January 16, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”
For a final time this year, the Church encounters the figure of John the Baptizer. He has been our companion for the Advent Season. Last week, John figured prominently in the Baptism of Our Lord. This morning, the Baptizer recalls that act: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
John acknowledges the divine sign that he had been given at Jesus’ baptism: “the Spirit descended from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him.” This sign pointed out Jesus’ true identity: “This is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” John had known about this special quality that the Christ was to have. Recall what John had proclaimed during his ministry along the Jordan River: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Now John has confirmation about exactly who this Person is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain.”
So John does what he was born to do. Once again, he gives testimony about Christ. His work had been to prepare the people for the Christ’s arrival. Now, when the Christ has arrived, John completes his work: “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” The Forerunner has done what is expected of him. Now he can hang up his hat and put away his spurs. He needs no more disciples or followers. Instead, the Christ can begin to do His work, leading the Lord’s people to salvation.
John knew this well. Remember what he said about the Christ: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who ranks before me, because He was before me.’” Jesus outranks John because He existed before John. The Baptizer was just a simple, ordinary man who had been called by the Lord to be a Forerunner. But Jesus is anything but simple and ordinary. No, He is the Lord Himself who had taken upon Himself human flesh and blood. He is the eternal God walking and talking among humanity. And this was for the greatest of purposes: to “take away the sin of the world.”
Thus John points his followers to Jesus: “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” In a last act of witness, John points to Jesus as the source of salvation. Those who had believed John’s earlier messages were given his testimony about this Man whom he baptized in the Jordan River “to fulfill all righteousness.” This Man was the One John had talked about. He is the One who gave John’s message any authority and power. Even John’s message about confessing sins and receiving forgiveness depended upon this Man. Unless the Christ “takes away the sin of the world,” then no number of sermons preached about forgiveness would have validity.
But this identity of Jesus—His being the Savior and Taker-Away of the World’s Sin—was confirmed by the events at His Baptism. That identity was foretold in many and various ways by the prophets. It was spoken of by Isaiah, as you heard this morning: “It is too light a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Note what the Lord promised: His Servant would bring the Israelites back to Him. And there is more: His Servant would take divine salvation to the end of the earth. This is the significance of John’s statement about Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Yet, the whole of the prophet’s words should be considered. Isaiah speaks about the salvation that the Christ brings. But he also speaks about what will happen to that Servant of the Lord: “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and His Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: ‘Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen You.’” The One who would receive cosmic worship from the world would first be despised by it. Though He carries the identity as the Lord’s Servant, He would be made subservient to the earthly rulers. The One who takes away the sin of the world would be abhorred by that very world.
This is the great paradox of Christ spoken of in the Prologue to John’s Gospel, as many of you heard at Christmastide: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” Though Jesus is the Christ, the Bringer of Salvation, He was not received by many who needed the salvation that He brought. They lingered in the darkness of sin and death, but did not receive the light of truth that Christ brought into the world. And yet, that rejection would be the way that Christ takes away the sin of the world. Rejected by the Israelite religious leaders and subject to their conniving political rulers, Jesus is sent away to be crucified and die. But that is exactly how He becomes the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the Lamb of God who is slain, whose blood sets men and women to be free to be people of God.
Even in rejection, Jesus’ identity is not changed. Instead, it is fulfilled. John’s testimony about Him stands true: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And Isaiah’s statement spoken in the Christ’s voice is factual: “I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength.” Rejection of the Christ comes from the world, and yet the Christ fulfills His identity: the world’s sin is taken away; salvation is extended to the corners of the earth.
This is what happens when the testimony about Christ is brought to others and received by them. It is what began to take place with John’s followers: “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” Beginning with Andrew and Simon Peter, Andrew’s brother, people start to believe in the Christ. They are the first to be what the Prologue of John’s Gospel declared: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” As children of God, Andrew and Peter receive what Christ brought: they are recipients of divine salvation, their sins are forgiven, and they are made heirs of heaven.
But this is not limited to those who heard the vocables that emanated from the Baptizer’s mouth. No, the same testimony about Christ is given today. It is what makes sinful human beings Christ’s people. The testimony was proclaimed from Galilee to the ends of the earth. The members of the Corinthian Church received it, as the Apostle Paul describes: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The receipt of the testimony of Christ’s identity unites all who bear His Name: “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” You have heard and believed, so that you also may become children of God, having your sin taken away and receiving the salvation that extends to the ends of the earth. You have been called to believe what was said about Jesus, so that you recognize Him as the Lamb of God that was sacrificed for you. The testimony of John has become your own witness, your confession of faith. It is more than just a mantra or memorized code: it is a divine word that fulfills what it declares.
Through that word about who Jesus’ identity and work, salvation is brought to you. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and sanctifies you, making you members of the divine household, the children of God, as the Apostle Paul declared: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Through the received testimony about Christ, you have been brought to Jesus, like Andrew brought Peter.
But there is one thing more. What you have heard, you also speak, like the Psalmist wrote: “I have not hidden Your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness from the great congregation.” That testimony about Jesus has been brought to you, fulfilling what it declares. It is a divine word that also fulfills what it declares to those who hear it from you. Hearing that testimony brought you to faith. As others hear it from you, they also may become the children of God, calling on His Name. The testimony about Christ is strong, powerful, and true, bringing forgiveness, life, and salvation. So it is, since it testifies not about any ordinary Man, but about “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world . . . He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit . . . the Son of God.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.