The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
One of the consistent themes of John’s Gospel is that we don’t have a category for Jesus. Verse 26: “Among you stands one you do not know.” Verse 31: “I myself did not know him.” In our world today, Jesus is often used to validate some human cause. For example, Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). How many times have you heard someone use those words for a purpose that has nothing to do with Jesus and his gospel? But Jesus will never allow himself to be a prop on any human stage. John’s Gospel is saying that Jesus is the glory of God on earth, he died and rose again to create a new human race and to renew the entire universe, his kingdom is the only historic inevitability in all this world, and he doesn’t mind using upheaval to get us there. That’s who he is – our disturbing Savior. Look at your own life. Doesn’t the category “a disturbing Savior” explain a lot?
John gives us three categories here for the true magnitude of Jesus: the Lamb of God (verse 29), the Dove of God (verse 32), the Son of God (verse 34). This is what entered into our angry, exhausted world in Jesus. He’s the only hope we have left. He’s active in the world today. He’s creating new communities everywhere, gospel-centered churches, where anyone can find out who he is and what he’s worth. So all we want to do this morning is stand back and look at him and believe all that he is. Three insights now into the magnitude of our Savior and the difference he makes in us today.
The Lamb of God
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
Do you see how the paragraph starts with “The next day”? Do you see the same thing in verses 35 and 43? And then do you see how 2:1 starts with “On the third day”? What’s going on here? John is telling us what Jesus did in his first week of public ministry. Day one was the investigation of John the Baptist by the Pharisees (verses 19-28). We saw that last Sunday. Then day two was this encounter in verses 29-34. Then verses 35-42 narrate day three. Then verses 43-51 are day four. Then skip day five, which John doesn’t describe. And then chapter two tells us about day six. The first week of the Lord’s new ministry.
Why does John call our attention to this time frame? The clue is all the way back in verse 1: “In the beginning.” That makes us think of Genesis 1 and the creation of the universe: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Then the rest of Genesis 1 describes six days of creation – whether literal days or metaphorical days is beside the point. Here in John’s Gospel he is whispering to us, “Jesus has launched the re-creation of the universe.”
Here’s what the gospel is not saying to us. The gospel is not saying that Jesus is a really interesting figure in the long history of human religious thought. The gospel is saying that Jesus is the new beginning. He is the Adam of a new human race. And this Adam did not fall. He obeyed God fully. He will live forever. He is the Creator of the New Heavens and the New Earth that will never end. All things were made through him (John 1:3), and all things are remade through him. If you need to be remade, he’s the one you’ve been hoping for. And if you’ve handed yourself over to Jesus, you are right now an eschatological person. You belong to the future. He is preparing a place for you. You have longings into your heart that nothing in this world can satisfy. You will never feel completely at home until you are with him. And those longings for something better are the best part of you. Never let those longings die. Whatever you may suffer in this life, those longings are the kiss of Christ on your heart, telling you that you belong to him forever. He died and rose again to give you a new you in a new world forever. What can stop him now?
The best part is, Jesus has already taken away every reason why you should be excluded from his new creation. Verse 29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That might be the greatest single sentence ever uttered by human lips. What does it tell us?
Throughout the Old Testament, God took people sins away from them by a substitute, a sacrifice, a lamb who paid the price of the sin. We all understand this. If on the way home today someone rear-ends you, they have to pay for it. If someone vandalizes your home, they have to make it right. If someone steals your intellectual property, they have to own up and acknowledge you. And so forth. We all understand this. The good news of the gospel is that God does not forgive by sweeping our wrongs under the rug. God paid the price for our wrongs. He came down in Jesus and went to the cross. There on the cross, the Lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the world. If there had been an easier way, God would have found it. But there was no other way, because the price must be paid. So God paid it himself for us. In the Lamb, God provided a forgiveness that doesn’t compromise his own conscience but satisfies his sense of right and wrong. In the Lamb, God offers us a grace and mercy that he feels good about, because the price of sin was fully paid. In the Lamb, we come to God not asking him to overlook anything or bend his own rules but confident that here at last is a principled forgiveness, a forgiveness our own consciences can settle into with peace and joy. God’s grace is not compromise and flattery. God’s grace is full payment for all our sins at his expense. This is a forgiveness we can feel really good about, because God does.
My dad’s mentor was a pastor named Donald Grey Barnhouse. He was preachingin a church one morning. A lady sang just before he got up to preach. She sang the old song “I am satisfied.” It goes, “I am satisfied, I am satisfied with him, but is he satisfied with me?” And Barnhouse stood up and said, “Yes, he is!” If you have come to Jesus, God is satisfied with you today, because the Lamb was slain for you. Do not think of the Lamb of God as cute and cuddly. Think of the Lamb of God as led to the slaughter. Think of a priest long ago holding a lamb down and taking his knife and slitting its throat and letting the blood flow. Think of the multitudes in heaven forever worshiping by saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 5:12). That word translated “slain” means “slaughtered, butchered.” The One we will forever admire and worship is the Slaughtered One. The cross was not cute, but it was effective. In fact, the atoning death of Jesus is so massive that the whole world could come to him today and he wouldn’t feel at all depleted: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Ten thousand worlds, ten thousand hells, could come to Jesus today, and his capacity to forgive wouldn’t be diminished one single drop. He has a fullness of grace upon grace for sin upon sin, including yours and mine.
