John 1:26
When our Lord Jesus came into this world, he did not come as one isolated from the race he designed to save. He condescended to take his place - the most honourable place - in a long and illustrious succession. He superseded the last prophet of the old dispensation; he commissioned the first prophets of the new. The herald and forerunner of our Lord perfectly comprehended his own relation to his Master, and felt it a dignity to occupy a position of Divine appointment, although a position of inferiority, in respect to him. The query put to John by the leaders of the Jewish Church at Jerusalem was natural and proper; it was evidence of the interest which John's mission was exciting in the land; and it gave the Baptist an opportunity of both declaring himself and witnessing to his Lord.

I. JOHN'S DISCLAIMER. No doubt there was an expectation, general and eager, of One who, in accordance with Hebrew prophecy, should be the Deliverer and Ruler of God's people Israel. From varying motives - in some cases with spiritual yearning, in other cases with political expectation - the Jews turned anxiously towards every personage of distinction and influence who arose among the people. Thus they turned to John, whose character was austere and inflexible as that of a Hebrew seer, and whose popular power was manifest from the multitude of his adherents and admirers. In these circumstances, John's first duty was to give an unequivocal answer to the inquiry of the Jews. This inquiry was pointed and particular. Was John Elias, again visiting the people who revered him as one of their holiest and mightiest saints? There was something in his appearance, his habits, his speech, that suggested this possibility. Or was he "the prophet," less definitely designated? Or could it be that he was none other than the Messiah? The times were ripe for the advent of the promised Deliverer; John evidently possessed a spiritual authority, a popular power, such as Israel had not seen for many a generation. To every such inquiry John had only one answer: "I am not." In this disclaimer we recognize both the intelligence and the candour of the forerunner. A weak mind might have been overpowered by interest so profound and widespread. A self-seeking and ambitious mind might have taken advantage of such an opportunity to assert a personal authority and to climb to the throne of power. John was superior to such temptations. Though greater than others born of women, he did not aspire to a position for which God had not destined him. In fact, he was too great to wish to be aught but the herald and the servant of him who was to come.

II. JOHN'S CLAIM. A just and admirable modesty was not, indeed never is, inconsistent with a due assertion of position and duties assigned by God. He who knows what God has sent him into the world to do, will neither depreciate his own work nor envy another's. The claim made by John was very remarkable. He affirmed himself to be:

1. A fulfilment of prophecy. The circumstances of his birth and education, taken in conjunction with certain declarations of Old Testament Scripture, must have suggested to John that he held a place in the revealed counsels of eternal wisdom.

2. A voice. Often had God spoken to Israel. In John he spake yet again. To him it was given to utter by human lips the thoughts of the Divine mind. Not that this was mechanical function; John's whole soul was inflamed with the grandeur and the burning necessity of that message of repentance which he was called upon to deliver to his fellow countrymen. Nothing but the conviction that his voice was the expression of Divine thought, that he was summoning men in God's Name to a higher life of righteousness and faith, could have animated him to discharge his ministry with such amazing boldness. Nor could any other conviction have overcome the difficulty he must at first have felt in publicly witnessing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ.

3. A herald, and one preparing the way of a great Successor. It was his to make straight the Lord's way. It was his to announce the Messiah's approach, and to direct the attention of Israel to the coming in lowly guise of Israel's King. It was his. to subside into comparative insignificance, to withdraw from publicity, in order that he might make room for One whose presence would bring the realization of the brightest hopes and the most fervent prayers. It was his to administer the humbler baptism with water - the symbol of a better baptism to be conferred by Christ, even that with the Holy Spirit.

APPLICATION.

1. Learn the completeness and harmony of the Divine plan. The revelation of God proceeds upon an order which may be recognized both by the intellect and by the heart of man. The wisdom of the Eternal arranges that all preparation shall be made for the appearance of the world's Saviour; the morning star heralds the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. God's ways in grace are as regular and as orderly as his ways in providence.

