This week’s lesson is the first lesson for the Winter Quarter of 2020-21. As with other quarters, there are three separate units within the quarter. Unit I: Getting Started. United II: Getting to Know Jesus. Unit III: Going Deeper With Jesus. For all of you who may not have a Sunday School book, this week’s lesson is being taught from John 1:15-28. (I would suggest to you to read from the very first verse of this chapter.)
The Word Made Flesh
So, before we get into our lesson for this week, I feel like we must take a look at some very important scripture recorded in John’s gospel. By the way, our lesson for today is going to be taking a look at John the Baptist – he is not the writer of this gospel. The writer of this gospel is the disciple named John. I feel like that is something that has to be said specifically for this week’s lesson since we are going to be taking a look at John the Baptist.
John opened his gospel by focusing on the deity of Jesus of Christ. In fact, when you read this gospel, you will find that this was John’s main focus – he wanted the reader to understand who Jesus was. So, in the very first verse of this chapter, we are told about the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” is what we are first told (John 1:1). So, the Word was there with God in the beginning and at the same time, we are told that the Word was also God.
The next scripture I want to focus on is one of the single most important scriptures recorded not only in John’s gospel, but in the Bible. John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” Pay close attention to “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Again, the Word was God and we are being told that God came and dwelt with (lived with) the people. Jesus is who John is talking about and John is telling you that Jesus was God. I feel like these are scriptures that every believer should keep to heart along with John 3:16.
John the Baptist’s Witness
OK, let’s move into our lesson for this week. Our lesson opens with this being said (v.15): “John bore witness of Him”. Understand: the John being spoken of in this verse is John the Baptist. Let’s also note here that the Him that is being spoken of here is still the Word. (John had not mentioned the Word by His name just yet in this chapter. You can go back and check this, but John has not written the name Jesus just yet in his gospel.)
We are told in that verse that John was crying out about the Word. He said, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ” Now, if you remember the story of John and Jesus’ birth, you will recall that Elizabeth, John’s mother, was 6 months pregnant when the angel told Mary she would conceive the Son of God (Luke 1:35-36). Both women were actually related as well, and when Mary visited Elizabeth after the angel’s visit, John the Baptist leaped in the womb of Elizabeth (Luke 1:41).
John the Baptist knew at a very early age in his life exactly who Jesus was. He was filled with the Spirit with the task of turning people to God and setting the way for Christ (Luke 1:15-17). So, when he spoke about the one coming after him being preferred (greater), he knew he was speaking about the Messiah – Christ. He knew that Jesus was God in the flesh
This cross references with scripture that we find in Matthew and Luke’s gospel. In Matthew’s gospel, it is recorded that John said, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt. 3:11).” (We are going to see this referenced again later on in our lesson.)
Truth and blessings through Christ
Let’s go ahead and take a look at the next couple of verses as John continues to speak of Christ. John says (v.16), “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” He tells us exactly what he meant by this in the following verse when he says (v.17), “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (This is the first time the disciple writes Jesus’ name in his gospel.)
We have just studied about the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments in our recent quarter of lessons. When I taught about the law, I pointed out how man was unable to keep the law. As I have said before about the law, Moses spoke the law and commandments as he had heard them from God, but Jesus came and delivered the truth to man in person. So, through Jesus, came God’s grace and forgiveness – blessing after blessing – and God’s truth.
Also in our recent quarter of Sunday school lessons, we referenced the next verse in our Sunday School lesson. It is written in our next verse, “No one has seen God at any time (v.18).” What is this supposed to mean considering we have just studied several cases where Moses and the children of Israel saw God (Ex. 24:11)? Does this ignore what we have seen written in the book of Exodus?
As I stated in those lessons, Moses and the children of Israel had seen different forms of the Lord. They saw God as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:21). We also remember how the children of Israel saw the glory cloud rest on the top of Mount Sinai when Moses went to the top of the mountain (Ex. 24:16-17). Let us also not forget that Moses saw a special sight when he saw the back of God (Ex. 33:18-23).
Yet, Moses and the children of Israel never got to see God in the form of becoming human like us! Instead of hearing the words of God spoken through a prophet, like Moses, those who were able to hear Jesus were hearing directly from God. They saw the grace of God move every time Jesus spoke, healed someone, or even simply laughed. No one had seen or had heard from God in this manner before.
