|Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
December 28, 2003
The Gift God Gave: The Lamb (Part I)
Its rather odd that the King of Kings should also be known as the Lamb of God. How blessed are all who understand that before the crown must come the cross. John helps us better understand Gods indescribable gift, who is Jesus:
Ive been deeply challenged by the first chapter of Johns gospel. A number of years ago I had a remarkable privilege. I was able to go on a trip to Jordan and Israel and Egypt, only it was a different sort of a trip. It was underwritten by the Israeli government in an attempt to get pastors to go there. Obviously the thinking was, if pastors from America go over there and get impressed, theyll come back and rally folks and book tours. There are economics involved, and its fine. So for a song, I went over there.
It was great to be there, but it was a quick trip. Having been there a number of years prior for a longer period of time, I could appreciate the quickness of it. We would go to one fantastic place where everybody piles out of the bus and the tour guide gives the spiel, and you realize, Wow, I am standing in the most fascinating place, then Lets get on the bus and go. And we go on to the next place where we should be all day, but had a half hour. Take pictures and get back on the bus because were moving on to the next place.
Thats how the trip was and I think that way as I work through Johns gospel, chapter 1, because everywhere I turn in the discussion about Jesus its like Ive entered a new room in exploring a gorgeous castle or something and its full of treasure, but we cant stay. We move on and find more good things down the hall and in the next room. Its all about the Savior, all about what God has done for us. Its fantastic.
And so with certain regret, at least on my part, we will be finishing our four-part journey in the first chapter of John with verses 29 to 34.
John the Baptists job was to make Jesus known and really, thats what these few verses discuss. As I reflect back on the last several weeks of topics here in John 1, weve talked about Jesus as the Logos, as the Word, the Creator, the Sustainer, and the One who enlightens everyone who comes into the world (a tremendous blessing), Jesus as the Light, and Jesus as the Lord. In each one of those area, I recall that there were three, four, five, six different facets of each one, each of which can stand alone and cause us to marvel at and revel in the One who came from heaven to earth for us -- a most fascinating concept in itself.
Now we wrap it up with four more. What exactly did John the Baptist want to make known? What needed to be made known at this time in history as the Son of God made His public debut in a real time, in a real place, among real people? This is what he did.
There were four highlights of this pronouncement and Im going to hit them in turn. They blend together a bit, but thats ok. I get to make the sermon outline and thats the way I did it.
The Lamb of God (1:29-30)
The first one of these highlights is Jesus pronouncement as the Lamb of God. To you and me, we think, OK, the Lamb of God, no problem, were talking here about the atoning work for sin, Passover lamb, back in the Exodus, getting out of Israel and on and on. But perhaps we move too quickly. The question we need to ask when we explore Scripture like this is why John stood up publicly in Judea in a crowd of Jews and said, Behold, the Lamb of God. What did they hear? What was it that God, through His prophet John, was seeking to communicate to those people in that day?
There have been a number of options suggested over the years, not all of them real good. People have said, The Lamb of God, what might that be? That probably means, on the one hand, perhaps one who is just and holy and good and meek and submissive in character as a lamb. Was Jesus all of those? He was. But is that what was suggested and is that the notion of the One who removes the sin of the world? Not likely.
Others have said, Well, this has to be the Passover lamb. Surely, when lamb is mentioned here, everybody in their mind is scrolling back to Exodus chapter 12 and thinking in terms of that flawless little lamb that was set aside for four days and fed and watered and petted and combed and taken care of and then butchered. The blood of which spread on the doorposts and so forth so that the children of Israel would not have to suffer the wrath of the angel of death. Perhaps, but that particular lamb, the Passover lamb, wasnt necessarily seen as an atoning sacrifice.
Well then, what has to be in mind is the whole business of the morning sacrifices and the evening sacrifices and these were to atone for the guilt of the people on a daily basis. Could this be it? Critics would stand and say, That doesnt exactly fit either, because a lamb was used sometimes under those circumstances but so also were bulls and goats, and normally a female lamb was used. This wouldnt fit, so what have we here?
I think without question, because this unique word Lamb, is only used four times in the New Testament. (There are other words for lamb. This word is only used four times.) It references us back to one place and one place only, the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Heres our Lamb.
