A Burning Witness to the Light

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

Let's remember why this gospel was written. John 20:31, "These things were written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing have life in His name." So my aim this morning as a minister of these words is that you would believe in Jesus as Son of God and that you would experience newness of life.

The Way to Have Newness of Life

The reason I say newness of life is because in John 10:10 Jesus said that the reason he came into the world was that his sheep might have overflowing life: "I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." This word (perisson) speaks of excess, overflow, surplus. The idea is that Jesus gives life that is more than ordinary life. The life of a Christian is life upon life. Excess life. Life added to life.

And the way to have this life from Jesus is to believe in him. John 5:24, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." Notice: NOT just will have eternal life some day beyond the grave; BUT has passed now (by believing) from death to life. You can have new life this morning: life that is more than the life you have known before, life that is so wonderful it is a passing from death to life. And even Christians who have weakened in faith and lost the full power of new life can find stronger faith and fuller life in these words this morning.

That's our goal: these things are written (in John) and this message is preached that you might believe in Jesus (like you have never believed before) and believing have life (like you've never had before).

Our text today can be summed up in three statements:

  1. God sent a man named John. (v. 6)
  2. John came for testimony to bear witness to the light. (v. 7a)
  3. The aim of this testimony was that all might believe. (v. 7b)

Let's take these one at a time and let them move us to the goal of the gospel and the goal of the message: belief in Jesus Christ and overflowing life in his name.

1. God Sent a Human Witness

God sent a man named John.

John 1:6, "There was a man sent from God whose name was John."

Why Introduce John Here?

Why does John, the writer of this gospel, introduce John the Baptist like this right here? It seems abrupt. Verse 5 is talking about the light shining in the darkness and the darkness not overcoming it, and verse 9 goes on to talk about the light coming into the world. And verses 6–8 seem like an interruption. Why not get Jesus all the way introduced, and then introduce John the Baptist?

Well, John could have written it that way. But he didn't. And the effect of the way he did write it is to make crystal clear from the very outset that God's way of letting the light of Christ shine in the world is by human witnesses. God's way of pushing back the darkness is by human witnesses.

It didn't have to be this way. God could have caused the light of Christ to spread in some other way. He could have done it with angels. He could have written the gospel in the sky with big puffy white letters made out of clouds. He could have caused the wind to talk. But instead God chose to call and send human beings to bear witness to the light. "There was a man [a human being] sent from God, whose name was John."

This general principle is even more clear because John was sent to testify to the light while the light was there. As soon as the light was in the world—as soon as Jesus came—God prepared and sent a human being right alongside the light to bear witness to the light. Jesus did not need John the Baptist to make him known. He could have managed by himself—he was the light of the world. But evidently God's wisdom dictates that his Son should be heralded, announced, proclaimed by people that he sends. Evidently God knows that this is the way to bring the greatest happiness to men and the greatest glory to his Son.

There are at least two implications of this for you today.

Be Alert to the Possible Call of God in Your Life

One is that you should be alert to the possible call of God in your life. All Christians are to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:16). All are called to witness to the light (Acts 1:8, 1 Peter 2:9). But God still calls some in a special way and for special tasks.

"Pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:38). "How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14–15). "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers" (Acts 20:28).

It may be a vocational sending to the ministry. It may be a single or periodic sending for some special mission (across the ocean or across the street). But it is God's way to speak to a person and send that person to testify to the light. Be ready and open to hear that call and accept that commission. Don't assume that what you are doing now is your only mission for the future.

Be Ready to Hear the Testimony of Others Sent to You

And the other implication is that you should be ready and open to hear the testimony from others who are sent to you. God means to communicate to you not merely through your own private Bible reading, but also through other people. He means to communicate to you through my preaching and through your Sunday School teacher and through godly parents. We should be aware that it is God's way to communicate with us through those that he calls and sends. Otherwise why send them if he has nothing to say to us through them?

I pray that by the time my life is over on earth, thousands of people will have heard such a decisive, life-changing word from God through me that they will say, "There was a man sent from God whose name was John." And will not many young women say, as they look back on their girlhood, "There was a woman sent from God whose name was Marlene"? And I wonder how many will say, "There was a woman sent from God whose name was Lollie"?

Be ready and open to God's call on your life to send you to bear witness to the light; and be ready and open to recognize the word of God to you when it comes from others that God has sent to you.

That's the first step in our text: God sent a man named John (v. 6). God's way of spreading the light of Christ is by human witnesses.

2. To Bear Witness to the Light

John came for testimony to bear witness to the light (v. 7a).

