19This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
We sometimes forget that Jesus just does not appear out of nowhere. The ministry of Jesus is introduced or prepared in advance by a very powerful prophet in the mold of Elijah. Jesus himself calls John the Baptist "Elijah" in Matthew 11:14. Why? Not because Jesus believes in reincarnation but because John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah (again, not Elijah's own spirit but "spirit" figuratively speaking). As Elijah was a powerful prophet living out in the wilderness and calling people to repentance, John the Baptist was a powerful prophet who similarly called people to repentance and a faithful turning back to God.
So when the interrogators above were asking, Are you Elijah? Are you [the] prophet? the answer that John the Baptist could have given without inaccuracy was, Yes, I am "Elijah" as one foretold in Scripture and yes, I am a prophet. But to avert any possible confusion about his identity, John the Baptist answers No. When they press him further for his identity, John the Baptist finally quotes Isaiah 40:3 in response.
One of the virtues of John the Baptist is that he knows who he is. He has absolutely no confusion about who he is and what he is called to be by God. He knows himself to be "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness," the one who is called by YHWH to prepare for the coming of the Lord. He knows he's called to preach a baptism of repentance. And he knows Another will come after him, who will baptize with the Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16), "the straps of whose sandals he is unworthy to untie."
This Issue of Identity is so key for us, as a church and as individuals. But I am not principally talking about our general identity as sons or daughters of God. This general identity as children of God, as believers, disciples, and friends of Jesus is absolutely foundational for our sense of self; and this identity will never change no matter how old we are or what kind of role we might occupy at church or at work. On top of this general identity, I believe, is our more specific identity or calling. It is this particular identity which gives greater clarity and focus to our sense of life mission.
What are you called to be specifically? If you cannot answer, no need for shame or guilt. It's a question that can be answered by God. God does not call us generically. God knows us personally. God is the One who's created us individually. But asking this question and understanding our identity which I'm equating with "calling" are -- to use a bland word -- important. You can survive, you can breathe and live, you can make a decent living, you can enjoy life, you can even grow a lot in the Lord, without ever understanding your particular calling. So, in this sense, knowing your identity/calling is not necessary. But if you do know your particular calling, well, then, it's more enriching and personally compelling because you engage the Lord at an additional level. May the Lord speak to you regarding your calling/identity.
Let's pray: Father God, we ask for greater clarity regarding our particular identities and callings. We confess that for all of us knowing that we are your beloved children is sufficient for our joy and security. Yet, we confess there is more. There is more because (1) you created us and (2) you redeemed us and (3) you've equipped us for your Kingdom. There is more because you saved us and called us to glorify you in our own unique ways. May you speak in the coming days. In Jesus' Name, Amen.