The Lamb of God
9 Novermber 2014
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Jews in first century Palestine suffered the indignity of being ruled by pagans. While the Romans were generally tolerant of religious beliefs, the Jews were still restricted in many ways. Long gone were the glory days of David and Solomon.
Jews clung to God’s promises that he would send Messiah to deliver them. Today, as we look back on history, we can see that Messianic promises actually spoke of two separate times when Messiah would come. Messiah would come first to save His people from their sins. And Messiah will return a second time to set all things right and to rule His people from the throne of David. But that perspective wasn’t so clear before Messiah’s arrival.
Jews put great hope in one side of those promises: “a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders…There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore” (Isa 9); “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed…it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms (pagan), but it will itself endure forever” (Dan 2).
They had also figured out the timing from OT Scriptures. Messiah was due on the scene any day. People anticipated Messiah with eager expectation. “The time is near. Is Messiah here?” They also knew that God had promised to send a prophet ahead of Messiah. The OT closes with this promise in Malachi 4:5 “Behold, I am going to send to you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” With that promise, God was silent for 400 years.
After 400 years of silence, a prophet suddenly appears on the scene. Might this be Elijah?
John the Baptist suddenly appeared on the scene. He preached like the prophets of old, calling God’s people to repentance. And he was baptizing many. But his primary focus was to get men and women ready for Messiah who was already in Israel. While God doesn’t call us to go out to the banks of the Arkansas River to preach and baptize, we too must call men and women to the Messiah. Notice how John does this. First,
I. John prepares men for Messiah (John 1:19-28).
Given such heightened expectations, when John the Baptist began his ministry, he attracted large, enthusiastic crowds. Although John was the son of a priest, he did not check in with the religious leaders before beginning his ministry. It was appropriate for them to investigate this new prophet. The writer here calls those leaders the Jews. We will see that most of the leaders will be hostile toward Jesus. But so far, they are just leaders wondering about this new preacher.
Let’s look at how they question the Baptist [John 1:19-23]. The religious leaders sent priests and Levites to examine John. Priests were the theological authorities of the day. Levites took care of service in the temple, were musicians and some were temple police. Levites were descendents of Levi but not of Aaron’s family line, so they could not serve as priests.
They ask this renegade preacher, “Who are you?” Since John wasn’t endorsed by the leaders, they wanted to know what he claimed for himself. John vigorously repudiated the idea that he was Messiah: he “confessed…did not deny…and confessed” saying up front, “I am not the Christ.” He didn’t want to mislead anyone. Notice too how John’s answers become shorter: “I am not the Christ,” “I am not,” “No.” He did not want to talk about himself.
Christ is from the Greek word for Messiah which means “Anointed.” Jesus was set apart by God as THE person with a very special function. His name is ‘Jesus’ and one of His titles is ‘Christ.’ It’s sort of like the way we use ‘Father/Dad’ as a name but we need to remember that it is a title first. It commands respect. Christ identifies Jesus as holding a special office—God’s Anointed One.
“OK, if you’re not the Messiah, are you Elijah?” John’s ministry was like Elijah’s. John even dressed like Elijah (2 Kgs 1:8; Zech 13:4). Like Elijah, John tried to turn the people back to God. But John denied being Elijah. Did John contradict Jesus? According to Luke 1:17, John came “in the spirit and power of Elijah”. When Jesus will later say that John was Elijah (Mt 11:14), I think He meant just what Luke said about having an Elijah-like ministry. But John the Baptist was denying that he was literally Elijah. And even Jesus said Elijah is still yet to come even after John the Baptist had died (Mt 17:11). Either Elijah or one like Elijah would precede Messiah each time He comes.
“OK then, are you the prophet?” Moses prophesied in Dt 18:15 that “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” This prophet would be Messiah, so John couldn’t be that one either. They reply to John that they needed to give some sort of answer to those who sent them. So they ask him what he claims for himself. John then quoted Isa 40:3. He saw himself as a “highway construction worker” who was preparing a highway for Yahweh. While it is true that Jesus will return as glorious King, yet one part of Isaiah’s message was missed. Men’s hearts needed to be prepared by repentance and faith—prepared to receive the coming Savior. John was a lamp while Jesus is the Light. John was a voice while Jesus is the Word.
John clearly didn’t want to talk about himself. Look at John 1:4-28 . Unhappy with the lack of progress by the priests and Levites, another group within the delegation, the Pharisees, step forward to question this Baptizer. Pharisees were an influential group within Judaism, holding to a strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law but also holding to a number of oral traditions. They were the experts on Messiah. So they ask, “Since you have no official title, why are you baptizing?”
Baptism wasn’t new. Whenever a Gentile wanted to join himself to the religion of the Jews, turning away from his pagan beliefs and turning by faith to the true God, he would baptize himself in a ritual that aligned him with the Jews. But John administers the baptisms, claiming authority. He also is calling Jews to be baptized! Even Jews need heart change.
John turns the attention away from himself and points out that the One who is coming is so much greater, that John is not worthy to unhook that one’s sandal. Disciples were expected to serve their teacher, doing many chores that a slave would do. However, they were NOT to do something so humbling as to unhook the teacher’s sandals. That job was reserved for the lowest slave.
John prepared men and women for Messiah and so should we. The Jews knew that Yahweh is God, that He is holy and that He punishes sin. What they needed to hear was that although they were born into the right family, they needed to repent of their sins. Next then,
II. John points men to Messiah (John 1:29-34).
On the very next day, John has the opportunity to point out Messiah to the crowd. John calls Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Lambs weren’t the normal sin offering. So why does John use this title for Messiah? John was preparing people not for the coming King but the coming Savior. Jesus will return as King, but His first advent was all about His work of salvation.
So John is thinking of Isaiah 53. In v. 7, Isaiah said that the Servant of Yahweh (Messiah) would be like a lamb in His work of dying in our place. Jesus was the lamb that God provided, the only lamb who could actually take away sin. Think also of Gen 22:8 where Abraham told his son Isaac that “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering.” John saw himself in Isa 40, Jesus in Isa 53.
This lamb would not be the sin offering for Jews only but for men and women around the world. Messiah would bear the iniquities of “the many” and justify them (Isa 53:11). John begins by calling Israel to repentance but he shows that God will call all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
While John the Baptist probably knew his relative, Jesus, he didn’t initially recognize Jesus as the Anointed One. God had revealed to John that he would know Messiah when a dove out of heaven came upon Him. Again in Isaiah, “the Spirit of the Lord will rest on” Messiah (Is. 11:2; Is. 42:1; Is. 61:1). God’s Holy Spirit remained on Jesus for the duration of His earthly ministry.
Once more, John shows that Jesus is superior. John only administered water baptism that symbolized the person’s turning away from sin. But Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit. This is far superior to what John was offering them. But what is baptism in the Holy Spirit? I think we need to consider the New Covenant promise in Ezekiel 36:25-27. In the New Covenant, God promises to cleanse His people from sin and empower them by His Spirit. Luke picks up this theme and shows that this happened at Pentecost. Turn to Acts 1:4-8.
John the Baptist then sums up his witness by saying that Jesus is the Son of God. Messiah the King is the Son of God (Ps 2:7). The classification of Son speaks of Jesus’ essential nature. He is unique in this role. We’ll talk more about this at John 1:49.
John pointed men and women to Messiah and so should we. Tell sinners your testimony—how God saved you from your sins. Then say, “Enough about me. Let me tell you about the Lamb of God—the Son of God—who takes away sin.” Like John, labor as a highway construction worker preparing men’s hearts to receive Messiah. And like John, serve as a road sign pointing them to Jesus the Messiah.