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Who Are You?

John 1:19-28

Rev. Kurt Hering

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Rorate Coeli
Trinity Lutheran Church  
Layton, Utah

Play MP3 of this sermon

Sun, Dec 22, 2013 

Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.

It seems rather odd—even uncomfortable--that we spend so much time on hearing about John the Baptizer at this time of year doesn’t it? It seems like we’re getting ready for Christmas in every other facet of life except for in the readings we hear at church during Advent.

But John the Baptizer is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” And that is precisely what we need at this time of year—and always. You see, John is the prototype for all pastors and preachers in that he points to the Christ who is the living Word of God that has taken on flesh to dwell among His people [John 1:14]. So John answers the question as to who he is and who you are by pointing to the Son of God.

In so doing, he also helps us understand what Christmas is all about—the coming of the One in whom you live, and move, and have your being.

To hear the entire sermon preached for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, "Who Are You?" click on the MP3 audio link provided above. The audio begins with the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The sermon begins at the 11:25 point of the mp3 file.

A servant of the Word and His folk,

Pastor Hering

For those of you who prefer to read or read along while listening, the preaching manuscript follows below.

Nota bene: Sermons are meant to be heard. Some points from the manuscript are explained and filled out during the preaching, so you will need to listen to the audio file to get the full message.

Dear Baptized children of God,

The beginning of the Gospel text for this last Sunday before the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord,

TEXT: 19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

Who are you? What do you say about yourself?

We need to give an answer to the world when they ask us—and even when they don’t.

But more than that, we need to know who we are for our good—our own eternal good.

John helps us with that important question today. Notice he answers the middle management sent by the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees, by telling them who he is not.

20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And

they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

Finally the Jewish human resource team loses patience with JB.

22So [priests and Levites from Jerusalem] said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John gives the only answer he knows, the one he has been sent to give.

23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John still hasn’t told them who *he* is—at least not in terms that interest them or that they want to hear. After all, they have to report to the head honchos—the ones who sent *them*. And they will not be happy. They want to know exactly who they are dealing with so they will know how to deal with him.

24(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

Still no real confession of who John really is himself. It’s all about Jesus.

And there you go. Who John is begins with who Jesus is. 

Therein lies an important lesson for us today. Who we are is *not* first and foremost about what we do, because what we do comes out of who we are. And who we are goes back to from whom we came and to whom we are returning.

Notice the concern of the middle management priests and Levites is the work this human resource named John is producing. He is affecting the bottom line of the religious corporation that has sent them out into the field to investigate this phenomenon that is stealing their customer base and cutting into their market share. They really don’t care in the slightest who John is. Thus their ultimate question really has nothing to do with who he is but what he is doing.

“Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

John plays their game. They say they want to know he is, so he goes back to answering that question. He acknowledges his work:

John answered them, “I baptize with water,

without telling them why, other than to point to the One who also is the answer to who John is.

but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

Oddly enough, the encounter--or at least the apostle John’s report of it—ends here. John leaves the priests and Levites, or rather they leave him, knowing no more than when they came. John has come full circle in his confession of who he is by bringing it back to Who he is not. Rather than tell us the reaction of the Pharisees human resource team, the disciple who referred to himself as the one whom Jesus loved concludes only by telling us:

28These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Interestingly enough, this Bethany marks the place where Joshua, Jesus’ namesake, led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. And John picks up his Gospel account by tying things together for us, though not for the inquisition of the Jewish leaders.

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.” John 1:29-31

Do you see what he did here? If they were patient and cunning enough to stick around-- and one would imagine both that they were and that JB knew that they would—JB reveals all. Who he is not only comes from who Jesus is, but finds its completion in Him as well.

‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

And this One in whose image JB was created, and to whom He would soon return, now comes to John and all of Israel as the true and ultimate and eternal Joshua--the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

It seems rather odd—even uncomfortable--that we spend so much time on hearing about John the Baptizer at this time of year doesn’t it? It seems like we’re getting ready for Christmas in every other facet of life except for in the readings we hear at church during Advent.

But John the Baptizer is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” And that is precisely what we need at this time of year—and always. You see, John is the prototype for all pastors and preachers in that he points to the Christ who is the living Word of God that has taken on flesh to dwell among His people [John 1:14]. So John answers the question as to who he is and who you are by pointing to the Son of God.

In so doing, he also helps us understand what Christmas is all about—the coming of the One in whom you live, and move, and have your being.

Dear Baptized children of God, who *you* are begins and ends in, with, and under this same Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

This is the answer we need to give to the world, with JB, when they ask us who we are—and even when they don’t.

But more than that, we need to know who we are for our good—our own eternal good.

The world doesn’t like our answers to those questions of who we are—and especially who Jesus is--any more than the Jews liked John the Baptizer’s answers. Truth be told, we don’t care for it too much either. It hurts—that business of being called sinners. But it is who we are—at least until who we are is laid before the One who took on flesh to make us what He wants us to be—forgiven.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

Who are you, and what should you say about yourself when the world puts you on trial?

You are dear children of God who are baptized with water and the Word. In this Baptism--even though you aren’t any more worthy to untie the strap of His sandal than was JB—and you do know the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Lo, He stands with and among you, and you with Him, always even to the end of the age--just as He said He would--as we abide in this Baptism and everything He has commanded us—in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.



Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.



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