John the Baptist is a root partly under ground in the Old Testament and partly exposed in the New Testament. He has a foot in both worlds—a prophet something like Elijah (but not Elijah reincarnate, 1:21) and voice crying that the long-expected Messiah has come.
Three Amazing Testimonies
One of the purposes of John the Baptist’s ministry is to make sure he is not confused with Jesus—and to make sure that Jesus is seen as utterly amazing. John got a running start in verses 6–8 and verse 15, but now in verses 19 and following, he launches with three amazing testimonies that we will look at today.
1) Jesus Is Yahweh Come
He says, first, in verse 23, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” That’s a quote from Isaiah 40:3–5:
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. . . . And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
In other words, in Isaiah “the LORD” (note the all caps in the ESV) refers to Yahweh, Jehovah, the God who is the Creator and Ruler of the world, and the Covenant God of Israel. Now here is John the Baptist saying that he is that voice crying in the wilderness, and the Lord whose way he is preparing is Jesus Christ. That’s his first witness in these verses. The man coming after me is more than anyone ever dreamed. He is the God of the Old Testament—only now he is man as well as God.
2) Jesus Is Superior
Second, when they ask John the Baptist why he is baptizing, he answers in verses 26–27, “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.” We will say more next week, Lord willing, on the meaning of John’s baptizing with water and Jesus’ baptizing “with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33).
But for now notice this. They ask why he is baptizing, and he answers simply by saying the one I am preparing for is so superior to me that I am not worthy to untie his sandals. So his second witness is: My baptizing is not about me. It’s about Jesus, and he is infinitely superior to me.