This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”John 1:19–20
Who are you? Three small words, one large question.
John the Baptist was asked this question near the bank of the river Jordan. He could have answered in so many different ways.
I am the baptist.
I am Zechariah and Elizabeth’s son.
I am of the division of Abijah.
I am descended from Aaron.
I was a miracle child.
I am an answer to prayer.
I am John, named by the angel Gabriel.
I was a delight and a joy to my parents.
I am great in the sight of the Lord.
I am not a drinker of wine.
I was filled with the Holy Spirit even before my birth.
I am he who brings people back to the Lord their God.
I am he who is in the spirit and power of Elijah.
I turn the heart of parents to their children.
I turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.
I am a prophet of the Most High.
I give people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins.
I am he who is strong in spirit.
I am sent by God.
I am a witness, testifying about the light.
I am an eater of locusts and wild honey.
I am one who dwells in life’s wildernesses.
What was John’s answer? It is odd in two ways.
- He did not simply reply—he confessed, professed, declared, admitted, acknowledged.
- He did not tell them who he was—he told them who he was not.
He confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
This unexpected reply makes sense. He is answering their unspoken question, a common practice in casual conversation. He is also evoking the next logical questions: “If you are not the Christ, then who is the Christ? And if you are not the Christ, then who are you and exactly what are you doing out here in this river?”
When pushed, John references Isaiah:
“I am a voice.”
He is a conveyor of words. He is calling, reminding us that life is fleeting and that we are merely mortal, but not wanting us to despair. His is a message of comfort. He spoke kindly to Jerusalem, telling her that her warfare had ended, that her iniquity had been removed. Clear the way for the Lord—he is coming. Make smooth a highway—he is coming. Prepare the path—he is coming. Let the valleys be lifted up and all the metaphorical mountains be made low. Level the playing field. Clear the obstacles. Show the way. The glory of the Lord is revealed and the Word of our God will stand forever.
John’s response is powerful and thoughtful. Perhaps, though, there is an equally powerful lesson hidden within his initial response: “I am not the Christ.” Taking both responses together, what can we learn?
I, too, am not the Christ. I am a voice, declaring that Jesus is the Christ.
The weight of the world does not rest on my shoulders. I am a voice, declaring that Jesus carries that weight.
I am not responsible for saving you. I am a voice, declaring that Jesus saves.
I am not in a position to condemn you. I am a voice, declaring that Jesus is the judge.
I do not own my ecclesia. I am a voice, declaring that my ecclesia belongs to Jesus.
I do not rule over the works of God’s hands. I am a voice, declaring that Jesus is the one who rules.
Three small words, one large question. Who are you?