“And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He 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 1:19-23)
This is a great little passage here. You can feel the Messianic fervor burning in Jerusalem, you can smell the fear in the Levites. They want to know who John is. John confesses that he is not. It’s a funny way of saying it, but it emphasizes that he is telling the truth. It isn’t a mere denial, but his denial is confessing truth. He is not the Christ. He does not claim to be Elijah. And he is not in the sense that they are asking. He is not the Prophet. One of the things that you see here is that the Israelites are still trying to get a handle on the messianic nature of the Old Testament, they think there might be a difference between the Christ and the Prophet, that they might be two different people. So when asked who he is, he says that he is the one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” The message is clear, the Lord is coming, prepare yourselves.
Prepare yourselves. It is a message we do well to heed even today. The immanence of Christ has not waned, but often our vigilance does. From our perspective he has been a longtime coming, and we have a hard time gripping the fact that the gig might be up this afternoon. We have a hard thinking tomorrow won’t be here, or might not be here. We find ourselves engaging in behaviors that shame us. We would not be doing them if we thought Christ might walk in on us in the midst of them. Funny, we don’t consider that he sees everything we do anyway, even if he doesn’t choose the moment we are doing them for his second coming. The thought is so frightening that we suppress it. We wouldn’t be caught by our neighbor surfing porn sites. But the fact that God sees it, doesn’t sway us much. Somehow if your wife or husband doesn’t see it, the thought is that neither does God. Perhaps this is an overblown sense of the reality that God is also found in our neighbor, that in serving neighbor we serve God. In sinning against neighbor we sin against God. This is true also when we objectify our neighbors as nothing but sexual objects. That is a fine line there. I think we have to realize man is a sexual creature, woman is too. I think half of America’s problem is is that we never quite come to terms with that. Somehow we think that we should be above sex. Like vegetarians thinking man should have evolved beyond the need to eat meat. It’s a curious proposition. If we had done that we wouldn’t be eating meat. We haven’t, we eat meat, it is in fact part and parcel of our diet. So with sex. God did not create us to be sexless. Maybe in heaven that desire is squashed. We aren’t in heaven, we are on earth where God still expects us to be fruitful. Our bodies are still meant to enjoy sex, to enjoy the intimacy of love, and when we have denied ourselves this, we are less than whole. We are not above sex. So there are two sides to that horse, there is the prudishness that dominates polite society, and the pornishness to which man retreats looking for fulfillment where he and she will not find it. There is a demonization of the body with prudishness that results in the debasing of it in porn. And as long as we are sinners on this earth there will be a tendency to fall off either side of that horse. The best we can do is confess our sin, and make straight the way of the Lord.
This is what John did, he had people coming and acknowledging that they were sinners, that they could not live a righteous life and had not lived a righteous life. The Pharisees would deceive themselves and show that the truth was not in them, as they said they had no sin. They buried their shame, though they had as much reason as any to blush. Only those who would be convicted of their sin, only those had prepared and made straight the way of the Lord who comes with Grace and forgiveness, Jesus Christ who sees it all anyway, and will not be lied to.