Look At Jesus

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

I have vivid memories of this past year’s presidential debates in the USA. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the faces of the three candidates. I can remember a good deal of what they said. One thing especially came back to me as I was preparing this message. I recalled how each candidate was seeking to focus attention upon himself. Sometimes it was by comparing himself favorably with the others. Sometimes it was by appealing to his record, his abilities, his character. Each was saying, in effect, “Look at me. I’m the best one for the job.”

I’m not putting the candidates down for that. It’s a part of the political process. They were endeavoring to sell themselves to the American people. Each was putting himself forward, pleading his own cause. A candidate has to do a certain amount of that, I suppose, in order to be elected.

But as I read about John the Baptist in the Gospel according to John, chapter 1, beginning at verse 19, I saw a man doing something totally different. Listen, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” They said to him then, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Now they that had been sent were from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “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.” This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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

DON’T LOOK AT ME!

John the Baptist had become quite famous for his own remarkable ministry. People came from all the surrounding area to hear this man speak. He was a popular sensation. But when an official delegation came from Jerusalem to inquire about him, he consistently tried to divert attention from himself. When they wondered if he might be the long-promised Messiah. John didn’t leave them in any doubt. “I am not the Christ.” Could he be the returning Elijah? Not a chance. Was he the prophet like Moses? No, not that either. The most he would say about himself was that he was “a voice crying in the wilderness.” He was someone preparing the way for Another. The One coming after John was a person so worthy and great that John confessed himself unfit to loosen his sandals. John was preparing the way of the Lord. He was in the world to testify to the majesty and mercy of someone else. The steady goal of John’s life was to say clearly to his generation, “Look at Jesus.”

So on the day after the delegation had arrived, when John saw Jesus coming toward him, he said for all to hear, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” It was as though he had said, “Look, everyone, there He is. Fix your attention on Him.”

That must have been disappointing for the people who had come to hear John, for those who had high hopes for his ministry. It was as though one of the candidates in the presidential debate had suddenly said, “I’m not the one to lead this country. I’m not the man of destiny for this hour. You should rather vote for this other candidate. He is far more worthy than I. Don’t pay attention to me. Elect him!”

THE LAMB OF GOD

Notice what John said about Jesus. He called Him “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” What do you suppose that meant to the people who first heard it? Did “the Lamb of God” mean the lamb that belonged to God or the lamb provided by God? Probably they would have thought the latter. Prominent in Israel’s history was the experience of Abraham when he was called to offer up his son Isaac. In those poignant moments when father and son walked toward the mountain, Isaac had asked, “Where is the lamb?” Abraham had answered cryptically, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8). John the Baptist was saying now, “The Lamb that God provides is Jesus.”

Lambs were important in the Jewish system of sacrificial offerings. What was required for many of these was a lamb “without spot and without blemish.” This lamb, to be sacrificed for the transgressions of the people, became a kind of substitute for their forfeited lives. Now John is saying something new: Jesus is the reality which those sacrificial animals foreshadowed. He is the substance, the fulfillment, the true sin-bearer.

Isaiah had seen the suffering servant of the Lord as “a lamb that is led to the slaughter,” and “like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb” (Isa. 53:7). All we like sheep have gone astray,” he adds. “We have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him [on the blameless lamb] the iniquity of us all” (53:6).

John is here identifying Jesus with Isaiah’s suffering servant. He’s pointing to him as the Savior, the Sinless One who is to die for the offenses of the people. Jesus will suffer in His own person the stroke of judgment which our sins deserve. And what He does will be marvelously effective. His life, His ministry, His sufferings, His death will remove the sin of the world, will nullify it, cancel it, bear it away.

How does John know this? He testifies that he has seen the Spirit coming upon Jesus. Listen to John’s witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 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.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

John had baptized Jesus. He had been puzzled as to why this should be necessary. He had said to Jesus, “I should be baptized by You.” But the Lord had said, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). John realized that Jesus was undergoing a sinner’s baptism not for Himself, but for His people. He was deliberately taking upon Himself the responsibility for our evils. And as John saw the Spirit descending, it became clear to him that this Jesus was the One to whom he had been sent to bear witness. Jesus was the Lord whose way he was preparing; He was indeed the Son of God.

John knew, then, that Jesus was Israel’s long-awaited Savior. In Him all the promises were to be fulfilled. He was the king coming to reign and also the redeemer coming to give Himself for His own. Whoever would look toward Him with a believing heart would be freed from sin’s burden, forgiven, accepted, released. In this One whom God had provided was salvation, full and free.

Was John’s witness effective? Was he successful in focusing attention on Jesus, the Lamb of God? Yes. Listen to the record, beginning in verse 35:

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!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

They listened to John’s words. They looked in the direction he was pointing. They believed his witness that Jesus was God’s appointed Savior and they followed Him.

This was the success John was looking for. This meant that his mission had been accomplished. He could turn the attention of those who came to him toward Jesus, the One he represented. When John spoke, people looked toward the Lord and became His followers. It was later said about John that he did no miracles, no mighty works, but that everything he had said about Jesus was true.

That’s the worthiest ambition, it seems to me, a Christian witness, a preacher of the gospel, can possibly have. Heralds of Christ are not in the world to make a reputation for themselves. In fact, if people hear them and go away impressed with their abilities, their personalities, their brilliance, their charisma, the preachers have actually failed. They have diverted attention from the One whom they profess to serve. The Scotch theologian James Denney once said that “no man can at one and the same time give the impression that he is clever and that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.” Blessed are those who like John attach others not to themselves but to Christ. When they speak, others are led to follow Jesus.

The question for all of us is: Have we listened to John? Have we taken his advice? Have we focused our attention in life on Jesus Christ and seen Him as God’s Lamb, God’s appointed Savior?

LOOK AT HIM

It’s not a difficult, complicated thing that we’re asked to do. It’s simply a matter of beholding Jesus, of looking in His direction, of turning our attention toward Him. Charles Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, has told again and again the story of his conversion. He went into a small church where a man with very limited education was preaching. The pastor’s text was Isaiah 45:22, “Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none other.” The preacher didn’t have a great deal to say about the passage. He simply kept repeating it. He told his hearers that all they needed to do was look. He tried to picture before them that day Jesus dying on a cross for their sins and then the preacher kept saying, “Look! Look! Look!”

Spurgeon tells us how that day he was moved to look. Faith was born in his heart. He realized that Jesus was God’s appointed Lamb sent to take away the sins of the world. He realized that Jesus, crucified for the guilt of the whole world, was dying for him, Charles Spurgeon. He looked toward Jesus with a believing heart, expecting salvation from Him alone. And he walked out of the worship service a new man. He knew from that day forward that his sins were forgiven and that he was God’s beloved child.

Something like that could happen for you today. Just as the preacher in Spurgeon’s day was echoing the words of Isaiah, so I’m trying to pass on to you the words of John the Baptist. I’m one of those who has looked toward Jesus, who has believed in Him, and who has experienced His forgiving love and saving power. So now I’m one of those voices crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” I’m one of those preachers trying to point others to Jesus, trying to get people to fix their attention on Him, to put their trust in Him. I’m echoing John’s word, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” The preacher is a finger pointing, a voice proclaiming, “Behold!” There he is, we say, believe in Him, look to Him, and live. May God bless you as you do.