We’re continuing our conversation on the book of John. Today we’re talking about John the Baptist, and this moment that he introduces Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Think about a close friend or someone you have known for a long time. Or your spouse (if you have good things to say).
Don’t name that person, but instead just talk about this:
Was your first impression of that person correct or incorrect?
How did your first impression impact the course of your relationship?
Today we are continuing our conversation through the book of John.
John, an apostle, a disciple of Jesus, states his objective at the end of his letter, the latest of all four gospels:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Last week we talked about the foundations that John lays out in just the first few verses of his writing.
God is. That is, He exists. He created all things. Jesus is God but is still distinctly Jesus. Relationship with Jesus transforms our life. He’s a light shining in darkness.
The objective of John’s writing is that whoever would read it would see stories of who Jesus really was and believe that He is the Messiah and have life in Him. We ended last week with these two questions:
What do you need in order to live out John’s objectives?
What is your part in living out John’s objectives?
We walked just a few inches into the text last week and this week we are going a few more. We’ll be in this study for quite some time. We really encourage you to approach each week not as a set of answers to get to but as another step in the process of learning. Keep revisiting questions that don’t have answers. Wrestle with doubts.
It’s pretty easy to focus on what the gospels tell us “to do” because there are actually a lot of commandment-type statements all throughout. 1,070 direct commandments in the New Testament alone.
Things like “let your light shine.”
Put off the old man.
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Seek first the kingdom of God.
All of these kinds of things that say, “Know this. Believe this. Do this.” And with how many commands we see, we can just do it without actually processing what it means. It’s a bit like the moment that I overload my daughter with all kinds of commands and things she needs to remember, and she does them because I’m her dad and told her to, but she doesn’t necessarily understand why she’s doing them.
But belief in Jesus, and understanding that He is the Messiah, and having life through Him, can’t be forced through knowledge but has to be arrived at through process, through asking questions when we don’t understand something.
So our goal is not to give you all the answers, but rather to process the things that John’s writing points out as vitally important.
How do you approach meeting someone for the first time?
What are some positive and negative aspects of putting confidence in a first impression?
Just for clarity, there are two Johns in this story (and three others in the New Testament, just to make things complicated). John the apostle was a disciple of Jesus, someone who spent every day with Jesus for three years, and he introduces us to John the Baptist. John the Baptist wore clothing made of camel’s hair. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild honey. He spent a lot of his time in the wilderness and people came to him to confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River. Crazy.
And as we get deeper into this, remember the picture of light from verse 5 that we talked about last week, and how the light is shining into the darkness.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
Okay. So John the Baptist was sent from God to be someone who could testify about this “God light.” Okay got it. Then things get even crazier.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1: 9-14
So John came to testify that the light of God was actually Jesus, and through believing that He is actually the Messiah, we are given this crazy right to become children of God. The religious authorities went crazy over this, because the true children of God in their eyes and experience were just the Israelites, and here John is making a blanket statement about ALL who did receive Him and believe in Him.
Another encouragement: our learning process and growing process is never-ending. And we’re at a point in history where we have all the information we could ever hope for about Scripture and faith and Greek word meanings at our fingertips. It’s up to us to step into that. Relationship is a process over time, and let this be a season where you continue to pursue relationship over time with God through learning.
Learning who John the apostle was is crucial to understanding this writing. He was someone who spent every day for three years with Jesus and then lived for decades as a follower of Jesus after Jesus’ resurrection.
Understanding John the Baptist’s role in this story is important. Learning who Jesus was (and is) is also crucial to understanding this writing.
Think again about first impressions. If you haven’t ever read Scripture before, I encourage you to read the book of John and take note of your first impressions. Of John the writer, of John the Baptist, of Jesus, of others. If you have read this, imagine being introduced to this writing for the first time. What is your first impression of them?
You can meet someone without any preconceived notions beforehand. Or you can be introduced by someone else and it might impact some of your views or your experience of that person.
How does an introduction or vetting by a trusted friend impact a first impression?
When Jews from Jerusalem sent a group of priests and officials to ask John who he was, he was completely honest. He didn’t evade the question. He told the plain truth.
“I am not the Messiah.”
They pressed him, “Who, then? Elijah?”
“I am not.”
Exasperated, they said, “Who, then? We need an answer for those who sent us. Tell us something—anything!—about yourself.”
