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WHO ARE YOU? John 1: 19-34

WHO ARE YOU?: John 1:19-34

By Ted Schroder,
December 31, 2017

At one stage in her life, novelist Muriel Spark (1918-2006) wrote, "I resolved to write an autobiography which would help to explain, to myself and others: who am I?" She said it would give her a sense of enriched self-knowledge. Authors of autobiographies are motivated by various concerns. One of them is to make sense of their lives and to give value to them. Self-knowledge is an important strength to have.

Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner (1889-1966) wrote: "Man's view of himself determines his life along with his circumstances." In his magisterial work on the nature of humanity: Man in Revolt, published in the middle of World War II, he contrasts the various views of man current in Western culture:
Darwin's view that man is to be viewed as a biological animal.
Marx's view that man is merely an economic and political unit.
Freud's view that man is essentially sex-instinct.

"We are concerned with ourselves. We are concerned with our life. How can man live if he does not understand what his life means if he does not know what he, man is?"

The end of one year and the beginning of a new year is the occasion for us to examine ourselves, to take stock of our lives, and determine what we want to be and to become. At the beginning of John's Gospel we encounter John the Baptist. He had been stirring things up with his preaching repentance and forgiveness, baptizing people in the river Jordan as they confessed their sins. The religious authorities in Jerusalem sent a deputation to examine him as to his qualifications for such a ministry. "Who are you?" they asked him. "Are you the Christ? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?" To each question he answered "No!" They persisted: "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"

How would you answer these questions? What do you say about yourself? What is your primary identity? I jotted down a list of my multiple identities: son, brother, husband, father, brother-in-law, uncle, grandfather, pastor, mentor/coach, friend, communicator, citizen, and preacher. I once asked a counselor, "Who am I apart from my role as Pastor?" Who will I be when I cease to be in that role? When people retire from significant positions in their careers, they often find it difficult to feel valuable and important. What is your view of yourself? What is your value, your significance? How you view yourself determines your life.

John the Baptist confused his interrogators. They could not figure him out. He said that he was not Elijah, yet Jesus said that his cousin John was Elijah who was to come (Matt 11:14). The last verses of the Old Testament prophesied the coming of Elijah before the day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5). Leon Morris, commenting on John's answers, writes,

"John may not have known that he was Elijah. No man is what he is in his own eyes. He really is only as he is known to God. No man is what he himself thinks he is. He is only what Jesus knows him to be."

"No man is what he himself thinks he is." Who do you think you are? John took a very humble view of himself. He saw himself as the preparer for the main act, the voice of one calling in the wilderness, "Make straight the way for the Lord." He baptized with water but "the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie, will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He will decrease and the Messiah will increase." Yet John would go down in history as the greatest of the prophets. Jesus said of him: "Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than he" (Matt 11:11). But John the Baptist did not know that in his lifetime. He ended his days in Herod's dungeon and was executed on a whim at a party.

We do not know who we really are in our lifetime unless we know what Jesus knows about us. We do not know who we are as specks in the universe, as moments in time. We cannot construct ourselves and determine who we are on our own. It is God who gives us identity and significance, not ourselves or the world. We are not the center of the world -- God is. He names his creation. He gives us our true identity.

"John the Baptist was a man sent from God. He came as a witness to testify to the light of Christ, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light, he came only as a witness to the light" (John 1:6-8).

Each one of us has been sent from God. We are not here by accident. We have been given a mission. We are here to come to the light and to be the light of the world. We are to let our light shine before men, that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven (Matt 5:14-16). We are to be witnesses to Jesus (Acts 1:8).

We are not mere biological animals, nor just economic or political units, nor essentially sex-instincts. People who are see themselves in those ways, who have been educated to believe that that is all they are, devalue human life. Their view of themselves determines their lives. That is why such secularism is so evil, so cruel and damaging to healthy life. Unbelief dehumanizes. It reduces us and depersonalizes us. We see it in relationships where there is exploitation and abuse.

In contrast to that Jesus came into the world as the light in the darkness. To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives them new life, to become children of God -- children not born of natural biological descent, nor of human engineering, nor as a result of sexual instinct, but born of God. We are made in the image of God and remade in the image of Christ.

Do you see yourself as Jesus knows you to be? Are you becoming all that Christ intends for you to become?

"I ask the Father to strengthen you by his Spirit -- not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength -- that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:16-19 The Message).


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