Behold the Lamb!

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 1:29

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

John 1:29 rsv

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That’s my text for today. And what a great one it is! I want to think with you now about the man who said this, about what he meant by it, and about what he wanted to happen when he proclaimed it. The man, of course, is John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer. He was an interesting man, one of the most famous personages in ancient history, but surely the most self-effacing of all. Bold enough to challenge kings and castigate priests, but bashful enough to claim nothing for himself.


What did this man of the desert say about his own life? Very little, as a matter of fact. He only talked about himself when directly questioned. Even then he was inclined to answer briefly, almost abruptly.

To my mind, John the Baptizer is a model for preachers. He’s a worthy pattern for evangelists. He’s a reliable guide for every Christian who wants to be a faithful witness. He had a kind of self-understanding that we could well make our own.

John was creating such a stir with his fervent preaching by the Jordan River that the authorities had sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to check him out. “Who are you?” they challenged? There was apparently a good deal of speculation in the air about the possible coming of the Messiah. That made the religious establishment uneasy. John was thundering against sin, baptizing people for repentance, attracting a huge following. Could he be the one? When they asked him, he did not equivocate in the slightest. As John puts it, “He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed `I am not the Christ.’” The answer to their question was a resounding no!

They weren’t satisfied. The cross-examination went on. “What then? Are you Elijah?” Now the answer was shortened down, “I am not!” It is often pointed out that Jesus later referred to John the Baptist as the famous prophet, actually saying, “This is Elijah who was to come.” Some argue that John’s Gospel is in conflict with the others here. But again, this is a part of the Baptist’s style, his self-deprecation. It’s one thing for Jesus to call him Elijah. It would be quite another thing for John himself to make that claim.

Next they asked, “Are you the prophet?” that is, the one whom Moses spoke about, whom God would raise up, to whom everyone would give heed? Now John is really curt. He answers with one meager syllable, “No!”

But these emissaries from Jerusalem have come a long way to see the man of the wilderness. They are not content to let him off easily. Now they follow up, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John has the perfect response. He quotes the scriptures: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Who is John? He says, “I’m a voice.” We don’t even know who this is. He’s not an important person like a messiah or a prophet. He’s just a voice. He’s like someone you hear on the radio whose name and pedigree you don’t even know. That’s all that John will say about himself.

He knows his work is important. He’s calling people to level the ground, prepare the way of the Lord. But he’s speaking on behalf of another, urging people to do something for that other. “Make ready,” he says, “for the Messiah’s coming is near! And for myself, I’m simply the voice that precedes Him.”

The questioning isn’t over yet. “If this is true, John,” they say, “then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” In other words, “What business do you have doing all this?” John answers, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” He admits that he baptizes with water but he denies that this has any independent significance. He focuses his attention on the one who is coming after him, who even now stands among them. But John has one more word to add about himself, “I am not worthy to untie the thong of His sandal.”

We need some background to understand that. Rabbis in Jesus’ day were not paid by their students, but they were often served by them. Those who sat at the rabbi’s feet acted in most respects as his willing slaves, attending to all his needs. There was one service, however, that students were not expected to render. That was to untie the thong of the rabbi’s sandal. That only a slave would have to do. John lifts up that, the most menial slave-task imaginable, and says, “I am not worthy to do that – for Him.” That’s who the preacher is, that’s who the evangelist is, that’s who the witness is – the one who says, “Not worthy, Lord, to sit the least and lowest at Thy board.”


Now for his message. John says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He’s pointing to Jesus now. He’s directing attention away from himself to the one from Nazareth. He’s going to describe who He is and what He does. “Behold!” he says. “Look at this one!”

First, where does He come from? This Jesus is the Lamb of God. He belongs to God. He comes from God. He’s on a divine mission. John is saying, “You don’t understand Jesus at all unless you see that. This is God’s Son, God’s Messiah. He is God’s provision for us all. He may have been born in Bethlehem and reared in Nazareth but heaven is His true home. He is the Lamb of God.”

Who is He, this one who comes from God? He is the Lamb. What would that mean to Jewish hearers? Maybe they would think of the Passover lamb. More probably they would think of the sacrifices still offered twice a day in the temple. Lambs in Israel were symbols of innocence. It was important if you brought a sacrificial animal that it be without blemish and without spot. And lambs were definitely associated with sacrifice. All that the centuries of animal offerings had foreshadowed, all that was being done at the temple on that very day, was fulfilled and superseded in this Person. According to John, He is the Lamb, the blameless one, the supreme sacrifice.