Isaiah 53, the most comprehensive, complete, poignant and thorough discussion of the sacrifice of Messiah for our sins in all the Bible.
of us like sheep have gone astray,
Here is our lamb. In a general sense, yes, the sacrificial lamb, the lamb of the atonement, the Passover lamb that saves from death -- all of these things. But most specifically, John the Baptist is drawing his hearers and you and me to a focused look at the One who bore our sins, literally, physically, spiritually, and took them to a cursed death. Thats where were to go.
John stood and said, This is who it is. This is the One of whom Isaiah spoke. There has been speculation down through the years -- did anybody in the first century A.D., in the time of Jesus, did anybody expect that Messiah would ever suffer? While the general mindset was that Messiah would come, Messiah would conquer, Messiah would reign, there were those among the teachers of the day, including a few whose thoughts found their way into, of all places, the Dead Sea scrolls, who said, Oh yes, we have to deal with Isaiah 53. That is the servant of God, that is the Messiah, and He will suffer. Very few heard it. John heard it, and we hear it.
Messiah indeed had to suffer. Here He is. He says, The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and in verse 30:
Here with the use of that word, man, is another unique use of a word that John specifically uses to say, Our Messiah is not going to be some sort of ghosty, spirity, deity thing who shows up like that. He will be truly human. The Book of Hebrews will go on to elaborate, In all points tempted like as we are. In every sense, human, without sin, nevertheless, truly man. Hell walk the earth and He will keep the law of God flawlessly, yet He will be assailed by temptations from without and He will be frustrated by the issues from within. He will be human, but He will not sin.
Hell make His way eventually to the cross and become there, the perfect sacrifice. Its interesting how John describes Him. He is higher ranked than I, for He existed before Me. Interesting how they thought in those days. Silly old-fashioned people, they really believed that the teacher who came before them knew more than they did.
Quite the opposite in our today. Im going back to more than one generation. We think that those who are on the cutting edge really have all the wisdom necessary. Oh my, no. The Bible directs us back to what is called the old paths, the wisdom that begins and ends, by the way, with God. So its a mark of true humility for John to say, Look, yes Im a teacher, but the One who is before me existed previously. Although John was technically older than his second cousin Jesus, he understood that Messiah has always been. Listen to Him. He knows more that I do. He will show you the way.
One other word that we need to touch on is that first word John uses. He uses it deliberately as though he were pointing a rifle at someone when he says, Behold Him. That isnt just empty, flowery speech. Hes saying to all who would hear, Look, behold, force yourself to see. Its the stated purpose of the gospel of John that everyone who reads this Book, everyone who encounters this man, everyone who hears of this faith believe and trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and in so believing, have life in His name.
John is saying, You better take a good, hard look at Him. Ask the question, If this is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, look at Him. Look at Him deliberately and pointedly and ask yourself, Where are my sins right now? Am I opting to carry them with me and take my chances at judgment or have I placed all my trust in Jesus only and given Him those sins to pay for on the cross? Are we looking? Do we have those eyes, that perception?
The baptism of God (1:31)
We must move on into the next room and talk about the baptism, the baptism of God.
Its interesting the song that Millie sang, Mary, Did you know that when you kissed the face of that baby boy, you kissed the face of God? I think the reason that touches us is because we dont readily think of Jesus in quite those terms.
Heres an analogy. This guy where we used to live had Angus. What was always interesting was I noticed that his Angus bulls and Angus cows, every time, threw Angus calves. The offspring of an Angus is an Angus, the son, if you will; the daughter, if you will, is what the parents are. So if God has a son, that Son is God.
In any event, God got baptized. Later on God got murdered, in Jesus. Heres the key to verse 31. John is saying:
John is going to talk a little more about not recognizing Him. What hes pointing out is I didnt come up with this and this isnt just sort of a family thing. The reason I came baptizing in water (and the key word is so that, in order that (verse 31)). He might be manifested to Israel. There had to be a manifestation which means like a grand opening of a new business. A grand opening of the new business and the owner wants everyone to know that he or she is now open for business and thats why you will see the miniature blimp in the sky above the business or in some cases big searchlights trying to draw peoples attention. Its like a huge sign saying, Dont miss this.
