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"The Lamb of God"

January 9, 2022 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis

Passage: Genesis 22:10-13, John 1:19-42

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The Lamb of God

John 1:19-42

January 9, 2022

 

Read John 1:19-42

This is the Word of the LORD.

Prayer of Invocation

 

There are two parts of our text today: John the Baptist with the religious authorities, and John the Baptist pointing to Jesus.

John the Baptist is one of the great characters in Scripture.  He is fun to describe.  Matthew says “John wore clothes of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  He gives a great soundbite, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  He was talking to the religious folks at that point, speaking truth to power.  He must have been a charismatic figure to have drawn the kinds of crowds that came out to see him.

But as colorful as he was, the Baptist himself would tell listeners that he was not the focus of the story.  In fact, the writer of the gospel of John[1] tells us much less about John the Baptist than the other three gospel writers.  Instead of that tremendous visual description we get in Matthew, the writer of John opened the narrative portion of the gospel with a delegation from the religious authorities approaching the Baptist to ask who he was and by what authority he was making such a stir.  They ask him a series of questions, trying to determine his game or angle.

It would be easy to gloss right over these questions because they sound so off-kilter in our ears almost two millennia later.  However, as we begin to look at this gospel, these questions set the stage for Jesus’ entire ministry.  It shows how attuned was Israel to messianic prophecies.  That context is important because the Apostle John was laying the foundation for who Jesus is and how Jesus was the promised Messiah of God.

Are you the Messiah?

The Baptist was introduced in the Prologue that we read last week.  “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.  He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.”  Prior to our text today, that was the sum total of information that the writer provided about the background of the Baptist.  In short, the writer assumed that the Baptist was well known enough to his readers to not need the background information provided in other gospels.  Instead, the writer goes directly to the questioning by the authorities – the religious authorities who had secular police power.

“Are you the messiah?” they asked .

The question was not frivolous or absurd.  Yes, it was theological; but it also was a national security and political question.  This charismatic individual was gaining popularity in an environment where Israel was occupied by the Roman Empire.  Historically, religious fervor had led to armed insurrection which the Romans had put down aggressively, violently, and brutally.

Thus, the delegation of priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem was sent with a real question:  “Who did ‘the Baptist’ think he was?”  John the Baptist was most likely from the Essene community, a movement not popular in Jerusalem.  The establishment considered the Essenes to be the ancient equivalent of January 6 rioters: highly conservative, radically religious, and likely to follow a zealot in revolting against Rome.  So, when they asked if the Baptist was claiming to be the expected Messiah, they had in mind the question of whether trouble was brewing with the Romans.  “No, I am not the Messiah,” was John’s response.

Are you Elijah?

“Are you Elijah?”  Now, this may seem like a strange question, what with Elijah having lived some 850 – 900 years earlier.  However, 2 Kings 2 describes how Elijah was taken up into heaven – alive.  It’s a good story, so let me just read a bit of it:

…Elijah said to Elisha. “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.”  Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”  He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”  As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended into a whirlwind into heaven.  Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father!  The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”

Because Elijah had been taken up into heaven alive, there was a part of the Messianic expectation that he would return.  Part of this expectation was fueled by Malachi 3:1, “See I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to the temple.”  Later, in Malachi 4:5, Elijah is specifically mentioned in a role similar to that describing the “messenger”: “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.”  The coming of the prophet Elijah would signal the coming of a divine intervention – and the religious leaders and general consensus was that it would be a time when God would judge the nations and restore Israel to a privileged position.

Again, the delegation was asking the Baptist whether he was predicting or proclaiming a revolution against Rome.  “No,” John said, “I am not Elijah.”

Are you the prophet?

“Are you the prophet?”  This third question also seems like a strange question unless you understand what the expectations were for God’s restoration of Israel to its privileged position of covenant partner.  “The Prophet” was more than just a prophet.

