John’s testimony about Jesus as the Lamb of God leads others toward following Jesus.
Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that Jesus is the only Lamb of God, now and always, who removes our sins.
Understand that Jesus continues to give us his Holy Spirit.
Understand that our beliefs about Jesus must find expression in a mission of evangelism and discipleship.
Catching up on the Story
The Gospel of John has set out to introduce us to the very Word of God, Jesus Christ. In no uncertain terms, John proclaims that it is to Jesus that the world owes its existence. Jesus did not stop at creating the world but became flesh and lived among us as one of us. He is the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.
To set up the rest of the narrative, John tells us Jesus will not be accepted by those to whom he has come. Jesus has moved into the neighborhood, but his new neighbors will not recognize him for who he is. Even though Jesus is one of them, they will not accept him.
Of course, Jesus does not just show up on the scene unannounced. Ahead of him is sent a man named John. We will get to know him as John the Baptist. John comes as the voice crying out in the wilderness. He is the one who calls the people to action, telling them to prepare for the coming of their God. John comes baptizing with water. It is a baptism for the repentance, the turning away from sin. There is already resistance to John’s message. The Pharisees want to know who this John is. To John’s credit, he points not to himself but to the coming one who will not baptize with water but with the Holy Spirit. John has not yet seen this Messiah, the chosen one of God, but he will very soon. After the Messiah arrives, John’s testimony will be complete.
As we enter the Second Week of Epiphany, we get a different perspective on John, and Jesus, specifically, Jesus’ baptism.
As we dive into the meat of the Gospel of John, we get to meet Jesus for the first time. The author of this gospel hides nothing from us. As with the prologue (1:1-18), nothing is hidden about whom Jesus is believed to be. Here, in John the Baptist’s second address, we continue to hear important ideas about who Jesus is and what he has come to do.
We can divide this week’s text into two main sections. The first section, 1:29-34, makes up John the Baptist’s second inaugural address. His first address came just before this section in 1:19-29 and is set apart from this section by a time marker “The next day.” This section will hear John the Baptist’s primary proclamation regarding Jesus. The second section, 1:35-42, marks the beginning of Jesus’ evangelism and discipleship. Each of these two sections can be broken down further. We will look at each section in turn.
The Next Day – John 1:29-34
We are not told how long John the Baptist has been about his business. He has likely been in Bethany across the Jordan river for some time. John’s actions have raised some concerns with the religious leaders, and they have dispatched some of their own to investigate. It is in that context that we get John’s first address. John the evangelist, the name we will use to refer to the author of this Gospel, gives us a time marker between John the Baptist’s first address and his second.
While the content of John’s two addresses differs, the focus remains the same. At all times, John the Baptist’s focus is on Jesus. We are also not told if those who had previously come out to investigate John’s activities are there. John does have an audience, presumably those who have become his disciples. At the same time, it may be helpful to picture John the Baptist’s audience as both his current followers and those who have come to investigate him.
While John is going about his routine, he spots the one he has been anticipating. Jesus is walking toward John and his companions. John the Baptist responds with a revelation about who it is that walks toward them, “Look! The Lamb of God who is picking up and carrying off the sin of the world.” This first sentence needs some unpacking if we are going to get the fullest sense of what John is confessing.
We first notice the excited nature in which John the Baptist focuses our attention on Jesus. In a genuinely excited fashion, John draws his follower’s attention to the one who is coming. He has been preparing for this encounter since before he was born. Remember that this John the Baptist is Jesus’ cousin, who leaped inside his mother’s womb when pregnant Mary came to visit (Luke 1:39-45). The excitement here is that of a coming celebrity. Or, perhaps, the excitement accompanying the first glance of that World Series victory parade coming around the corner. John is excited and invites his followers to join in his joy.
The Lamb of God
The second thing we notice is that John immediately confesses that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who is picking up and carrying off the sin of the world.” First, John declares that Jesus is “the Lamb of God.” In the Old Testament, lambs were used in the sacrifices that Israel made for the forgiveness of sin. Of course, these sacrifices were made every year. Every year there would be a new lamb whose shed blood would symbolize the cleansing of sin.
However, John declares that Jesus is “the Lamb of God.” Let’s expand the whole sentence to include each definite article, “the.” It’s cumbersome, but it reads like this, “the Lamb of the God, the one who is picking up and carrying off the sin of the world.” The definite article “the” stresses the unique nature of Jesus as the Lamb. Jesus is the only Lamb who is efficacious for the forgiveness of sin. There is nothing else that undoes sin.
Additionally, we must note that announcing Jesus this way makes him always and already the crucified Messiah. For Israel, the lamb has no significance apart from its use as a sacrifice for sin. John the Evangelist is telling us where this story ends up: it ends up with a savior whose death (and resurrection) will bring about the forgiveness of sin (Bruner, 83).
Some would stop and concentrate on the idea that Jesus’ death as the Lamb of God is the primary thing that takes away our sins. While Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross is of the utmost importance to us and our salvation, we must keep it together with how Jesus lived, how he gave himself up (without a fight), and his death destroying resurrection. The totality of Jesus’ incarnation, his becoming one of us, provides us our full escape from sin, not simply his death.
Picking up and Carrying off
Jesus is the Lamb, "the one who is picking up and carrying off the sin of the world.” Again, the definite article designates Jesus as the only one who can remove this type of sin. The verb here is a present participle in the original Greek, meaning that it is happening in the present and continues into the future. We render this in English with the ending “ing.” What our normal translations render as “takes” can be more fully translated as “picking up and carrying off.” Jesus, in a single event, is stooping down, removing the burden of sin from us, and discarding it. Jesus does not need to die continually for this to be continuous.
