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Log Providence Missionary Baptist Church

Est. 1866

Rev. David P. Ballenger , Pastor

LPMBC Sunday School

Please join us on Sunday Morning at 9:45 to learn more about the word of God.


2 Timothy 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth".

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Lesson: John 1:15-28; Time of Action: 26 A.D.; Place of Action: East of the Jordan


Golden Text: “John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me” (John 1:15).


I. INTRODUCTION. We live in an age of celebrities and hero worship. Many people seek importance in life by identifying themselves with a person who has achieved success or fame in some significant area. Television personalities have instant exposure to millions of idolizing people. The media may have brought heroes wider exposure, but attachment to big names has always been with us. This week’s lesson deals with questions that arose from John’s celebrity status. It also gives his answers and thus provides a model of how every believer ought to respond to success and popularity. He knew his proper place, and he gave all glory to the LORD who deserved it.

II. THE LESSON BACKGROUND. The author of the Gospel of John is John, the son of Zebedee and one of the Twelve Disciples. Along with his brother James, and with Peter, he was part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples who was with Jesus on such occasions as the transfiguration and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is believed that John wrote his Gospel between 85 and 90 A.D. He begins his Gospel with a prologue to give his readers an overview of the themes that he will present in narrative form in the remainder of the book. The story that John presents is simply about God the Son, the glory of His character, the nature of His life, and His desire to share that life with His creatures. It’s about God coming among us and the mixed response He received to His offer of eternal life. The prologue contained in verses 1-14 helps us understand the significance of what takes place in the narrative and gives us clues as to what to expect. In the prologue, John speaks about the Deity of Jesus Christ (see John 1:1-2); the preincarnate work of the Son of God (see John 1:3-5); an introduction to the witness of John the Baptist (see John 1:6-8); a presentation of Jesus as the true light and a summary of Him being rejected and received (see John 1:9-13). Then in verse 14, John speaks of Jesus becoming flesh. Our lesson begins with verse 15.

III. THE BAPTIST’S TESTIMONY ABOUT CHRIST (John 1:15-18)

A. The Baptist testifies to Jesus’ eternity (John 1:15). Our first verse says “John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.” As noted in the Lesson Background, Jesus’ disciple, John, the brother of James and son of Zebedee is the writer of this Gospel, but in our lesson the “John” he writes about is “John the Baptist.” He begins this portion of our lesson saying “John bare witness of him.” The phrase “bare witness” means that “John the Baptist” testified or gave a testimony for Jesus. In John 1:7, we are told that he “came for a witness;” now the writer says here that “John” did actually “bare witness.” To express his testimony, he “cried” which was in fulfillment of prophecy that he should be “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (see Isaiah 40:3; Luke 3:3-4). The Old Testament prophets “cried” out loud to point out the people’s sins; but “John,” this New Testament prophet “cried” aloud to show people their Saviour. This indicates that John’s testimony was a public one proclaimed so that all kinds of people might pay attention to it, especially since his testimony was really for their benefit. The phrase “This was he of whom I spake” refers to when “John the Baptist” began his ministry testifying about Jesus (see Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8). “John’s” testimony here was “He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.” He meant that he had come before Jesus in birth by six months (see Luke 1:36), and he had also come before Him in preaching as Jesus’ forerunner. “John” could rightly say that Jesus “was before me,” for He was also before Abraham (see John 8:58). The truth is that Jesus was “before all things” (see Colossians 1:17). The prophet Micah said that our LORD’S “goings forth have been from old, from everlasting” (see Micah 5:2). This proves the two natures of Christ. As man, Jesus “came after” John regarding His public appearance; and as God, Jesus was “before him (John).” When “John” proclaimed that Jesus was “preferred before me,” he meant that Jesus was worthy of primacy, priority, and precedence. “John” realized that Jesus held a higher rank and possessed greater glory than he did. Jesus Christ, who was to be called the “Son of the Highest” (see Luke 1:32), was “preferred before” John the Baptist, who was to be called only the “prophet of the Highest” (see Luke 1:76). “John” was a minister of the New Testament, but Christ was the Mediator of the New Testament. “John” was a great man and had a great name, yet without hesitation he gave the preference to Jesus to whom it belonged. In affirming that Jesus “was before me,” the Baptist was recognizing Jesus’ preexistence and sovereignty over the realm of time. In fact, Jesus created time.

