24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:24-28)
“Then why are you baptizing?” Everyone knew that when the prophet came he would be accompanied by baptism. Ezekial’s “sprinkling with clean water” was well known. (Ezekiel 36:25) The people waited for it and expected it. When John came baptizing they thought he was either impersonating this prophet, or he was this prophet. Why else would he be baptizing? Why else would he be sprinkling people with water in the name of repentance? But when he denies being the Christ, or Elijah or the prophet, they really could not accuse him of impersonating someone or demand that he prove to be any of these characters. So now they are confused as to why he is doing it at all. John is clear. He is preparing the way, his baptism is but a prelude to something bigger. The man who comes after him, his among them already, he is unworthy to untie that man’s sandals. He is unworthy to wash the feet of the Christ, but then it will be Christ who will wash ours, and he will do so with his blood to wash away our sins.