June 25, 2017: Verse of the day


Second Day, Second Group, Second Emphasis

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (1:29–34)

The phrase the next day introduces a sequence of days, which continues in verses 35, 43, and 2:1. Apparently, the events from John’s interview with the delegation from Jerusalem (vv. 19–28) to the miracle at Cana (2:1–11) spanned one week. On the day after he spoke to the delegation, John saw Jesus coming to him. Faithful to his duty as a herald, and defining a momentous redemptive moment, John immediately called the crowd’s attention to Him, exclaiming “Behold, the Lamb of God.” That title, used only in John’s writings (cf. v. 36; Rev. 5:6; 6:9; 7:10, 17; 14:4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:9; 21:22–23; 22:1, 3), is the first in a string of titles given to Jesus in the remaining verses of this chapter; the rest include Rabbi (vv. 38, 49), Messiah (v. 41), Son of God (vv. 34, 49), King of Israel (v. 49), Son of Man (v. 51), and “Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (v. 45). That was not a guess on John’s part, but was revelation from God that was absolutely true, as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus proved.

The concept of a sacrificial Lamb was a familiar one to the Jewish people. All through Israel’s history God had revealed clearly that sin and separation from Him could be removed only by blood sacrifices (cf. Lev. 17:11). No forgiveness of sin could be granted by God apart from an acceptable substitute dying as a sacrifice. They knew of Abraham’s confidence that God would provide a lamb to offer in place of Isaac (Gen. 22:7–8). A lamb was sacrificed at Passover (Ex. 12:1–36; Mark 14:12), in the daily sacrifices in the tabernacle and later in the temple (Ex. 29:38–42), and as a sin offering by individuals (Lev. 5:5–7). God also made it clear that none of those sacrifices were sufficient to take away sin (cf. Isa. 1:11). They were also aware that Isaiah’s prophecy likened Messiah to “a lamb that is led to slaughter” (Isa. 53:7; cf. Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:19). Though Israel sought a Messiah who would be a prophet, king, and conqueror, God had to send them a Lamb. And He did.

The title Lamb of God foreshadows Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross for the sin of the world. With this brief statement, the prophet John made it clear that the Messiah had come to deal with sin. The Old Testament is filled with the reality that the problem is sin and it is at the very heart of every person (Jer. 17:9). All men, even those who received the revelation of God in Scripture (the Jews), were sinful and incapable of changing the future or the present, or of repaying God for the sins of the past. Paul’s familiar indictment of human sinfulness in Romans 3:11–12 is based on Old Testament revelation. As noted in the discussion of 1:9–11 in chapter 2 of this volume, kosmos (world) has a variety of meanings in the New Testament. Here it refers to humanity in general, to all people without distinction, transcending all national, racial, and ethnic boundaries. The use of the singular term sin with the collective noun world reveals that as sin is worldwide, so Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for all people without distinction (cf. 1 John 2:2). But though His sacrificial death is sufficient for the sins of everyone (cf. 3:16; 4:42; 6:51; 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 4:14), it is efficacious only for those who savingly believe in Him (3:15–16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:40; 11:25–26; 20:31; Luke 8:12; Acts 10:43; 13:39; 16:31; Rom. 1:16; 3:21–24; 4:3–5; 10:9–10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:6–9, 22; Eph. 1:13; 1 John 5:1; 10–13). This verse does not teach universalism, the false doctrine that everyone will be saved. That such is not the case is obvious, since the Bible teaches that most people will suffer eternal punishment in hell (Matt. 25:41, 46; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 14:9–11; 20:11–15; cf. Ezek. 18:4, 20; Matt. 7:13–14; Luke 13:23–24; John 8:24), and only a few will be saved (Matt. 7:13–14).