B. The Giver of life’s grace (John 1:16-17).

1. (vs. 16). This verse says “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” As the Apostle John continued to speak about the One who was before John and preferred before him, he said “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” In John 1:14, Jesus, the Word who “was made flesh” (incarnate) was said to be “full of grace and truth.” Now the writer declares that “of his fulness” or “from the fulness” of Jesus “we all have received.” The pronoun “we” most likely refers to believers. So, the most important thing believers have received from Jesus’ “fulness” is “grace for grace.” This phrase can also read “grace upon grace” meaning we believers receive “spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, favor upon favor, and gifts heaped upon gifts.” As believers, we can receive one “grace” after another because God “giveth more grace” (see James 4:6). But the best of God’s unearned favor, or His “grace” is the salvation received by every believer who receives Jesus Christ as LORD and Saviour (see John 1:12).

2. (vs. 17). This verse says “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The words “the law” refers to the Mosaic Law that God gave to the Israelites “by” or through “Moses.” John, the author is making a necessary distinction here between “the law (that) was given by (or through) Moses” and “grace and truth (that) came by (or through) Jesus Christ.” The point here is that although “grace and truth” truly existed in Moses’ day, they were not fully revealed until the coming of Jesus Christ. “The law was given by Moses,” and it was glorious both concerning God’s will for His people and His good will to His people. But the gospel of Jesus Christ which reveals God’s “grace and truth,” gives a much clearer view of man’s duty and happiness. “The law” which was given through “Moses” was both terrifying and threatening to Israel, and also full of penalties for sin. “The law” which could not give life, was given to Israel with an abundance of fear and terror (see Exodus 20:18-19; Hebrews 12:18). But “grace and truth” which is given by Jesus Christ is different; it has all the benefits of “the law,” but without fear and terror, for it is “grace” which brings salvation (see Titus 2:11), and “grace” that reigns (see Romans 5:21). God gave “the law” through “Moses” with its rigid demands and merciless justice, but Jesus Christ brought loving kindness and forgiveness.

C. The Giver of Life as God’s revealer (John 1:18). This verse says “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Another thing we receive from Christ is a clear revelation of “God” to us. This was the grace and truth which came by Christ, the knowledge of “God” and an acquaintance with Him. Since the glorious nature of “God” could not be seen by man, John said here that “No man hath seen God at any time.” This is because “God” Himself said “there shall no man see me and live” (see Exodus 33:20). In other words, any human who is allowed to see “God” would fall dead. Unless “God” manifests His presence, He is invisible to human eyes (see I Timothy 1:17; 6:16) for He is spirit (see John 4:24). In Old Testament times, God revealed Himself to certain individuals (see Isaiah 6:1, 5), but He hid the fulness of His glory (see Exodus 33:20-23). The revelation which “God” made of Himself in the Old Testament was incomplete when compared to the revelation of “God” by Jesus Christ. None of the Old Testament prophets were qualified enough to make the mind and will of “God” known to His people as our LORD Jesus was; for none of them had “seen God at any time.” Yes, “Moses beheld the similitude (likeness) of the LORD” (see Numbers 12:8), but he was told that he could not “see his face” (see Exodus 33:20). .Having declared that no one has ever “seen God at anytime,” John then said “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” We can see “God” revealed in nature (see Psalms 19:1-6; Romans 1:20) and in His mighty works in history; but we cannot see “God” Himself. Jesus Christ reveals “God” to us, for He is “the image of the invisible God” (see Colossians 1:15) and “the express image of his person” (see Hebrews 1:3). The words “only begotten” mean “unique; the only one of its kind.” It does not suggest that there was a time when the “Son” was not, and then the Father brought Him into being. Jesus Christ is the eternal “God;” He has always existed. As “the only begotten Son,” Jesus was uniquely qualified to reveal the unseen “God.” His eternality qualified Him, for He was with “God” in the beginning (see John 1:1-2). The phrase “which is in the bosom of the Father,” means that Jesus has the most intimate relationship with “the Father.” Because of Jesus’ unique qualifications given here “he hath declared him (God).” The Greek verb, for “declared” is the basis of our English word “exegesis” which means “to explain, interpret, or describe.” John had earlier acknowledged that Jesus, the Word, was “God,” therefore He is qualified to explain, interpret or describe the Father and make Him known to us. Only the “Son” fully knows “the Father.” Jesus, in the flesh did a perfect and complete job of revealing God “the Father.” He showed us all we need to know about Him.

