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Let’s pray. Oh, great God, give us now eyes and ears that we may hear your word and see your Son. Be gracious to us and bless us. Help us to listen and understand, to trust and obey, to see and to savor Christ. We want to know Him who is before all ages, world without end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
We turn this morning to John, Chapter 1, the Gospel according to John, Chapter 1, verses 29 through 34. John Chapter 1.
“The next day, he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! This is he of whom I said ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, 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.”
Last week we say John the Baptist introduce himself. This week we see him introduce Jesus. And I hope you can see even at a moment’s notice just how striking the difference is. John introduces himself with great meekness and humility. He introduces Jesus as one who demands all our attention. And it should be that you would introduce someone else better than you would introduce yourself. It’s never a good sign if you save the best, longest, most lavish introductions for yourself. Well, enough of me talking about me, why don’t you talk about me? Uh, no. Husbands, I hope we’d be able to give a much better introduction of our wives than we would give ourselves. I hope you have at a moment’s notice a list of all the things or many of the things you love about your wife and you could give a fabulous introduction, the kind that embarrasses her and leaves her in the back, saying “oh, stop, stop.”
I remember several years ago at a family dinner, and there were extended family and a number of us around, I, just trying to exercise some leadership, and I thought it was a God idea, and I said “men, why don’t we all go around the table and why don’t we just share one thing that we love about our wives? I’ll go first.” And so I said something and I’m sure it was very fantastic to talk about Trisha, and then it got to another one of my relatives who shall remain nameless. He really is a very, very fine Christian man, but for some reason he just did not like this game at all. And so he refused to play. And he said “I’m not saying anything.” We all sort of smiled and laughed and then the laughter turned to awkward “you better say something,” and as his wife went “ha ha ha something,” and as Trisha’s mom began to say “you do have something, don’t you?” And it turned out he had nothing! He did, to his credit, he may listen to this somewhere, someday, I think he just didn’t appreciate that I was putting everyone on the spot to say, and I don’t know what sort of pastoral counseling they needed to receive after that incident, but it was a lesson for all of us. You ought to have a list, men, three things, five things, 37 things, a list that you can introduce your wives with great, spectacular fanfare and when called upon have something to say.
John introduced Jesus in quite a different way than he introduced himself. And I wonder how the conversation would go if someone came to you today and said “Hey, nice to meet you. Tell me about yourself.” Would you say, “Oh, well, how long do you have?” And what would happen conversely if you were sitting there on the plane, and I know you’re on the plane and your supposed to be praying “Lord, give me an open door to share the gospel.” I’ve prayed that sometimes, and other times I pray “Could I please have no one sit by me? Please, please, please, please, please” and go to sleep. But what if that person on the plane turned to you and said, “Excuse me, do you have a moment? Can you tell me who Jesus is?” Would you have something to say? Would your conversation last more than 30 seconds? I hope so.
The difference between John’s self-introduction and his Jesus introduction is striking. When this delegation from Jerusalem comes to John and says, “Tell us, we need to know who you are,” he says, “Well, I’ll start out by telling you I’m not the Christ. Point number two, I’m not Elijah. Point number three, I’m not the prophet.” “Okay, we need to know.” “All right. If you must know, if I have to say something about myself, because I don’t want to say anything about myself, I will tell you who I am. I am a voice.” That’s all they can wring out of him.
But, oh how things change when he gets the opportunity to introduce Jesus.
I want us to focus on three words in John’s introduction. First, in verse 29, the word “behold,” and then in verse 30 the word “before,” and then in verse 33 the word “baptize.” Isn’t it nice when right there in the text are three “B” words? Behold, before, and baptize.
So first, as we look at John’s introduction of Jesus, we look at verse 29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Now this is the first time we have Jesus in the movie frame. If this were something, a visual performance, we had a prologue and the music would be starting off very slow and it would be swelling and we’d have some sort of artistic representation of all that we’ve seen about Jesus, the Word, eternal, made flesh, grace, truth, glory. So we’ve heard a lot about Jesus, but we haven’t seen him yet. And then we had the testimony of John and again he’s referencing to this one who will come, but now if we were watching this unfold on the big screen, for the first time we actually see Jesus of Nazareth. We haven’t yet heard from him, that will come next week, but we see him there on the screen, the next day.