What does He do? He takes away sin. His is definitely an atoning sacrifice. He atones by substitution for others. He “bears” sin, that is, He bears the consequences of sin so that it can be removed, put away, cancelled forever. It’s not only some individual sins that He takes away, it is sin, every sin, all sin. He bears the judgment which every sin deserves. The stroke due to all of us falls on Him. He takes away the sin of the world.

Let that sink in for a moment. The clear message here is that each of us is involved in sin. Guilt is common to us all. All of us stand in need of forgiveness and He, Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the perfect sacrifice and sin-bearer for us all. He is the one Savior.

Do you see how John is a model here for faithful preachers? He directs attention to Jesus. Christ is his theme. He majors in the Messiah. He comes for no other reason than to bear witness to this one. That’s the first element of faithful preaching. He lifts up Jesus. He does what John Wesley once described as his own experience: “For three hours we offered them Christ.”

But faithful preaching focuses also on what Jesus has done. It is the preaching of His sacrifice, His sin-bearing, His self-giving to atone for all our sins. Like Paul, John is determined to know nothing among men except Jesus and Him crucified. He lifts high the Cross. He presents Jesus crucified and risen as the one and only Savior.

And his word is not directed only to the outcasts of society, the harlots and the tax collectors. They are sinners, indeed, but so are the scribes and Pharisees. The word John the Baptist preaches is for everyone. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Everyone needs Him. What He has done concerns all humankind.


That leads us to why John preaches as he does. Listen to the description which the evangelist John gives of the Baptist: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.” John bears His witness. He points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Why does he preach like that? So that those who hear may believe. Why does he want to let the whole world know? So that more and more will believe. John desperately wants people to believe that this Jesus is from God – God’s servant, God’s provision, God’s salvation. He wants them to believe that Jesus is the Lamb, the sinless One whose sacrifice is all-sufficient. He wants every hearer to feel “I am one of the guilty ones for whom He suffered and died.” He wants them through faith to know that their sins are put away for Jesus’ sake. Oh, yes, let them believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world and let them acknowledge Him then as their Lord and their Redeemer! That’s why John preaches; that’s why Peter and Andrew preached; that’s why Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the gospel; that’s why Augustine and Chrysostom lifted up Christ. That’s why a Bernard and a Luther, a Calvin and a Knox, a Wesley and a Whitefield, a Moody and a Billy Graham, and a host of other evangelists and preachers and witnesses all herald Jesus – so that you who hear the Word now may believe.

But now notice this, reading at verse 35 in John, chapter 1, “The next day again, John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked and said, `Behold, the Lamb of God.’” There was the same message again, but do you know what happened when he preached it again on that day? Listen! “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” They went and stayed with Him. They had formerly been John’s own disciples. They had been staying with him. But then they heard what he said about Jesus, and everything changed. And that was the way John wanted it to be.

Now here’s a test for all who preach, for all pastors and soul winners. We all tend, in the course of our work, to attract a kind of following. Because we preach the gospel, some people tend to admire us. They like our preaching, perhaps, and praise us for it. They become our special boosters. Perhaps some of them even talk to others about what great preachers and great Christians we are. And there are few of us who don’t feel a ripple of pleasure at all that. John must have been vulnerable to that too, but if he was, we see no sign of it. Do you know what John’s objective was? So to speak to the people who followed him that they would follow Jesus only. So to witness and live before those who had gathered around him as his admirers and supporters, that their one great desire in life would be rather to abide in Jesus, to seek His presence and His fellowship. I know, even as I say that, how much easier it is to talk about it than to do it. But that’s what faithful preachers seek to do.

I talked not long ago to a young man who, together with his family, is trying to start a new church on the outskirts of a major city. It’s somewhat daunting to him that there are already a number of strong churches there. Some of them have renowned preachers. Several have lay people with considerable clout and affluence. My young friend testifies to a feeling of powerlessness at times. The little group he is seeking to call together has no prestige, no standing. They don’t have a building or an elaborate program. All he has to offer people is Christ and the opportunity to follow Him in a caring fellowship. But he has a hunch that this powerlessness may be his greatest strength. After all, the only worthwhile goal for a Christian preacher is to get people to Jesus. All our ministries are meant to keep on saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

PRAYER: Father, may everyone sharing this broadcast today look upon Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and may each one beholding Him, believe. In Jesus’ name. Amen.