Isaiah 11:1-5; John 1:19-42 (text)
October 18, 2015 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: Last Sunday, in our study of the Prologue of the Gospel of John, “the disciple that Jesus loved” introduced John the Baptizer’s role in the coming of Christ: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:6-8).
Our study today begins with “the Jews” sending priests and Levites to ask John the Baptizer who he really was. He denied that he was the Christ, or Elijah, or the Prophet, three men whom Israel had been waiting for since their last prophet Malachi spoke 400 years before. So the Jews asked him who he really was, and John answered them in three ways.
So today, we will study these three ways in which John the Baptizer performed his role as “a witness about the light,” who was Jesus: first, Jesus is “He Who Comes After Me”; second, he pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God”; and third, Jesus is “He Who Baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
“He Who Comes After Me”
The priests and Levites asked John who he was, “Are you Christ? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? To all of which John answered without hesitation, “No.” Why would they ask him if he was those three personalities? Since Malachi spoke 400 years before, the Jews were waiting for the coming of those three. The prophets Simeon and Anna were “waiting for the consolation of Israel” who was promised by Isaiah (Luke 2:25, 38; Isa 40:1). Even Joseph of Arimathea was “looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43). The Messiah or the Christ, God’s Anointed One, was this “consolation” who would bring the kingdom of God to Israel. And the Prophet that they were waiting for was the Prophet that Moses promised (Deut 18:18).
What about Elijah? Malachi promised, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (4:5). So the Jews took their prophecies literally. But God promised that John would come in the spirit of Elijah. We know this because the angel revealed it to John’s father Zechariah, “and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…” (Luke 1:17). The angel was using exactly the same words in Malachi 4:6. Jesus himself confirmed this, saying, “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased… Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (Matt 17:12-13). Then when Jesus asked his disciples who do people say he was, the disciples said the people were again speculating that he was John the Baptist resurrected, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matt 16:14).
John denied that he was these three men promised in the Old Testament. “So who really are you?” they asked. And John answered, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (1:23). He was quoting Isaiah 40:3. By preaching a gospel of repentance and judgment, John was preparing the way for the One who would come after him. When the people hear him, they will be prepared for the coming of the Christ. Again, Malachi had prophesied this, when he said that Elijah would come “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (4:6). Back in verse 15, he had testified about Christ, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” Christ ranks before John because he was only Christ’s messenger. And Christ was before him because Christ existed in eternity past.
May this always be our mind: that Christ our Lord is preeminent, before us, before our families, work, friends, possessions. That we are to give testimony about him as the Savior and Lord of our lives and of the world. Like John, we must always keep in mind, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” All the praise, honor and glory be to our Wonderful Savior. We are his servants, much less worthy than a slave who ties and unties his master’s sandals.
“Behold, the Lamb of God”
The second testimony of John about Jesus is, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” What was on the mind of John when he proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God? There are several images that come from the Old Testament.
The first image is the Passover lamb during Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. The firstborn children of Israel were saved by the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts. The annual feast of the Passover was commanded by God to commemorate this salvation event. Jesus went to Jerusalem every Passover and taught about himself as the sacrifice. In one Passover, Jesus taught that the temple will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. He was referring to his own body that will be destroyed and resurrected on the third day (John 2:19-22). On another Passover, Jesus taught the multitude after feeding them, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:54). He was talking about his broken body and shed blood on the cross. And on the same hour that the high priest was slaughtering the Passover lamb in the temple, Jesus gave himself up as a sacrifice to take away the sin of his people. Therefore, Paul calls Christ “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7).
The second image is the lamb in Isaiah 53. This lamb is the Suffering Servant of the Lord, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent” (53:7). Philip testified to the Ethiopian eunuch that this lamb was Jesus (Acts 8:32). Peter too refers back to Isaiah’s prophecy about Christ, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Pet 2:24).
The third image is the ram that God provided to Abraham on Mount Moriah, when God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham is a picture of God the Father willing to sacrifice his own son to save his people. After God had proven Abraham, he provided a ram so that he could offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. The fourth image is the lamb offered for the sins of the people in Israel’s morning and evening sacrifices (Exod 29:38-46).
The apostle John says that all these images point to Christ, the Lamb of God, as the sacrifice for our sins. He says, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). He offered himself to appease God’s wrath on our behalf. By his sacrifice, we are now friends, not enemies, of God. By his sacrifice, he has paid the ransom for our freedom, because we were slaves of Satan and sin. By his sacrifice, we too have conquered death, because Christ has overcome death. But his death is not only offered for the sins of John and his fellow Jews, but also for those who would believe in Christ from every nation, tribe and language of the world.