So the first day was them coming to John: “Who are you?” Now this is day two, Jesus comes to him. “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
You can read the commentaries and see how they go into great detail and discussion about what this can and can’t mean. You can read all the options. Is this a reference to the guilt offering? Or the Passover lamb? Or the lamb led to the slaughter? Or the servant of the Lord in Isaiah? Or the lamb of the daily sacrifices in Numbers? Or the gentle lamb of Jeremiah 11? Or the scapegoat of Leviticus 16? Or the triumphant lamb of the apocalypse? Or the lamb of Genesis 22? Or the warrior lamb of intertestamental Jewish writings? On and on, you can read all the pros and cons. But I think the simplest explanation seems to me to be the best.
If you were here in March when I preached my candidating sermon on Leviticus, yes, it was on Leviticus and I did have a number of you say to me afterward “I thought you didn’t want the job.” It was on Leviticus. We looked there at the burnt offering and all of the occasions in which you would offer the burnt offering, morning and evening sacrifices, and then anytime there was ritual uncleanness with a man or with a woman, every time a child was born, every time there was a skin disease or the disease cleared up, and then special offerings on the Sabbath and then the new moon, and the annual festivals… All the time, day by day, and then if ever there wasn’t a sacrifice to come, the priests were instructed that they would keep the fire burning on the altar continually. For centuries and centuries this altar had been lit. The lambs had been sacrificed. The smell of the blood, the mangled flesh in their sight, the bleating of the sheep as it breathed it’s last. Surely then, the imagery here was not lost on anyone.
When Jesus comes… Remember, he didn’t have a halo, wasn’t wearing golden robes, he just looks to be another Middle Eastern, 1st century Jewish man. Then John says about him, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”
I think the meaning would not have been lost on anyone. Now they were not expecting it. They did not fully understand it. But they would have grasped “John thinks this man is a sacrifice.” That’s what the Lamb of God was. Isaiah 53:7, this prediction of the suffering servant: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
The very first thing as he enters the movie frame that is said about this Jesus is he is going to be slaughtered. A lamb. The lamb, we read in verse 29, who takes away the sin of the world. It would be hard-pressed to do better than that to summarize, in a verse, the work of Jesus Christ. He takes away the sin of the world.
Remember the song you learned in Sunday School, “deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide,” and then you mixed it up, “wide and deep,” and then you had to do how fast you could do, “deep and wide, deep and wide,” and you’re hitting people, and you’re, whoo. I love that song. The only other song that was more fun was the “hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah, praise ye” because you got to remember the time you do “praise ye the Lord” twice, don’t sit down or you’re going to look silly when that happens.
“Deep and wide.” This one verse gives us the depth and the width of Jesus’ ministry. What he accomplished, the depth, down to the most intractable problem in all of human existence, that is, our sin. He takes away that sin, removes it as far as the east is from the west. That’s the depth and the width. The world.
Now you need to know that John uses the world, cosmos, he uses this word in at least a couple of different ways. It can be used with reference to the universality of sin, or to the universality of grace. So sometimes it’s the universality of sin. So the world is the wicked place where sinners dwell. God so loved the world, that place where darkness is competing with the light. The world, the place of sin and darkness.
Other times it’s a reference to the universality of grace, like it is here: “He takes away the sin of the world.” Now don’t get hung up on that. People say, “Well, the sin of the world, so every single person has had their sins removed in the world?” We know that’s not true, because we’ve already seen in the prologue that the world did not know him. So the world, the sin, the flesh, and the devil, did not know him, but he came that he might love the world and take away the sin of the world.
So this use of the word “world” means people without distinction. It does not mean people without exception. That’s how you understand it. People without distinction, meaning people everywhere, Jew, gentile, people all over, without distinction. It doesn’t say, “Well, I came for that tribe, but not that one, and those people, but not people like you. You’re kinda dirty, you’re too tall, you’re too short.” People without distinction. But it does not mean people without exception, because we’ve already seen that some will not believe. Some will remain in the darkness. He takes away the sin, not of every human being who ever is, will, or shall be, but of people from every tribe, tongue, language, and nation. The sin of the world. The Lamb of God.
