19 Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”
21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
24 Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptise if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 “I baptise with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know Him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that He might be revealed to Israel.”
32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. 33 I would not have known Him, except that the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” He replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where He was staying, and spent that day with Him. It was about the tenth hour.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
The gospel of John differs from the first three gospels in the New Testament, the so-called ‘Synoptic Gospels’ in many ways.
It was written later, about AD 85, and is more an interpretation of Jesus Christ and His great spiritual truths. So John’s gospel is not merely historical but also interpretive.
John proclaims Jesus from the opening verse as the divine Messiah. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
In John there is no mention of Jesus’ birth, His baptism, temptation, the transfiguration, or the last supper. The agony of Gethsemane is not described. There are no parables either. Each miracle which John recounts for us is given for a definite purpose. They are key signs, and each gives a great spiritual truth that reveals the wonderful attributes of Jesus.
While John omits some things we find in Matthew, Mark and Luke, he does introduce us to some things which are not in the Synoptics.
The miracles at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria at the well, the paralytic at Bethesda, the raising of Lazarus, and the washing of the disciples’ feet are all found in John only. Biblical scholars have assumed that John knew what the Synoptic Gospels contained, and he understood his task to be one of drawing attention to the deep spiritual truth of who Jesus is, and why He came.
In fact, at the end of chapter 20, John gives his reasons for writing what we have come to know as the Gospel of John: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)
The humanity of Jesus is emphasised as well as His divinity. In John, Jesus is tired and sits down at the well at Sychar, He becomes hungry, and at one time He even weeps at the tomb of a friend. John was an eyewitness of the events recorded in the book, and he plunges immediately into the purpose of the gospel: To tell about Christ so that people might have everlasting life.
He says that the “Word,” which is Christ, was the very beginning. He was the source of life and of all things. He was the Light of humankind whom no darkness could overcome.
John the Baptist came as a witness to this Light. John testified that Jesus gives us all the grace we need.
The ministry of John the Baptist is given prominence in the first chapter. People flocked to hear John, and many were puzzled as to who this fiery preacher was. They asked him if he was Elijah or a prophet. He told them that he was merely the voice that was sent to announce the coming of the Messiah.
And when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” This picture of the Lamb comes from Isaiah and is also found in Revelation.
We actually first read about this concept of the Lamb of God in Genesis 22. God instructed Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, a clear prophecy of what was to come at Calvary. We know the story very well. Abraham and his son climb the mountain, and Isaac turns to his father to ask where the sacrificial animal is.
Abraham then gives the answer which was ultimately fulfilled many years later at Calvary: “God Himself will provide the Lamb.” (Genesis 22:8)
Jesus is not the Lamb of mankind but of God.
One characteristic associated with the lamb in the Old Testament sacrifices was its innocence. We speak of the innocence of children not in the sense that they are free from sin, but in that they don’t understand sin. As children emerge into adulthood, this innocence passes.
Jesus, however, never lost His innocence. He walked among the sins and temptations of life but remained pure and unsoiled.
Most people are quite comfortable with the idea that Jesus came as a little meek and mild baby. Cute manger scenes at Christmas time are generally accepted, as they don’t threaten anyone. There are a few radical exceptions to the rule, but most who are opposed to the idea that God is real and that He came in human flesh will tolerate a manger scene with a plastic doll in a shopping centre for a couple of weeks each year. If we can hide God under the tinsel and pretty lights, He is no threat to us.
But read John’s gospel carefully, and you will see that he doesn’t waste his time and energy on the character of the lamb or its innocence and gentleness, but rather its death. And that is why the name Jesus Christ is so offensive to so many people.
John makes a clear connection between Jesus and the ancient sacrificial system introduced in Old Testament times.
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the sacrifices. And probably the most remarkable thing about the Lamb of God was that He went to His death voluntarily. He did this because He understood the necessity of giving His life.
John understood it too. He had to have understood it, because had he not, he would not have been able to write the most well-known verse in the entire Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
This Lamb takes away the sin of the world. What does that really mean though? Ask a child why Jesus died, and their answer is usually “to take away our sins.” That answer scores 100% in a theology exam, but do we really understand the deep truth of those words?
Some say that Jesus came to earth to heal, and they emphasise His healing ministry. He healed the blind, the crippled, the diseased, and even the dead. He did all of those things and more, but Jesus’ main purpose for coming to this earth in human form was to save people from their sins, which is greater than any bodily healing.
And the only way He could that was by dying for our sins. He lived to die.
Sin, the choice of evil instead of good, the perversion of the desires, the slavery of the will, the darkening of the mind, the deadly sickness of the heart and all of the other horrors caused by sin, is the source and fountain of all trouble, the cause of all disorder and wretchedness.
Cut away through all the clutter, the circumstances and all the peripheral issues in your life, and you will come to the same conclusion every time. The root cause is sin.
This is the curse that destroys life’s harmony and beauty.
Of course there are times when life is good, and we really are able to appreciate the beauty of our world and the love of people, but it doesn’t last. And the reason it doesn’t last is sin.
This is the obstacle that separates the soul in darkness and sorrow from God.
Someone once wrote these words: “The forms of religion, the voice of unceasing prayers, the smoke of endless burnt offerings, the blood of bulls and goats, the oblations of all that is most precious, cruel altars drenched with human gore, the gifts, pleadings, sacrifices, all bear witness to the deep and awful sense of sin that rests on the heart of the world.”
