Our Witness is a Great Not
Piper's second point is that we are NOT the focus of the Gospel. Even though God chose us as the way to spread his gospel, we are not central to it.
"In fact, John the Gospel writer is so bent on making sure that we feel the not of John’s testimony that he piles on the negatives in verses 19-20: '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 . . .' Did not deny what? He did not deny, 'I am not the Christ.' He affirmed I am not the Christ. And thus denied that he was the Christ. Do you see why I think we are onto something here? You only write like this when you are trying to make a point.
But he is not done making his point. Verse 21: 'And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’' Of course he was Elijah in one sense. He had come 'in the spirit and power of Elijah' (Luke 1:17), but he was not the actual physical Elijah who had gone into heaven in the chariot of fire without dying.
He is still not done. Verses 26-27: 'John answered them, ‘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.”
John seems to choose a negative way of showing that he was not the Christ and Piper picks up on this. Rather than deny that he was the Christ, John affirmed that he was not the Christ. Rather than proclaiming who he is, John seems to sit back and let the others guess, then diverts the attention away from himself. John is an excellent example of Christian humility. So many pastors and televangelists must always have the spotlight shining on them, John refuses the spot light, becoming less so Jesus may be more.“He Must Increase; I Must Decrease”
Later John comes back to this idea of making less of himself.
"You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.” The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease."
"This is the great not of our witness. We must decrease; he must increase. We must make much of him; we must not make much of ourselves. So it was with Paul: 'I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So he who plants and he who waters are not anything, but only God who gives the growth”'(1 Corinthians 3:6-7). 'What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord'(2 Corinthians 4:5)."
"What then is John? He is John the Witness. The necessary witness who is not the Christ. How does he describe himself? Verses 22-23: '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.’' I am simply a voice.
A voice, a witness. And in his mouth are not self-exalting words, but Christ-exalting words. John 1:15: 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.' John 1:34: 'I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.' John 1:29: 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'”
How much we all could learn from John, such humility. We must die to ourselves, and turn the attention away from ourselves. Christ uses the foolish of this world, so he may prove that it is none of our doing. I'll leave you with Piper's ending, because I could not better articulate his point.
"Here’s the lesson for us. We must be his witnesses. It is a great necessity. Faith comes by hearing a witness. But we must not make much of ourselves. Beware of the witness that needs attention for himself. Beware of the preacher who constantly angles to put himself in a good light and returns again and again to his ministry and his achievements. Beware of the preacher’s subtle preoccupation with himself even when he speaks of his own flaws. Beware of your own bent to love the praise of men.
Remember, therefore, that from the very beginning of John’s Gospel, there is a human witness to the light—our witness. Our witness is a great necessity. And our witness is a great not. He must increase; we must decrease. Amen."