WORD OF GOD SPEAK — JESUS THE LAMB
by Pastor Mike Fortune
May 12, 2007
During a visit to the mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what the standard was that defined whether or not a patient should be institutionalized. “Well,” said the Director, “We fill up a bathtub, then, we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a pail to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub.” “Oh, I understand,” said the visitor. “A normal person would use the pail because it’s bigger than the spoon or the teacup.” “No.” said the Director, “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?”
A modern reader of John’s Gospel could make a similar mistake. They could assume quickly reading the beginning that John the Baptist appeared out of nowhere, baptized Jesus, and then disappeared never to be heard from again. And while such a premise would have been consistent with the Baptist’s radical humility we talked about last time, it is probably not what happened. Yes, John described himself humbly as “just one voice.” Not THE voice. Or the only voice even. Yes, John distanced himself, some would say outright denied, being like Elijah. Yes, John considered untying Jesus’ sandals far too great an honor. And yes, he kept talking more and more about Jesus. Saying how Jesus must increase and become greater while the Baptist must decrease and become smaller.
But historically, the Baptist and the movement of those who followed him seems to have abandoned John’s radical humility. How do we know? Because the Baptist was martyred due in part to political involvement! Remember how he called Herod out for marital infidelity? That eventually cost him his life. Which led some folks to think his movement may have found common cause with the zealots and other revolutionaries during the war with Rome that was waged between 67 and 70 AD. They also get that impression from the Baptist’s disciples that visited Jesus while John was still in prison when they pleaded with Jesus to overthrow Rome. Remember that?
What we do know is that John’s ministry and impact had a much longer shelf life than the likely 18 month he continued preaching after baptizing Jesus. We know this is true because in addition to Apollos and 12 other men who traced their ministry to the Baptist in Acts 18 and 19, there are a group of people called the Mandeans located primarily in southern Iraq today that also trace the origins of their small group of people back to the ministry of John the Baptist.
Obviously then, the excitement over what John had to say did not immediately wane. Then or now. There must be something about the Word, the Light, the Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God that is worth hearing. And proclaiming over and over again. That’s the conclusion I came to again recently when I saw this funny clip of some funny things that we sometimes substitute for Jesus. Take a look and try to imagine being this excited about God.
I’ve entitled the passage we’re studying today Word of God Speak — Jesus the Lamb. Were any of you able to read ahead and study these verses for homework? I hope you did because when I’m done I’m going to ask you to share with me what you heard. So together we can apply these words. When we started this new series and format, some of you mentioned how the glare on the whiteboard made reading your responses difficult. Not to mention my chicken scratch writing. So we’re ditching the white board and using the screen. When I’m done, I’ll ask you to share what you heard or what was meaningful to you and Shawn will type your responses on the screen so it’s easier for everyone to see. So be thinking about what you hear God saying to you today. The first 18 verses of John revealed to us that God meets us where we are. In verses 19-28 we highlighted the significance of radical humility. Today, we’re going to watch the Lamb. And then for next time, read John 1:35-42 where we’ll zero in on Jesus’ First Disciples. What verses? Verses 35-42 for homework next time. You guys with me? I hope so.
Today’s passage begins the Gospel of John in earnest. We’re not dealing with the prologue anymore. John 1:29 says, “ 29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” Can you hear the excitement in his voice? While the original Greek doesn’t contain exclamation points, the translators of every version I compared rightly add them. And I think John would’ve liked that. Because unlike some of those folks in that silly clip, John the Baptist had no problem getting excited about Jesus. Why? I think it’s because he quickly realized that some of Jesus is better than all of anything else! Knowing Him and having a relationship with Him is way better than having a boyfriend or girlfriend or going to football games. Am I right or am I right? But notice: John’s not just excited about seeing Jesus today. He’s just as excited to be looking for Him tomorrow too!
Verse 29 says this happened “The next day.” I love how the Gospel of John is so preoccupied with today. And the next day at the most. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John has no sermon in his Gospel on future events and the second coming. There is no outline of future events like in 2 Thessalonians or Revelation. The dead are raised now not just at the 2 nd coming. Judgement occurs at the cross and whenever the Gospel is preached not just in the future. Things that in the Old Testament are characteristic of apocalyptic eschatology and the end of the world are present realities in Christ! Over and over John is telling us that some of Jesus is better than all of anything else!
