And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you?…
It was no affair of his to determine his own latitude and longitude in the chart of the world's history. That was for his cotemporaries to do, not for him. That was their responsibility, not his. It was for him not to be thinking about himself and what he might possibly be, but to do his work, to fulfil his mission, to bear his testimony.
1. You cannot have forgotten how our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, being tempted in the wilderness, took up, in opposition to the tempter, not any special or exceptional ground such as He might claim as Messiah and Son of God, but common human ground, such as any poor tempted, suffering mortal may stand on and be safe. The language of the evangelist reveals his profound sense of the difficulty of the situation and of the nobleness of the Baptist's demeanour in it: "He confessed, and denied not: but confessed, I am not the Christ." It was so easy to equivocate, to give an ambiguous answer; so hard to return a decisive, resolute, unhesitating "no." The false prophet would have returned a very different answer. The true prophet must take up common human ground, and so be help and strength to his sinful, suffering, tempted fellow-men. "Is the way of the Lord straight, or not? Is every obstacle removed out of his path, every offence out of His kingdom? If not, then it is my duty, and yours, to help to make it straight. This is all that I profess or claim to do. Necessity is laid upon me, and do it I must."
2. But again — there is a shadow of loneliness and isolation in the reply, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness." And so it must always be when the circumstances are at all similar. John the Baptist was far in advance of his cotemporaries; was at a far higher spiritual level than they. There was only One who could thoroughly under stand, appreciate, and sympathize with him — his Master and ours, Jesus Christ. If your work is the fruit of real conviction, if it is inspired by true ideas, the work will live, the ideas will triumph, will spread and propagate themselves and mould other minds — on a small scale it may be, and in a very humble way — until it shall be a surprise even to yourself to witness it. John's work lives even to this day. His thoughts still mould us.
3. And, once more, there is a feeling of hope and joy in the reply, as well as a shadow of loneliness and isolation. John the Baptist could not forget, any more than we can, that the words which he selected to describe his work are imbedded in a passage of which this is the opening strain: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God." True prophet and earnest worker for God that he was, he could not but find joy in his work, for the work's own sake, as well as sorrow. For it is the very nature of such work to bring both joy and sorrow. It is so still. Whatever be the work which is given us to do, whatever be the path of duty for us, if we will but throw ourselves heartily into the one, and tread the other firmly and diligently, hope and interest and joy are sure to spring up around us. In some way or other the work is sure to bring a multitude of wholesome human interests along with it.
(D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?