John testified

January 14, 2008

John the Baptist has been our constant companion on the journey through
Advent and into Epiphany. First, it was his task to make ready the way
of the Lord. Next, it was his privilege to baptize Jesus in the river
Jordan. Now, it is his purpose to bear witness to Jesus’ identity,
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Of
all the duties appointed to him, testimony may be the most significant
one. John’s testimony begins with a confession. Even though he had
preached about one coming who was greater than he, John twice
confesses, “I myself did not know him.” Only when the Holy Spirit
descends on Jesus at his baptism does John finally recognize Jesus as
the Son of God. With this personal revelation, the meaning of John’s
ministry becomes clear to him. He came baptizing so that Jesus might be
revealed to Israel. He is to point to the Lamb of God so that others
like Andrew and Simon will follow.

The beauty of personal
testimony is its honesty. John says, in so many words, “Look! It’s the
Lamb of God. I didn’t really recognize him at first, but I will tell
you about my experience, how I came to know him in my life.” As Andrew
and Simon discover, Jesus will be revealed to them in completely
different ways. They will have to “come and see” for themselves, and
they will have their own stories to tell about how they came to know
and to love the Lamb of God. Personal testimonies are powerful because
they speak through the particular circumstances of our lives. They tell
of the variety of ways that we fail to recognize Jesus as the Son of
God, and the ways in which, despite our failures, Jesus makes himself
known to us anyway.

But how can we truly testify to the Lamb
of God who takes away the sin of the world when we don’t also speak
about the ways in which he removes our sins?

The problem with
personal testimony is the same as its strength: testimony must be
honest. It is John’s recognition of his failure that facilitates the
revelation of God in Jesus. Personal testimony is powerful because it
starts with our sin, ends in our salvation, and thus facilitates the
revelation of God in Jesus.

In Speaking of Sin,
Barbara Brown Taylor laments the loss of the language of sin and
salvation within the mainline church. “Abandoning the language of sin
will not make sin go away. Human beings will continue to experience
alienation, deformation, damnation, and death no matter what we call
them. Abandoning the language will simply leave us speechless before
them, and increase our denial of their presence in our lives.”

John the Baptist testified to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Therefore we are not left speechless.