John for the third time (cf. vv. 15, 27) stressed his subordinate role to Jesus, the eternal Word who had become a Man, acknowledging, “This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ” John was created. Jesus’ higher rank was infinite. He was the One who created everything (1:1–3), including John. Though John was actually born before Jesus, Jesus existed before him. And though John was a relative of Jesus’ (probably His cousin), since their mothers were related (Luke 1:36), he still did not recognize Him as the Messiah until he baptized Him, so that He might be manifested to Israel. For that most significant of all John’s baptisms, he declared, “I came baptizing in water,” though he was reluctant to baptize Jesus (Matt. 3:14). It was at Jesus’ baptism that God, who sent John to baptize in water, fully revealed Jesus as the Messiah through a prearranged sign. John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him” (cf. Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). That sign was supernatural proof of Jesus’ messiahship, because God had told John, “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” Like Peter (Matt. 16:17), John understood who Jesus truly was only through divine revelation. That Jesus is far greater than John is reinforced in that He baptizes in the Holy Spirit.

For the sixth time in his gospel (cf. 1:7, 8, 15, 19, 32), John the apostle refers to the Baptist’s witness to Christ, recording his affirmation, “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” As noted in chapter 1 of this volume, witness, or testifying, is thematic in this gospel. John’s testimony in verse 34 is a fitting conclusion to this section, as the narrative makes the transition from him to Jesus. Although believers are in a limited sense children of God (Matt. 5:9; Rom. 8:14, 19; Gal. 3:26; cf. John 1:12; 11:52; Rom. 8:16, 21; 9:8; Phil. 2:15; 1 John 3:1–2, 10), Jesus is uniquely the Son of God in that He alone shares the same nature as the Father (1:1; 5:16–30; 10:30–33; 14:9; 17:11; 1 John 5:20).

To his first emphasis—Messiah is here—John added an equally compelling exhortation: Recognize Him for who He is—the Son of God, the Messiah, the ultimate sacrificial Lamb for the sin of the world.[1]

Witnessing to Jesus Christ

John 1:29–34

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I 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.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

How can a believer witness to Jesus Christ? It is an important question, not only because each of us is called upon to witness (as we have already seen) but also because the expansion of the gospel in our time (as in all ages of the Christian church) depends in no small measure upon whether or not we will do it and, if we do, how well.

We have already looked at the first great principle for being a witness: the witness must recognize that he has no independent importance in himself. The evangelist expresses this in the case of John the Baptist, whose witness has been the basis of our story, by reminding us that he was not the Light. This teaches us, among other things, that a Christian will never be an effective witness if he is placing either himself or his own needs first in his thinking. Our own needs possess a certain degree of importance, of course. But we will never be able to focus on the needs of others if our own needs dominate us. For one thing, there is a sense in which our own needs are already met, whether we recognize it or not, for Paul wrote to the Philippians, saying, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Our needs are met in Christ, and we have little to testify of if we do not see that clearly. Besides, we cannot really show love to the other person, which is the essence of witnessing, if we are not placing his needs before our own.

All that is true. Yet, we must go on from this point to see that our recognizing that we are not the Light is not in itself witnessing. That is only the first and preliminary principle.

A Verbal Witness

The second great principle for witnessing is that we must bear witness to the Light, and this means that we must witness verbally. Our witness must move out of the area of life and into the area of words. If it does not, we will be like the young man who went from a Christian home to a secular college. His parents were concerned how he would make out. So when he arrived home at Christmas they asked him anxiously, “How did you get along?” He answered, “Oh, I got along great. No one even knows that I’m a Christian.” I am not denying the importance of the Christian life, of course. There must be the kind of upright character and true commitment to Christ that will back up the witness by words. We will see more about this in our next study. But, important as it is, the living of the Christian life by itself is not enough for a complete witness; there must also be a verbal witness.

We can easily see why this must be so. For one thing, a nonverbal witness is at best merely puzzling to the non-Christian, and it can be totally misunderstood. Some time ago, after I had mentioned witnessing in the context of a message I was giving in a church other than my own, a woman came up to me to tell how she was bearing a witness in her place of employment. She apparently worked in a large office. Just that morning, so she said, as she was going out to lunch, one of the other workers handed her fifty cents and asked her to pick up a packet of cigarettes for him. What did she do? She returned the money, saying that she did not believe in smoking. She said to me that she believed God had helped her to bear a witness for Christ in that situation.

