(This sermon was preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, Colorado on Sunday, April 29, 2012. Go to our ARBC sermons page – http://www.arbc.net/sermons.htm – to listen. If it hasn’t uploaded, check back soon. Oftentimes, the manuscript and the actual delivery of the sermon are not the same. It’s amazing how God works in that way.)
We have a standard pulpit in our auditorium/sanctuary at our church. There is an unspoken understanding that when I speak, I speak from behind the pulpit. That is where I belong. That’s my place.
If I began preaching, say, in the organ pit or from the last row in the choir, it may get people’s attention—and the reason is that I’m not where I should be. In a sense, everything is right when we are where God wants us. Only here is true peace and contentment.
God has bestowed a calling on every single Christian in this room. When men and women come to Christ, he bestows them with what are called spiritual gifts, differing gifts given by God for each person to exercise and execute. He also sends them out as ones who will make a visible difference for His Kingdom in the world.
We have two examples here: one of John the Baptist, and the other of Jesus. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In other words, Jesus came for the express purpose of being offered as a sacrifice for the sins of those who would believe. To put it more starkly, Jesus was born in order to die. Most other leaders of movements don’t begin with the express intention of dying, but if they are martyred for the cause, then so be it. Jesus knew he would die—God ordained His death in order that those who would believe would be rescued from that. He knew His place!
Christ knew His place! The apostle John as we will see knew his place. One of the secondary questions we must ask if, “Do we know our place?” But of primary importance is this: do we see the richness of Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world?
The apostle John leaves the introduction of this book to introduce to us … John the Baptist. But we will see that the Baptizer gives us an example in that, regardless of how influential our lives are, they must be influential in the sense that they point to Christ. No matter how much they wanted to attribute to John, he would have none of it. His life pointed to Christ. The Baptizer knew his role, he knew his calling, and was more than content to remain in that calling. Because the One to whom he pointed had a calling—to take away the sins of the world!
1. Trust the testimony of godly men who prepare the way for Christ (John 1:19-28).
In John 1:19-23, we see how the apostle John gives us a brief description of a rather eccentric prophet that turned up along the Jordan River by the name of John the Baptist—or John the Baptizer. But this is not all we see about this man! By the apostle bringing him up at this juncture shows that he is a significant figure that means a great deal to all of us.
The Baptizer first arrived on the scene in Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel arrived to bring the good news that Zechariah and Elizabeth were to have a child. Whereas this would be wonderful news for any couple, it was miraculous news for this couple. Zechariah, who served as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem, and Elizabeth were old—beyond natural childbearing years. Plus, Elizabeth was “barren”—she had not been able to have children!
Gabriel shows us and tells them something about this child:
13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared (Luke 1:13-17).
We know that an angel came to announce the birth of Christ—but we must also recognize that an angel came to announce the birth of one who would come before him—John the Baptist.
· Took a Nazirite vow like Samson (see Numbers 6), vowing to take no food nor dirnk, but would only be filled with the Holy Spirit, set apart even in his mother’s womb like Jeremiah.
· He will be like Elijah, as prophecied in Malachi 4:5-6, who would come before the awesome day of the Lord. Little did they realize that this awesome day of the Lord would be Christ coming as a baby to Bethlehem.
· But this last portion is significant: “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
This ministry that John the Baptist had was a confusing ministry to many. In Matthew 3:4, it says that “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”
So they began to ask him, “Who are you?” Are you the Christ? No! Are you Elijah? While Luke tells us he came in the spirit and power of Elijah, many thought that Elijah would come in spirit and indwell John. But no, John was not Elijah nor vice versa. Are you the prophet? In Deuteronomy 18:15-18, we see that God gave Moses himself a promise of a great prophet to come:
15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him (Deuteronomy 18:15-18).
Why bring this up? There is something to be said for anticipation and expectation! When children are in school, they can endure knowing the weekend is coming or, on a grander scale, when summer or Christmas break is coming! When those who are in the armed forces are serving, they endure because they know what they are doing matters, and that they can expect a respite in the form of a three-day pass or a furlough.
The people of Israel were tired of Roman rule in the Holy Land. They were ready for the promises of a coming King to come to pass. This anticipation was reaching a fever pitch. So the questions feed this: are you the Rescuer who was to come? No? How about Elijah? Moses? Who!?!?
John speaks this: “I am the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” So John wasn’t just some preacher going out on his own to preach. He was “the Voice.” Isaiah prophecied about this 700 years prior. The lesson? God had not forgotten about His plan nor His people. When God makes a promise, he doesn’t go back on it.
So now that John described this, they now ask him, “Why are you baptizing?” In other words, by what authority are you baptizing, since you aren’t on our list!? John was performing a cleansing rite—something that greatly offended the Israelite leaders who felt they were cleansed enough. Why did it offend them? Because this type of baptism was usually made to those who were Gentiles converting to Judaism. But John was calling the Jews. He was basically telling them that the Messiah was coming—and you need to be cleansed!
But he made it clear—I’m only baptizing with water. It’s merely an outward cleansing, but one coming after him will surpass him in worthiness and power.
But look at how he describes his rank in relation to Jesus: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do no know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). It was commonplace for rabbis to have disciples who not only sat at the feet of their teacher, but also in a sense because their servant. We see this with interns working for their boss at a company: they fetch their lunch, pick up their drycleaning, and do all sorts of menial tasks as part of their training.