Crying Out in the Wilderness
The remainder of our lesson takes a look at the testimony of John the Baptist (vss.19-28). There was a curiosity about John the Baptist to the religious leaders of the Jews. They were not quite sure what to make of him. We see this when they send out to John the Baptist some priests and Levites to ask him “who are you?” (v.19).
Questioning John the Baptist
The other gospels tell us about how John was clothed in camel’s hair and had a diet that consisted of locust and wild honey (Matt. 3:4). John spent his days preaching repentance, preaching about the One who was coming, and baptizing those that came confessing their sins (Matt. 3:5-6). Again, not knowing what to make of John, they have a few questions to ask of him.
John took the first question to mean that they were trying to see if he was the coming Messiah (Christ). His response was simple and direct: “I am not the Christ (v.20).” I think we can take this as a testimony to just how many people John the Baptist had been reaching. The religious leaders seem to think very highly of him. We see this even more in their next question. They ask John, “Are you Elijah (v.21)?”
Are you Elijah?
Elijah, as you know, had a very great impact in his days. Why did they ask if John was Elijah? Well, it had been prophesied that the Lord would send Elijah before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). This prophecy references the day spoken of in Joel 2:31-32. This prophecy about Elijah is tied to the last days. It is believed that Elijah will be one of the two witnesses that will prophesy in those last days (Rev. 11:3).
John responded that he is not Elijah. John was not Elijah, but scripture does indicate that he was an Elijah-like figure. It was said of John the Baptist by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:18-19), prior to his birth, that John would go before Christ in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). Jesus even spoke of John as an Elijah-like figure when He said, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished (Matt. 17:11-12).” John was not Elijah but he certainly had the essence of Elijah.
Who are you then?
So, there was one more prophet that was on the religious leader’s checklist. They ask John, “Are you the Prophet (v.21)?” This is a reference to the Prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18:15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear”.
Moses was actually speaking about the Christ (Messiah) when he spoke those words. It appears that the religious leaders did not recognize who Moses was speaking of because this is the second time that they ask John if he was the Messiah. John, again, answered that he was not Him. This created confusion and frustration because we see the men then ask John, again, “who are you (v.22)?”
The voice of one crying in the wilderness
John the Baptist gives them an answer that should have been ringing all kinds of alarm bells for these men. John said (v.23): ““I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord” ’. John says this is quoted from the book of Isaiah. If you turn to Isaiah 40, you will actually see the scripture he quoted (Is. 40:3).
In its entirety it is a prophecy about the crooked places being made straight by the Lord! These were men who should have been well versed with knowledge of this prophecy, but this seemingly goes over their heads. When John is saying he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, they should have seen this as ‘God is on His way!’
Yet, we see something that plagued the religious leaders in the days of Jesus and something we become very familiar with when studying those religious leaders — they could not get out of their own way. Instead of taking John the Baptist at his word, they look down their nose and ask him why he is baptizing if he’s not Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet of Deuteronomy (who was Christ also) (v.25).
The suggestion is that Christ and Elijah were the only ones that should be baptizing anybody. So, these leaders are suggesting John the Baptist does not have the authority to do what he was doing. Authority was something that those religious leaders truly struggled with. Even when Christ did arrive, they accused Him of not having the authority to do what He was doing!
The authority of all is coming
I imagine that John may have cracked a smirk when those men began to assert they had the authority to suggest who had the authority to do what. So, John the Baptist gives the one last parting shot as they prepared to leave with their heads held high. John said (v.26): “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.”
They did not recognize him and so John knew that they would not recognize Christ. Many of the Jews expected for the Messiah to come and lead them from under the oppression of the Romans. They were looking for someone who was physically mighty. Because they were not looking for the right thing, they would miss Christ completely. There are many people who live in our world today who miss out on the Lord because God does not meet their expectations. Yet, God is still great all the same whether He meets those expectations or not.
John’s last shot is something we referenced earlier in this lesson. He says, “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me (greater than me), whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” The Lord was coming and He was coming with the truth and blessings. Those religious leaders thought John the Baptist was something, but John said he was nothing compared to the One that was coming. John said of Him, He has the authority and is far greater than I.