January sixth marks the beginning of the Church season called Epiphany. The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “striking appearance”.
During the season of Epiphany we will be examining the first seven chapters of the Gospel of John. There we will see the ways in which Jesus, the Son of Mary, was revealed to be also the Son of God.
Grace and Peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of the “Jesus Seminar”. Let me tell you a little bit about them. The Jesus Seminar is a group of around 150 people with advanced degrees in Bible study, religious studies or related fields.
In 1993 they published a book called, “The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus”.
Basically, they color-coded the Bible by voting on its verses using different colored beads. If they thought Jesus actually said what was quoted in a passage, then they cast a red bead. If they thought Jesus said something like the passage, they cast a pink bead. If they thought that Jesus didn’t say what was in the passage, but it contained Jesus’ ideas, they cast a grey bead. And if they believed that Jesus most certainly did not say what the passage included, they cast a black bead.
The result was a thoroughly shredded version of the Bible. Scholars of this type should be stripped of their titles. They are more interested in reading the mysterious and invisible words between the lines, than they are in understanding what the actual words of the Bible say and mean.
Today, in our sermon reading, we hear a much better testimony. John the Baptist testifies there, and because God wanted people centuries later to hear what John said, the Holy Spirit has preserved his words for us.
May the Holy Spirit preserve us also from ever growing so arrogant and faithless that we place our own judgment and imagination above the solid, God-preserved Word of the Bible.
Holy Spirit, as we approach your Word today give us a humble spirit so that we consider them with care. Help us to understand everything that You reveal about Jesus in this part of your Word. Build our trust in Christ through this time of meditation. Amen.
John 1:29-34 (NIV)
29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
“THE LAMB OF GOD” (v29)
The Passover is still celebrated by people of Jewish descent. It commemorates the final plague that God sent on the people of Egypt which caused Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free.
God had told Moses that He was going to pass over the land of Egypt and kill the first-born of every family. The only way to escape this plague was for a family to butcher a healthy lamb, and use its blood to mark the doors of their houses. If this was done, God assured them that death would not enter their houses in that night of terror and judgment.
The people who crowded the banks of the Jordan river to hear John the Baptist speak knew all about the Passover. Ever since they were little children they had celebrated it. Many of them had probably gone with their fathers to purchase the lamb for their family.
Each family had its own lamb. Its life would help them remember how God had spared and freed their ancestors so many years ago.
John’s statement must have filled these people with wonder and awe. As Jesus approached, John pointed to him, saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NKJV).
When the families of Israel brought their lambs, one was required for each family. But when God the Father brought His Lamb for the sacrifice, only One was required for the whole human race. Jesus was that Lamb.
Note that it does not say that this Lamb takes away the “sins” of the world, but the SIN of the world. God views the sins of mankind as one colossal S-I-N. Each individual sin of ours was a brick in the wall separating us from God, but God’s Lamb has demolished that wall completely.
What a comforting thought that singular word is. Your individual sins, great and small, hidden and obvious, they are all included in that phrase, “the SIN of the world!”
Remember this when the false religions of the world say that you must bring a sacrifice to God and thus earn your own forgiveness. The Lamb of God takes away the SIN of the world. God has not asked for your sacrifice, nor can God accept it. God’s Lamb has already been offered. Through God’s Lamb, you stand forgiven.
“SUPERIOR TO JOHN” (v30-31)
Perhaps you noticed how our text begins, “The next day John saw Jesus”. On the previous day, an envoy of priests had come to ask John the Baptist if HE was the Christ whom the Bible predicted would come.
John was not hesitant to answer, “No.” His job was the prepare the people for the Christ. He was the forerunner. He revealed the people’s sins to them so that they would understand their need for the Savior who was about to be appear.
John understood his role in God’s plan. He was not the main event. To the envoy from Jerusalem he had said,
“…among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27 NIV).
In our text John says a very revealing thing about the Christ. He says,
“A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (John 1:30 NIV).