IV. THE BAPTIST’S IDENTITY INVESTIGATED (John 1:19-24)

A. The delegation’s purpose (John 1:19). This verse says “And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?” The Apostle John continued to write “And this is the record of John” meaning that he was about to give “John” the Baptist’s testimony concerning Jesus “when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?” Scriptures indicate that “John” the Baptist was a powerful wilderness preacher who lived a simple, solitary life and called for the repentance of the nation (see Matthew 3:1-4). As a result, questions about him were sure to arise. His reputation soon reached the elite Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. Therefore, “the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?” Those who sent this delegation of “priests and Levites” were said to be “the Jews.” In John’s Gospel, the term “the Jews” usually does not refer to the entire nation, but to those Jewish religious leaders who were hostile to Jesus (see John 5:10, 15, 16; 7:1, 11, 13; 9:22; 18:14, 28, 36; 19:7, 12, 31, 38; 20:19). They may have already been hostile toward “John” the Baptist since he spoke plainly about their need for repentance (see Matthew 3:7-10). The question they asked “John” the Baptist was “Who art thou?” which most likely has the idea of “What authority do you have to say the things you do?” This was a logical question. Undoubtedly “John” knew what they meant by that question. Was he the promised Messiah? Was he the prophet Elijah who was supposed to come before the Messiah appeared (see Malachi 4:5)? Great crowds had gathered to hear “John,” and many people had been baptized (see John 3:5-6). Although “John” the Baptist didn’t perform any miracles (see John 10:41), it was possible the people thought that he was the promised Messiah. Note: “The Jews at Jerusalem” who sent this delegation of “priests and Levites” to question “John” the Baptist were Pharisees (see verse 24). They were part of the Sanhedrin council in Jerusalem. This council represented the Jewish people and handled all matters relating to religion. One would think that these men who were known and respected for their learning and knowledge of Judaism should have understood the times well enough to know that the Messiah was at hand. Therefore, they should’ve also known about the Messiah’s forerunner and eagerly supported him. But instead, they sent messengers to cross examine “John” the Baptist. Here is a thought: secular learning, honour, and power can be good things, but seldom if ever, will those secular things cause a person to receive divine light that comes from the gospel.

B. The Baptist’s denials (John 1:20-21).

1. (vs. 20). This verse says “And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.” Knowing why this delegation asked him “Who art thou?” in the previous verse, we are told that John the Baptist “confessed, and denied not.” This means that John “confessed” or answered truthfully. He “confessed, I am not the Christ.” Messianic expectations abounded throughout Israel and John the Baptist had already gathered some disciples (see John 1:35). So, if they were wondering if he was the Messiah, he emphatically “denied” any such ideas. John refused to accept any honor that belonged to Jesus. Note: Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to remind the ministers of Christ that like John the Baptist, they are “not Christ.” Therefore, they must not usurp His powers and authority, nor should they accept the praises due to Him only. No, they are “not Christ,” and so they must not lord their God given appointed positions over God’s heritage (see I Peter 2:5-3). Unlike Christ, His ministers cannot create grace and peace, nor can they enlighten, convert, quicken, or comfort as Christ does; for they are “not Christ.” The point is, like John the Baptist, we need to know our role and stay in our lane.

