In the previous sermon we studied John the Baptist’s description of himself in chapter one, verses 19-28. In order to understand the sequence of events in the next passage of Scripture, we need to realize that there is a gap of about six weeks before John’s statement about Jesus in verse 15. During this period of time Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Afterward He was led by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where He fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil. The gospel writer John makes no mention of this. After Jesus overcame the devil and recuperated from His long fast, He returned to the Jordan River. Matthew 3:13-4:11 gives a clear description of these events without any breaks.
I. JOHN’S PROCLAMATION (verses 29-30)
On the day Jesus returned to the Jordan River, John the Baptist recognized Him at a distance. Literally it says, “He caught his eye”. I take it to mean that John the Baptist was “keeping an eye out for Him”, looking expectantly for His return. I’m reminded of the parable of the prodigal son where the father saw his son returning when the son was still a long way off (Luke 15:20). He was looking expectantly also – for his son to return.
This is the Lord’s first appearance in the Gospel of John. John the Baptist points Him out in verse 29 saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” I visualize John the Baptist pointing his finger in the direction of Jesus as he said those words in a loud voice, and everyone within earshot turned their heads to look at Jesus. There seems to be very little doubt that Jesus chose this moment to be introduced to the nation of Israel by his forerunner as the “Lamb of God“. What a wonderful title! That statement was packed with meaning for his listeners and for us today. There are several things that would have come to the minds of his listeners when he said those words.
The feast of the Passover was approaching in just a few days (John 2:12,13). It was a time of remembering when God was preparing the Hebrew people in the Old Testament to flee from Egypt and from their slavery to Pharaoh (Exodus 12:1-14). Each Hebrew family was to kill an unblemished lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their homes to protect them from the wrath of God and His final plague on Egypt. The Angel of Death was going to kill the first-born of the families and the cattle of Egypt, but he would “pass over” and not enter the homes where the lamb’s blood was visible. They were saved from death by the blood of a lamb.
As John the Baptist introduced Jesus with the words, “Behold, the Lamb of God“, it’s very likely that the Jews who heard him could also hear the sounds of sheep, and could see flocks of sheep being led toward the city of Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover feast. These animals would be used as sacrifices during the feast, reminding them that salvation comes through the shedding of blood.
The title “Lamb of God” would also remind the Jews of the lambs that were sacrificed every day in the Temple as commanded by God in Exodus 29:38-41. Every morning and every evening a lamb was sacrificed on the altar as a burnt offering. In the next verse, verse 42, God says, “It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations . . . “ It was to be part of their daily worship. So the sacrificial lambs were to be, not only a yearly reminder on the Feast of Passover, but a daily reminder, every morning and every evening, of the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sin. These sacrificed lambs were looking ahead to Jesus, the only One who could take away sin.
There is one more description of the Lamb that is a prophetic description given by the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah refers to himself as “a gentle lamb being led to the slaughter”. The prophet Isaiah uses similar words to refer to the suffering Messiah: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter , and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Both of these passages of Scripture speak of the humility and gentleness of a lamb. In Matthew 11:29, the only place in the New Testament where Jesus describes His own character, He says, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart“. Hopefully, those thoughts came to the minds of his listeners also after John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God”.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the world”. The Greek word translated “takes away” can also mean “takes up”. Jesus took away our sin by taking it upon Himself. This is what is described in Isaiah 53:4-5. “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; , , , He was crushed for our iniquities . . . “
Years ago, in a small oriental town, several men were working on a scaffold high above the street. Suddenly one of them lost his footing and fell to the pavement below. Horrified, his companions quickly descended, expecting to find his body broken and mangled. To their surprise they discovered that he was unhurt! At the exact moment of his fall, some sheep were passing through the street beneath him, and he landed on the back of one of the animals. There it lay, crushed and dead, but the man was saved. As he gazed upon that lifeless creature, he was heard to say, “It died for me!”
The death of Christ was no accident. His crucifixion was part of God’s plan from all eternity. Revelation 13:8 says that Christ was “slain before the foundation of the world”. The first stanzas of the following two hymns declare how precious those words of John the Baptist are for us today.
Behold the Lamb, whose precious blood
Poured from His opened veins,
Had power to make our peace with God
And cleanse our deepest stains.
Now Behold the Lamb,
the Precious Lamb of God,
born into sin that I may live again,
the precious Lamb of God.
It is said that the shortest sermon that Charles Haddon Spurgeon ever preached consisted of the recitation of those wonderful words in John 1:29. The great preacher had been commissioned to conduct special services in the Chrystal Palace in London, England. A day or two before he was to preach, he decided to test the acoustics of the building. Thinking the auditorium was empty, he cried out in a loud voice, “Behold, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world”! A workman in one of the galleries, who knew nothing about what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was filled with conviction because of his sin. Putting down his tools, he went home, and there, after a time of spiritual struggle, found peace and eternal life by accepting the Lamb of God as his Savior and Lord. If Jesus Christ is not your Lord, and you are convicted of your sin, I hope that you will respond to those words in John 1:29 in the same life-changing way.
In verse 30, John the Baptist says that Jesus is not only “the Lamb of God”, but He is also God Himself. John was six months older than Jesus, but he says that Jesus “existed before me”. In other words, Jesus’ existence did not begin at birth. He always existed, and is therefore God.