The Sin of The World
Finally, Jesus is picking up and carrying off “the sin of the world.” Here John the Baptist makes it explicit that this sacrificial Lamb of God is reaching down to relieve us of our sin does so for the entirety of the world. This salvation is not just for a particular people group or nation. It is not even just for those who will believe. This salvation is for the entire world. Of course, for this salvation to be efficacious for us, we must respond with belief and action, but the salvation that this Lamb of God brings is possible for everyone. Paul will pick up this theme in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “In Christ God was reconciling the world (the same phrase in Greek) to himself…” (NRSV).
In this sentence, John presents us with a synopsis of the Gospel message. The rest of the story that follows will unpack what it means for you and me that this Lamb of God has come. Of course, John is just getting started. He has more to reveal about this Jesus fellow.
I Saw the Spirit
Still addressing his followers as Jesus walks toward them, John reminds everyone of what he has said previously, that someone is coming after him who will be a much greater person. If we break down John’s statement, we find that it emphasizes three things. First, by referring to Jesus as a “man,” John emphasizes the historical nature of Jesus’ true humanity. Second, by stating that Jesus ranks ahead of John the Baptist, Jesus’ royal and messianic nature is emphasized. Finally, John confesses that Jesus was “before” him. In agreement with the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist confesses the preexistent nature of Jesus and thus his true divinity (Bruner, 84-85). John the Baptist asserts Jesus’ humanity, his messianic stature, as well as his divinity. We must always hold Jesus’ humanity and his divinity closely together. Without either, he cannot be our true messiah.
John the Baptist’s address moves on with a confession of his own failure to know who this Jesus was. We can take this “I myself did not know him” in a few different ways. We can state it, as a matter of fact, meaning that John did not yet personally know Jesus. Or we can understand it in the sense that John was slow or unable to truly understand the nature of Jesus at first. Burner renders this phrase, “And even I did not recognize him!” (Burner, 85).
We can go with this understanding of John’s confession because of what follows. Immediately, John begins to testify (give a solemn testimony of the kind you would administer in court) about his experience of truly coming to know who Jesus is. John begins to describe how he saw God’s Spirit descend from heaven as a dove and rest on Jesus. Here we must emphasize that the Spirit “remained” (meno) on Jesus. The prophetic Old Testament literature uses this same kind of language to speak of the Spirit resting on God’s chosen one (See, Isaiah 11:1-2, 42:1, 61:1). This is the first time in John’s Gospel this word will be used. Most famously, we will find it on the lips of Jesus in chapter 15. There it has the tradition of being translated as “abide.” The Spirit now remains or abides with Jesus.
As John is relating this story, he confesses that he did not know at that time if this Jesus he was seeing was, in fact, the Messiah. That is until he hears the very voice of God tell him that the one on whom Spirit descends will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Looking closely at the text again, we notice that, as with verse 29, Jesus’ activity of baptism with the Holy Spirit is described with an active present participle. So it should read like this, “is the one who is baptizing with the Holy Spirit.” Again, the emphasis is the same: Jesus gives the baptism of the Holy Spirit continually, just as he has and will continue to pick up and carry off our sins.
In the Church of the Nazarene, we talk a lot about the baptism of the Holy Spirit; only we usually call it Sanctification. We have a whole Article of Faith on it (Article 10). In the past, we have overemphasized the finality of this giving of the Holy Spirit, as if this great gift of grace that cleanses us and empowers us is a one-time deal. John here testifies that Jesus’ giving of the Holy Spirit is continuous. We affirm that there is a definite time when we first recognize the Spirit’s further work in our lives, and we affirm that the Spirit continues to be given to us as we grow in grace.
John the Baptist concludes his testimony with the declaration that he now knows that this Jesus is the Son of God.
In John the Baptist’s second address, we have a confession about who Jesus is and what he’s come to do. He is the one and only Lamb of God who is now and will always reach down and carry off the collective sin of the world. This Lamb of God always was and always will be. He came not to baptize with water but to continually grant us his Holy Spirit.
This majestic confession does not live in isolation from the movement of John the Evangelist’s narrative. Rather, the next day in the life of John the Baptist, Jesus returns, allowing John’s testimony to move others toward following Jesus. We must always remember that our confessions and testimonies about who Jesus is and what he has come to do should be connected with calling others to follow the one about whom we testify.
In the space of two weeks, we have witnessed Jesus’ baptism twice! We witness Jesus’ baptism from two different viewpoints, each emphasizing the event and what we come to know about who Jesus is and what his life and ministry mean for us.
Last week we viewed Jesus’ baptism as an act declaring Jesus’ full obedience to the Father, an obedience that will lead Jesus to the cross. This week, the focus is not as much on Jesus’ baptism but on John the Baptist’s confession about who Jesus is. John confesses that Jesus is the one and only Lamb of God who is now and forever reaching down, plucking up, and carrying off the sin of the entire world.
We come to know this Jesus, as John came to know him because the Father has revealed him to us. Along with John, we confess that what we now know is true. John’s confession then led him to proclaim to all around him the good news, making a connection for us between our beliefs (doctrines) and our mission.
Our confessions and our testimonies must always lead us toward evangelism and discipleship (two parts of the same thing, our God-given mission). We can believe all day long that Jesus is the only one who can pick up and carry off the world's sin, but unless we tie that together with an active proclamation, in word and deed, our belief is in vain.