2. (vs. 21). This verse says “And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.” The questioners persisted with their interrogation of John the Baptist “And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias?” The name “Elias” is Greek for Elijah which means “the LORD is my God.” John’s appearance and ministry resembled the prophet Elijah’s (see II Kings 1:7-8). In addition John’s coming had been prophesied under the name of “Elijah” (see Malachi 4:5) and that he would “go forth in the spirit and power of Elias” (see Luke 1:17). Later, Jesus Himself called John the Baptist “Elijah” (see Matthew 11:14; 17:12-13), but like Malachi, Jesus was speaking of the spirit of John’s ministry. The Jews expected “Elias” or “Elijah” to return from heaven, and live among them expecting great things for themselves when he returned. Hearing of John’s character, doctrine, and baptism, and since he was not really heard of in Israel until he simply appeared on the scene preaching (see Matthew 3:1), to many Jews it was like he had been dropped from heaven in the same part of the country from which “Elijah” was carried to heaven (see II Kings 2: 1,9-12). No wonder this delegation was ready to take him for “Elijah.” These men were asking John if he was literally “Elijah” who had returned to earth. But just as he had done when they thought he was the Messiah (see verse 20), John also refused the honor of being “Elijah” when he said to them “I am not.” The delegation asked John further, “Art thou that prophet?” The “prophet” they had in mind was the one God had promised through Moses; someone who would be greater than Moses himself (see Deuteronomy 18:15-18). Some Jews identified “that prophet” with the Messiah, which was correct (see Acts 3:22: 7:37). Again, John knowing that he didn’t fulfill this prophecy concerning “that prophet” answered them saying “no;” he was not “that prophet” spoken of in the Law.

C. The Baptist’s self-description (John 1:22-24).

1. (vs. 22). This verse says “Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?” The delegation sent from the Jews (see verse 19) again persisted asking John “Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us.” Their reason for again asking John the Baptist, “who are you?” was because they could hardly return to Jerusalem with only a series of denials as to who he was. They felt obligated to return to the Jewish religious leaders who sent them with a concrete answer. So they pressed John further for an answer, asking “What sayest thou of thyself?” Simply put, they were asking “John, what do you have to say for yourself?”

2. (vs. 23). This verse says “He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the LORD, as said the prophet Esaias.” At this point in the questioning, John answers with words from Scripture to show that the Scripture was fulfilled in him, and that his mission was supported by a divine authority. Quoting from Isaiah 40:3, John said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the LORD, as said the prophet Esaias.”. This indicates that John the Baptist was the Messiah’s forerunner, the one sent to prepare the way spiritually for His coming (see Mark 1:1-3). The phrase, “Make straight the way of the LORD” meant to clear away all spiritual debris to prepare for the entrance of the LORD among His people. This was a call for repentance that revealed fruits of righteousness (see Philippians 1:11) as well as the anticipation of the imminent appearance of the Messiah (see Luke 3:8-16). The message of repentance John the Baptist preached was meant to correct the mistakes of the people concerning the ways of God which are certainly right ways (see Hosea 14:9). But the religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees had corrupted God’s law making it crooked (see Mark 7:1-13), thus there was a need to “make straight the way of the LORD.” Note: By answering this delegation from Jerusalem with the Scriptures from Isaiah 40:3, John was indirectly preaching to them. They needed repentance as much as anyone who was not a religious leader in Israel, and maybe more than most. In his preaching, John described the religious leaders as a band of snakes fleeing from danger (see Matthew 3:7-10). Sadly, most of those in this self-righteous group never came to recognize and acknowledge their spiritual need.

3. (vs. 24). This verse says “And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.” Now we are told that those who made up this delegation that came to question John the Baptist “were of the Pharisees.” The “Pharisees” were a proud, self-righteous religious sect, who thought they didn’t need repentance. Therefore, they could not put up with anyone who made it their business to preach repentance. So they had to get to the bottom of this preacher. Note: The term “Pharisee” means “separated one.” The “Pharisees” along with the scribes taught strictness to the letter of the law and added their own traditional interpretations that they said were given to Moses by God. They also taught that the traditions they added to the law were oral explanations that were equal in authority to the law itself (see Matthew 15:2-3). The Pharisees put more stock in the traditions of men than in the Law of Moses (see Mark 7:5-9). During Jesus’ time they were the largest and most influential Jewish sect. They were highly respected for their knowledge of Scripture, and people took their traditions seriously. The “Pharisees” had also become proud of their separation, not only from paganism, but from ordinary people as well. They also demonstrated a false humility (see Luke 18:9-14). These religious leaders also imposed strict rules on others (see Mark 7:1-5), while ignoring the fact that they lacked personal holiness and righteousness themselves (see Matthew 15:3-6). When Jesus dealt with the “Pharisees,” because He knew their hearts, He called them hypocrites (see Matthew 15:7-9).