Satan has fooled the world into thinking that everything is absolutely fine, but the awful truth is that we are in a deeply desperate situation. Sin has separated us from the very source of life, from the God who created us.
That’s the mess we have put ourselves into.
And that is why we are able to rejoice at the sound of John the Baptist’s words: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Older translations say ‘behold, the Son of God.’ To behold is to do more than just point your eyes in a particular direction. To behold is to look and see, and to contemplate in your heart just who or what you are beholding.
The simplest meaning of the words ‘takes away’ is ‘to lift.’
How do you feel when something you’ve been battling or struggling with is finally dealt with? People often say that they feel a burden has been lifted from their shoulders.
This is precisely what John meant when he wrote that Jesus ‘takes away’ our sins.
We are unable to free ourselves from the heavy burden of sin, but when we turn to God in repentance, accepting and identifying with the death of Jesus on our behalf, we feel this awful burden lifted from our heart and conscience by the redeeming hand of God.
One of the first steps to salvation is recognising our need to surrender the burden of our sin on the strength of God.
We simply have to reach the point where we realise that we cannot within ourselves overcome sin and lift that burden, but that through Christ we are able to give those burdens to Him.
Jesus ‘takes away’ our burdens, and in doing so, the weight of the sin in our lives is lifted up.
Another meaning of taking away is “to bear.” Joseph Scriven wrote the hymn which begins ‘What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.’
Jesus quite literally lifts the sin from our aching hearts and bears it on His own. We’ve looked at Isaiah 53:6 a few times in recent weeks. This verse ends with these words: “The Lord has lain on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world lifts the sin of the world, He bears the sin of the world, and He bears away the sin of the world.
Just in case you haven’t heard me say this before, I’ll say it again: Romans 8:1. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Your sin, the heavy burdens that come with it, and the subsequent condemnation of your sin has been taken away by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Not because He is meek and mild. Not because He is a great moral teacher. Your sin has been dealt with and taken away because Jesus died.
This is what salvation from God is all about.
It is completed by Him, and it is completed in Him.
He died for you. Do you believe this? Will you accept this truth? Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and will take your sin away if you would only ask Him to.
Towards the end of our reading from John 1 today Jesus turned around and saw two of John’s disciples following Him, and He asked them an interesting question: “What do you want?”
Suppose Jesus were to ask you that today. What would your answer be?
Who is Jesus to you?
Far too many people will tolerate Him as nothing more than a plastic doll in a manger scene for two weeks each year, and want nothing more to do with Him. If this is all you want from Jesus, then you will continue to be burdened by your sin and the condemnation it brings.
Those two men answered “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
Jesus’ answer to them was of huge significance: “Come and see.”
In other words, come and behold. Jesus invites each of us to come and see, to explore, investigate, and draw our own conclusions.
He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the sin of your heart.
M R De Haan was an American Bible scholar of Dutch descent. He was once asked the question, who is Jesus? He didn’t answer immediately, but later wrote this in response: “From the beginning to the end of the Bible it is the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ, the Son of God. Our Lord is so lovely, so superlatively beautiful, so infinitely perfect in all His virtues, attributes and graces, that they cannot be expressed in human language. The Holy Spirit, in framing in human language the excellency of Christ Jesus, ransacks every realm of creation for figures and types of illustrations of His loveliness. For this reason hundreds upon hundreds of names are applied to the Saviour, each one a descriptive title, each one serving as a window through which to behold new and different views of His infinitely many-sided loveliness and beauty.
And so He is called by the Spirit in the Bible the Second Man, the last Adam, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the only Begotten of the Father, the First born of the dead. He is called the King of kings, the Captain of our Salvation, and the Head of the Church, the Messiah of Israel, the King of the Jews. His name is called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. He is the Lamb of God, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. He is the Chief Cornerstone, the Rock of Ages, and the Foundation Stone; He is the Sun of Righteousness. He is the Bright Morning Star, the Beginning of the Creation of God, the Tree of Life. He is called the Prophet, Priest and King, the Angel of the Lord and the Angel of the Covenant, the Bread of Life, the Good, the Great and the Chief Shepherd, the Door, the Water of Life, the Word of God, and where shall we stop? For we might go on and on, for He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First, the Last, the Beginning and the End. Yes, He is the Altogether Lovely…”
Our first reaction when reading this account is one of horror.
It is difficult for us to see how God would ask Abraham to do such a thing, but the underlying spiritual message is of greater importance.
What is the spiritual message in Genesis 22?
In which ways do you see the Gospel of Jesus here?
Read John 1:29
There is no doubt that Jesus was a wonderful teacher. For 2000 years no human being has been able to improve on the many moral lessons He taught, but as Christians we believe that the most important reason for His life was His death.
Why do you think so many people cannot believe this?
How do you feel about the general opinion held in the secular world that most people are inherently good (although we do make the odd mistake at times)?
Other religions believe that at the end of our lives the most important question will be whether our good deeds outweigh the bad things we have done. How does Christianity differ from this belief?
In which ways have you felt the burden of your sin being lifted from your shoulders and carried away by Jesus?
Read Romans 8:1
Do you believe that it is possible to live a life completely freed from the condemnation and guilt of your past sins? Why, or why not?