I think John wrote his Gospel that way because he knew that whatever else happens in the future will make no difference whatsoever if you don’t know Jesus today. And the next day. That’s why I think even Adventists longing for the 2 nd coming should talk more and more about Jesus. We should be most concerned with today and the next day. Not the future. What do you think about that?
John the Baptist had never met Jesus as far as we know. They were cousins, but not the kissing kind. They weren’t close. We know this is true because John couldn’t even pick Jesus out from the crowd. He admits in John 1:33 [NIV] “33I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’”
But notice this didn’t stop John from looking for Him. And that shouldn’t stop us either. So you don’t know Jesus as well as you should. So what? None of us do! That’s why we’re all supposed to look and keep looking. Today and the next day. And the day after that. Because the Bible is clear that John was looking for Jesus. But good news don’t miss this! It also says that Jesus was looking for John! It says “Jesus was coming toward him.” And I believe Jesus is coming toward us too. Even when we’re not looking! So let’s be pleasantly surprised wherever and whenever He chooses to show up! Morning has broken! Like another song says, open our eyes Lord, we want to see Jesus!
While its true that we cannot justify, sanctify, or glorify ourselves, we can open our eyes! I’ll never forget holding Joshua and Lydia in my arms when they were littler and just watching them open their eyes for the first or for the hundredth time. Babies are born with this ability. I’m sure spiritual babies are too.
So like John the Baptist, we have a job to do. It’s just that our job is not to send the doves down or manufacture the spiritual pyrotechnics. Our job is just like John’s. Our job is to open our eyes to look at light of the world. Wherever He is shining. And to open them the next day too. If we do that, the future whatever it holds, will take care of itself.
I think it’s also pretty cool that in 34 verses of John’s gospel so far, Jesus has accumulated 5 different nicknames. Have you noticed that? Stealing the secular term “the Word” first coined by Philo 400 years before Christ, John uses it to describe the way Jesus bridges the gap between heaven and earth in John 1:1. A few verses later in John 1:7, he compares Jesus with the Light of the World. In verse 17 it’s announced that grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. And in verse 34 he straight out states that Jesus is the Son of God. But in between this growing list of nicknames, John records one more we’re going to focus on today in closing that the Baptist attaches to Jesus. Undoubtedly with great excitement and fanfare. Jesus the Lamb.
This is a term that John alone uses as his designation for Christ. Which means it must have held special significance to him. This becomes obvious when we read Revelation and 1 st, 2 nd, and 3 rd John, the books he wrote before the Gospel of John. Maybe you’re familiar with the verses our closing hymn is based upon. They’re found in Revelation 5:9-12 [NIV]. “9And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’ 11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
We can let John explain what he means by Lamb of God by also quickly scanning a couple texts from 1 John. In 1 John 3:5, the author and only disciple of Jesus to die of old age said that Jesus appeared to “take away our sins.” In 1 John 1:9 he adds that Jesus came so He might “Forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Verses like these in books like those would be about all a 1 st century hearer would need to recognize that John is using sacrificial language based on a collage of sacrificial images in the Old Testament. The first of those images comes from Exodus 12:5. Which describes the literal paschal lamb as being a “Year old males without defect.” The second comes from Exodus 19 when God delivers the children of Israel from slavery. Paul refers to that passage in 1 Corinthians 5:7 saying “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” Everybody back then knew that Passover was all about deliverance from slavery. And finally there had to have been a few folks like the Baptist who would have identified Jesus the Lamb from the picture of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 part of which reads, “Like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth...whose life was a guilt offering...who bore the sin of many.”
But there probably weren’t very many on the banks of the river Jordan who put that final piece in the puzzle. Why? One reason that surprised me is because nowhere in the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Bible, is a lamb spoken of as specifically being a bearer of the people’s sin. Now as Adventists we see that implied in Leviticus 16 and other places where the sacrificial system was being used to illustrate what Jesus the Lamb of God was coming to replace. But apparently, it’s not specifically said that way. Let me know if you’ve found a verse that says otherwise. But that may be one practical reason why the folks didn’t associate lambs as bearing sins or identifying Jesus as the one coming to suffer for theirs. But there were other reasons too.
