The Second Sunday After the Epiphany, January 19, 2020

Gospel, John 1:29-42

Last week was the celebration of the Baptism of Our Lord. We heard the account of St. Matthew describing the day when our Lord went into the Jordan River to be baptized. He was baptized not for His own sins, but for the sins of the world. Right then and there the Holy Spirit descended on Him and marked Him as the Son of God who has come to offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice for sinners.

Today we hear John’s Gospel and a different take on these events and the time immediately thereafter. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke concern themselves with John the Baptizer in great detail – the story of his parents; the announcement to Zechariah in the temple; the miracle of John’s birth to Elizabeth; the start of his ministry proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God. Of course those details are important because John is the one who prepares the way and prepares hearts to receive the coming of Jesus. But here in our Gospel reading from St. John the emphasis is squarely on Jesus. St. John the Evangelist brings us the witness of St. John the Baptist, and his witness is all about the Saviour. Here the focus is properly upon Christ and Christ alone. One way we can understand how St. John the Evangelist does this is through the titles, the offices, of Jesus. There are six of them in our text today. In these six titles or offices we can learn everything we need to know about who Jesus is and why He has come. So let’s take them in order of appearance.

The first title is the big one, and we hear it twice from the mouth of John the Baptist. “29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”1 And again: “35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”2 The Lamb of God! What a powerful statement this is.  In fact this is the chief article of our Christian teaching, upon this our faith is founded.  John the Baptist cuts right to the chase. These words are crystal clear and tell us what we should think of Christ. And for those who would have heard them that day the words “behold the Lamb of God” would have been like an earthquake. Remember that God had given the Israelites the Passover so that the angel of death would pass over them and spare them in order that they could be freed from bondage and move into the promised land. What were they to do on the Passover? They were told to kill a lamb without blemish and mark their doors with the blood, so that they would be preserved. Much later, at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry the people celebrated that occasion every year at the temple when lambs were slaughtered in their hundreds. But those temple sacrifices did not remove the stain of sin. Luther says it’s as if John were saying, “Compare the true Lamb with the lamb which the Law of Moses commands you to butcher and eat. One is a lamb procured from shepherds. The other, however, is an entirely different Lamb; it is the Lamb of God. For It has been ordained to bear on Its back the sins of the world. Compared with this Lamb, all the lambs you butcher in the temple, roast, and eat count for nothing.”3 Jesus is the Paschal lamb, “a lamb without blemish or spot”4 who comes as our Suffering Servant, to stand in our place and bear our sins to be our Saviour.

The second title is no less profound but doesn’t jump out at us like “the Lamb of God.” John says, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.”5 A man who ranks before me, a man who was before me. But in what sense? Jesus was born after John the Baptist, so at first glance this doesn’t make much sense. But if we consider the very first verses of this Gospel of St. John then we see the impact: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”6 John the Baptist shows us the Divinity of Christ. Jesus is the Incarnation of the Divine Word, the Word that has always been. He is before John because He has always been. Now the time has come for the Word Made Flesh to step into history and time and take His place as the Lamb of God. Now is the time for the Kingdom of God to appear. So of course He also must rank before John, for none rank higher than the Lord. Now Jesus must increase, and now John the Baptist must decrease. 

The third title brings us directly back to the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan: “this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”7 Johns bears witness about what he saw: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”8 What happened there? The Holy Spirit descended, the Holy Spirit remains. Jesus has the Holy Spirit, that He might give it to us, those whom he has come to save. The Holy Spirit remains, He will never leave. So Jesus is the giver of the Holy Spirit, who comes to us in our Baptism, which is His Baptism, a Baptism of the Holy Spirit, of water and Word. We see the pieces all fit together: the One who is Baptized for us, the sinless Lamb of God, takes away the sins of the world through His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and He give us the Holy Spirit so that we might receive this forgiveness with joy and thanksgiving, through faith, and treasure it in our heart. That’s the idea.

At the very heart of John’s entire Gospel is the next title for Jesus. He says, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”9 Jesus is the Son of God. The Sonship of Jesus was also declared in His Baptism as we heard last week from St. Matthew: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”10 Later the same Simon Peter who is introduced to Jesus in our text will make the same confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”11 After his conversion Saul, the persecutor of Christians who becomes the Apostle Paul, “proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”12 They are all answering the basic question: who is He? Everyone must answer that question. St. John writes his Gospel so that we may know. And so when the two disciples who follow Jesus call Him “Rabbi” they are saying much more than the Aramaic or Hebrew word for “teacher.” Jesus is Rabbi because He is the true interpreter of the Old Testament texts. He is the true interpreter because as we just heard He is the Word made Flesh – the only begotten Son of God. Jesus Himself tell us this is so when He teaches the disciples after His resurrection from the dead.  “He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself13…everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”14

Which brings us to the last title in our Gospel reading which ties all of this together, the Hebrew word that Andrew speaks when he tells his brother Simon what he has seen: Messiah.  The word simply means “the anointed one.” The way the Greeks translate this is christos, or Christ. So to say Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is the Christ, means that Jesus in the anointed one, He fully possesses the Holy Spirit, which – again – He gives to us in the Baptism He brings to all of us. In our Baptism we are anointed with the same Spirit, adopted by the Father into His family, and “called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”15 So now Andrew joins with John the Baptist and bears witness: this is the One, this is He of whom the prophets and the book of Moses have spoken. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God.

Last week we heard the very first words of our Lord according to St. Matthew: “let it be so now,” in which Jesus means to say that now the time has come for Him to take our place, the Suffering Servant who will bear all for His people in order to present them to His Heavenly Father. This week we hear the first words of our Lord according to St. John’s Gospel: “What are you seeking?” These Words also assume a great and special importance. This entire Gospel of John has been revealed to us so that we can find the answer to that question, we find what we are seeking, for, “31 these [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”16 The disciples answer the question with a question: “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” 17 In that same way Jesus beckons us to come and be with Him. Behold Him upon the Cross, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Receive the gifts that He brings, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and indeed His very Body and Blood given and shed for you, for in these simple things He brings the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. When you seek the Saviour, He comes to you Himself, Messiah and Christ, through these means of grace.

Of course this is countercultural today. It’s radical.  The world around us thinks this ridiculous.  Most people do not seek the gifts of a Saviour, but instead long for the false security of what the world has to offer. The idea of sin that the Lamb of God comes to take away is impossible for many people to reckon with, because today all things are possible, all things are permissible. Who can say what is right and what is wrong?  But the words of the two Johns, the Baptist and the Evangelist, put to rest any doubt and set aside all human speculation. Sin is real, and sin is so great a matter that God became man in order to save us. The damage is so great that only God can fix it.  So for those who seek Him He is found where He promises to be. “Come and you will see.”18 And He who has begun this in you “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”19

1 Jn 1:29.

2 Jn 1:35–36.

3 AE 22, 162.

4 1 Pe 1:19.

5 Jn 1:30.

6 Jn 1:1–3.

7 Jn 1:33.

8 Jn 1:32.

9 Jn 1:34.

10 Mt 3:17.

11 Mt 16:16.

12 Ac 9:20.

13 Lk 24:27.

14 Lk 24:44.

15 1 Co 1:9.

16 Jn 20:31.

17 Jn 1:38–39.

18 Jn 1:39.

19 1 Co 1:8.

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