GIVING TESTIMONY John 1: 6-8, 19-28
In this passage we see John the Baptist giving testimony to Jesus. But what does it mean to give testimony? Most of us might think about giving testimony in court. And that is partly what is going on in this passage. But there is also another kind of testimony, usually called a testimonial, where one is seeking to convince someone else about the value or quality of a product or a person. That is also partly what John the Baptist is about in our reading. I want us to look at these two meanings of the word in turn
1. Giving testimony
The way John has written his gospel, Jesus is on trial throughout. In some of the prophetic writings there are trial scenes, in which either God puts his people on trial, or invites them to put him on trial to prove his innocence. Most famous is Micah 6.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the Lord has an indictment against his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
“O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”
What Does the Lord Require?
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
In John's gospel, Jesus is implicitly ( when not explicitly) on trial on a charge of falsely claiming to be the Messiah. His defence, of course, is that the claim is true, but the argument is wide-ranging, and starts with John the Baptist. He himself is "put on trial", in the sense that he is challenged by the Jewish authorities to say whether or not he is the Messiah. He states clearly that he is not, but then gives clear testimony to Jesus in vv. 27-8 ("I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”), even though Jesus has not yet apparently begun his public ministry. All the same, John the Baptist is called by John the gospel-writer as a witness to Jesus' defence that he is truly the Messiah.
Is it possible we could be called to give testimony in Jesus' defence today? There are many people in our society who would call his claims into question. There are people who would lay at his door all the wrongs that have been committed by his followers, and in addition some of those committed by others. Are we prepared to go onto the witness stand and speak in Jesus' defence. There are many who must literally answer for their faith in court, and give testimony in Jesus' defence at the risk of their own freedom and sometimes of there lives. Are we prepared to risk the criticism that we might encounter if we nail our colours to the mast in Jesus' defence? Will we "risk the hostile stare, should our life attract or scare?" Are we prepared to give our testimony to Jesus?
2. Giving a testimonial
But there is another kind of testimony, usually called a testimonial. You can find these inside the front covers of books or in publicity for films or plays. Quotes from people telling you how good the book/play/film is in the hope that you will read/see it. Sometimes publishers or publicists will take a phrase out of context from a critical review to make it appear that the review was favourable. The same idea lies behind getting celebrities to endorse your product. The idea is that because the celebrity uses the product and values it, so should you. Of course, in the real world the celebrities are paid enormous amounts of money to say these things and one never knows whether they use the product or not. Unless they are sports personalities, in which case TV close-ups would soon establish any duplicity (for instance, if a sports personality contracted to Nike were to be pictured wearing an Adidas product) and the celebrity would end up massively out of pocket.
But John too is giving a testimonial to Jesus. And this time it is an honest one. Indeed, the gospel writer makes it plain this is the whole purpose of his life: to give Jesus a testimonial. This is also the purpose of John's gospel ("Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20: 30-31). John is not concerned merely to defend Jesus against unjust charges: his purpose is to bring people to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and to commit their lives to Him.
That is our task too. Not just to defend our Lord Jesus against unjust attacks, or even against marginalisation, but to proclaim his message, his power, and his glory, that others too may believe. We don't need to be professional evangelists. All we need to do is share what Jesus means to us, and what he has done for us, by our words and by our lives with people around. God will give help of Holy Spirit to give us the words and the power we need.
Therefore let us faithfully follow in the steps of John the Baptist, giving testimony in Jesus' defence when he is attacked by those around us or by others in our society, and by giving him our testimonial - testifying to what he means to us and what he has done in our lives, that others too may come to believe in Him, and that believing, they may have life in His Name, AMEN.