?  It means “confessing his name.”  “Confessing his name” has to also take the form of witnessing about the Light of salvation.  It’s not enough to say we’ll just do that through our lifestyle and for the rest, we’ll just keep our heads down and our mouths shut.  No.  As I’ve been saying, witnessing, confessing, these things require words.  As God’s prophets we’re called to speak. 

Yes, John’s role was unique.  He lived during Christ’s lifetime and he was sent by God in a special way.  None of us have been sent quite like John.  However, we are members of the church of Jesus Christ.  The church has been sent to witness to the Light.  The church has been commissioned by God, all of us have been commissioned by God, to bring the witness of the Light to a world in darkness.  Part of being a Christian is to be a witness to the Light. 

Do you know people who are in darkness?  Many of us do.  Does it break your heart that they’re on the broad road to destruction?  They choose to live in their sin and it will have eternal consequences.  That’s really sad.  Scripture is clear and we can’t put our heads in the sand and think that somehow everything will turn out okay.  No, if you don’t turn from your sin and believe in Jesus Christ, you’re going to hell.  If your friend chooses to live in sin and embrace that, that friend will go to hell when her heart stops beating and she takes her last breath.  You shouldn’t be okay with that.  If that family member doesn’t repent and believe in Christ, that family member is heading for the fire that lasts forever, to eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Hell is real, brothers and sisters.  It is a real place for people who don’t believe, even for people who may otherwise be nice.  There are and will be many nice people in hell.  But hell is the place for them because they didn’t trust in Christ as their Saviour and turn their backs on sin.  It doesn’t matter how nice you are, if you don’t have Christ, you’re not going to live forever with him.

That’s why it’s so necessary for us today too to bear witness about the Light.  People need our witness.  They need to hear our words about the Light, about Christ and his salvation.  People needed it in John’s day and they still need it today.  We need to bring it.  It can be hard to have those types of conversations, I know.  I’ve been there too.  What do you do when you’re up against something hard?  When there’s something where you feel weak and helpless?  What do you do?  You pray.  First, you pray.  You pray for opportunities and open doors to bear witness about the Light.  Ask God to give you an opening with that lost person you care about.  Then you ask for the courage.  Pray and ask the LORD to give you a more abundant measure of his Spirit so that you’ll have what it takes to say the right words at the right time.  Loved ones, God wants to use you as his witnesses about the Light.  If he wants to do that, and if you pray to him about that, he’s going to help you.  He’s going to open those doors, he’s going to give you the boldness to speak, he’s going to use you to bear witness about the Light. 

When we do bring that witness, John’s witness is a good pattern.  Speak of Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Speak of him as the Saviour of sinners.  Witness to him as the one who was and is filled with the Holy Spirit, a perfect and flawless Saviour.  Witness about him as the Son of God, qualified to be our Saviour, able to bear the wrath we deserve.  That’s what people in darkness need to hear.

There’s a purpose attached to witness-bearing in our text.  There’s a reason why John was sent as a witness about the light.  It’s right at the end of verse 7:  “…that all might believe through him.”  There the Holy Spirit explicitly states what was in God’s mind when he sent John as a witness. 

It says, “…that all might believe through him.”  The last two words there, “through him,” those words refer to John the Baptist.  Those words can’t refer to Christ, to the Light, because nowhere else in Scripture is anyone said to believe through him.  Instead, people believe in him.  No, this here is referring to the fact that God’s purpose was that people might believe through the witness of John the Baptist.  God wanted to work through the instrument or agency of this witness and his words.

And I also want you to take note of that little three letter word in verse 7, “all.” It’s a little word, but it’s easy to overlook and it’s vitally important.  God’s purpose for sending John as a witness was to bring salvation to all.  When God sends gospel witnesses, he does so sincerely with a well-meant offer of the gospel.  God really does want all people to repent and believe in his Son.  God says in Ezekiel 18:32 that he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone – he would rather that they turn and live.  God sends his witnesses with a well-meant offer of the gospel.  In John’s case, he brought his witness mostly to his fellow Jews.  But in Luke 3 we learn that there were also Roman soldiers who came to listen to him.  Later on, King Herod imprisons John and then John has many opportunities to witness to Herod, also a non-Jew.  In Acts 19, we find out that there were disciples of John the Baptist even in far-off Ephesus, over in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).  John’s witness reached far. 

