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The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is December 13, 2020.

Gaudete is the Latin word for ‘rejoice’. Until the ninth century, Advent began on St Martin’s feast day, November 11. The season was one of self-denial and penitence, just as Lent is. Therefore, Gaudete Sunday offered a welcome reprieve from various spiritual disciplines before Christmas. The equivalent Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday. Traditionally, the priest wears a rose coloured vestment on both Sundays.

You can read more about Gaudete Sunday below:

Gaudete Sunday: readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Year B

Having posted most, though not all, of the readings for the three Lectionary years, it is now time to delve into the readings.

The Gospel reading for this day is John 1:6-8, 19-28 (emphases mine):

John 1:6-8, 19-28

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

1:20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”

1:21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”

1:22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

1:23 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.

1:24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.

1:25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

1:26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,

1:27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

1:28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

If certain verses are familiar, that is because they also feature in Mark’s Gospel account of John the Baptist, which I discussed last week:

Second Sunday of Advent — Year B — Mark 1:1-8

Note how John describes John the Baptist as a ‘man sent from God’ (verse 6).

Although he appears in the New Testament, he was the final prophet of the Old Testament, that long era before Christ’s ministry.

In fact, John the Baptist was the first prophet God’s people had had in 400 years.

John the Baptist came to announce the coming of Christ, ‘the light’, and to prepare people for His ministry (verse 7).

Students of John’s Gospel know that he made much use of the words ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ throughout his account.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

“That all men through him–that is through John the Baptist–might believe in that light.” In other words, he came to draw people to him that through his testimony they might believe in that light. He was not that light but was sent to give testimony of that light. And John the Apostle is saying He is the eternal one proven by creation, He is the revealed one proven by light in the midst of darkness, He is the promised one proven by the fact that the greatest of all prophets said He is the one. That’s verification. And the gospel of John is loaded with that. John calls the testimony of the Father on behalf of the incarnation, the testimony of the words and works of the Lord, the testimony of Old Testament Scripture, the testimony of people who met Him, the testimony of the disciples and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. And then here begins that whole string of testimony with the testimony of John the Baptist…the first witness listed in the gospel of John. He testifies that the logos [the Word] has come and is the true light in the world.

John the Gospel writer makes it clear that John the Baptist knew that his purpose was to announce Christ, the light (verse 9). He had always said that he himself was not the light.

The Lectionary reading then skips to verse 19 and the first mention of ‘the Jews’ in John’s account.

John MacArthur explains that whenever John used ‘the Jews’, he meant those of the hierarchy, the Sanhedrin, who refused to believe that Christ is the Messiah:

You’re going to meet in this opening section the people who rejected the Lord, the people who were disinterested in Christ. They’re a delegation that you first meet in verse 19, it says, “The Jews sent to Him priests and Levites from Jerusalem.” So Jerusalem is a sort of a religion central. The Sanhedrin runs the religious system. The Sanhedrin is the Jewish council of seventy elders plus the high priests, and they call the shots religiously in that apostate religion. The term “the Jews,” that is a term you will see seventy times in the gospel of John. It is never used ethnically. It is never used racially. It is always used in one sense: it is used to identify the enemies of Jesus. It’s John’s choice term. You don’t find it in the other gospels. You find it here in the gospel of John. It is the term that John uses for the religious establishment, the religious elite from the high priest all the way down to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, priests—everybody else who were the duly constituted leaders of apostate Judaism who resented, hated Christ and ultimately were responsible for handing Him over to the Romans to be executed. So you meet in this passage right away, right at the beginning in the first verse of the historical account of the gospel of John, the faithless people. And you’re going to see them all the way through. You’re going to see these people…I said…seventy times this term is used, and it always refers to the enemies of Jesus.

The priests and Levites asked John the Baptist who he was.

He ‘confessed and did not deny’ that he was not the Messiah (verse 20).

MacArthur says that those words are difficult to translate from Greek into English. In Greek, the inference is that John the Baptist was angry at the question:

In verse 20 “he confessed and didn’t deny,” but confessed. And by the way, that’s an English way of trying to translate the Greek, which is very, very strong. He was outraged. He was livid at that question. “He confessed and didn’t deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am not the Christ.’”

It is possible that John the Baptist was angry because he knew the hierarchy were not interested in salvation. They wanted the Messiah to be a temporal king:

They weren’t looking for a lamb; they weren’t looking for a sacrifice; they weren’t looking for someone to take the wrath of God. They were looking for a King because they thought they were okay. That was a modest commitment to repentance for the sake of John and for the sake of being ready for the Messiah. But there was no sense in which they were looking for a Savior.

They goaded John the Baptist with more questions about his identity (verses 21, 22).

They asked if he was Elijah because that prophet was supposed to return to announce the Messiah:

Before the arrival of Messiah will come Elijah. But it is before Messiah’s coming to judge. So we can say this, just for our understanding, that Elijah will come before the Lord’s Second Coming in judgment. Some would equate him with one of the witnesses of Revelation 11, verse 3, the two witnesses that come at the end. Elijah never died. Is that not true? He went to heaven. What? Yeah, he went to heaven in a chariot. So Elijah will come before the return of the Lord in the great and terrible day. So they say, “Are you Elijah?” Does this mean this is the coming of the King? And, of course, they thought the judgment would be upon the ungodly nations and they would be given the kingdom. And he says to them, “No, I’m not. I’m not.”