2. Learn the dignity and preciousness of Immanuel. One so honourable as the Baptist yet deemed himself unworthy to serve the meek and lowly . Jesus - to act as his meanest attendant. Lowly was his attitude, and reverent his words, when the Son of God drew near. Surely he, who was so regarded and so heralded, demands our homage and deserves our love. - T.







I baptize with water.
If the rite, which the Forerunner of our Lord administered, is not to be considered as a Christian institute, to what dispensation are we to assign it, since it is manifestly no part of the economy of Moses? The reply is that it was the symbol of a peculiar dispensation, which was neither entirely legal nor Evangelical, but occupied an intermediate station, possessing something of the character and attributes of both; a kind of twilight, equally removed from the obscurity of the first, and the splendour of the last and perfect economy of religion. The light which he emitted, though it greatly surpassed every preceding illumination, was of short duration, being soon eclipsed and extinguished by that ineffable effulgence, before which nothing can retain its splendour.

(Robert Hall.).

One among you
1. As to His human nature, as one of yourselves, as He took upon Him the form of man and became the servant of men, and is among you as once He sat in the midst of the doctors in the Temple.

2. As to the Divine nature He is amongst you, for He filleth all in all, and is very nigh to every one.

3. He is among you as the Light which lighteth every man, and as the Word of Wisdom in the heart of all His people.

4. Among you as the Mediator between man and God, and seeking to draw all men to God.

5. Not as the Baptist in the desert, but in the midst of the cities of men.

6. Among you all, for the benefit of all, as the true tree of life in the midst of the garden of this world for the life and for the healing of all.

(W. Denton, M. A.)

We can imagine the Master visiting various spheres in the modern world with the same result.

I. BUSINESS.

II. PLEASURE.

III. THE CHURCH.

IV. AFFLICTION.

(H. J. W. Buxton, M. A.)

I. THE WORLD'S CREATOR A STRANGER IN HIS OWN DOMINIONS.

1. In part arising from the intentional obscurity that veiled His appearance among man for purposes of their own earthly sovereigns often travel in disguise; but the world has never witnessed so strange an incognito as this. The King of Glory laid aside His robes of light, and in the simple garb of a suffering man, "hid" Himself from the wise and prudent that He might reveal Himself to the lowly and the meek. From His own disciples at times He purposely veiled His identity (John 20:14; John 21:4; Luke 24:16, 31).

2. Too largely owing to the blinding effect of sin. The other and gentler John affirms the same mysterious but humbling fact, and enumerates the accumulating evidence of its truth. For ages the true Light shined in promise, prophecy, holy law and inward conscience, yet the darkness discovered it not (ver. 5). In the fulness of time the Creator came to visit this province of His empire, and was unrecognized upon His own estate (ver. 10). More humbling still, when He came to His own possessions His own people received Him not (ver. 11). Even those to whom He made Himself known were but imperfectly acquainted with Him.

II. THE IGNORANCE OF MAN CONCERNING THAT WHICH THEY MOST NEED TO KNOW. Ignorance baneful, knowledge beneficial; yet vast numbers are strangers to the source, centre and sum of all wisdom.

1. With some the knowledge of Christ is only indirect; the evidence of vague rumours or the acceptance of testimony; a secondhand knowledge.

2. Personal knowledge exists in varying degrees. Some are only on terms of distant acquaintance; others have occasional communications; others have intimate friendship; with the most loyal and loving Christ sustains confidential relations.

3. To be ignorant of Him is the worst privation man can suffer (2 Corinthians 4:8, 4).

4. When He is known He is admired, loved, trusted and obeyed (chap. John 4:10).

III. THE SAVIOUR'S KINDNESS AND COMPASSION IN REVEALING HIMSELF TO THEM THAT SEEK HIM.

1. He has no wish to be unrecognized. He stands, waits, knocks (Revelation 3:20).

2. He awaits our entreaty to remove His disguise (Jeremiah 14:5).

3. Once admitted to His friendship we shall grow in intimacy with Him.

4. In His own home hereafter He will show us more and more of His hidden glory.

(R. Lewis.)

