The Voice | John 1.19-23
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John 1:19-23 | ESV
This is what John had to say for himself – this was his final answer – when the religious establishment sent a delegation of priestly types and ministerial staff to put the question to him so they could pin a label on him: “Just who do you think you are?” And John laid it on the line. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t mince words. He said it openly, he didn’t equivocate or dodge a thing but spoke up loud and clear: “I am not the Messiah, the Christ, the Chosen One.” So they came back at him again, “What then? Are you Elijah?” John was curt. “No I’m not.” Scratching their heads now, they asked again, “The ‘prophet’ then – is that who you are?” John was monosyllabic. “Nope.” More than a little confused, they came at him again, “Well who are you – we need something to take back to our superiors. What do you have to say for yourself?” Now John’s eyes lit up. “I am ‘the Voice’ – the voice screaming out in the wild, ‘Make way for God! Prepare the Lord’s path!’ just as Isaiah, prophetic spokesman of the living God, foretold.” MAV
“There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.” That’s the classic King James rendering of 1 Corinthians 14:10. There’s actually a play on words in the Greek between what we translate “voices” and “without signification” – “There are many kinds of voices (phone-known) in the world, and none of them is voiceless (ah-phone-known).” The point is every voice has its own unique meaning. When this delegation of religious leaders showed up asking John to identify himself – and isn’t this what the “religious” are compelled to do, constantly, by definition? The religious must identify and categorize people, beliefs, doctrines, practices, habits, thoughts, etc. etc. etc. Labels must be attached, categories assigned – and don’t even think of coming up with new categories. We have the categories all covered, thank you very much. So just who are you? And how does that wild man in that wild place do with their categorizing efforts? He defies them. Are you the Christ – the Chosen One. No, no, NO! (I love the redundancy of the original – John “confessed and did not deny but confessed” – aka he quite emphatically did not mince words in his denial.) Well, who are you then? Are you Elijah. John is more terse to the point that we may want to join the delegation and ask our own rejoinder question, “But wait, you are the Elijah who is to come, so how can you say “no”? John leaves us with a simple “I am not.” Well, are you the “Speaker”? (not a bad non-religious translation of the Greek προφήτης that we don’t translate at all but only transliterate “prophet”) Now John is monosyllabic. “No.” Enter religious sputtering. Wait a minute, you have to be something. So who and what are you? What do you have to say about yourself? And while John’s answer is now a bit longer, complete with reference to old Isaiah prophecies, his answer is still essentially one simple word: the Voice (okay, that’s two words). When all was said and done, as far as John was concerned, he was merely the Voice bearing witness and pointing to the Word. As the continuing conversation makes clear, this answer did not satisfy the religious enquirers (enter more religious sputtering), but what a powerful, satisfying, empowering answer it is. John found his voice. John used his voice. John was a voice. The voice of his generation. Imagine what might happen in this wide, wild world if we, defying religious categorizing and codifying, did the same…
How succinctly can you define the essence and purpose of your own life? Have you found your voice yet – and if so, how are you using it? Who is listening?
Lord, let me not be voiceless in this world out of fear or indifference. Show me how to find my voice and then fill me with the wisdom and courage to use it. Through Jesus.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.