Gospel: John 1:6–8, 19–28
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”
They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (NIV)
Last week I sat with a couple who were looking for answers within their marriage. A recent family trauma had led them into my office for counsel, but as we began to work through the layers of pain and fear it was clear the marriage union was already weak. Four years prior, a breach of trust had taken place, making the current attempt of healing impossible.
This couple sat on my couch and accused each other of past sins, as if I was a judge in a court of law and could make their relationship right again with a tangible penalty. It had been years, and they were no closer to healing than in the early days of loss.
The couple professed to have an understanding of Christianity, but as I listened to them unsuccessfully attempt to solve heartbreak on their own terms, I wondered about their interpretation of God’s redemptive story. Both the husband and wife were raised in families affiliated with gang activity. This culture has many rules of engagement, and unfortunately forgiveness and mercy are worked for but rarely achieved. These families will work and work to find healing, but their efforts are often in vain. Unpacking culture and their automatic responses will be key in understanding the good news of Jesus, his free gift of forgiveness, and his path to an abundant life (John 10:10).
Earlier that week I had been studying John the Baptist, his role in announcing the savior and removing obstacles between people and God and his interactions with the Pharisees. John “came as a witness to testify concerning that light (Jesus), so that through him all might believe . . . and become children of God” (John 1:7, 12). John the Baptist was sharing hope and teaching repentance to a people in need of a savior.
I’m currently a part of a missional church plant where we seek to practice that which we find in scripture. What would it look like to participate in John’s announcement? What would it look like to testify about the light (Jesus) to this couple whose wounding is deep?
As I sat with the couple, I leaned in. I pushed into the pain, asking about the wounding and the obstacles toward forgiveness. And after listening, I began to ask about what God might see possible for this couple. What authentic forgiveness might look like in each individual and then in the marriage. How a restored marriage might help the family navigate the trauma affecting their children. We discussed what it looked like to believe God could heal them and then begin to practice His forgiveness for self and the other. And along the way, I shared about how God restored my marriage, my own testimony concerning Jesus.
I can’t predict how this couple will respond in the days and months to come. I do know that after some tears they made a decision to keep meeting in pursuit of a restored marriage and a deeper understanding of Jesus’s forgiveness.
Ultimately, I’m not in charge of how people respond, but rather it is my privilege to join John in the sharing and announcing of a King who forgives and heals.
What is perhaps John’s most famous statement about “the voice of one calling” is actually a quote from Isaiah 40. When you step back and look at the whole passage from that chapter, you see just how beautiful it is to be a witness to God’s restoration:
“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her guilt has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
Go up on a high mountain,
Zion, messenger of good news,
Raise your voice forcefully,
Jerusalem, messenger of good news;
Raise it up, do not fear. (Isaiah 40:1-2, 9a NASB)
Alison McGregor – Executive Partner of One-Eighty, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Missional Church Planter