That was part of God’s design to bring the gospel to the nations.  We sang about that in Psalm 87 before the sermon.  Already in the Old Testament, God had spoken of his plan to bring in people from all kinds of different nations.  Psalm 87 speaks of Egyptians, Ethiopians, Babylonians and others.  They would also be considered as native-born inhabitants of Jerusalem.  The fulfillment of that was beginning already in John’s witnessing ministry. 

Today it continues.  God’s purpose is to work through witnesses to bring people from all nations to faith in Christ.  He wants to work through our missionaries in [mention the missions you support].  But here in our city [town, region] as well, God wants to work through us as his witnesses.  Sure, God is sovereign and he brings to faith whomever he wills and however he wills.  He can do whatever he wants.  You can say that, that’s fine.  But don’t use that to forget our calling or ignore or deny our responsibility as witnesses.  Remember his purpose for us – his design, his plan for us.  His purpose for us is that we witness to the light and then he will work through that witness to bring others to believe in Jesus Christ as the Light of salvation.  We are his ordained means “that all might believe” through us.   

When it comes to the question of why John was sent by God, verse 8 adds another important element to the answer.  It does so in the form of a negative.  To understand this, first we need some background.  Scripture speaks several times of the confusion that sometimes existed about the identity of John the Baptist.  There were people who thought that he was Elijah.  Sure, he was an Elijah-type figure, but some actually thought he was Elijah come back in the flesh.  More seriously, others confused him for Christ.  Some thought that he was the Messiah, the coming Saviour who would deliver the Jews.  That confusion existed even though John himself had said several times that he was not the Messiah.  He tried to make it very clear.  However, even into the second century after Christ, there were disciples of John the Baptist who considered John to be the Messiah.  That idea took a long time to die out. 

That’s in the background of verse 8.  Why was John sent by God?  The Holy Spirit says, “Definitely not to be the Messiah.”  John is not the Christ.  The Baptist is not the Saviour.  Don’t confuse the two!  Instead, John simply came to bear witness to the light, to bear witness to Jesus with his words. 

For us today, perhaps there’s not much danger in confusing witness-bearers with the One to whom they bear witness.  But it can happen in its own way in our day.  I’ve heard of situations where people seem to place their trust more in a preacher than in the One he preaches (or is supposed to preach).  That’s a sort of way of confusing a witness with the Light.  The witness wants to point to the Light, not to himself.  He wants people to look to the Light, look to Christ, and not to him.  Witnesses are still jars of clay.  John the Baptist was a jar of clay – he got broken.  He lost his head and didn’t come back from the dead.  Preachers are jars of clay.  They might disappoint you somewhere along the line.  They could let you down.  But the one whom they preach, he never will.  Preachers are sent to bear witness about Christ.  He is the Light of salvation, he’s the one in whom you need to believe and throw all your trust and hope.  Loved ones, let’s make sure that we’re directing our faith and confidence to him only.

Our text points to what God did through John in his role as a prophetic witness.  In doing that, God is also reminding us of his calling to us as a church to be a light in this dark world.  All of us as Christians, God calls us to bear witness to what we have seen and heard and experienced in the gospel, to bear witness to Jesus Christ.  Our calling is to do that first and foremost with our words.  We could take that saying from the introduction and change it slightly and make it true:  preach the gospel always with words, and whenever you can, do good deeds too.  AMEN. 


Heavenly Father,

We praise you for the ministry of John the Baptist.  You ordained and sent him to witness to the light.  You used him to prepare the way for our Saviour, the Light of salvation.  Your name deserves our praise, O God.  You sent John because you wanted people to believe through him.  You accomplished that.  Many did come to faith through John’s witness to Christ.  Father, you have sent us into this dark world to be witnesses too.  And we want to be willing witnesses.  Please use us to point to the Light, to point to Christ.  Father, we pray that you would send opportunities for us to share our gospel hope with those in darkness, whether friends, family, people we work with, or go to school with.  Please give us eyes to see those open doors.  Father, also let your Holy Spirit give us the courage and the words we need to take those opportunities and run with them.  O God, please work through us to bring more people to yourself in true faith.  We pray that for the glory of your Name and out of love for our neighbours. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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