I had read John 1 hundreds of times before. But this time I got stuck on verse 8: “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”
“Huh,” I thought, sitting up straight and staring at nothing in particular for a minute or two, “that’s a word I need to hear as a pastor.” More than that, it’s a word I need to hear as a Christian. Here’s John the Baptist–pretty important guy, wildly popular prophet, forerunner of the Messiah, just about the greatest person ever born of a woman (Mt. 11:11). And when the Holy Spirit takes a moment to introduce him in John’s prologue, He wants to make clear: John the Baptist was not the light.
Hey pastor, have you forgotten that this whole church thing isn’t about you? Have I forgotten that it’s not about the size of my church, the number of compliments I receive, or the reach of some nebulous social media platform? I am not the light. Never have been. Praise God, I don’t have to be.
Hey mom, do you remember whose perfect example your kids need to see? It’s not yours. It’s Christ’s. Do you remember who alone can save their souls? Same deal.
Hey ministry entrepreneur, have you forgotten what really matters? It’s not what you can build. If you know how to be a ministry success without bearing witness to Christ, rethink your definition of success.
Hey missionary, have you lost sight of why you left home in the first place? You didn’t choose this life for the weather or the traffic. You knew you were not promised great results. You just wanted to bear witness to the light where there was too much darkness.
Hey social justice crusader, do you know that it doesn’t depend on you? That city, that slum, that injustice–they won’t be helped by sacrifice alone. They need to know the sacrifice that only a Savior can provide.
At first John 1:8 stung a bit. A healthy sting. I didn’t get into the ministry for me. I became a pastor because I felt the word of God like a fire in my bones. I chose this path because, on my best days, I love Christ and love his people. But for all of us, our best days are not our only days. We can be tempted to self-pity, tempted to prided, tempted to impatience, tempted to think we are the point instead of just pointers. So yeah, a good kind of sting.
But then I thought, what good news we have in this little verse. What good news for pastors and presidents and moms and missionaries and elders and deacons and teachers and teenagers. What good news for anyone who loves Jesus and feels like their spiritual wattage is a bit dimmer than they’d like.
You don’t have to bear the burdens of the planet, just bear witness to the one who can.
You don’t have die for the sins of the world, just introduce people to the one who has.
You are not the light.
Ouch, and hallelujah!