THE WITNESS AND THE LAMB OF GOD
19Now this is the testimony of John [the Baptist], when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
- Similar accounts of this passage can be found in Matthew 3:1–12, Mark 1:2–8, and Luke 3:3–16.
- We previously learned that Jesus is God, and that He created the universe. We learned that He is light and life, and that no one has either life or light without Jesus. We also learned that everything was created by and for Jesus Christ (see also Colossians 1:15-17). Jesus our Lord is the eternal Creator of the universe.
- Now we’ll learn a little more about this “witness” for the Light, John the Baptist. Remember, any time the name “John” appears in the Book of John, it is referring to John the Baptist. John the Beloved, the author of this book, humbly omits his name from the record, wanting only for God to increase (See John 3:30).
- This section begins the narratives of this great book. In the prologue (John 1:1-18), we were introduced to Jesus and His office as Creator and Eternal God. Now John begins the story of Jesus’ life, which begins not as an infant, as do Matthew and Luke, but as an adult, beginning with His ministry.
- The Jews hear Jesus preaching, though we are not told precisely how they heard that He was preaching, and they want to know who He is. They send worship leaders and temple assistants to inquire about this. They know what the Old Testament says about a coming Messiah. They know what the Old Testament says about a coming Elijah (Malachi 4:5). They know what the Old Testament says about a coming prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). They get right down to business, no small talk: “Are you either of these people?” John says emphatically, “No, I am not. I am only a witness for the man who is all of these things and more”.
- They were evidently paranoid and suspicious of anything out of the norm. John did not conform to the normal idea of a priest. He did not conform to the normal idea of a preacher. This is why the Pharisees were very doubtful of Him. They were afraid of change, and that’s precisely what Jesus came to do. “The church always runs the danger of condemning a new way just because it is new. In one sense there is hardly any institution in the world which resents change so much as the church does. It has often rejected a great teacher and often refused some great adventure simply because it suspected all things new” (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, page 77). The rejection of a new thing caused the demise of the religious establishment of the day, and the rejection of new things has caused the decline of the church today, as we cleave to our traditions. Look at what Jesus told the Pharisees as they resisted change and attempted to hold on to their traditions: “For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:8-9).Christians resist change more than anyone else, it seems. Maybe they inherited this from the Pharisees, as they resisted anything that would challenge the ecclesiastical system of the day. Jesus came bearing change, and the leaders of the day would have no part in it. Even today, as some cutting edge leaders attempt to lead their church into the 21st century, older traditional members resist change that could revitalize and rejuvenate their church.
23He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,” ’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
- We learned in the first few verses of this blessed Gospel that Jesus is God in the flesh. Here we learn that John is the voice of God in the flesh. John the Baptist is God’s word spoken, not God’s word incarnate, as Jesus is. “John was God’s word spoken, not God’s word incarnate; indeed, he was like a nameless voicebox that announced God’s call for people to prepare themselves by repentance and immersion in water for the appearance of the Lord” (Beauford H. Bryant, John: The College Press NIV commentary).
- “Make straight the way of the Lord”: Ancient Israel wasn’t made up of smooth, paved roads such as we have today. The roads and paths were rough and rocky. If a dignitary or person of royalty were coming through the area, they would take the time to get the roads perfectly straight and smooth to provide smooth, comfortable, pleasant passage for the person of royalty. John is saying here, “You better get your roads smooth because the King of Kings is coming through.” John was sent to tell people to ensure their lives were right before Jesus came. He was sent with tools (the proclamation of the Gospel and baptism) to tell people that they need to examine themselves, repent, and be baptized. They need to “make straight the way.” We all need to make straight the way of the Lord in our lives, preparing for the Lord’s imminent return, living our lives as though Christ could return at any moment, because indeed, Christ could return at any moment.
- John was a spiritual Elijah of sorts because he was telling people to repent and get their lives right, and was straight forward with it. We need more men today who will be “spiritual Elijahs”, boldly telling people to get right without beating around the bush or watering down the Gospel. We need men who will proclaim to the people that they must make straight the way of the Lord in their lives before it’s too late, because once the Lord comes back to rapture His children and bring them home to glory, it’s too late. And John was what all preachers should be, just a voice, wanting no glory for themselves, simply pointing the way – boldly, I might add.
24Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. 25And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” 28These things were done in Bethabara [Bethany] beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
- “Why then do you baptize?” They misunderstood Isaiah 52:15, which says, “So shall he [the messiah] sprinkle many nations”. They thought the messiah would sprinkle with water, but Isaiah was really talking about the Messiah sprinkling many with the Holy Spirit He would release (John 1:33). This is why they wanted to know why he was baptizing if he wasn’t the messiah.
- To the Jews, the baptism they practiced up to that point was a ceremonial washing, reserved for the proselytes converting to Judaism. “An Israelite was never baptized; he was God’s already and did not need to be washed. But Gentiles had to be washed in baptism. John was making Israelites do what only Gentiles had to do. He was suggesting that the chosen people had to be cleansed. That was indeed precisely what John believed” (William Barclay , The Gospel of John: Volume , 79).
- So the Jews misunderstand why he is baptizing, thinking he is the Messiah, who really doesn’t baptize with water, but with the Spirit, as we learn in the other Gospels. Then we have John baptizing Jews, not Gentiles, to tell them to get ready for the Messiah.
- “Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose” John says not only am I not the Messiah, I’m not even worthy to untie his shoes. Among Rabbis and their disciples, there was a teacher-student relationship that had the potential for abuse. “It was entirely possible that a Rabbi might expect unreasonable service from their disciples. One of the things which was considered “too low” for a Rabbi to expect from his disciples was the untying of the Rabbi’s sandal strap. John says he is unworthy to do even this” (David Guzik).