“He Who Baptizes with the Holy Spirit”
Previously, John said he didn’t know Christ, but after he baptized Jesus and saw the Spirit in the form of a dove descend on him, he knew that he is the Son of God. In this testimony, John does not narrate the baptism of Jesus, just as the other three Gospels do. He does not have details about where and how it happened, or about the voice of the Father. He merely says, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” This was what John heard God declare at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).
But John’s focus is on the role of the Holy Spirit in the baptism of Jesus. In our text, he mentions the Spirit three times. Twice he says he saw the Spirit “descend from heaven like a dove.” John says he baptizes only with water, but Jesus is the one “who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Why was John baptizing with water? He says, “for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” He was preparing the people for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. And how was he preparing them? By preaching a gospel of repentance, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Matt 3:2). According to his father Zechariah, John will “give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God” (Luke 1:78-79a). Salvation and forgiveness will be given by Christ to his people.
And baptism with water is a sign of the cleansing and forgiveness of sins. Remember that John was an Old Testament prophet, so his baptisms were Old Testament ceremonial washings. When a person became unclean, or when a high priest is consecrated, he had to be washed with water or sprinkled with blood, even his clothes. These ceremonial washings were outward signs of an inward reality, which is the forgiveness of sins.
But John contrasts his baptism with that of the Messiah. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He himself was “baptized” with the Spirit. What is the difference between Jesus’ baptism with the Spirit and our baptism with the Spirit? John says when the Spirit descended upon him, the Spirit “remained on him” (vv 32-33). In the Old Testament, we read of the Spirit anointing prophets, priests and kings. But this anointing did not always “remain” with them. But the anointing of Jesus was a permanent anointing. Jesus was filled with the Spirit always (Luke 4:1). The Spirit was always totally indwelling him, filled him, gave him power over sin and temptation. There was no moment in his life that the Spirit grieved, because he never sinned. This is why he is called the Christ, God’s Anointed One. Isaiah tells us, “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” Again in Isaiah 61:1, God says of the Messiah, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me.” Jesus himself confirmed that he was the one Isaiah was prophesying when he started preaching in his hometown Nazareth. He opened the scroll and read this very passage in Isaiah 61, and then declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
He was unlike us in this way, because whenever we sin, we grieve the Spirit. If we as Christians are indwelt by the Spirit, why do we sin? Because unlike Jesus, we are not always filled with the Spirit. There is a difference between these two: indwelling and infilling of the Spirit. At the moment of salvation, all Christians are indwelt by the Spirit. Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body… and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). The Spirit seals us until Christ returns, and he does not ever leave us (Eph 1:13, 4:30).
This is why John says that Jesus does not baptize only with water, but also with the Spirit. Jesus first poured out the Spirit on his disciples on Pentecost Sunday, as the prophet Joel promised (Joel 2:28-29). He continues to pour out his Spirit on all who believe in him. But we are not always “filled” with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit is to yield ourselves willingly to the Spirit’s work of righteousness and godliness in our lives. We slowly progress in our walk in the Spirit throughout our lives, bearing the fruits of the Spirit, but sometimes grieving Him, until that final day when we will all be like Jesus, filled with the Spirit forever. So do not be deceived by those who teach that there is a two-phase process in salvation: the first blessing is believing, then later, a second blessing of a baptism with the Spirit. All believers are indwelt by and baptized with the Spirit.
Beloped Friends in Christ: John the Baptizer gave his testimony about Jesus. He not only experienced seeing, hearing and touching him. He confessed who Jesus is: the Messiah promised by the prophets; the Lamb of God who saves his people from sin; and the Spirit-Anointed One who will himself anoint his people with the Spirit.
Is this also your testimony? You say you love Jesus, but who is this Jesus whom you love? If your friends ask you this question, what will be your testimony? If you answer you love Jesus, but cannot explain who Jesus is and what he did, and why he did, your testimony will most likely be received with a lot of doubt. You have to know what the prophets said about the Messiah. You have to know why he is called the Lamb of God; that he is not called the Lamb of God because he is “gentle and nice.” You have to know why we are all sinners, and not “basically good” people. You have to know what he taught about the salvation that he is bringing. You have to know who the Holy Spirit is, and what work he is doing in you. “Loving God” and “knowing God” go hand in hand. One cannot be without the other.
May the Holy Spirit fill us always with the love and knowledge of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, ever thankful our salvation, holiness and on the last day, our glorification in heaven.