“I’m thunder in the desert: ‘Make the road straight for God!’ I’m doing what the prophet Isaiah preached.”
Another version has John proclaiming that he is the "lone voice in the wilderness.”
John the Baptist is often viewed as the earliest example of an evangelist--someone who is unashamedly preparing the way for Jesus to be known. It’s with an understanding of John the Baptist that we can dive into this next moment where John sees Jesus.
The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, “Here He is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ I knew nothing about who He was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize Him as the God-Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”
John the Baptist would have been speaking to a Jewish audience. There was a lot of shared understanding and culture on display at this moment. It’d be similar to you hanging out with your work friends and using language only the people at your work would understand, or an inside joke with a group of friends.
There are some significant phrases here. The Passover lamb. The Messiah. John is making a pretty enormous claim about Jesus, and this claim can only be seen fully in light of the Old Testament and specifically, animal sacrifice.
Why do you think animal sacrifice has been fundamental to ancient religions? What does that say about people’s perception of God?
One line of thought in history is that the gods are angry with me, so to appease them I’ll sacrifice this animal. Because...the gods like dead things?
Within Christianity, we see Jesus and his sacrifice, and it’s easy for us to lay this archetype over his story--an angry God who killed Himself so that we don’t have to go to a bad place after we die.
But that’s not what the Israelites would have seen. Passover is (still) one of the most foundational holidays in the Jewish calendar. It is a celebration of freedom from the oppression and slavery that the people of Israel faced in Egypt.
In the first Passover, a lamb was sacrificed and its blood was applied to the doorposts of all the homes of the Israelites. The angel of the Lord came and passed by the houses of the Israelites but went to the homes of the Egyptians and killed all their firstborn children. There’s much more to this story in the book of Exodus; I encourage you to take some time to read it all for yourself. This was the final plague brought among Egypt to free the Israelites from this slavery.
The blood and sacrifice were symbolic to show who God's chosen people were. It was about identity, not about appeasing an angry God. It’s through this lens that John sees Jesus and declares Him to be the Passover lamb.
How does the Passover narrative give clarity to Jesus as the Passover lamb?
We bring Bloom’s Taxonomy up periodically. There are many degrees of learning. Remembering, understanding, and applying are levels of learning that can be external, or done to us. But to get to the higher levels of learning we have to be willing to engage in the process and take part in things that can’t be done to us--things we have to choose. Analyzing. Evaluating. Creating. The hard work of learning.
This is where John is inviting us.
Not just to remember that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Not just to understand what John meant.
Not just to have simple applications as to what to do with this knowledge.
But John is beckoning us to really analyze and evaluate what Jesus as the Lamb of God means. And to create something, to make it our own. It’s in this process that deepening of relationship with Jesus takes place.
Think for a moment about sacrifice. Think about it with a spouse, family member, co-worker, neighbor, friend or acquaintance. What is the value of sacrifice? The risk?
How is sacrifice a part of a healthy relationship?
Now take it a step further and think about sacrifice in terms of relationship with God.
How is sacrifice a part of a healthy relationship with God?
God has done his part in sacrifice. What is our part?
Paul seemed to understand.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Read the story of the woman anointing Jesus at dinner in Luke 7:36-50. This woman was known as a sinful woman. She had interactions with Jesus and it changed her, and the only thing she could do was bring a jar of expensive perfume and anoint Jesus with it. There’s a lot of complexity, but Jesus makes the point that whoever has been forgiven of much sin and understands it will be greatly thankful and will love much.
Everyone else in the room didn’t really get it though.
As John sees Jesus come around the corner and says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”, there were likely many who didn’t get it.
We want to see clearly what Jesus has done. We want to be able to understand and learn and grow.
What is your internal and external response to being introduced to someone that sacrifices for a relationship with you?
What is your internal and external response to John’s introduction: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”?
Take It Deeper Questions
Read John 1:6-34
Who has set you up for success in your life? How did they do it? Why did they do it?
These titles have been given to Jesus so far: The Word, The Christ, The Lamb of God, The Son of God. What is the significance of each of these? Which means the most to you now, and why?
How would you explain Jesus’ coming to forgive sins to a 10 year old?
How do you personally understand Jesus’ coming to forgive sins now? What questions do you have? What do you need to process more? What is clear(er) now?
Bible Reading Plan