Read: John 1:6-8, 19-34
The man they called “The Baptizer” stood waist deep in the Jordan River, doing what he seemed to always be doing in those days, preaching—and baptizing. There always seemed to be a line of people, waiting expectantly on the bank, and a larger congregation beyond that. The question is, why was anyone there at all?
Every church growth specialist I’ve ever read would have immediately told John he was doing everything wrong, beginning with the personal image he presented to people. He just didn’t look like a spiritual leader. (Matthew 3:4) Beyond that, this was the wrong location. Everyone knows you must take your message to the large population centers where the people are. Make it easy for them to find you, and get to you. And his message needed help. It was too negative for most people’s taste. “Repent!” (Matthew 3:2) Who wants to come all this way into this deserted place to listen to that every day? Upon at least one occasion, he interrupted his own sermon to shout insults at a group of people who had just arrived. (Matthew 3:7-10) He just wasn’t seeker friendly, to say the least.
But for some reason, the people continued to come from all parts of Judea and Jerusalem, lining up to confess their sins and be baptized. First one . . . then another . . . and another. As John looked up to receive the next person, he saw a collection of priests and Levites standing together on the bank, but not stepping into the water. And they were pointing at him. “Who are you?” they demanded to know.
John quickly assured everyone there that he was not the Messiah. Neither did he accept the other titles the people were trying to put on him. The Jews were expecting Elijah to come to prepare the way before the Lord. (Malachi 4:5) They also expected another prophet. (Deuteronomy 18:15) There was considerable debate at the time about who that prophet would be. John refused to accept either of these labels. It’s like he was saying, “Don’t put me in a box so you can put me on a shelf and forget about me.”
That’s how we use labels, you know. We can say, Oh, he (or she) is ____________. We can fill the blank with anything from black or white, male or female, young or old, republican or democrat, deaf or hearing, Baptist or Catholic or Pentecostal. Then we assume we already know everything they have to say, so we don’t have to listen carefully. We can label, box, shelve and ignore, in that order, all within fifteen minutes or less. John simply refused to accept that treatment. Instead, he brought their attention to what he was doing. He was saying, in effect, “Don’t reduce my mission to a True-False question on a theology quiz. Pay attention to what I’m saying. Watch what I’m doing. And, by the way, YOU need to repent too!” (John 1:23; Isaiah 40:3-5) John was very clear about what he was doing—and why. (cf. John 1:26, 31, 34) He was there to introduce Jesus to the world. As quickly as he could, he turned the conversation from who are you? to who is Jesus?
John’s bottom line ultimately came down to this, Jesus is the Son of God (v.34) Now be careful! This statement was in no way intended to contradict the author’s statement that “the Word (Jesus) was God” from the beginning. (v.1)
(By the way, don’t be confused by the two men, both named John we’re talking about here. John the baptizer is the subject of today’s story. The author of this gospel, also named John, was a disciple, brother of James, both of whom we meet for the first time in the fourth chapter of Matthew)
The primary intended meaning of the phrase, “son of” for these people was that the son shared the same nature as the father. Even today, we say, “like father—like son” to express the same idea. Later, Jesus told his disciples “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) (Of course, these verses are full of statements that would be best understood as a reference to the trinity, but we still need to save all that for a later time.) Certainly, the Jews didn’t miss his point when Jesus said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5: 17-18) They were ready to stone him for blasphemy, which it would have been—if it wasn’t true!
If you remember, the last time we talked about about receiving Jesus. We could have summarized everything by saying that when we receive Jesus, in truth, we receive God into our lives. Everything God is—Jesus is, and that is what has come to live within us. In short, he is our Immanuel, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
The entire gospel message comes down to this. The Son of God emptied himself and became flesh so he could become the Lamb of God. (v. 29, cf. Philippians 2:5-8) That simply means he became the sacrifice for our sin. In one sense, every sacrifice ever offered under the Old Covenant looked forward to the ultimate sacrifice, The Lamb of God, who was to come.
More specifically, however, I believe this was a reference to the Passover Lamb, who was offered each year. The whole design of this gospel moves toward that end, beginning with John’s presentation of Jesus in chapter one as the Lamb of God, In chapter two, Jesus made the first of a series of refences to his “hour,” of which he was keenly aware from the beginning. (2:4; 7:6, 30; 12:27; 13:1; 17:1) I believe it’s significant that these last two statements, which refer to his hour as finally having come, were spoken on the night Jesus was arrested—the night before the Passover.
Let me be clear. On the very next day, as the lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple, the Lamb of God would be hanging on the cross. As he released his spirit to the Father, he declared “It is finished!” (John 19:30) And the curtain in the Temple was torn completely in half. This was the one perfect, all sufficient sacrifice all Israel had been waiting for. (Hebrews 10:1-4, 10, 12) It was, in fact, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and it is more than enough to wash away your sin and mine—even to this day.
Finally, John presents Jesus as the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit (v.32-33) This is important. Remember that Jesus was in the beginning with God. (1:1) But for our sakes, he emptied himself and became flesh. (Philippians 2:5-8; John 1:14) Theologians like to say he emptied himself of the independent exercise of his divine powers. So, when he said he could do nothing without the Father, he really meant it. (John 4:19)
We must, therefore, ask, by what power did Jesus perform the miracles he did? Consider this. At his baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, and remained upon him. (Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-33) From that time, he acted under the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Luke 4:1, 14, 16-21) Later, Jesus would promise to send this same Spirit to dwell within, and flow out from every believer. (John 7:37-39; 14:16-17; Acts i:8; 2:32-33) That’s how the church has survived, and thrived, to this day!
So today, we stand together, and we look up, and we pray. Thank you, Jesus, Son of God, for coming down to dwell among us, becoming one of us, and the Word of God to us. Thank you, Jesus, Lamb of God, for becoming the perfect and all sufficient sacrifice for our sin. Pour out your Spirit upon us, according to your promise. Come, Holy Spirit!