V. THE BAPTIST’S MINISTRY EXPLAINED (John 1:25-28)

A. John’s baptism questioned (John 1:25). This verse says “And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?” Now this delegation of Pharisees revealed what they were really concerned about when “they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then?” They wanted to know why he was taking the authority to “baptize” others. They had at least two reasons for asking this question. First, how could he take this authority to himself, as they said, “if thou (you) be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?” They wanted to know that if John the Baptist was not “that Christ” (the Messiah), “Elijah,” or “that prophet” Moses spoke about, what gave him the authority to “baptize” others? These Pharisees were familiar with Jewish purification practices so they knew that previous baptisms had been self-administered. So they wanted to know who was John that led him to “baptize” others, if he had no official status. Second, they wanted to know why John was baptizing Jews. Baptism had been associated with Gentile proselytes, or non-Jews who converted to Judaism. The symbolism of baptizing Gentile proselytes implied that they were impure and needed to be cleansed. On the other hand, Jews assumed that as descendants of Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, they were assured that they had a right standing before God. So Jews didn’t think that they needed to be “baptized.” But they failed to grasp John’s message that repentance and faith must be personal, and ties to any nation or peoples meant nothing (see Matthew 3:9).

B. John’s baptism explained (John 1:26-28).

1. (vs. 26). This verse says “John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not.” John didn’t answer their question directly, but he pointed to the answer when he “answered them, saying, I baptize with water. “ In essence, John was saying “I am baptizing with water and that’s all. I am doing nothing more than what you see me doing, and I have no other title than John the Baptist.” “John the Baptist” put emphasis on the pronoun “I” to show the difference between himself and the One who stood among them whom they didn’t know. “John” then directed them to someone who was greater than he was. He said “but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not.” This does not necessarily mean that Jesus, the Messiah was in the crowd at that moment, but that He was a contemporary of the Pharisees and was about to begin His public ministry. It is true that God Himself is often nearer to us than we are aware of. As Jacob said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I knew it not” (see Genesis 28:16). This delegation of Pharisees didn’t know who Jesus was for He had grown up in an unknown family in despised Galilee. But it would not be long before His name would be recognized by everyone in Israel, great and small.

2. (vs. 27). This verse says “He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” In acknowledging his own authority to baptize (see verse 26), John also implied the importance of his God-given ministry. But John’s ministry could not compare to the ministry of the greater One who would follow. John had said it before (see verse 15) and he repeats it again saying “He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me” (see comments on verse 15). This Person greatly surpassed John in rank. Although the Messiah came after John, He had preference over John; for John said that He “is preferred before me.” Then John expressed his absolute submission to Christ by describing Him as He “whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” It was the duty of a slave to remove his master’s sandals in preparation for washing his feet, but John would not even presume that he was worthy enough to be Jesus’ slave and untie His sandals.

3. (vs. 28). Our final verse says “These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.” Now we are told where this incident between “John the Baptist” and the group of Pharisees who were sent to question him took place. The Apostle John wrote that “These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.” In the Greek texts, “Bethabara” could be taken as “Bethany.” But this was not the Bethany near Jerusalem where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived (see John 11:1; 12:1). This “Bethabara” or Bethany was located “beyond” or on the other side of the “Jordan” River “where John was baptizing.” This city does not exist today and its location is uncertain. “John the Baptist” made his testimony regarding the coming Messiah in the same place “where John was baptizing” probably so that everyone who was present might be witnesses, and none of them could say that they didn’t know who John the Baptist really was.

VI. Conclusion.

While John the Baptist baptized, he anticipated the ministry of Someone greater, and that Someone was already among the people. The coming One was so great that John regarded himself as lower than a slave in His presence for he didn’t feel worthy enough to loose His sandals. What an example for us! Jesus said “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (see Matthew 11:11); yet John saw himself as lower than a servant. How do we see ourselves? Do we proudly compare ourselves with other people? When we get a clear view of Christ, we suddenly see that we are really nothing at all. Yes, some people will do anything to get attention; but this lesson teaches us that while John could have easily drawn much attention to himself, he refused. We would do well to follow his example.

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