It was critical in the economy of God that Israel know when Messiah was there. Jesus didnt come slinking and slithering in from some obscure place, have a nondescript ministry with a few people off in a corner. John the Baptists role was to make sure everybody understood what was going on. Thats why his ministry was a ministry of public baptism.
Lets go back to how clear this is beginning in the Old Testament. Isaiah begins the good part of Isaiah. The first 39 chapters tend to be judgment oriented. Chapters 40 through 66 are more Gods going to restore us oriented. So when we turn the page from 39 to 40 were going from bad news, as it were, to good news.
3A voice is calling,
The beginning of the good news is an announcement that things are going to get better, that God is going to do something fantastic. Ill get a little more specific. There are a number of passages but Im just going to go to a few of them.
Malachi was the last book written of the Old Testament, followed by several hundred years of no direct word from God. So what Malachi had to say would definitely register in the ears of those who wanted to know what God was about.
My messenger will precede Him. He will run out ahead and he will sound the clarion call to my soon arrival. Hes coming.
In Malachi 4, a little more interesting detail is added.
Watch for Elijah. The point of those three passages is this. A forerunner is coming before Messiah shows up. There will be one who gets there first to announce His soon arrival. That was the ministry of John the Baptist. It had to be public. It had to be made obvious to Israel.
There had to be a link then once John did show up. Make sure this is the right guy. How do we know? There are some interesting clues here.
Verse 4 is not just a commentary on a mode of dress and an endorsement of organic food:
What does that matter? What matters is thats a parallel description of the prophet Elijah which is found in II Kings chapter 1. So we are made to know that here is the one coming, in the words of Jesus, in the spirit and power of Elijah. Here he is! Saying the right words, doing the right ministry. He says the kingdom is going to show up says thats both good news and bad news, depending on where you stand.
The Pharisees and Sadducees come to him in verse 7 and he says, Youd better get your act together, you brood of vipers. Who warned to flee from the wrath to come? John understood that when Messiah comes, Hes going to bring two things, salvation and judgment. Hes going to introduce the day of the Lord and salvation and judgment are going to be Messiahs to do.
So Johns ministry is saying, If you want to be on Messiahs team, you need to come into the water with me and show that, symbolically, by going under the water, symbolically washing off your religious allegiances and then coming up clean to a new faith.
This Messiah, were going to follow Him now. Its a change and marked by baptism. Pharisees and Sadducees, John suspected their hearts werent right for this. Others, he suspected, were.
Look what he says in verse 11
John is saying, Im just getting you, symbolically, to state where you stand with regard to Messiah. Are you for Him or against Him? Thats all my ministry is, because Im just preparing for Him. Im helping you understand where youre gong to be when He shows up.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
John has in mind, this Messiah will judge, this Messiah will save. Baptize is a word that has not been handled well. Through history it is a word that was never translated from Greek; its been left the same simply because those involved in the translation, in my estimation, didnt really want to deal with what it said. The word baptize means to place into. Thats what hes saying, Ill place you in the water. The One coming after me will place you into the Holy Spirit or into fire. Which would you prefer?
Clearly, placing in the Holy Spirit, identifying with the Holy Spirit, is an indication of salvation. Placing in the fire is quite another matter. Thats judgment, and that would be the province of Messiah. The point here is Johns job was to do everything he could do to ensure that the people of Israel understood Messiah is just about here. That was his work.
So he baptized Jesus. Again in Matthew 3, verse 13
Recall that John said, I didnt know him previously. They were not acquainted previously. They were related. Their mothers were cousins. John grew up in Judea in the wilderness, way to the south, near the Dead Sea. Jesus grew up in Galilee, up in Nazareth, to the north. Theyd never met. They knew of one another. They met prior to birth, you might say, when Mary went to visit her cousin, but thats it.
So John, as well see in a minute, was waiting for God to show him, surely, who is this Messiah. That will happen with the dove, but in the meantime, Jesus arrives at Galilee to be baptized by John. John says, Im not so sure this ought to happen. Jesus said, This is the way it has to happen, in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. So John permitted him.