You say, “Well wait a minute, wait a minute. Why would he say I’m not?” Because he wasn’t. He was John the Baptist. He didn’t exist before he was born. He’s not recycled Elijah. However—and here’s what you have to understand—the angel said he will come “in the spirit and power of Elijah”; with that kind of prophetic power and effect, turning people’s hearts back to God.

So understand it this way: two comings of Christ. The first coming he is preceded by one in the spirit and power of Elijah. Second Coming, he’s preceded by Elijah. So John is not the Elijah, but he is the one who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah. And it’s pretty clear throughout the testimony of Matthew and Luke that they understood that—that John was not Elijah but he was the one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. You remember the great prophet who spoke the Word of God.

John the Baptist quoted Isaiah in his response: the voice in the wilderness crying out to ‘make straight the way of the Lord’ (verse 23).

He could have answered the priests and Levites differently, because he was conceived and born under special circumstances, but he didn’t. He showed humility:

“I’m the son of Zacharias, the esteemed priest. I’m the greatest man who ever lived, by the way. I’m a man who was, just for your information, filled with the Holy Spirit when I was still in my mother’s womb. He doesn’t say any of that, he just says, “I’m a voice.” “I’m a voice.” Just a voice. It reminds me of Luke 17:10 where it says that when we’ve done everything we ought to have done, we ought to say we’re only an unprofitable servant, I’m a slave—just a voice, just a voice. But I am a voice that is unique. “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” I am a voice, but I am a voice fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 40, verses 3 to 5. I am the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 through 5.

And what did Isaiah mean when he said “The voice of one crying in the wilderness?” Isaiah was talking about the coming of Messiah, and that before the Messiah would come He would be preceded by a voice crying in the wilderness: “Make the way of the Lord clear; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, every mountain and hill be made low; let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” That’s a prophecy of John the Baptist. He says, “I’m that voice.”

As I discussed last week, John the Baptist lived in ‘the wilderness’ — the desert. Therefore, he lived in a literal wilderness. However, there is also the connotation of a spiritual wilderness in which others lived.

MacArthur interprets Isaiah for us in light of John the Baptist’s purpose:

So in what way was he lowering mountains and elevating valleys and straightening out crooked roads and clearing obstacles off the path spiritually? Spiritually; the truth preacher of righteousness, a voice not attracting people to himself but to one of higher rank whose sandals He wasn’t worthy to untie. And He was saying, “Make straight,” He says in verse 23, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Create a highway in your heart is what he’s after

The low places are the base things in life that need to be…that need to be brought up. The high things are the elevated self-righteous, prideful, hypocritical things that need to be brought low. The crooked things, the deviant things need to be straightened out. The clutter of life needs to be cleared off so that the road is clean. This is all a part of the message of repentance. Deal with the issues of the heart, which is both wretched in its self-elevation and it’s self-debasing.

John tells us that the Pharisees sent the priests and Levites to John the Baptist (verse 24). It could be that John the Baptist surmised that and why he was angry at the nature of their questions. He and his parents were devout Jews and were no doubt aware of the corrupt nature of the Sanhedrin.

The priests and Levites continued to ask him about what he was doing and why he was baptising people (verse 25). It was their way of asking how he dared do that without their authority.

John gave them a spiritual response about Jesus, who was among them but whom they did not yet know (verse 26). John stated his unworthiness to even undo His sandal (verse 27).

MacArthur explains:

In other words, why are you focused on me? Why are you so caught up with me? I baptize in water. He just deflects this thing completely away. I baptize in water. What’s the big deal? This is water. This is just putting people in water—just an external symbol …

So John does what he always did, turns everybody’s attention toward Christ. And there you have his first message in verse 26, “Among you stands One whom you do not know; He is here.” That’s his first message. He’s here. Why are you caught up with me? You see me, you know me, but One stands already here that you don’t know. He’s the One you need to know. He’s the One you need to know. He’s the One, he later says, who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. In other words, He’s the One who deals with the heart, with the heart. The Messiah is present. He’s here. He doesn’t mean He’s standing there by the water that day. He means He’s in the land; He has arrived.

This is the chronological timeline:

At the very moment he says this, Jesus is walking toward where John is and will arrive the next day. It was forty-plus days ago that John baptized Jesus. And then Jesus went, carried by the Holy Spirit, up into the wilderness for forty days of temptation. The forty days of temptation is ended. Jesus is on His way back, back to John. And what John is saying is not that He’s here on the spot, but that He’s here—He has been identified and He’s present. That’s the first great message that John gives. That’s where all gospel preaching starts, doesn’t it? He’s here; He’s come; He’s come; He’s come.

Incidentally, the Bethany referred to in verse 28 is not the one where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. It is a different Bethany:

Day two picks up the story in verse 29. All of this, of course, verse 28 says, was happening in a place called Bethany beyond the Jordan. Not the Bethany on the eastside of Jerusalem there, but another Bethany. We don’t know where exactly it was; out beyond the Jordan River into the wilderness. It all happened there. But verse 29 then takes us to day two, the next day. He saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is day two; this is group two. Group two, all the people that are gathered, all the crowd, and the message: “Look at Him.” “Look at Him.” “Look at Him.”

This is such a brilliant episode in the Gospel story. One can understand why it is included in the readings for Gaudete Sunday, a day of rejoicing.

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