19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Do we have the right to think about God however we would like? Do we have the right to envision His person and character along whatever lines we desire? Some people think so.
For instance, I recently read the words of a pastor who proudly and openly embraces the titles of “liberal” and “progressive.” This pastor says we should think of God however we happen to envision God. Listen to this:
“Every person, no matter their age, sexual preference, gender, or nationality, has the right to have access to the divine, however they see the divinity made manifest.”
Now, this is a very modern-American thing to say, is it not? It has, for instance, the two great hallmarks of popular culture today. First of all, it has a good dose of entitlement: “Every person, no matter their age, sexual preference, gender, or nationality, has the right to have access to the divine…” Access to God, then, is now a fundamental right regardless of one’s life or lifestyle.
And, secondly, according to this idea, human beings have “the right to have access to the divine, however they see the divinity made manifest.” So not only are we entitled to God, we are entitled to whatever version of God we happen to prefer.
Again, this is straight out of the rule book for the way we modern Americans think: (1) unquestioned, individual entitlement and (2) the sovereignty of personal preference.
But that is pretty dangerous, is it not? After all, if people are simply free to think of God “however they see the divinity made manifest,” does that not open the door for a person with a really crazy idea of God to be able to say that their idea of God is as legitimate as a biblical view of God?
No, somehow we know, deep down, that our view of God must have substance and that substance must arise from some place other than our own preferences, assumptions, or wants.
John thought that we should think about God. John thought that we should think accurately about God. John thought that God could be known and understood. John said that Jesus was the key to understanding who God is and what He is like. Jesus reveals God.
Let me take a moment and point out, by the way, what a great gift revelation is. Do you realize that if God had not chosen to reveal Himself in Christ and through His Word to us, we would never know who God is? “We love him,” John wrote in 1 John 4:19, “because He first loved us.” Had God not revealed Himself, we never would have known Him.
I like how R.C. Sproul put this in his amazing book, The Holiness of God:
“There is a special kind of phobia from which we all suffer. It is called xenophobia. Xenophobia is a fear (and sometimes a hatred) of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. God is the ultimate object of our xenophobia. He is the ultimate stranger. He is the ultimate foreigner. He is holy, and we are not.”
That is true enough! In our sins, we have a deep phobia of God. We do not know Him, so we fear Him. We do not want to know Him, so we hate Him. But when the light of Christ shines on us, and when we come to know Him as Savior and Lord, we both know Him and love Him.
Because of Jesus, we are now able to think about God. We are now able to want to think about God. We are now able to think about God correctly.
In the first eighteen verses of John 1, we have already seen two fascinating images of the person of Christ. We have seen Christ the Word and Christ the light. But there is more. In verse 19, John records the words of another John, John the Baptist, and his words about the coming of Christ.
John the Baptist casts further light on the person of Christ, and the light he sheds is mind-boggling to say the least.
Christ, the Lord
The first occasion for John’s testimony about who Jesus is was a question put to him concerning who he, John the Baptist, was.
19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
It is an interesting scene. The priests and Levites, sent, we will find out in a bit, by the Pharisees, are interested in the identity of John the Baptist. But John the Baptist is interested only in the identity of Jesus.
In answering this question from the priests and Levites, John quotes a passage from Isaiah with shocking implications for who Jesus is. In verse 23, John alludes to Isaiah 40. Here is the wider context of that passage
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
John the Baptist sought to draw attention away from himself and focus it rather on Christ. He claimed to be the “voice” mentioned in Isaiah 40:3. That is interesting, but what is really interesting is what the voice in Isaiah 40 is doing. Clearly, the voice is preparing the people for the coming of the Lord.
John quoted only the first part of verse 3: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.’” But in doing so he was appealing to the whole passage, the second part of which would have been known by these priests and Levites: “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
What an utterly amazing thing to say! John said that his purpose was to preach the coming of the Lord, of God Himself, in the desert. Clearly John the Baptist meant by this nothing less than that Jesus was God Himself.
Some of you may be of the opinion this morning that it does not matter what we think about Jesus. You may think it is ok that Christianity speaks of Jesus as God but other religions speak of him as a good man, or a great prophet, or an angel, or nothing at all. You may be tempted to say that these questions do not really matter. You may say that so long as we obey Jesus, or try to be like Jesus, or ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”, that that is all that matters. But may I point out that John, the writer of the fourth gospel, and John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, were overwhelmingly concerned first of all with the fact that we understand that Jesus is God Himself among us.
In other words, the first question is not, “What would Jesus do?” The first question is, “Who is Jesus?”
It matters. It matters deeply. Who you think Jesus is will ultimately shape how you live your life. Fortunately, these two Johns we are looking at are completely clear on the answer: Jesus is Lord! This is the earliest confession of the church. It is the summary of our faith, the hope of our salvation. Jesus is Lord! In Greek, that looks like this: Kyrios Iesus! Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God. Jesus is God come near!
Christ, the Lamb
That John the Baptist called Jesus Lord and God was unsettling enough to the world then and now. But what he did next was utterly confounding:
24(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
When John spots Jesus coming, he shouts, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In saying so, he was doing two things. For one thing, he was once again speaking in harmony with the prophecy of Isaiah 40 that we have just seen, for verse 2 of that chapter begins: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned…”
So it was consistent with Isaiah 40, the passage he is quoting, for John to say that the coming Lord would forgive sins, even as it was shocking for him to say that Jesus was that coming Lord. But in calling Jesus “the Lamb of God” John was saying even more: he was saying that Jesus is not only the Lord who forgives sin, He is the Lord who forgives sin by becoming Himself the sacrifice for our sins, the lamb of God.
