What adjective could be more redundant than “shining” when attached to the word “light”? What else does a light do? What else can it do except shine?
Surely there’s no such thing as a light that doesn’t shine. Well you’d think so, wouldn’t you. But Jesus, as we’ll soon see, speaks of people who “put their light under a bushel” (Matthew 5:14-15). Christians are the light of the world, and yet there’s an impossible possibility (which is a reality for many!) of being a light that does not shine.
Not so with John the Baptist. He is the One described by Jesus as a “shining light.”
Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. (John 5:33-35)
How did John shine? Did he shine by being the most naturally talented man of his day? Well he was that (Matthew 11:11), but that’s not why he was a shining light. Did he shine because he drew attention to his many achievements? No, the exact opposite. John shone by pointing away from himself entirely. The common feature in all paintings depicting John is the pointing finger. That was the very nature of his life. And it was the secret of his radiance. The one who shines the most is the one who draws least attention to himself.
Jesus tells us this secret of John’s brilliance: “he bare witness unto the truth.” John pointed to Jesus. That’s the source of his shining. As the opening chapter of John says:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light… The true Light, which lighteth every man… cometh into the world. (John 1:6-9)
Christ is the uncreated Light of the world. John shines as he points away from himself to the true Light. John’s light is not a light that draws attention to itself, rather his light spotlights the true Light.
We’re all meant to shine (Matthew 5:15) but John shows us the way. We’re all witnesses (Acts 1:8) but John is the ultimate human witness. And what do we learn from his example? We learn to point away from ourselves to Jesus. We shine the most, when we simply turn to the true Light of the world. May his self-appraisal be ours:
I am not the Christ. (John 1:19)
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, (John 1:23)
[The] shoe’s latchet [of Jesus] I am not worthy to unloose. (John 1:27)
He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)
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