I just love this picture of John the Baptist. His posture looks intense but his expression looks pretty bored. It reminds me of a passion play we saw last Easter. John the Baptist went down in the Jordan to baptize Jesus, not realizing his wireless was on he said, “@#*% this water is hot!” The crowd of several thousand people caught it and thought it was hilarious. I don’t think that line is found in any of the Gospels, maybe the Gospel of Thomas or something.
The prologue of John (1:1-18) introduced numerous things that are going to come back into play in the rest of the Gospel. The prologue introduced John as “a witness to testify concerning that light so that through him all might believe.”In the first three chapters of the Gospel of John we get a more details of who John the Baptist was and what he came to do. The prologue, the rest of chapter one and the end of chapter three clarify that John was not the Messiah but that he came to prepare the way for the Messiah to do what he came to do.
In John 1:19-28 the priests and Levites flat out ask John who he is. Turns out he isn’t the Messiah, Elijah (at least he doesn’t see himself that way but Jesus did (Mtt 11:14, Mark 9:13), or the Prophet (a Messianic figure from Deut 18:18). So who is he? John recognized his preparatory role for the Messiah and his fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'”
John the Baptist as “Best man”:
This preparatory role comes up again in the part of John 3 that few people even remember exists. After some of the most quoted verses in the entire Bible we get John the Baptist calling himself the “friend of the groom” (3:29) who has great joy when the groom arrives at his wedding and the ceremonies go on without a hitch (well, one “hitch”). In the Ancient Near East it was customary for the “friend of the groom” or the best man as we would call him to make all the preparations for the wedding (Carson, The Gospel according to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 211). Can any of you imagine if the best man at your wedding was the wedding planner? Doesn’t sound like the best idea. But that is what they did. His job was to plan everything so well that the wedding would go smoothly. He did the prep work and when the marriage took place he would have great joy that he had done his job. In 3:30 John recognizes his role when he said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Weddings are not to be remembered most about the best man and what he did or should not have done…that means something disasterous happened! So John understands that he is not even fit to untie the sandals of the one who comes after him (1:26). The focus of the wedding is on the bride (Israel) and the groom (Jesus) and when the preparations are done well the ceremony will go smoothly. That brings John great joy (3:29).
So John realizes who he is not (Messiah, Elijah, the Prophet) and he realizes who he is (one who has the task of prepping the land for the greatest wedding ceremony that the world has ever seen). We begin to get the puzzle pieces here in John 1:19-28 that will set the stage for the consummation of creation with her maker. It is important for us all to remember our role in the kingdom of God and not let us distract ourselves into thinking it is all about us or in our receiving an elevated position at the expense of the Gospel.