I. A STARTLING WONDER. Christ unknown.

1. Not from want of evidence then or previously.

(1)The world manifested its Maker;

(2)Conscience reflected His light;

(3)Prophecy and type shadowed His person and ministry. Abraham saw His day. Moses spoke of Him. To Him gave all the prophets witness.

(4)John proclaimed Him.

2. Not from want of evidence now. In addition to all the above,

(1)The Holy Spirit testifies of Him.

(2)The Christian consciousness of eighteen centuries fulfils the promise of His perpetual presence.

(3)His ambassadors declare Him.

(4)His sacraments embody Him. How strange that He should be amongst the children of His people, the hearers of His gospel, and yet not be known!

II. A STERN NECESSITY. In the knowledge of Him, and in that alone standeth our eternal life. That knowledge is the beginning, the middle and the end of Christianity.

1. The beginning. Christ's first invitation echoed by His first convert was "Come and see." Isaiah saw His glory, and was cleansed for service. When Paul saw Christ he became a new man.

2. The continuance. The development of Christian life depends on growing knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18; Philippians 3:10; Hebrews 12:2; cf. 3:1).

3. Its consummation is in heaven, where we shall see His face, and be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

III. A BLESSED OPPORTUNITY. "There standeth."

1. How?

(1)Stationary — not shifting, coming and going.

(2)Patient — not wearied by procrastination, but waiting to be gracious.

(3)Accessible. "Lo, I am with you alway." "Now is the accepted time."

2. What as?

(1)A sympathizer.

(2)A Saviour.

(3)A personal friend.

IV. A FEARFUL ALTERNATIVE.

1. To know Christ is to be known of Him. Christ knows His sheep. He recognizes us when our friends have ceased to do so; when it is difficult to do so; in poverty and obloquy; at the last day.

2. Not to know Christ is to be disowned by Him. "I never knew you."

(J. W. Burn.)

He it is, who, coming after me, is preferred before me
The world recognizes jealousy as the chief weakness of popular leaders and preachers. Such men are spiritual athletes, who cannot bear a rival. The greatest of popular preachers, the darling of Antioch and Constantinople, admits that he who can overcome this is almost like the disembodied spirits, whose lives, pure as the crystal stream, can never be darkened by any shadow of envy or vainglory. But the leader of a great party in a nation; the founder of a sect, which has vitality enough to live on for years; who was regarded by some as probably the Messiah — that he should have bowed down in prostrate humiliation before a younger successor, this is original indeed.

(Bp. Alexander.)

As the lark that soars the highest, builds her nest the lowest; the nightingale that sings the sweetest, sings in the shade when all things rest; the branches that are most laden with ripe fruit, bend lowest; the valleys are fruitful in their lowliness; and the ship most laden sinks deepest in the water, so the holiest Christians are the humblest.

(J. Mason.)

Humility did not make John the Baptist contemptible; but when he refused the name of a prophet, Christ said that he was more than a prophet. Humility did not make Moses contemptible; but as he was the mildest man upon earth, so he was the greatest upon earth. Humility did not make David contemptible; but when he humbled himself, he said unto Michal, "I will be more humble yet, and lowly in mine own sight, yet thou and thy maids shall honour me." As Christ ceased not to be a king because He was like a servant, nor to be a lion because He was a lamb, nor to be a judge because He was judged; so man doth not lose his honour by humility; but he shall be honoured for his humility, as the son was honoured when he was humbled (Luke 15:18-25). Thus humility hath found that which pride sought; like little David, which was least accounted of, and yet got the victory, yea, when no man durst encounter with the giant (1 Samuel 17:28).

(Henry Smith.)

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