They [the Levites and the priests] asked him [John the Baptist], and said to him,
“Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
If we look back into that time we might be able to understand what the Levites and priests were thinking – John was an intruder into the spiritual society of their day – John had gone to no prestigious religious school, he held no place of honor in the temple, he wasn’t even identified with any of the major religious groups, being the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Herodians. In their mind they were thinking, “Where is this guy coming from, why does he think he has the authority to go around telling people to repent and baptize – Who is this guy?” And since he just said he is not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, they by whose authority is he going around and baptizing people!
John was outside their box – he did not fit into their view of what was to happen in regards to the Messiah – and their view of what was to happen, was a view that greatly benefited them – they were hungry for power, for the praise of man – and cared little for the real things of God.
(26) John answered them saying, “I baptize in water,
John does not deny that he was baptizing, but he moves on quickly from the subject, he does not explain himself as they wished, but guides them to that which was of first importance:
but among you stands One whom you do not know.
(27) “It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
It seems at first that John doesn’t really answer their question – but what John does here should serve as an example to us: These guys were asking questions about baptism before they even knew who Christ was! Baptism is absolutely nothing without Christ – it would be an empty spiritual rite if it was not for Jesus Christ! So, John moves them past baptism to the real issue – Jesus Christ is here, and you don’t even know it!
We are always willing to argue about side issues, but we tend to ignore the weighty things – we talk about eschatology, which is a big word for the study of the end times – we study, and talk, we argue about eschatology but we fail to prepare ourselves for the return of Christ – we fail to feel the urgency – Jesus is coming! He is coming like a thief in the night – Are you ready for Him?
John is saying, “Hey, listen – you are questioning why I am baptizing these people – you are so concerned about your theological system – but I am telling you – The Messiah is here and you don’t even know Him – He is here! You should be asking me to tell you who He is – you should be spending your lives trying to find Him!”
When we focus on the shadows, on symbols before we know the real thing – when we can debate with someone about the sovereignty of God, but fail to see the value in trusting Him with our lives it is like we are talking about a spark plug when we don’t know what an engine is. Sure, you could debate about the spark plug, you could study what a spark plug is made of, you could analyze every detail, you might even think, “Wow, spark plugs are really cool!”, but you cannot really understand the real value of the spark plug until you have come to know what an engine is, when you plug the spark plug into the engine, and actually use it as it was designed to be used.
Sure we might make little toys with the spark plug, but the intention of the person who designed the spark plug was not that you would make little basketball-men with it – but rather that it would cause an engine to run.
We must constantly look into our hearts – and make sure that all those spark plugs in our head, all the knowledge that we have about the Bible, about the Word of God has been placed into our heart – do we know the Christ? Or is He standing right here, and you have no clue?
Do not be like the Levites and the priests that were sent by the Pharisees. They came, their hearts hardened, thinking only of temporal things, cleaning the outside of the cup – wishing everything to appear right, but ignoring the weightier things, the things in regards to salvation. They were looking for one to bring them power on earth, one that would lift them high and conquer all their enemies, without realizing that their greatest need was a savior, a sacrificial lamb – They needed a high priest that could offer a sacrifice that would cleanse them from their sin. They did not understand that they were doomed to hell – they knew nothing of true repentance – though they felt like authorities on the sacrament of baptism. They should have cried out, “What must I do to be saved!”, but instead they questioned a man, wondering who gave him the authority to baptize. They made no effort to seek out the one who would deliver them from the wrath to come, for their learned minds taught themselves that there was no wrath – They did not fear God because they were wise in their own eyes – They did not seek the Savior, because they did not think they needed to be saved.
Take heed to yourself – Beware, lest you do as they did!