Hey I'm Josh Hawkins and this is episode 44 of Opening up the Gospels. In the last few episodes we've been looking broadly at the events surrounding Jesus' baptism and his 40 days of testing in the wilderness. Last time I talked about the priests and Levites from Jerusalem who came to Bethany beyond the Jordan to question John, and how he passed his test of sorts, where he could have used the opportunity to draw attention to himself and away from Jesus, the one he was preparing the way for. It really must have been a profound moment for John - he claimed nothing about himself that wasn't true, and would continue to become less important as Jesus became more important. As I said right at the end of episode 43, John didn't have to wait that long after the inquisition before he saw Jesus again. Scripture tells us that it was the very next day. Let's read today in John 1:
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 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.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.””
(John 1:29–34 ESV)
Let's place this geographically and chronologically. We're still in Bethany beyond the Jordan just north of the Dead Sea, where John had baptized Jesus. And looking at our timeline, we see that this is just several weeks after Jesus' baptism now, probably still sometime in early 27AD. So John baptized Jesus, Jesus immediately goes into the wilderness for a little over a month, and meanwhile back in Bethany beyond the Jordan the inquisition comes from Jerusalem and questions John the Baptist. And now the very next day after they leave, John sees Jesus again.
What John says here is his first public declaration concerning Jesus specifically, and it's so significant. This would be the moment where everything would begin to shift for John and for Jesus. No longer was John preparing the way for Jesus - he was now actively pointing others to Him as the one to whom His ministry was all about. And though both of their stories would remain interwoven in the days to come, Jesus would be the one who would gain the prominence throughout the nation as John faded into the background.
The very first thing John says is "behold!". That word is an emphatic command to look. He's saying to all the crowds "take your eyes off me and look at Him." Oh, so often our sinful hearts are prone to do completely the opposite - to say "hey, look at me, I've got something to say" or "I have lots to offer you!". Again, we see John's life and message is cruciform, it's shaped like the cross. There's much depth in this little word "behold", especially now that we know some of John's story. We would do well to heed this little word from John's lips today in some of our Christian circles where we've become so focused on ourselves and what Jesus can do for us.
Now, John goes on to say: "behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!". What a loaded statement. He calls Jesus "the lamb of God", which, for a Jew, would have been understood as a clear reference to the Old Testament. There's the Passover lamb from Exodus 12, the lamb for the daily offering in Numbers 28, and the lamb led to the slaughter in Isaiah 53. In all of those cases, sacrifice and death are involved, so surely John's words about Jesus would not have been misunderstood by anyone present. The same person who had been announced as the Christ at His birth - the son from David's line who would reign from Jerusalem - He would be sacrificed as an atonement for sin. I really wonder how much John understood what he was saying and how much of a shock it would have been to him. Surely it must have been a shock to his hearers on some level - think about it... Among all the crowds there, he's looking at just what seems like a normal guy and says "look at him! He's the sacrifice for the sin of the world!". Now what's powerful here is that there's a little hint even in this first short sermon about Jesus that alludes to the cross and how the power of His sacrifice would extend beyond the nation of Israel to the whole world.
John continues: "This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’" What we have here is such a beautiful description of the preexistence and preeminence of Jesus. Just go back to the beginning of chapter 1 where we read "in the beginning was the Word". Jesus is the one who was - the glorious one who made all things and existed before everything. And now he's in a human frame just walking around near the Dead Sea in Israel. My gosh! What was it like for John to look into His eyes? What was it like for him knowing that Jesus didn't have a beginning?
Recall what we looked at back in Episode 14 where Jesus and John's mothers, Mary and Elizabeth, were relatives. So that means of course that Jesus and John were related in some way. And John, born six months before Jesus was, is now saying "this guy was before me." Ah, that's so crazy! What a powerful revelation. In the next verse, John says, "I myself did not know him.” Now what should we make of that? Well we don't know if John and Jesus had any interaction growing up, but it doesn't seem credible that John would literally not have known Jesus at all because remember, they were relatives. I think John here is just acknowledging that he didn't know that Jesus was the Messiah until he saw the sign mentioned the next couple of verses:
“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.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.””
(John 1:32–34 ESV)
So John's testimony about Jesus being "the son of God" is so significant. In all of his words thus far, John has emphasized both His divinity and His role as the "son" of the Davidic covenant and Psalm 2 who will rule all the nations from Jerusalem. But he's also now emphasized Jesus as the suffering servant, the God-given Lamb who would be sacrificed for sin. I think of several verses here, of course Isaiah 53:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
(Isaiah 53:7 ESV)
And Genesis 22 and the story of Abraham and Isaac:
“Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.””
(Genesis 22:8 ESV)
Also Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:
“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”
(1 Corinthians 5:7 ESV)
This is one of the main themes that the Gospels will develop throughout Jesus' ministry - that Jesus is indeed the Christ but He first must suffer before sitting on David's throne and ruling from Jerusalem. The Jewish authorities, the Pharisees, and the disciples were clearly expecting an insurrection movement similar to what had happened with Judas Maccabee, not a Messiah who would come and die at the hands of the Romans. You can go back to episode 35 for a little history of the Maccabean Revolt. Do you see how death would be a failure to those with an insurrection hope? As we'll see, Jesus isn't going to establish his kingdom by an insurrection. He says it's going to establish it suddenly when he comes from the heavens with fire at the Day of the LORD. But before that day comes and Jesus is recognized for who He truly is by the whole world, He must suffer. Those verses we just looked at are all pointing to this idea of suffering and sacrifice.
Well, I want to encourage you to meditate on this scene. If you don't know what I mean by "meditate", go back and check out Episodes 5 and 6 where I give a brief overview on how to prayerfully ponder life of Jesus and the Gospels. Here's a couple of points to get you started:
1) Imagine yourself as one of John's disciples, listening to one of his exhortations at the moment he saw Jesus again. What would have been your reaction?
2) Ponder what could have happened the rest of the day in Bethany beyond the Jordan after this moment. Though we often think of this scene as Jesus just appearing and then vanishing into thin air - which is obviously not the case, did Jesus talk to anyone after John called Him the "lamb of God"? Where did Jesus stay that evening?
In the next episode we'll move forward only one day and look at the calling of Jesus' first disciples. Be sure to sign up for short email notifications and check out all the other episodes from this series on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. I hope these episodes have been encouraging to your faith in Jesus. God bless, see you next time.