God Spoke to John and Gave Him a Sign

The second step in the text is that the way God uses people to promote the light is by their testimony. John was a witness. A witness is a person with some experience and knowledge that can help establish the truth of some fact that is in dispute. God had spoken to John in the wilderness about the coming Messiah, and his meeting with Jesus at the baptism gave him the experience he needed to be a bona fide witness.

Verses 33–34: "I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

So God had spoken to John earlier about the One who was coming. And then he gave him a sign to let him know that Jesus was this One. From then on John bore his testimony to Jesus faithfully until he was put to death for his witness.

On August 30, 1744, Jonathan Edwards preached an ordination sermon for Robert Abercrombie, and took as his text John 5:35 where Jesus says of John's witness, "He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light." Edwards developed the point that a faithful witness to the gospel burns and shines. That is, there is the warmth of zeal and the light of truth. John the Baptist had both of them, and in this he is a great example for us.

The Light of Truth

First there was the light of truth in his witness. God showed him many magnificent things about Jesus. Here are some of the things he said about Jesus:

  1. John 1:23, he is "the Lord." John identifies himself as the voice crying in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord." This is an amazing thing because in Isaiah 40:3 "the Lord" was a reference to God himself. John was applying it to Jesus.
  2. John 1:27, Jesus is so great John is not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal. John speaks of Jesus as, "He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."
  3. John 1:29, Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. John says, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John had probably discovered this in meditating on Isaiah 53:6–7.
  4. John 1:33, Jesus is the one who is going to baptize his people with the Holy Spirit. John says, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." He pours out the Spirit. He is the source of the Spirit.
  5. John 1:34, Jesus is the Son of God. John testifies, "I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." This fits well with Jesus being called "the Lord."

(See also 1:30 and 3:29 for John's other testimonies.)

The Warmth of Zeal

But not only was his witness a bright beacon of truth, it was also a burning zeal. John's life as well as his message was a faithful testimony to the truth. Consider at least three things that would make our testimony to Christ more credible too.

  1. John's simplicity. He had lived in the wilderness for years. He dressed in simple leather clothes (Mark 1:6). He ate honey and locust (Mark 1:6). His whole life stood over against the luxuries of his day (Luke 7:25–26). This gave a tremendous power to his prophetic message when he said to the multitudes, "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none" (Luke 3:10–14).
  2. John's humility. In a sense John's role was tragic—the last prophet before the Lord, and killed for it while the Christian movement he served was just getting started (like Moses dying without entering the promised land, only John had done no wrong like Moses). But John took his role without resentment. He said in 1:27, "I am not worthy to untie Jesus sandals." And when his disciples complained that Jesus was stealing the show ("all are going to him," 3:26), John said in 3:29–30, "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease." John's testimony was burning with authenticity because he was a truly humble man.
  3. John's courage. John held to his message of righteousness to the end, and it cost him his life. How many reasons we could think of why it would not be prudent to cry out against Herod's sin in taking his brother's wife! John is a great example of one who acted on principle not prudence. And Jesus said there wasn't a greater man who ever lived (Luke 7:28). His testimony burned with reality because he was a man of tremendous courage.

So the first step in our text (v. 6) was that God sent a man named John. It is God's way to spread his light by using people.

And the second step in out text is that "John came for testimony to bear witness to the light" (v. 7a). The way God uses people to spread the light is by their testimony. John was a burning and a shining lamp to Jesus. He was burning with zeal and shining with the light of truth. And that's the way our witness should be too.

3. That We Would Believe

Finally, the third step in the text is that we would believe.

Verse 7: "John came for testimony, to bear witness to the light that all might believe through him." Notice: "through him," not on him. The aim of his testimony was that we all believe on Jesus.

John's whole life pointed to the truth and worth of the One that was to come after him, Jesus. God sent him so that we would believe in Jesus. John witnessed to the truth so we would believe in Jesus. John burned with zeal so that we would believe in Jesus. This gospel was written so that we would believe on Jesus. And I would like to pray now for us all that we would believe in Jesus.

A Closing Prayer

Father, I pray now in Jesus' great name that you would incline the hearts of all of us to believe in Jesus. To believe . . .

  • that he is the Lord,
  • that he is so great the greatest man was not worthy to untie his shoes,
  • that he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world: the sin of anyone in the world who believes (3:36),
  • that he is the very Son of God,
  • that he is the bridegroom and all who follow him are his beloved and cherished bride,
  • that he baptizes with the Holy Spirit. He pours his Spirit out upon those who believe, swallows us up in the spirit of his love, and gives us life, abundant, overflowing, excessive life upon life.

If something is hindering you from fully believing in Jesus, let us know so we can show you more reasons to believe and pray with you for the grace to believe. Christmas is a wonderful time to believe and have eternal life.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org