24th February 2023


Tyndale’s stained glass windows are always thought-provoking. The Robinsons, in conceiving of the windows on Tyndale’s south wall that portray both John the Baptist and Stephen, explained the pair as depicting the last of the prophets and the first Christian martyr. But why Saint John the Baptist, when we do not speak of St Elijah or St Isaiah? The nearest an Old Testament character comes to sainthood may be ‘Holy Moses’! In moving from the Old Covenant to the New, John, the baptiser, plays a crucial role as the Fourth Gospel makes clear, when we are told John was sent from God as ‘a witness to testify to the light, so that, through him, all might become believers’ [John 1 v6].

The link with Stephen is already there, for the Greek word for witness is also translated martyr, but with this difference, Stephen bore witness to what he had seen, whereas John was witness to a God-given message that whilst the law was given through Moses, grace and truth come through Jesus Christ [v17], so there is here both continuity and discontinuity. For whilst John testifies to a Christ who fulfils the law, he also speaks of a Christ who in his grace forgives all our failings to uphold the high standards of that law, and by his death brings the wanderer back into the loving presence of the Father.

But there is also a political dimension to John’s ministry. There is no ‘cheap grace’ here, for, at the cost of his life, John is not frightened of denouncing corruption in the life of the nation at its highest level. Both aspects of mission – evangelism and a concern for social justice – are clearly here, and if the crucial test for sainthood is the performing of a miracle, John, in both Life and Word, certainly fulfils that requirement: John, not only the Baptizer, but the Herald of Salvation. John, like Stephen, both witness and martyr.

John Briggs