Jesus would indeed be revealed to Israel after John. But Jesus was not born before John. He was born six months later than John. How could it be true that Jesus was before John? You know of course. John is talking about the fact that the Christ was the Son of God who had existed from eternity. He was not created when He was conceived in the womb of Mary. He had always been, and was therefore ranked high above the messenger who prepared the way for His revealing.
There is a lesson to be learned here. Jesus is the rightful focus of the Christian faith. His is the destination of all the Old Testament Word. He is the origin of every New Testament teaching. He is greater than any messenger. He is the jewel in the center of all God’s communication to us. A Christianity without Christ at it’s pinnacle is a lopsided thing destined to topple. And any religion without Christ altogether is a dead and empty shell.
“IDENTIFIED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT” (v32-33)
John the Baptist says in our text that the reason he started baptizing in the desert was so that the Christ might be revealed to the people of Israel. Luke 3:2 says it like this:
“2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:2-3 NIV).
When John went out to do what God had instructed him to do, he didn’t know who the Christ was for sure. But we do have reason to believe that he suspected that it was his relative Jesus.
Matthew records that when Jesus approached John to be baptized, John thought that Jesus should be the one baptizing him, not the other way around.
This was either because John suspected that Jesus was the One sent from God, or because John considered Jesus to be more pious than he, and thought it would be more fitting to be baptized by Him instead of the other way around.
When John finally consented and baptized Jesus, the sign that God had promised appeared to John. The sky opened up and a Dove descended through the air. It was the Holy Spirit in visible form. Fluttering in the air above the Jordan river, He settled on Jesus of Nazareth, just recently baptized. Now John had no doubt. This was the Christ. He had not come to John’s baptism because of personal sins, He came to be revealed to John and all Israel. This was the sinless Son of God!
But the sign of the Holy Spirit Dove had double meaning. Jesus had not been anointed with oil like a king or a priest. Jesus had not been merely anointed with water either. Jesus had been anointed with the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit would remain with Jesus throughout His ministry, working powerfully in the message that Jesus preached. Changing the hearts of sinners. Causing people to trust that Jesus was their hope for forgiveness and everlasting life.
And Jesus still pours out the Holy Spirit on people as they hear His message. In fact, it is only through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God that anyone can come to know and trust in Jesus. As Romans 1:16 says,
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NIV).
Just as the Holy Spirit identified Jesus as the Savior to John, so also today the Holy Spirit still identifies Jesus as the Savior to sinners in desperate need of His forgiveness.
“THE SON OF GOD” (v34)
In the last verse of our text, John the Baptist makes his clearest statement concerning Jesus. It can hardly be misunderstood. John declares,
“I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 NIV).
Some false teachers try to lower Jesus below God-status by saying that He was only a Son of God like the angels are called “sons of God” or sometimes even humans are called “sons of God” because they are God’s followers.
Clearly, Jesus is no angel. Nor is he just another follower of God. Jesus is the unique, singular Son of God. The only-begotten Son of God. The One who existed from eternity with the Father and became human only two thousand years ago so that our sins could be removed.
If John’s testimony is true, than Jesus is worth our utmost devotion. He is worthy of our daily, hourly, minute-ly, second-ly praise. For He was there in the silence of eternity before the voice of God said, “Let there be light”.
If John’s testimony is true, than our Creator has become our Savior, and we have nothing to fear so long as He is with us.
Man’s testimony is untrustworthy. Man can lie or be mistaken. This much is shown by the foul testimony of the 150 so called “Jesus Seminar” scholars.
The testimony of John is greater than the 150 Jesus seminar judges. His testimony was based on the sign God told Him would identify the Christ.
In a sense, John’s testimony is God’s testimony. For it is the Holy Spirit who moved John the Baptist to say it. It was the Holy Spirit who moved John the apostle to write it. It was the Holy Spirit who preserved it through the long centuries that stand between us and John so that we could hear it. And it is the Holy Spirit who still testifies to it’s trustworthiness in our hearing today.
May the Holy Spirit convince us all of the trustworthiness of John’s testimony, so that Jesus lives in our lives by faith. May our God enable us to make this testimony our own: Jesus is the Son of God, who takes away the sin of the world.