I do not want to be too hard on this woman. She had a right, if she wished, to disapprove of smoking. In view of the warnings being given in our day about smoking, probably more non-Christians than ever before are taking this position. Still, the point that I want to make here is that in this case the “witness” to Christ that the woman thought she was giving was really no witness at all. For had I been the man who had asked the favor and been refused, I would probably have considered her rude and never even have thought of her views in terms of Christianity.

The second reason why a nonverbal witness is inadequate is that, if it is effective at all, it should lead to a verbal witness. That is, if you are attempting to honor Christ by the way you are living, the things you are doing should lead to conversation about Jesus Christ and what he has meant in your experience.

Someone will say, “Oh, but isn’t it true that many persons have been led to Jesus Christ by means of the conduct of some Christian?” That is quite true; many have! The conduct of Christians has been an important step, even an essential step, in the salvation of many thousands of persons. But I am convinced that the matter has never stopped on that level and that these thousands would never have come to Christ unless the witness through the lives of Christians had not moved beyond actions at some point to a consideration of the person and claims of Jesus Christ as these truths were presented to them verbally.

People who have greatly moved the world for Christ have been ready to speak at any opportunity. In his book Henceforth, Hugh E. Hopkins tells of Douglas Thornton, an English believer who was being seen off at a railway station in Egypt. With some difficulty his friend found him an empty compartment on the train: “An empty compartment!” Thornton exclaimed. “Why, man, I want to fish.” He moved into a crowded compartment. It is also recorded that, when exploring the Great Pyramid on the outskirts of Cairo, Thornton redeemed the time by evangelizing the guide who was then crawling up a narrow passage on his hands and knees behind him.

We find another example in the conversion experience of John Wesley, the father of the Methodist church. Wesley had been a preacher for years before he was genuinely born again, and during this time (as might be expected) his ministry was a failure. After a particularly discouraging experience in the United States, as he was returning from Georgia to England by ship, he came into contact with a body of Moravian Christians. He was very much impressed with the calm they maintained in the midst of a storm at sea. It was not on the ship, however, but later at a meeting in the little chapel at Aldersgate in London, while someone was reading from Luther’s exposition of the letter to the Galatians, that Wesley “felt his heart strangely warmed” and was converted. After that he became one of the greatest evangelists in church history.

A verbal witness is a true witness. Thus, throughout the Gospel of John, the stories of those who are reached by Jesus Christ almost without exception end with a spoken profession of their belief. The man born blind is last seen in an attitude of worship, voicing the confession: “Lord, I believe” (John 9:38). The woman of Samaria grows in her understanding of Jesus. At the beginning of the narrative she regards him merely as a Jew (John 4:9). In verse 12 she raises the possibility that he may be greater than the patriarch Jacob. In verse 19 she calls him a prophet. The conclusion comes in her testimony to her neighbors when she argues that he is the Messiah (v. 29). In the same way John the Baptist testifies to the One who takes away the sin of the world.

The Message

Now, if we are to bear a witness to Jesus Christ, clearly we must know something about him. And this means that we must have a message. What is our message? The major parts of the answer to this question are suggested in our story. They are: 1) a witness to who Jesus Christ is; 2) a witness to what he has done; and 3) a witness to how a man or woman can come to know him personally.

First, we witness to who Jesus Christ is. John did this when he testified, “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’ ” (v. 30). Again, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (v. 34). This is where we begin in our witness, because most of the points of Christian doctrine gain their significance from the fact that Jesus Christ is God. If Christ were only a man, then his death on the cross might have been inspiring as an example or a means by which we are excited to good works. We might say, “I never want such a tragedy to happen again” and become a great social worker. But if this is all that Christ is, then his death was in no sense an atonement; he did not die for our sin, and we are still under the condemnation of God and are still the children of wrath. In the same way, if he is not God, then we have no living God to worship, for we cannot know God apart from Jesus Christ.

As you begin to witness, let me suggest that you begin here. Begin with Christ’s claims about himself. You might refer to John 5:18, which tells us that Jesus “was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He told the disciples: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Most non-Christians have never actually faced these claims, and many have never even heard them.