Charles Simeon, an English pastor of around 200 years ago, told us the moment when Jesus saved him:
In Passion Week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect — “That the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.” The thought came into my mind, What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus.
I wonder what sin you’re bearing on your own soul this morning. Think of the worst one, the one you hate the most. Go there in your mind right now. Face it head on, and give it to Jesus. Take it from off you and put it onto him. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He wants to take it. He is able to take it. And when he takes it away, he doesn’t hold it over your head. God will not accept the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf and then later come after you for the balance, because Jesus paid it all. Your only part is to believe it, and rejoice in him. His new creation – we experience it in a gospel-centered church – is marked by a bold freedom of heart. We are complete idiots, our future is incredibly bright, and anyone can get in on this.
The Dove of God
“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” John 1:32
The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be anointed by the Holy Spirit as never before. Here’s why. God would not bring his kingdom into this world by our crude methods, by brute force, by human conquest. He wouldn’t stoop to it. He would bring his kingdom into this over-politicized world by spiritual power, gospel power, by the force of beauty and sacrifice and love and truth.
Jesus, as the Messiah, had the greatest anointing of the Holy Spirit ever. If you want to know what a Spirit-filled person looks like, don’t look at the goofy people on TV. Look at Jesus. He was a man of the Spirit, like no one else.
And isn’t it instructive that the Spirit came upon Jesus in the form of a dove? When God opened heaven up – it says here that the Spirit descended from heaven, giving us in Jesus a taste of heaven on earth – when the Spirit came down on him in power, how did God represent himself to us? As a dove. The Spirit hovered over the first creation, in Genesis 1. Now he hovers over the new creation, in John 1. He came down in dove-like gentleness and humility and peace. The power of God is so far above all earthly powers, he doesn’t need human swagger, ego and saber-rattling. There is nothing of the bully in Jesus. There is nothing about him we need to filter out or brace ourselves against. All the power he needs, to remake the whole world, is the Dove of God.
The implications for us as his new creation community are obvious. In 1840 the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully in Scotland. A number of ministers gathered in Glasgow to report on what the churches were experiencing and how to understand it biblically. One pastor wrote this:
It is a solemn fact, brought out in the history of more than one revival, that when a whole neighborhood had been well watered with the showers of grace, no drop of blessing has descended where a spirit of controversy and strife had obtained a footing. The Spirit of God hovered around, but fled from, the scene of discord as from a doomed region where his dove-like temper could find no resting-place…. Always remember that “his work is sown in peace by them that make peace” (James 3:18), and no dwelling can be more distasteful, no vessel more unsuitable to him, than a heart which delights itself with matters that provoke contention and strife.
But, of course, no one consciously chooses strife. We always feel justified in picking a fight. What we do is set our hearts on something other than Jesus, even a good thing, and we give that cause or that concern too much passion. We do not automatically have the categories for knowing how Christ builds his kingdom. We tend to import into his new creation community the strategies of the old defunct creation. But the misplaced passion that breeds strife is all it takes to say to the Dove of God, “You have no resting place here.” And he says, “Okay.” But in any church, in any family, in any dorm, where the real Jesus is moving in power, we prove it by our gentleness and humility. Men, I believe the Lord has given us a special responsibility here – to build and to guard a gospel culture where no one has anything to fear. A social environment of gospel + safety + time feels like heaven opening up and coming down to us like a Dove. It is what our city needs.
The Son of God
And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. John 1:34
The Lamb of God, anointed with the Dove of God, is uniquely the Son of God. The exclusivity of Jesus as the only way, the only One in his category, not just another religious teacher, not even the best religious teacher, but the Son of God – John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” – the exclusive claim of Jesus is a problem for people today. They have difficulty believing that any fair-minded person would settle on Jesus as the only way. Many people are concerned that any absolute truth will leave no room for others and become tyrannical. And who wants tyranny, however benevolent?
But the claim that all ideas should be equally accepted is itself an absolute claim. There is a kind of tolerance that leaves no room for disagreement. Any tolerance that pushes itself on people and enforces conformity isn’t tolerance. Have you thought about that?
The gospel’s claim that Jesus is the Son of God is the only absolute claim that judges our impulses toward domination, because the gospel presents the Son of God as loving his enemies and dying for us. If you have a problem with the exclusive claim of the Christian gospel, how you seen how peaceable the gospel is?
The [definite article] Son of God came into this world to create a whole new world where human beings can flourish, for the glory of God. I see no evidence to make me believe anyone else can create the kind of world we all long for. Are you holding out for someone better to show up, better than Jesus? Martin Luther helps us see the Son of God. Listen to this, and tell me if anyone else out there qualifies in his category:
It would be amazing, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had experienced something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor, compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He encumbers Himself with my misery and sin. He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.” No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God.