The Lamb of God
Sunday school lesson for the week of March 1, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Scripture: John 1:29-34
The theme of the 14 lessons for the third quarter is “The Spirit Comes.” According to Dr. Jerry Sumney, professor of biblical studies at Lexington Theological Seminary and series writer, the focus is on God’s work through the Holy Spirit to empower disciples to live their faith. With that exciting focus, the first unit is composed of five lessons that center on “The Pledge of God’s Presence.”
John’s Gospel Account of Jesus’ Baptism
Before we begin, however, it is important to realize that the Gospel of John is distinctive. While Matthew, Mark and Luke, known as the Synoptic Gospels, register Jesus talking a lot about the kingdom of God, John seldom mentions it. The writer of John’s Gospel chooses instead to concentrate on the identity of Jesus as the One sent from God. This is significant as we focus on the writer’s understanding of Jesus as “The Lamb of God.”
John the Baptist had been baptizing in the Jordan River. In the previous scripture, the Baptist had refused titles that might be applied to a Messiah and had identified himself as the person who prepares the way for someone greater than himself.
The writer of John’s Gospel wants to make the distinction between John the Baptist and Jesus clear. Indeed, he wants Jesus to be seen as superior to John.
Our scripture lesson picks up the story of John the Baptist the day after he questions about his own identity. We are not told whom the Baptist is addressing because the important issue is that the Gospel’s readers hear it.
The initial thing John the Baptist says about Jesus, beyond the obscure affirmation that Jesus is greater that he, is that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Have you ever thought about what must have been involved in that declaration – for the Baptist and for his hearers? Scholars inform us that 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 gone up the mountain to sacrifice his son, Isaac. On the way, Isaac had asked Abraham, “Father…The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb? Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:7, 8). And God did!
Israel had also known about the lamb as a result of the institution of the Passover. This had to do with Israel’s preparation for their departure from Egypt. On that occasion, the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of the houses was the sign for the angel of death to past by (Exodus 12:1ff). Additionally, these Israelites knew that daily in the services of the temple, that 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.
It was on this basis that John the Baptist came along and exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The Baptist recognized that the sacrifices were to be fulfilled in Jesus and that he would bear our sin as Isaiah had stated: “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4,5).
So, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the One who willingly gives himself for the sins of the people. Note that this Lamb gives himself not only for the sins of Israel, but for the sins of the whole world. From the very beginning, the writer of John’s Gospel has the universal effectiveness of the death of Jesus in mind.
A second element of this identification of Jesus is also important. John the Baptist states in verse 30 that Jesus is greater because “He was before me.” Scholars remind us that “Before me” means that the One incarnated as Jesus existed before John the Baptist (John 1:1, 2), who was born before Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and is assumed to be older. Thus, in these two verses, the writer of John’s Gospel affirms two key things about Jesus: as the Lamb of God, he does away with sin, and he can do this because he is the One through whom God made the world.
There is still another significant element here in the identification of Jesus. John the Baptist pointed to the fact that Jesus is the giver of the Spirit. The Baptist said, “I, myself, did not know him, but the One who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). John the Baptist is saying that the purpose of his ministry of baptizing with water is finally to make the identity of Christ known to others. The Baptist goes on to say that he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus as a dove. While the other Gospels tell us that the Spirit descended on Christ at his baptism, the writer of John’s Gospel speaks only of the coming of the Spirit.
The point is that Jesus has the Spirit of God in ways that others do not. Jesus has a role in the unfolding of God’s plan that prophets such as Joel looked forward to (Joel 2:28,29; same verses quoted in Acts 2:17,18 on the Day of Pentecost). Thus, Jesus Christ is the mediator of the Spirit, of the presence of God in the lives of those who follow Him. John the Baptist says that what he has seen demonstrated that Jesus is the Son of God. He represents God and God’s purposes to the world.
Baptism is essentially something that God does!
When things were rough and he needed encouragement for his faith, Martin Luther would put his finger to his forehead and say, “I’m baptized.” This is to say, “God loves me and always has and that God loves me and always will…”
Baptism tells us who we are!
When we ask in desperation, “Who in God’s name am I?” As someone observed, “Baptism has the water running down our faces and words saying, “You are, in God’s name, royalty.”
Baptism inaugurates our own ministry!
It is Jesus’ baptism that inaugurates his ministry. It is our baptism that inaugurates our ministry.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.