Second, we witness to what Jesus Christ has done. In one sense, of course, this is an overwhelming topic. For if Jesus is God, then all that God has done, and does, Christ does. He has been active in the creation of the world, in guiding the history of redemption, in giving us the Old and New Testaments, in helping us today in temptation, and in other things. Yet there is a sense in which the work of Christ focuses on something much more limited and therefore much easier to share. The focus of Christ’s work is to be found in his death on the cross. Hence, we want to share the meaning of his death when we try to tell others about him.

In his day, John the Baptist did this by reference to the Jewish sacrifices. He said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29). Have you ever given thought to what must have been involved in that statement—for John and for his hearers? For centuries Israel had known all about the sacrificial lamb. They had learned about it first from the story of Abraham, who was the father of their nation. At God’s command Abraham had been going up the mountain to sacrifice his son Isaac when Isaac had turned to him and asked, “Father, … Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb?” Abraham had answered, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.” And God did! Israel had also known about the lamb as a result of the institution of the Passover. On that occasion the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the house was the sign for the angel of death to pass by. Moreover, they knew that daily in the services of the temple lambs and goats were sacrificed. They knew that in every instance the sacrifices meant the death of an innocent substitute in place of the one who had sinned.

On this basis John the Baptist came along and exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God.” He recognized that the sacrifices were to be fulfilled in Jesus and that he would bear our sin as Isaiah had said. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. … he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:4–5).

I like to think, as many other commentators have suggested, that as John identified Jesus as the sin-bearing Lamb, there may have been passing by the flocks of lambs that were driven up to the walls of Jerusalem each year to serve as sacrificial lambs for the Passover. The Passover feast was not far off (John 2:12–13). Perhaps John was led to refer to Jesus in this fashion because it showed vividly that he was able to deliver from death those who believed on him.

Do you believe that? Jesus is able to deliver us from death today. There is that final death, the second death, which is the separation of the soul of the individual from God. He delivers from that. But there are also the little deaths that we experience daily because of our natural alienation from God. Jesus is the answer to those deaths also. If you are a Christian, it is your privilege to tell others of the means by which sin is removed—through faith in the person and death of Jesus Christ—and that the one who believes in him is given new life, peace, joy, and freedom of access to God.

Finally, we also witness to the way in which a person can come to know and trust Jesus for himself. John did it by pointing to the fact that Jesus is the giver of the Spirit. He said, “I 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’ ” (v. 33). What does that mean? It means that Jesus Christ was the One who would give of his Spirit to those who should follow him. Or, to put it another way, it means that Jesus would come to live within the lives of his followers. Thus, when we bear witness to Jesus today, we talk not only of who Jesus is and of what he has done but also of how a person can come to have him enter his life and fill it.

Opening the Door

Someone will ask, “You say that Christ must enter our lives, but you have not told us how that can happen. How does that happen?” The answer is that it happens by faith as we “receive” him or “open” the doors of our lives to his knocking. One statement of that principle occurs in this same chapter in the verse that says: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (v. 12). Another verse is Revelation 3:20: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” According to these verses there are two steps to the process. There is the step in which we first “hear” his voice or “believe” in him. Then there is the step in which we “receive him” or “open” to his call.

We do this by praying. We say, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am a sinner and in need of the salvation that you bring to men. I believe that you died for me, so that my sin is atoned for and borne away forever. I now open the door and invite you into my life and ask that you will cleanse me and rule my life forever. Amen.” It is as simple as that, but it must be a definite commitment. The act itself is indispensable.

Have you done that? If you have not, you are not a real Christian. It is not enough merely to know about Christ; you must belong to him. On the other hand, if you have done that, then let me ask whether you have ever invited another person to make the same commitment. I can tell you on the basis of my own experience—and that of many others—that there are few joys equal to that which is ours when the invitation is given to believe in Jesus and the person to whom we are witnessing responds and comes to him.[2]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 55–57). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 109–114). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

1 thought on “June 25, 2017: Verse of the day

  1. Pingback: June 25, 2017: Verse of the day — Truth2Freedom’s Blog @Truth2Freedom | Talmidimblogging

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