It’s safe to assume that John the Baptizer’s ministry had drawn the not altogether favorable attention of the religious community in Jerusalem. Why else would they have sent emissaries to question John’s identity in John 1:19-34? It may be true as well that the religious leaders did not seriously consider that John may actually be either the Messiah or the prophet Elijah, though this is how they framed their inquiry. They might instead have wanted to know who the upstart baptizer said he was, so they might know how to deal with him. “We’ll check this guy out and find out who he’s claiming to be,” they might have said.
This interest in John’s identity is ironic, since in reality it was John’s mission to point to another’s identity. John’s purpose was to testify about one who was sent from God. And yet, perhaps it is appropriate that John’s own identity also becomes part of the equation. Certainly the identity of the testifier will influence the testimony. The witness John was called to make and able to provide truly was grounded in his own encounter with Jesus and his experience of the Holy Spirit at the time of Jesus’ baptism. Notice the repeated references in verses 32-34: “I saw…I myself did not know…one who sent me…said to me…I myself have seen and have testified….”
What is true for John is true for everyone: our experience with Jesus Christ and the Spirit—what we really know—will form the content of any authentic witness. As stewards of our own lives, then, it is for us to appreciate and nurture our life experiences (both good and bad!) as vehicles through which God has worked to bring us along the way. They give shape to our own peculiar testimonies, form to our witness.
- How have your life experiences given shape to your testimony/witness about God in Jesus Christ?
- What struggles do you encounter as you seek to see how God has been at work in your life?
- How can you grow in your ability and willingness to share your witness?
- What world situations are crying out to hear a witness about God’s presence? What might that good news witness be?
- Rewrite verses 32-34 as though they were written about you. (i.e. “And Sally testified, ‘I felt the Spirit come upon me just after my surgery….'”)
- Make a timeline of your life. Above the line, write any significant events in your life (positive and negative). Below the line, write a corresponding phrase telling how you experienced God’s presence.
- Read and study Isaiah 40, from which John quotes when revealing his identity (Isaiah 40:3). Consider the message of the voice that cries out. What are similarities to John’s witness?