II. JOHN’S PREVIOUS CONCERNS RESOLVED (verses 31-34
In my previous sermon, “John the Baptist’s Testimony About Himself”, I raised the following question: “Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization of his calling in life?”. Verses 31-34 raise this question: Have you ever wondered when John the Baptist came to the realization that Jesus was the Messiah? In verse 31 John says, “And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” John knew what he was supposed to do, but the text seems to indicate that he didn’t know the Person for whom he was doing it. Have you ever been given the responsibility of doing something for someone else, with clear instructions, but you didn’t know the recipient of your efforts? As you did the work, did you have a longing inside to know who that person was? I think we would all like to know those details if we could, wouldn’t we?
So when did John the Baptist come to the realization that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God? Obviously, he realized this fact after his baptism of Jesus, when the signs from heaven occurred, but could the realization have come earlier? In Matthew 3:13-14, as Jesus was coming toward him to be baptized, John tried to prevent Him saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” It could be that John the Baptist had opportunities to observe Jesus before this encounter and was impressed by Jesus’ sinless life. Maybe that’s the reason he felt that Jesus didn’t need baptism, but should be the One who baptized him. Another possibility is that God gave John a flash of insight when he saw Jesus coming, and this insight was confirmed after His baptism. The Scriptures don’t say for sure, but I lean toward the second possibility myself. We do know from Scripture that Jesus did not fit the Jew’s concept of what the Messiah would look like. Jesus was not a handsome man. He was also a poor man, and wore the clothing of a poor person. To look at Him, no Jew would have thought that Jesus was the Messiah by His outward appearance alone.
In verse 32, John the Baptist describes what happened after Jesus’ baptism: “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He (the Spirit/dove) remained upon Him (Jesus).” He doesn’t mention the voice coming from heaven, probably because he is declaring the fulfillment of a statement he received from God. That statement is found in verse 33: “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.”
When I was a little child I thought that the Holy Spirit actually was a dove because He was always depicted that way in the pictures I had seen. Is there a significance to the fact that the Holy Spirit chose to manifest Himself in the form of a dove? Henry Bosch shares some interesting facts in an Our Daily Bread devotional. Doves do not have a gall bladder, so there is no bitterness to them, only sweetness. The Scriptures associate a dove with gentleness and innocence (Matthew 10:16), and beauty (Psalm 68:13). The cooing of a dove has a calming effect. All of these descriptions also describe the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. Bible commentator William Barclay adds that the dove was considered a sacred bird in Palestine. It was not hunted and it was not eaten. The Rabbis, referring to Genesis 1:2, used to say that the Spirit of God “moved and fluttered like a dove over the ancient chaos, breathing beauty and order into it.” The Jews of that day knew and loved the symbol of the dove as a picture of the Spirit of God. The dove and young pigeon were the only birds that could be used as an offering to God, according to Mosaic law (Leviticus 5:7; 12:8), and only the poor were allowed to use them. It brings to my mind that, only when we are poor in spirit, can we be filled with the Spirit of God. Only when we surrender our own control over our lives can the Holy Spirit take control.
When the dove remained on Jesus after his baptism by John, the words of God to John were fulfilled. Jesus is the One who “baptizes in the Holy Spirit”. What does that mean? There is no record that Jesus baptized anyone with water during His ministry on earth. The word “baptize” comes from the Greek word “baptizo” which also means “to identify with”. There are four “ingredients” to baptism: the baptizer, the one being baptized, the element into which the person is being baptized, and the purpose of the baptism. In John’s baptism, the baptizer was John the Baptist, the one being baptized was the Jew who had repented of his or her sins, and the purpose was to publicly declare their repentance in preparation for the Messiah’s arrival. In the baptism of believers in Jesus Christ, His apostles/disciples were the baptizers, the one being baptized was the person who repented and believed in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, the element again was water, and the purpose was to obey God by publicly identifying with Christ and with the local body of believers. The mode of baptism was emersion symbolizing death and burial to one’s old way of life and resurrection to a new life as a new person in Christ. This public baptism was a one-time event. A genuine Christian need only be baptized once.
Following this same format, in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ is the Baptizer, the one being baptized is the one who has placed his faith in Jesus Christ, the element into which the person is being baptized is the Holy Spirit and the purpose is personal identification with Jesus Christ and admittance into the universal body of believers (the “children of God”). This baptism also only occurs once at the moment of conversion. At that exact moment the believer becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is to be distinguished from the “fullness” of the Spirit, which is a moment-to-moment yielding to His control over our lives, resulting in the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. As J. Sidlow Baster aptly said about God’s ministry in our lives:
What God chooses, He cleanses.
What God cleanses, He molds.
What God molds, He fills.
What God fills, He uses.
In verse 34, John concludes this testimony of his by saying, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” That was what the voice from heaven said, and John has testified that he heard it and believes it. There is now no doubt in his mind that Jesus is the Son of God, and he declares it publicly.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: Welcome to this new site: John 1:29-34! I’m making headway on this work-in-process and enjoying what I’m learning and describing to you. More will be added very soon, and you are welcome to visit other completed sermons on this site. It’s always “Open House” here! See you again soon!