In Deuteronomy 18, Moses was giving his final address to the people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.  He was instructing them to not be like the nations they would dispossess; they should not consult with soothsayers and diviners.  Instead, in chapter 18:15, Moses declared, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”  After Israel went into exile for breaking the covenant and becoming like the nations that were dispossessed, the understanding was that restoration would come through “a prophet like me” – that is, a prophet like Moses.  The shorthand for “a prophet like me,” became “the prophet.”  So, this delegation was asking John the Baptist whether he thought he was the prophet like Moses who was signaling the coming divine judgment on the nations and the restoration of the supremacy of Israel.  “No,” said John.

Then, who?  This was where John responded with the quote from Isaiah, “a voice crying out in the wilderness.”

There are a couple of things to note about these questions.  First, they were the correct questions.

Second, even though they were the right questions, they were asked with a wrong heart.  Those asking assumed the Baptist was crazy, a con man, or a revolutionary – “real prophet” was very low on their list, if on it at all.  God had not raised up a real prophet in hundreds of years; though there had been a number of people who had been thought to be the Messiah they had fallen terribly short.

In other words, the authorities did not expect God to show up.  I wonder if we do.  Do we really believe that Jesus is coming back?  When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” is it with the expectation of Jesus’ actual return or is it just a prayer for release from our current circumstances?  Do we really expect that God’s kingdom will be revealed fully at some point – today or some day far into the future?

I do.  Here is part of why: if I consider my life today, it looks a lot different than I would have imagined it to be two years ago, ten years ago, or twenty years ago.  One day is very different than the next, even when in the midst of the daily grind it may not seem like it.  I remember when I was in college, I tried to imagine myself as an old man at age 50 (it seemed a lifetime away then).  I tried to imagine looking back on my life to see, “what would be the things I was disappointed I never got to try.”  I made it a mental list, lifted the list up in prayer, and kept it in the back of mind.  Now, actually looking back past 50 years old, it is remarkable to me how God answered that prayer. God opened the door for every single item on the list; yet, none looked like I imagined when I was 21 years old.  In fact, every one occurred in a way far better than if I had tried to plan it out.

The same is true if I look at Scripture and look to see how God has been faithful to the promises made in Scripture.  Because God has done what he said he would do, I have confidence that God will continue to do the things he said he would do – including Jesus’ coming again and including the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.

Hard times do not change that hope.  In fact, hard times clarify and intensify that hope.  I remember reading news articles about Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to summit Mount Everest.  In an interview later, he said, “I am a lucky man.  I have had a dream and it has come true, and that is not a thing that happens often to men.”  For many years, people had tried to make the climb – some died trying.  Despite the struggle and perceived impossibility, Hillary persevered.

Faith can be like the challenge of Mount Everest.  The Baptist’s life was not easy.  The description of his ways, manner, and lifestyle were pretty harsh, yet his hope and watching for the One who would follow never wavered.  He was obedient while waiting in expectation.  He watched.  The writer of Hebrews would say it this way, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Paul says in Romans 8, “For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

So, we watch.  I try to pursue God’s call for my daily life with obedience while at the same time carrying the hope of seeing God do amazing things.   I pray to have a heart of joyful anticipation rather than skeptical cynicism, which John the gospel writer seems to attribute to this delegation and the religious leaders who sent them.

How about you?  Do you have any expectation that God will do what he says he will do?  What do you hold onto when times are difficult or when things do not seem to be working out?  Do you look to see the miracles in your midst?

Back to our Scripture text: the culmination of the encounter with the delegation is John’s statement, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”  It was a condemnation of their hypocrisy; the delegation was asking about the Messiah in order to condemn the Baptist, not realizing that the actual Messiah was right there in their midst.

Boy, could this be the church today!  Correct doctrine is important, but only insofar as it edifies our love for God and our love for each other.  The point is to know Jesus and to be known by him.  If we have all the right answers and yet do not recognize Jesus, we have missed the whole point.

