One Saturday a couple of months ago, I got a text from our son, Matt, that said simply: “This pup needs a home.” Attached to the text was a photo of this absolutely adorable 6 month old puppy. Five words and a picture but that short message conveyed a lot of information. My sons were telling us that they think we need a dog and that we should adopt this particular dog. I considered it until I found out that this particular breed of dog, a Bernese Mountain Dog, weighs over 200 pounds when full grown and only lives about 7 years. I was not ready for that kind of commitment and we said no. It was a short message conveying a lot of information and it required a huge commitment.
I. The first thing John says about Jesus in verse 29 is that he is the Lamb of God.
John sees Jesus coming and says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John often uses the word, “look!” or “behold” before he introduces something of great significance. In this case, John the Baptist says it to highlight the person and mission of Jesus. He calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” which is one of those descriptions of Jesus that has become so familiar to us; yet it is important to ask where this idea of the Lamb of God came from. This title could be from the Old Testament Passover lamb as described in Exodus 12. This fits well with the author John’s emphasis on Jesus being the Passover lamb in John 19:36. This title could refer to the lamb that is led to the slaughter from Isaiah 53: 6,7,10. John the Baptist had already cited Isaiah 40 as referring to himself and so was familiar with the teachings of Isaiah. The Lamb of God could also refer to the lamb of the daily sacrifices offered morning and evening as prescribed in Exodus 29. There is also the story in Genesis 22:8 when Abraham was told to offer his son Isaac. Instead of Abraham killing his son, God provided a ram as a substitute so that Isaac would not die.
What is clear is that John the Baptist is making an allusion to sacrifice. The lamb figure may well be intended to be a composite, stirring memories of several or perhaps all the things we have mentioned. All that the ancient sacrifices foreshadowed was perfectly fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ. Which is why John the Baptist says that it is this Lamb who “takes away the sin of the world.” The idea here is that of substitution and taking the sin away. The sins are carried away or removed by this Lamb so that those who sin do not have to bear the punishment themselves. Notice also that John speaks of sin, not sins in the plural. He is referring to the totality of the world’s sin rather than a whole host of individual acts. It is the whole sweeping stain of sin that is being removed by the Christ. The “world” reflects the comprehensive sweep of Christ’s atonement. Christ’s death is completely adequate for the needs of all men.
Let’s not forget that as well today as we celebrate the birth of our Lord. This is not a time only to remember manger scenes and lovely angels singing praises to God. This is a time that should say to us: “This is what God did to save me! And not only me, but to save all in the whole world who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord.” Jesus has come as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world, including our sins. And we must be proclaiming that truth about the Lamb of God in our words and actions to those around us.
II. The second thing John says about Jesus in verses 30-31 is that he is the One revealed to Israel.
Once again, notice how John the Baptist highlights the greatness of Jesus. He says, “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” Notice first that John the Baptist affirms that Jesus is indeed a man. While John affirms Jesus as the Son of God, he never forgets that he is also a man. But John also says that Jesus was before him. Now what does that mean? What we have here is a clear statement of the pre-existence of Jesus from John. The coming Messiah is a man, but He is also God in that he was before John the Baptist. This is also a statement of importance. Those who were said to be “before” someone were viewed as being more important. John is yielding his place to the coming Messiah and is thoroughly submitting to Jesus.
Then John the Baptist says, “I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” It may seem odd to us that John would say that he didn’t know Jesus. However, even though they were cousins, John, who was from Judah, may not have had that much contact with Jesus who grew up in Galilee. But the context shows that there is more than just physical acquaintance. In the next verses, John says that this knowledge was given to him from heaven above. John did not know who Jesus really was before he had received this knowledge from God. John means to say that he didn’t know Jesus any more than his listeners did.
III. The third thing John says about Jesus is that he is the One who will baptize with the Spirit.
Verse 32 says, “Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” John says this is to make sure that everyone knows how John came to know all this about Jesus. John the Baptist makes it clear that this was something he saw with his own eyes. This actually happened and he saw the dove come from heaven to remain on Jesus. It was then revealed to him that this was the Holy Spirit and that Jesus was the Messiah. He says, “I 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.’” This lends even more weight to what he says about Jesus for it is knowledge that comes directly from God in heaven! What did this coming of the Holy Spirit mean for Jesus? It meant that God had specifically chosen Jesus for the task that was before Him. The Holy Spirit remaining with Jesus meant He was qualified to carry out this mission.
Then John makes the conclusive statement comparing the baptisms. Baptism with water had been essentially a negative message: repent from sin! But baptism with the Spirit is the giving of new life in God, and only Jesus can do this. John merely points the way to the One who will bring people into a relationship with God. The good news for us is that God, through Christ, is still baptizing us with the Spirit. We still need to be cleansed and purified; there is no question there. We still sin a great deal and in many ways. We still need to prepare the way for the Lord by removing the sins in our lives that prevent him from ruling over us fully. However, the Spirit is also transforming and changing us so we can live for our Lord. We have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit so that we can effectively serve our Lord. We have been given the Holy Spirit so that we can bring the light of Christ to those around us who do not yet know that light. We have been given the Holy Spirit so that we may know and be fully assured that we are children of God who have been given eternal life.
IV. Finally, John states in verse 34 the climax of his testimony: Jesus is the Son of God!
John says, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” Again these were not just words for a moment, but rather these words he spoke then continue to be true and have full effect. This is the reason for the whole gospel: to bring men into a knowledge of this truth. It means that those who believe are in a special relationship with the Father through the Son. This gives a clear indication of where the author John will end up in his gospel in 20:30-31. John concludes his gospel by saying, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” At the very beginning of his gospel, John lays out what he is going to show through his writing. Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah revealed to God’s people. He is the Son of God whom God sent to save His people. And the goal of knowing this is having life in His name.
Having life in his name is the purpose for us studying this section of God’s word as well. It is not just to satisfy biblical curiosity; although learning more is good. It is not to learn more about John the Baptist and how we are to live with God; although that too is important. It is not even to learn more about Jesus; although that too is vitally important. The purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry and the purpose of our studying the word is that we may believe and have life in Jesus’ name. If we miss that, we have missed the main thrust and the main purpose of God’s word. Thank God that He has given us life through our Lord Jesus Christ.
How will you bear Jesus’ name to those around you this week? Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world has come and taken away all our sins. Will our lives show how grateful we are to him for what he has done for us?