But the difference between a disciple and a slave is this: a disciple never came near the sandals or shoes of the teachers. This was beneath them. But a slave’s job was this very thing. What was John saying? I’m not worthy to even be a common slave! So, in the process of us getting to know John, we get to know Christ! John the Baptist was great, but he was lower than a slave compared to Christ.
2. Turn to the One who takes away sin (John 1:29-34).
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! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.
Behold! That is a word that we do not use much in our day! But it’s a word intending to get our attention!
The Lamb of God. Those of you who listen to Christian music on the radio may remember a song that starts out very simply.
Alleluia, alleluia, for the Lord God Almighty reigns.
Alleluia, alleluia, for the Lord God Almighty reigns.
Holy, holy, are you Lord God Almighty?
Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb. Holy!
This was written by Michael W. Smith, but he titled it from an ancient Latin phrase that says, “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi.” Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world. Christ is only called the Lamb of God twice in Scripture—here, and in Revelation 5:6: “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”
But this was no new term. In Genesis 22, Abraham had finally received the promise of a son, Isaac. Abraham was 99 when Isaac was born, and as a son of his old age, this young man was beloved! God then approaches Abraham: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2). And the Word says, “So Abraham rose early….” He wasted no time in obedience to God. He takes Isaac, lays him on the altar, ties him down, takes fire in one hand, the knife in the other and was ready to drive that knife through! God stops him, and over in the thickets, a ram was caught in the thicket by his horns. Abraham said on the way up the mountain that God would provide a Lamb—and he did as a substitute for Isaac.
This Lamb would come and die—this Lamb of God who is Jesus Christ—would come and die as a substitute. But for whom? It goes on, “… Who takes away the sins of the world.” This does not mean that everyone will be saved with or without faith. This is called universalism. And we do know that from other portions in Scripture that not everyone goes to heaven. We saw two Wednesdays ago from Psalm 1 that there is a righteous way and a wicked way. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says there is a wide way that many go into to their destruction, and a narrow way that few go into that lead to life.
Here, it says that he died for the whole world—meaning, he death wasn’t only brought to one group of people (the Jews), but for every group of people. Again, in Revelation 5, they sing that the Lamb rescued a people “from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.” Again, see the context. The Pharisees sent people to John asking John, “Why are you baptizing Jews? We are children of Abraham. We are clean!” John basically says, “Not only are you unclean, the Lamb of God has come to call a people to Himself not simply of the Jews—but of every nations under heaven!” Remember, we are children of God, “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
No one is born a Christian! No one is born righteous! No one is born exempt from the atoning work of Christ!
John even mentions that this one coming, the Christ, ranks before me “because he was before me.” Wait a minute! Didn’t Luke 1 say that John was born six months before Jesus came into the world? Yes, that is correct! But Christ was before Him “in the beginning.” This drove the spiritual leaders of Israel crazy. When Jesus told them later that “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58), when Abraham lived 2100 years before him, and Jesus was only in his mid 30’s, it’s because Christ was not merely human and did not begin when he was born in that stable in Bethlehem! He is eternal God and entered into the world as a human (Philippians 2:5-6).
John also said that he would see the Spirit resting on him and would baptize us with the Holy Spirit. What does this mean? This means that as soon as we receive Christ, he would baptize, submerge, and cleanse us with the Holy Spirit. This is a benefit that Christians receive. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). But we also see that the Holy Spirit comes along as our teacher, counselor, and comforter. This is what Ezekiel prophecied:
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
What is a heart of stone? A stone doesn’t feel anything. It is insensitive to any feeling. When we say that someone is hardhearted, what do we mean but that they have no feeling. There is a callousness and an insensitivity.
But flesh is different. My kiddos and I have enjoyed of late throwing some baseball around the yard. Daniel is especially fond of throwing baseball. Everytime we have some time, he begs us to go outside, he grabs his glove and my glove and a ball and tells me, “Dad, are you ready?” And we throw for a long time!
But we have some bushes in our hard that line up against the fence. To get out of the sun, Daniel stands and catches a ball by one set of bushes, and I stand across the yard by the other. Every so often, a ball gets away and rolls under those bushes. No matter how careful we are in retrieving that ball, one of us comes out of those bushes with some scratches. Our response to the scratching of our flesh is, “Ouch!” It hurts! That’s the sensitivity of our flesh.
But we are sensitive with a heart of flesh to the Spirit. In other words, when we receive Christ, there is a change of the highest order. We no longer are insensitive to the things of God, but now we are ultra-sensitive. Every so often, we come across someone who says they are a Christian, but they are still insensitive to sin and, thus, insensitive to Christ. Even though Paul says in Romans 6 that we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to righteousness.
When we come to Christ, there is a change. We go from living for self to living for Christ.
At the beginning of the year on Wednesday nights, we journeyed through Don Whitney’s Ten Questions to Diagnose our Spiritual Health (NavPress, 2001). These questions are probing because these questions wonderfully help us not only identify what Christianity looks like, but help us to diagnose where we are in our walk with Christ. The questions are as follows:
- Do you yearn to be with Jesus?
- Do you thirst after God?
- Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word?
- Are you more loving?
- Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
- Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and physical needs of others?
- Do you delight in His church?
- Are the spiritual disciplines more important to you?
- Do you grieve over sin?
- Are you a quick forgiver?
- Do you yearn for heaven?
- Do these questions shed light on our spiritual walk? Is there one? Has the Lamb of God taken away our sin and cleansed us and baptized us by His Spirit? If not, as Christ draws you, I pray He would give you the strength to respond. Come to Christ!