Whats going on here? The Scriptures, always starting with the Scriptures, Isaiah 40, Malachi 3, the Bible clearly said Messiah would be preceded by a forerunner. John the Baptist shows up, Scripture is fulfilled. Here I am. I am the forerunner. Now what must happen is Jesus, this Messiah, has to be identified with the ministry of John. He has to make a public statement saying, Yes, we are on the same page here. Were headed in the same direction here. The kingdom that John talked about is the same one Im bringing.
So thats why Jesus said to John, You have to baptize me. That brings all this together. It ties Jesus as Messiah with John the Baptist with the Old Testament with what Scripture had said surely must happen. And now here it is happening. Thats the point of baptism. Thats the point of Johns baptism.
This notion of baptism did not begin with John the Baptist. There was baptism going on within the Jewish ranks for a couple hundred years prior to John and the whole point of it was a public display of coming clean, as it were, leaving one faith and embracing another.
For instance, if you wanted to join the community at Qumran at the Dead Sea, they were a sect apart. They wouldnt take just anybody, only (as you might say in our day), the most right-winged Jews could go there. If you wanted to go there you had to say, OK, I want to be part of you people. Theyd say, Then you have to be baptized. You have to go down in the tank and symbolize that whatever you used to believe is all washed away and when you come up out of the water, youre with us.
Even in those places, the baptismal tanks which were quite large and plaster lined, had railings down the middle of them and stairways so you could down one side, go in the water, and come up the other side, indicating that, Im different now.
That imagery was co-opted by the Christian church. According to the apostles in the early church, instead of going in the water simply signifying Im done with the old way Im on with the new, the Christian church took a look at that and said, That looks a lot like resurrection. The Apostle Paul said thats exactly what it is.
And now when we go in the waters of baptism, we are identified with the One who went before us, who died, was buried and rose again. Its the Christian way of saying, This is where my allegiance lies. That is the Biblical mode of public profession of faith -- going into the water symbolizing with Jesus my death, burial, and resurrection to newness of life.
The Spirit of God (1:32-33)
Verses 31,32, and 33 are fairly closely linked together. Interesting that somehow John had been told by God, were not told the details of this, that the One upon whom you see the Spirit alight from heaven, this One is the Messiah. That was a sign between John the Baptist and the God of heaven, because, again, he was not personally acquainted with Jesus prior to the baptism so he was watching for this.
What is the point of this Holy Spirit thing? Cant we just have a baptism? Cant we just get on with it? No, again, Scripture had to be fulfilled, Scripture had to be honored. There are several places where thats connected. Again, back in Isaiah 11, where the Holy Spirit and Messiah are linked together. Thats important for us to understand because thats what Jesus is all about. Otherwise, He could have been just any teacher, whatever, showing up with something new to say from the Bible. But if you want to be known as Messiah, the Holy Spirit has to show up or theres no evidence.
Jesse was Davids father. Were now in the Messianic line. It goes on to say what that relationship will be like. In Isaiah 42 God is speaking through Isaiah the prophet, saying:
Then it goes on to describe the submissive, suffering servant who will bear the mark of the Spirit of God from heaven.
Isaiah 48 from verse 12 to 16 talks about Messiah and His role in delivering the nation. Ill go to verse 15:
Again, linking the two.
Im going to leave us with a challenge. Ive probably said this a dozen times in the past month. The Bible has for us, just in these verses in the first chapter of Johns gospel, has taken us into truly sacred ground, special ground, where we dont deserve to be. The fact that God, being the creator and sustainer and the eternal holy righteous One, the fact that He would become flesh and dwell among us not for a tour, not to check us out, not to see how things are down here, what its like to be a human being, the fact that He would leave his eternally perfect existence and interrupt it to come here, again not out of curiosity, but to take on your guilt and mine, and pay our debt so that we could go to heaven and explore these places thoroughly ought to boggle our mind.
We ought to be so impressed with the grace of a God who would do this that we would flee to Him. I cant interact with this truth without being utterly leveled before God. Study each point in the bulletin notes for the past four weeks; each point, each facet of the beauty of Jesus, and try to find one that we even remotely deserve. Its not there.
This is all because He is wonderful and that ought to be powerful in our hearts to the changing of our lives.
If youve never surrendered your heart to Him, I cant imagine why not.
© Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA