If you were here last week, you know we have begun the gospel of John. We are going to be spending the coming months working our way through this gospel, and we have two main primary goals in doing this:
- That our love and affection for Jesus would grow, especially seeing his life and ministry first-hand.
- That our desire for others to believe in Jesus would grow, and that by believing they would have life in his name.
That’s John’s explicit reason for writing this gospel. If you remember, I took you back, briefly, to John’s epilogue, his thesis or summary statement near the end of the book. Chatper 20, verses 30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” That’s John’s explicit goal, and I hope ours as well.
So, John started his gospel with the nature and identity of Jesus, how he is the Word, the divine self-revelation, God himself. He was there in the beginning, he was with God and was God. In other words, Jesus is God, and yet we also know that the Word became flesh, meaning Jesus is also man. And in believing in Jesus Christ, trusting in his work to save us, namely his death and resurrection, we are given life. That’s how John started his gospel.
Now, we’ve already been introduced to John the Baptist. This is not the John who wrote this gospel, but instead is the Baptist. And no, John the Baptist didn’t start the Baptist denomination, in case you were wondering. Instead, Baptist just means that that is what he did. We’re introduced to him in the first 18 verses as a man that was sent as a witness to the Christ. And now, in verses 19-34, we see the story of John the Baptist, and even more about his witness. Let’s read chapter 1, verses 19-34:
19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 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.”
24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
So, John has been preaching in the wilderness around Judea, and baptizing in the Jordan, and Priests and Levites are sent from Jerusalem to ask John about his identity. And it makes sense that they would do this, because there was a lot of messianic expectation during this time.
The Jews were awaiting a Messiah not only because the Old Testament clearly spoke of a coming Messiah who would save God’s people, but also because this was a time when Roman oppression was overwhelming for the Jews. In other words, they were hoping and waiting for a Messiah to come and free them from their Roman oppressors! The problem with this was that the true Messiah was coming to free them from much more than mere Roman oppression. He was coming to free them from their spiritual slavery.
But, even so, they came and asked John the Baptist, who are you? John knew exactly what they meant by this: “Do you claim to be the Messiah?” is what they were really getting at. They didn’t have to say that, because he knew what they meant. So, he responded, “I am not the Christ.” Then they ask, “What then, are you Elijah?” The reason they asked about him being Elijah was because of a prophecy in Malachi 4:5, which says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.”
So, they were asking if he was claiming to be this Elijah that was to come, especially because John the Baptist had a lot of similarities with Elijah (2 Kings 1:8)—the way he dressed and what he ate was similar, and his emphasis upon repentance was similar to Elijah’s ministry.
But, again, he said, “No, I am not Elijah.” Now, it’s worth noting here that even though John said he was NOT Elijah, Jesus himself, in Matthew 11:14, says of John the Baptist, “he is Elijah who is to come.” John the Baptist may not have understood this, but, apparently, he was the one to fulfill this prophecy about Elijah to come. No, he is not Elijah incarnate, but he is one with a ministry like that of Elijah’s. So, many think that is what is meant in Malachi 4:5, that one like Elijah would come.
But these Jews were not thinking of Elijah in this way anyway, they’re still speaking of a type of Messiah, even when they’re asking about Elijah and the prophet. This third question they ask about whether or not he’s “the prophet,” that’s referring back to a prophet predicted all the way back in Moses’ day, in Deuteronomy 18:15. Again, these predictions of Elijah and a “prophet,” and ultimately, the Messiah, had the Jews in a very expectant kind of mood, especially with everything going on during this time. But John was in no way who they were expecting, and so he made this very clear with them, that he was not the Christ.
This is so important in how we should see ourselves and how we should see Jesus, which is how we’re going to structure the rest of our time this morning. It’s a battle of identities. 2 questions: Who are we, and Who is Jesus? First:
Who are we?
We are NOT the Christ(19-21).
Now, I know that seems like an obvious point to make, but we need to make it anyway. Our true identities, who we are, must begin not with who we are, but with who we are NOT. We are not God. Maybe that’s an easy thing we’d all agree with, but we must remember that the heart of the fall, the heart of our sin, is that we want to be like God. All the way back in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve in the garden, the serpent tempted Eve by lying and saying, “You will not surely die if you eat of this tree. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Being like God was part of what tempted Eve! The heart of sin is our desire to be God of our own lives, to determine what is right for ourselves.
And so, again, with our identities, we must start with who we are NOT. We are not the Christ, and even broader than that, we are not God. John the Baptist could have been a bit less clear in how he said this. He could have let them place just a little bit of hope in him, but he didn’t! He was decisive in his response. No! I am not the Christ, nor anyone else that you’ve been expecting. Even when asked, “Then why are you baptizing if you’re not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” Because to be baptizing was a statement about yourself. It was saying, “I have the authority to do this.” What does he do? He doesn’t really even answer their question or defends himself; he instead brings up his own humility yet again. “Well, I baptize with water, but there is one coming whose sandals I am not even worthy to untie.”
We are not the Christ. None of us can save anyone, including ourselves. Our identities must start there, with who we’re not, because this is the first step to understanding our need for Christ, our need for a Savior. When we realize that we cannot save anyone, even ourselves, we come to place of desperation, of conviction for our sin. The weight of sin and the need for a Savior is as compelling as it is sobering. We need to remember this.
Even as a church, we need to remember this of each other. None of us in here are the Christ, none of us can save anyone else in here. We can help each other in great ways, but ultimately, the way we help each other is by pointing each other to the one true Savior, Jesus. That might be the only positive thing that comes out of, if you’ve ever been part of a church split or other intense church drama: perhaps the main good that cancome out of that is a stark reminder that we do not place our hope in people, but in Christ, and also a stark reminder that what brings us together as people of God is God’sfaithfulness, not man’s!
I mentioned a few weeks ago that it is during pain and suffering that we have unique opportunities to rely fully upon the Lord. Well, it is also true that when the people of God fail you, which they will, we have unique opportunity to build our hope on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Because “On Christ, the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” When all the other ground is actively sinking like sand, we can stand on nothing else than the one true Christ, which is not any of us. Who are we? We are not the Christ! Instead, Who are we?
We are pointers to the Christ (22-28, 34).
Now, John has a special status as a pointer or witness to Christ. In verse 23, he finally answers them as to who He is. He says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” So, he quotes Isaiah the prophet, specifically, Isaiah 40:3. Why does he do this?
Well, to give you some context for Isaiah 40, God had sent Babylon to take the people of Judah captive. So Judah is in captivity. And in Isaiah 40, God is promising to deliver them out of their captivity. This voice that is crying out in Isaiah 40:3, is crying out for the road to be made clear so that God could deliver his people. They were all going to be coming down this road, out of their captivity, and so the road needed to be made ready. Literally, the road needed to be cleared of any debris, leveled out, maybe even holes filled. The road needs to be prepared, so this voice was crying out, “Prepare the road for God’s salvation!”
And that’s exactly how John the Baptist saw his calling and ministry, and that’s why he quotes this verse. He is there simply to prepare the people for the salvation that God was going to bring through Jesus. So, literally, John the Baptist, was preparing the people, the road, and getting ready to for God’s salvation in Jesus, the true Christ! So, John the Baptist had a very unique role in pointing the people to Jesus. He was preparing the road before Jesus was even known to the people. But, this is no less true of you and me, that we are pointers to the Christ.
We don’t offer hope in and of ourselves. Our friendship is valuable, our companionship is valuable, our advice and wisdom is valuable—but none of it is ultimate. None of what we have to offer, in and of ourselves, gives true, lasting hope. But we do know the one in whom is found true, lasting hope. His name is Jesus.
In Acts chapter 1, Jesus is talking with the apostles just before he ascends back into heaven—this is after his resurrection. He’s telling them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise that God would be sending. He says, “For John baptized with water (as John brought up as well, right?), but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” He’s talking about the Holy Spirit that’s coming. A major purpose for this baptism that was to come, that even John himself was pointing to with his baptism, a major purpose for this baptism of the Spirit was for what? Jesus says it in Acts 1:8-
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The Holy Spirit empowers us to be his witnesses. We are witnesses to the one who is truly worthy, the one on whom John saw the Spirit descend as a dove and remain! Don’t miss the significance of that! Verses 31-33: “I myself did not know him [as in, I didn’t know who it would be], but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” That was the whole reason for John’s baptizing, to prepare, and eventually to reveal Jesus, the Messiah, to Israel!
Verse 32: “And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.’ I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”
This is how John knew who the Messiah was: God had told him the one on whom the Spirit comes down and remains, this is him! This Messiah, this Christ, the Son of God, is given the Spirit without limit, we know that from John 3:34. We see the Spirit’s presence and nearness with others, even throughout the Old Testament, but it is usually a temporary presence. But for Jesus, the Spirit remains.
We know that just after this, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. That’s not here in the gospel of John, but we know that from the other gospels. We also know, that this Jesus, who is given the Spirit without limit, will later baptize with the Holy Spirit after he ascends back into heaven. Now, again, to what end does the Holy Spirit come, first upon Jesus in this text, and then later in Acts? Why will God give the Holy Spirit? For power as witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!
So here’s my question, church. Are we pointing people to the Christ, like John the Baptist? Are we fulfilling one of our purposes as God’s people, to be his lighthouses and beacons for truth, pointing people to the Messiah, the ONE in whom we find LIFE!? Are we? Or, are we a lighthouse with its windows boarded up? We have this wonderful light, who is Jesus himself, and we’re keeping it to ourselves? We have this wonderful power and boldness in us, the Holy Spirit, God himself dwelling in us, and yet we hold it in? We are to be witnesses, and yet many times we are more like bystanders. We are glad Jesus is who he is, and we’re there to watch. But we’re not witnesses to who Jesus is. The nature of a witness is one who declares who Jesus is from experience. I’ve seen this, experienced this, and so now let me tell of this.
I’m not saying this to guilt us; I’m saying this to wake us up to the beauty of who Jesus is. He is too good to keep to ourselves. John certainly could not keep it to himself. What does he say of this Jesus? What witness does he give? Who is this Jesus? Verse 29: “He saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” This is it, Raintree. Who is Jesus?
Jesus is the Lamb of God (29).
I want us to feel the weight of what John the Baptist is declaring here. What he’s saying about Jesus is a big deal, especially to any Jews listening to him. This is only days before the Passover celebration. And if you’re unfamiliar, the Passover was a time to celebrate what God had done in saving the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt. The first Passover is found in Exodus 12, which if you were here with us a year and a half or so ago, you might remember us working through the first 14 chapters of Exodus.
In chapter 12 of Exodus, we see God bringing about the last plague upon the Egyptians to force them to let his people go. God was about to strike down the firstborn in all the land of Egypt. But, he had his people, every family of Hebrews, kill a lamb and wipe its blood on the doorposts of their home. So that when death came that night to take the firstborn of every family, these families with the blood of a lamb on their doorposts would be “passed over.” God, in this way, saved the lives of his people, the Hebrews, but also delivered them out of captivity! Because of this 10thand final plague, Pharaoh finally let them go.
So, the Passover was a yearly celebration where every Jewish family would bring a lamb to the temple to be sacrificed. This wasn’t justat Passover, though. Every single day, year-round, every morning andevery evening, a lamb was sacrificed at the temple. Why did all this happen? Lambs are cute, right? Because blood was required for sins to be forgiven. Hebrews 9:22- “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” It was the way God had determined that his justice would be satisfied. Instead of his wrath being placed upon his people, these lambs would die on their behalf. Ultimately, though, these lambs that were sacrificed, before Christ, were pointers to the one God would send to take away all the sin of the world.
But now this man had come! “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This was a lamb who would once and for all pay for sin! Hebrews 7:27- “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” This was it! This was him! THE lamb of God! The one who would die on our behalf, taking on our sin and shame, taking on the very wrath of God on our behalf, and ultimately defeating death and sin in hisdeath and resurrection.
This is the heart of the Christian faith. God’s grace to us shown in sending a sacrifice for our sin. This where we find hope, and joy, and meaning, and purpose, and righteousness, acceptance. This is where we find the love of our Father.
Modern Attacks on the Lamb of God
I cannot tell you, though, how much this idea of Jesus as the Lamb of God is under attack today. I’m convinced the enemy works in subtle ways, and this is probably the biggest subtle, but also not-so-subtle, way that the enemy has been lying to people, even to self-proclaimed Christians. The idea that God is just, and expresses wrath, is not one that is very popular today. Even supposed Bible-believing churches may never bring up God’s justice and wrath because it’s kind-of “off-putting.” Maybe it doesn’t fit the paradigm of positivity that we’ve manufactured.
No matter the reason, if we don’t teach God’s justice, as presented in the Bible, we cannot teach the gospel. Without God’s justice, we can’t see the reality of God’s love in sending his Son to die. Without God’s justice, the Word did not needto become flesh. But there is a teaching that has taken hold that denies Jesus as the Lamb of God, denies Substitutionary Atonement. That’s the theological term that basically just means that Jesus died as a substitute for sinners. This is the heart of the gospel, and yet it is being undermined, seemingly, in every corner of Christianity.
But it started longer ago than you might think. In the 18thand 19thcenturies, theologians like Friedrich Schleirmacher basically rejected the idea that Jesus died for sinners, in their place. Schleirmacher is known as the father of theological liberalism. Along with that denial came many other denials, including, as you might guess, that the Bible is authoritative, and, ultimately, many of these liberal theologians even deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus!
So why did Jesus die, if it wasn’t for the sin of mankind? Well, these theologians will say that Jesus’ purpose in dying on the cross was NOT for redemption, but merely for revelation. In other words, God revealed his love for us in Jesus dying on the cross, but he did not atone or pay for sins on the cross. There was no need for that, because God is not a wrathful God. Again, why has this view become so prevalent, especially recently? Because people don’t want to believe that God is just, and is, in fact, wrathful against sin. Again, it’s just a blatant denial of Scripture. Romans 1 is one clear example of many in the Bible of God’s justice and wrath: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
These theologians will claim that that was just Paul’s opinion, and they’ll just pick apart the New Testament, especially, picking and choosing what they think to be true, and even ignoring much of what Jesus himself said, or claiming that Jesus didn’t really say those things. IN CHRIST ALONE.
We could get a lot more into the details of theological liberalism, and I’ll post tomorrow on my blog a short excerpt from Don Carson on this topic, especially having to do with our text today, but for now, I want to say something to us.
What about Us?
We all hear this about those who deny the authority of Scripture, and deny central tenets of the Christian faith, especially what is THE central tenet of our faith: that Jesus died as a substitute for sinners and rose again. We hear this, and we may even look down on them. But, I have to ask: Are we all that different when we, as a church and as people of God, do not explicitly say and teach and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” I’m not just talking about evangelism, though that certainly is relevant here. I’m talking about what we center ourselves aroundas Christians.
Do we emphasize and center ourselves on mere moralism that says the main thing about our faith is that we need to be better people? Or do we calibrate ourselves around the truth that we are unable to be good, but Christ has made a way for us to be REDEEMED and given LIFE despite not being good!?
Practically speaking, we give into this this weakening of the gospel, by not being explicit about the atonement, which is the gospel. Not only is it not explicit, but it’s directly undermined when we instead point to it as merely a general signalof God’s love. Listen, of COURSE the Cross is a sign and a revelation of God’s love for mankind. Of courseit is; I’m affirmingthat to the uttermost! But the question is, HOW is it a sign of God’s love for mankind? How does it show God’s love for us? In God providing a Substitute for you and me, who died, not for his own sin (he didn’t have any), but for ours. God Himself provided a Lamb to be slaughtered.
This is not just hinted at in the Bible. It is the central unifying theme of the entire Bible. The Bible IS the revelation of God’s plan to redeem mankind from their sin. How does he do this? He does it in Jesus Christ paying for sin in his death, and defeating sin and death itself in his resurrection. Listen, church. I know today has been particularly theological, and in-depth as far as doctrine. But here’s the main application we should take away from this: We need to preach the gospel to ourselves every single day.
God LOVES you not just generally, but SPECIFICALLY. He didn’t just revealhis love for you in Jesus generally, he paid the priceto love you. He accomplished something to show his great love for you: he sent his Son to die for your sin, and rise again defeating death and sin. Jesus took your place, taking on the wrath of God that you and I had earned! If you have truly repented and trusted in Jesus alone for salvation, THAT is why you are accepted by God. Don’t wake up tomorrow morning wanting to perform for God to try and earn his favor. Wake up tomorrow morning wanting to perform for God because you have his favor despite not performing well enough!
John the Baptist didn’t say, “Behold, The Lamb of God, who makes the world a little bit better.” Or, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who makes Ryan Gilbert better today than he was yesterday.” He said, “BEHOLD the LAMB OF GOD who takes away the sin of the world.” You have life in Him, you are a child of God in Him, because He was the perfect, spotless Lamb who took your place in his death, and defeated that death with his resurrection. Wake up tomorrow saying and every other day saying, Behold the Lamb of God, the only reason I am a child of God, born again, a new creation.