The delegation was asking John the Baptist about his message in order to assess his theology, orthodoxy, and the political ramifications of his prophetic ministry.  They used the language of the coming Messiah, the coming judgment, and the coming redemption of God’s people.  But because they did not recognize God – they did not recognize Jesus – they were mistaken about all of the rest.  And thus, the delegation is dismissed without realizing what had been revealed.

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

This brings us to John fulfilling his mission to point to Jesus.  Over the next two days, John declared publicly that Jesus was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  The gospel writer does not describe the event in which Jesus was baptized, instead, the Baptist declared what he had seen.  For John’s ministry, the Spirit descending and remaining on Jesus was the marker, the identifying sign, of the one for whom the Baptizer was preparing the way.

The imagery was a reference to the Isaiah 11 passages we read during Advent, “

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots, the spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD, His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.  He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

John declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God.  For many of us, this is a term that we grew up hearing in reference to Jesus.  It describes his identity as the sacrifice on our behalf (the Passover lamb), his peaceful character, his friendly demeanor.

Yes and no.

For the Baptist, this term was a specific reference to an agent of God’s judgment.  In the Apocalyptic literature of the day – the non-Biblical “Revelation” that had developed between the time of the last prophet and the birth of Jesus – the Lamb of God was a conquering figure who would destroy evil in the world.  In the other gospels, we get a bit more of a flavor of this when John talks about “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  And, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3).

When the Baptist said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God,” he was previewing the mission that Jesus would take.  Yet the way Jesus undertook that mission looked very different than how we would have anticipated.  It certainly looked different than the religious authorities of the day anticipated.  Jesus did accomplish that judgment.  His obedience to God’s will, his completion of God’s mission for him, his atoning death on the cross – these happened through events that seemed to display Jesus’ weakness, but it was in fact the power of God on display.

This apocalyptic imagery of the Lamb of judgment then was similar to how many of us think about the book of Revelation today.  The imagery was wild and full of scary judgments.

However.

As we are in a time when people are anxious and reading Revelation to figure out what tomorrow’s news update will be, it is important we have a measure of humility and understanding.  For example, consider how the scary judgments revealed by the Baptist found their manifestation: grace and salvation.  Yes, the judgmental Lamb is consistent with the Old Testament sacrifices of the lamb.  A lamb was offered as a sin offering, as the substitute paying the consequence for sin.  Yet, the sacrificed lamb also served as the communion meal marking the restoration of relationship with God.  The Lamb is an expression of God’s judgment; judgment which is good news for us.  Judgment is restorative.  It purifies.  It washes us clean in a way we are unable to do so for ourselves.  Truly, the Lamb of God does take away the sins of the world.

Here’s what I want you to see in this: before Jesus has spoken in the gospel, God has revealed his identity and mission.  God is consistent in acting for our redemption and salvation through judgment; and that is grace.  It is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Conclusion

The account of John the Baptist is every bit as convicting today as it was when it happened.  We are confronted with our own expectations and hopes – do we really trust God to be God?  Do we believe the witnesses who bear testimony in Scripture?  Do we really trust Jesus to be the Lamb of God?

The truth is that Jesus is the One who takes away the sins of the world.  The truth is that God is trustworthy and he does the things he promises.  The truth is that Jesus is our hope, our life, our redemption and salvation.

“Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  It was the Baptizer’s message, it was the gospel writer’s witness, and it is our testimony today.

Amen.

 

Questions:

  1. Do we really believe that Jesus is coming back? When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, come,” is it with the expectation of Jesus’ actual return or is it just a prayer for release from our current circumstances?
  1. What do you hold onto when times are difficult or when things do not seem to be working out? Do you look to see the miracles in your midst?
  1. Do we really trust God to be God? In what ways is it easy and in what ways do you find it difficult?  How would you explain your trust to someone who is struggling with faith?

 

[1] There are two John’s relevant to today’s sermon: the Apostle John, who is the writer of the gospel; and John the Baptist, who is the focal character in the narrative. In order to keep them straight, I am going to refer to them as “the writer” and “the Baptist.”