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])
Before Jesus started his ministry, John was exhorting the people of Israel to repent and be baptized. He was baptizing them in the Jordan river and telling them, “Make straight the way of the Lord”. In a way he was a herald for the heavenly king. As the news of a person baptizing people in Jordan river reached the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, they sent priests and Levites to inquire who this person was. Here in this passage we read the conversation that happens between the party sent out from Jerusalem and John the baptist.
What I want to draw to your attention is this: The question that was asked to John was, “Who are you?” But he answered, “I am not the Christ”. Why? Did the Jewish leaders and the priests thought of John as the Messiah? Can it be that at that time John was rumored to be Christ? If yes, what was John doing? What kind of life was he living that he was mistaken for the Messiah? Can we live in a similar fashion where people around us can see Christ in us?
When John denied that he wasn’t Christ, they asked him if he was Elijah! The greatest of the prophets! When John said he wasn’t Elijah, then they thought, he must be one of the prophets. “Are you a prophet?” “No” Said John. Well then, “Who are you?” “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord”.
The question of identity is raised by the priests. And judging from the works of John, they are ready to give him the title of a prophet, Elijah or even Christ. But John will not accept any other office than the one divinely appointed to him, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. I am not Christ. Nor am I the Elijah that you remember and want me to be again. Nor will I be a prophet for you, because that is not the task assigned to me. I am the voice and I will not be any other.”
John the baptist knew his place and his purpose. Let us also ask God where exactly he would have us. Let’s ask him which part does he want us to play. Let’s not be carried away by the positions that world offers us but continually seek the divine disposition. And once we’ve found it, lets stand firm. Right at the center of his will.