- First John the apostle teaches us about humbleness because he never mentions his name. Now John the Baptist exemplifies the same characteristic, teaching us about the importance of being humble. Sometimes we lose sight of our humbleness. We get a little learned in the word, or we get a prominent place in ministry, or a better job, or a position in the community, and it goes to our head. John says, “Stay humble, because we aren’t even good enough to be a slave to Jesus Christ.” John knew he was just the one preparing the way. He was willing to decrease so that Jesus could increase (John 3:30), as we’ll hear more about later. God, give us all enough grace to forget about ourselves and our own agendas that we might remember Christ only. It’s not about us!
29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ 31I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
- John’s witness of Christ’s baptism is also recorded in Matthew 3:13–17, Mark 1:9–11, and Luke 3:21, 22.
- This is day two in the Gospel of John. Jesus had already been baptized, showing the approval of the father, and had been tempted by Satan, showing his ability to withstand temptation and trials. He was ready to begin his 3 ½ year ministry that would change the world.
- “Behold! The Lamb of God” This is one of the most powerful statements about Jesus in the entire Bible. What John specifically meant is up for interpretation, at least to some degree. John could have had one or all of several things in mind when he made this declaration of our Lord.
- First, he may have been thinking of the Passover Lamb, since the Passover wasn’t far off (see John 2). This was a time when the Jews thought back 1,500 years to the time of the Exodus. The night before the first Passover they were instructed to slay a pascal lamb and to place the blood of the slain lamb on the lentil of every home, protecting the Jewish children from the Angel of Death (see Exodus 12). The angel would Passover each door with this blood on it, according to the instructions of the Lord. The blood of the Passover lamb delivered the Israelites in Egypt from death, and “it may be that John was saying: ‘There is the one true Sacrifice who can deliver you from death’”( William Barclay , The Gospel of John: Volume , 81). Barclay was, of course, referring to our Lord Jesus. Paul, too, thought of Jesus as the Passover Lamb, according to First Corinthians 5:7. There is a deliverance that only Jesus Christ can win for us, and He won this deliverance as our very own sacrificial Pascal Lamb, the one and only Lamb of God who indeed takes away the sins of the world. What about you? Do you have the blood of the Lamb figuratively sprinkled over the doorpost of your heart, protecting you from judgment? I hope so. Tomorrow may be too late. There is no better time than right now to accept the free sacrificial gift of the Lamb.
- Second, remember that John was the son of Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, and Zachariah. He knew all about the temple and its practices, as the son of a Levite. Every morning and every evening, according to Exodus 29, a lamb was to be offered for the remission of sins. Maybe John is telling them that the Man they see coming is going to do away with all the animal sacrifices, once for all. Hebrews 9:12 says, “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” It may be that John is saying, “In the Temple a lamb is offered every night and every morning for the sins of the people; but this Jesus is the only sacrifice which can deliver men from sin” William Barclay , The Gospel of John: Volume , 81).
- Thirdly, maybe John had in mind the prophet’s words, Isaiah 53:7, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth”. Isaiah spoke of One who would suffer greatly to redeem His people and free them from the judgment they so justly deserve. Maybe John is saying, “Your prophets dreamed of the One who was to love and suffer and die for the people; that One is come.”
- It is most likely John the Beloved had all three in mind as he made this powerful declaration of our Lord. He will be the final Pascal Lamb needed to cause God to pass over those who so deserve God’s judgment, He will be the one to take the place of the animals sacrificed for the remission of the people’s sins in the Temple, and He would be the one who would suffer greatly to redeem His own people from the bondage of sin. He is all this and so very much more. He is our Lord, and that’s reason to shout for joy and celebrate!
- “I did not know Him” John knew who Jesus was, because they were cousins, yet He did not know that Jesus was the One until that moment, when God revealed it to Him. The Light came on for John, and he realized Jesus was the Savior. Imagine what John must have been thinking as Jesus was approaching from a distance and God told him, “That’s the One, John. That’s Him.” Has there been a moment for you, like John, when you realized not just who Jesus was, but what Jesus is? Is he you Savior, your Messiah, your King? If not, you can know Him today!
32And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
- We know from the other Gospels that this point where John the Baptizer saw the spirit descending like a dove is the baptism of Jesus. Here we learn that God had given John a direct revelation, telling him that when he saw a dove descending he would know this was the Son of God in the flesh.
- John experienced, or beheld Him, and then testified about Him. He didn’t just learn about Him or experience Him, he did something with what he learned and experienced. After he had seen, he testified. He did not remain silent. How about you? Have you seen the Lamb of God? Have you met Him? Have you experienced or beheld Him? If so, have you also testified about Him before others?
- We need men who will boldly proclaim that people must make straight the way of the Lord in their lives before it’s too late, for once the Lord comes back to rapture His children and bring them home to glory, it’s too late. John did this boldly, but was what all preachers should be, just a voice, wanting no glory, simply pointing the way.
- What about you? Do you have the blood of the Lamb ceremonially and figuratively sprinkled over the doorpost of your heart, protecting you from judgment, allowing God’s judgment to pass over you? I hope so. Tomorrow may be too late.
- Has there been a moment for you, like John, when you realized not just who Jesus was, but what Jesus is? Is he your Savior, your Messiah, your King? If not, you can know Him today! He stands ready to meet you where you are (Revelation 3:20).
Key words: The Book of John, Commentary on John, Sermon notes on John, The Gospel of John, John, Background to the Book of John.