A second reason, a theological reason, was the perception back then, just like today, that when it comes to theology and religious beliefs, what comes earlier is usually better. Jesus Himself appeals to such a train of thought in response to some Pharisees question regarding divorce for any reason. In Matthew 19:3-9 Jesus cites Genesis in the beginning to say that what God has joined together, let man not separate. The author of Hebrews, which is all about the superiority of Jesus and some things that come later, hadn’t been written yet. And wouldn’t be written until around 65 AD. Nearly 40 years later! So the folks in the Baptist’s day were still used to thinking that what came first was always better. No questions asked. But ironically, that is exactly the Baptist’s point in verse 30 where he says, “30This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”
What he meant was long before the Baptist was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Son of God. They missed Jesus as the Lamb of God for the practical reason that lambs are not said to specifically bear sins in the Pentateuch. They missed Jesus as the Lamb of God for the theological reason that earlier revelations of truth are always better than later. And the 3 rd reason, this one historical, that they missed the Lamb is because they preferred earthly kings to the heavenly high priest.
Back then, Jewish tradition and rumor said there would be 2 Messiahs in the last days. One from the tribe of Judah and one from the tribe of Levi. The Messiah from the tribe of Judah would be a kingly Messiah. The Messiah from the tribe of Levi would be a priestly Messiah. Because in the Old Testament, both kings and priests were anointed, which is what Messiah in Hebrew literally means, the expectation and rumor grew in Jesus’ day that the Messiah could not be summed up in one person but two. So when John the Baptist of the tribe of Levi followed shortly by Jesus of the tribe of Judah showed up, can you see why it was not surprising to some that people would assume these traditions had prophetic fulfillment in the relationship between John and Jesus? After the Baptist was beheaded and it became obvious that Jesus wasn’t going to fulfill their kingly desires, the followers of the Baptist apparently took matters into their own hands joining forces with the zealots igniting revolt and warfare so an earthly king from Judah could rule over them instead of some pagan guy from Rome. Which didn’t work. And had devastating consequences.
So what can we learn from these reasons they failed to watch the lamb? Are there practical, theological, or historical reasons we might miss Jesus too? Is it possible to be so excited about the future that we pull the plug on the present? Are we still convinced that earlier revelations of truth are always better no questions asked? Aren’t there some theological truths better understood situationally instead of universally? Do we really prefer some of Jesus more than anything else? And why is it so much easier getting excited about hanging out with our friends or going to football games than it is spending an entirely delightful day with the King of the Universe?
Maybe you could discuss these questions when you go home or in a small group. They’re primarily rhetorical. For us to think about. But let me leave you with one question I hope you will answer before you leave. Will you watch for the Lamb this week? I hope so because He is looking for you. He paid the price for your sins on the cross. He never sinned. Or fell short of the glory of God. He was a lamb without blemish. Willing to die according to Revelation 13:8 long before the creation of the world. So there has never been any debate about how to fix it. Jesus volunteered long before the Father agreed. But the King of the universe not only died for you, He also wants to deliver you from spiritual slavery. From the bondage of trying to earn a life worth living. Based not on the spiritual pyrotechnics you miraculously perform before or after baptism, but simply on how you respond to the Light of the world you understand. Isn’t that good news worth repeating? Isn’t that good news worth getting excited about? I think John would agree. Thank God God meets us where we are. Thank God God installs within us a radical humility. Thank God we can watch the Lamb.
So what did you hear me say? I’m curious. Did the word of God speak? Would you mind sharing with me now what you’re going to take home with you? Just raise your hand and someone will bring you a microphone. Tell us your first name and briefly what your takeaway is. Shawn will type your responses onto the screen. And together we’ll praise God for applying these words to our lives. Who will go first?
Our father in heaven, to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever. You alone are worthy. Speak to us this week we humbly pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.