How must John’s original audience have heard and understood such a strange idea, that God could be the forgiver and the sacrifice? How do you hear it today?
John called Jesus Lord, which was earth-shaking in its implications. He called Him lamb, which threatened to redefine everything the Jews thought they knew about God.
John is saying that Jesus is Lord and lamb. He is the One to whom all sacrifices are due, and He is simultaneously the sacrifice that is due. He is both shepherd and sheep. John is saying something, in other words, that would have been very difficult for people then (and now) to grasp: that the Lord is the lamb.
Imagine it, if you can: He is the One to whom our lives should be given, but He gives His life for us. He is the just God whose standard demands a sacrifice, and He is the sacrifice sent to meet the standards of a just God. He is the holy God before whom sin cannot stand, and He is the sacrifice that bears our unholy sins.
Seriously, I ask you: can you believe it?
Throughout the ages artists have attempted to depict this image of Christ as the lamb of God. One of the most famous images is that of Francisco de Zubaran, a Spanish painter who painted in the 17th century. The image has always moved me. It is a lamb, lain on an altar, its feet bound by cords, its body lifeless, dead. This is the Christ who saves.
Zubaran apparently added horns to the image as a symbol of strength. After all, Christ did not have to lay down His life. “No one takes [my life] from me,” Jesus said in John 10:18, “but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Jesus is strong, it is true, but Jesus laid His life down. He is the lion of Judah, but He is the lamb of God. In Christ Himself, the lion lays down with the lamb. He was the sacrificial lamb. Jesus is the God who puts Himself on His own altar. He is the shepherd who takes the sin of the flock upon Himself.
He is the One who says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin” (Hebrews 9:22), and then He sheds His blood. He is the scapegoat of guilty Israel. He is the ram caught in a thicket for Isaac. He is the raised, bronze serpent on whom dying, wilderness-wandering Israel must look in order to be saved. He is the one who demands payment at the same time that He is the one who pays what is demanded.
The world had never heard anything like it. The world has never heard anything like it since.
The vision of Jesus as the lamb of God, the “Agnus Dei,” is a vision that has inspired Christians over the years. For instance, I learned this week that each year during the feast of Epiphany, in the subways of Bucharest, Romania, Christian children lead lambs through the subway stations and trains in order to remember and to remind others that Jesus is the lamb of God.
The Lord is the lamb, and the lamb is Lord. “Behold the lamb of God!”
Christ, the Life
Yet the coming Lord that John the Baptist spoke of does not merely forgive sins. He also comes to give a new way of living life. Christ is the Lord. Christ is the lamb. Christ is the life.
30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.’ 34And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
Notice that Jesus came not only to lay down His life, He came to create a new way of living life through the laying down of His life. So He is not only the lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world, He is also “he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (v.33) This happened to the early band of believers gathered at Pentecost, and this happens today every time a person bows his or her heart and mind to Jesus.
To know the lamb, then, is to follow the lamb because He has baptized you in the Holy Spirit. Not only that, the lamb now lives in you. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola put this nicely in their Jesus Manifesto when they wrote:
The mystery of God is this…this glorious, limitless, amazing, incredible, expansive, incomparable, marvelous, stunning, staggering, majestic, mighty, matchless, spectacular, outstanding, tremendous, immense, infinite, vast, grand, triumphant, victorious, precious, radiant, peerless, wonderful, magnificent Christ has chosen to place all of His fullness where? Inside of you!
It is true! The Lord who is lamb baptizes you in the Spirit when you come to Him and, in so doing, empowers you to also live this kind of life!
This means that we go into the world as the army of the lamb of God in order to reveal a new way of living life. For instance, in Kenya, Africa, in the 1950’s, there was a war in which the Kenyans fought against the British colonialists for independence. In the midst of that war,
a number of Christians sought to intervene between the black Kenyans and the white colonialists. These Christians refused to fight and, instead, they called the conflicting sides to lay down their arms. Because of this, they were nicknamed, “people of the Lamb.”
What are we known as? Do our lives reflect Christ, Lord and lamb? Have we come to Him only in the hope of salvation, or have we come to Him for life? To know Christ as the lamb of God is to approach life from a totally different vantage point than the one you previously held. How you envision God determines how you live life. How can it not change our lives to think of Jesus as Lord and as lamb?
On the official seal of the Moravian Church are the words, “Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him.”
This, I believe, sums the matter up quite nicely: “Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him.” The lamb conquers through His cross and resurrection, and now we have the privilege of following Him.
Central Baptist Church: “Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him!”
 Paul R. Dekar, Community of the Transfiguration (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008, p.128.
 R.C. Sproul, Holiness (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1998), p.45.
 Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait, “The Real Twelve Days of Christmas.” Christianity Today. (August 8, 2008) https://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2004/dec24.html?start=2
 Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, Jesus Manifesto (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), p.32-33.
 David Shenk quoted in “Reconciliation Lamb.” Christianity Today. (June 27, 2008) https://www.christianitytoday.com/moi/2008/003/june/27.27.html