For most of us, this designation is so familiar, it’s lost its gravitas. You have to remember, this was not the messiah they were looking for. They had messianic expectations. They were looking for a king, somebody to get the Romans off their back. But they weren’t expecting a messiah, a Christ, to come and to die? Maybe a lion of the tribe of Judah, we can get behind that. But a lamb? Led to the slaughter? It didn’t make sense. It would be like if you were engaged in a battle and all your generals were failing, but there was a prediction that there was a general to come who would lead you to great victory and he would vanquish all of your foes, and you would ride him off into the light, and all would be well, and you’re awaiting this general. And finally, when he appears on the scene, one of the colonels says, “Behold, God’s cannon fodder, who takes away the scourge of our enemies.” You say, “No, no, wait a second. You have that all backwards. We’ve been waiting for someone to fight our battles, waiting for someone to wage our war. We’ve been waiting for a general, and you call him cannon fodder? A sort of euphemism for somebody who’s just going to get the brunt of the enemy’s attack, he’s just here today and gone tomorrow, just blitzed by the enemy’s fire. That’s the one we’ve been waiting for? I don’t think so.”
Make sure you know what sort of animal Jesus is. He’s a lion, he reigns, he roars. He’s not a safe, tame lion. And he’s a lamb, a sacrifice. Nowhere in scripture does it say he’s a puppy dog. Okay?
Now, nothing against puppy dogs. I did have one pastor who was telling me one time he was going on and on about how much better dogs were than cats, and boo cats, and yay dogs, and then he said someone came up to him afterwards and said, “But pastor, it doesn’t say that Jesus was a dog of the tribe of Judah, hmm? He was a lion. He’s a cat. A big cat, but a cat.” Okay, so just, okay, all you cat people.
Some of think Jesus is just a, you know, just a big, bounding Golden Retriever, and all he does is just come up to the side of us and just “huh huh huh huh, what can I do for you today, master? How can I help you today? Oh, I’m so glad that you’ve come and you’ve thrown the ball to me. I’m just so glad that you’re here to pray to me. And look, you’re all at church. I’m just so happy.” Just a bounding, Golden Retriever.
Or he’s just a show horse, and we just, “Look, there he is, in all of his regal glory” and “there is he is” and we just do a little clap and look at him, “oh, how wonderful.”
No, no. Let the imagery sink in. A lamb. Now we think of a lamb, we’ve got the little, you know, the little cutout from our Sunday School class, and we’ve got a little stuffed animal, and we think of a little soft thing. These are mangy, dirty, to be eaten or killed, or sheared. That’s what they were used for. A sacrifice. One who would die. One who would suffer.
You do realize we are meant to read the gospels backwards. We’re meant to understand who Jesus is always in light of the cross. That’s why even at the nativity in Matthew Chapter 1, the angel says “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” If the Jesus you proclaim is not first of all the Jesus who takes away sin, then you do not understand the Jesus of the Bible.
I came across this not too long ago on a church website. Not a well-known church, but you can tell a lot about a church from what they put on their website. And this was in some of their beliefs. It said “What do you believe about Jesus? Jesus centers our church,” it said,” as a community. In the flesh and blood life and teachings of Jesus, we find a better way to be human. We believe Jesus to be historical, human and divine. In Jesus we seen an embodiment of God that is unlike any other. In his humanity we see a version of what God longs for us to become. Fully loving, fully integrated, fully loved by God and empowered to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.” I thought, “you got human and divine, that’s good. Missing quite a bit. Let’s see where this goes.”
Next question: “What do you believe about Christ?” It says “Our church is considered a Christo-Centric community. Throughout the New Testament, Christ was spoken of as the mystery, the divine spirit, power or inspiration fueling and empowering the church. For some New Testament writers, Christ was the force of life and compassion,” (Start to get some yellow flags when you use Star Wars terms), “mercy and justice that had always been permeating all living things in the universe from the beginning to end, holding all of creation together. We begin with a belief of Christ as the spirit that we invite to sit at the center of our community and our lives.”
And all God’s people said “huh?”
That’s what you want to say about Jesus Christ? Permeating all living things, force of life and compassion, the center of your community? There may be some true statements there, but they’re surrounded by so much spiritual pablum as to make the whole thing untrue. And what’s missing, of course, and I hope you spot it if you were looking for a church somewhere, there’s nothing about Christ as the sacrifice for sin. Yes, that may be offensive, but that is the offense of the gospel.
We’re not trying to be offensive. Some of us need to, you know, put a backseat to all of the ways in which we like to offend people, but that is the offense, always will be, always has been, the scandal and offense of the gospel.
You may have heard that quip from a hundred years ago, I forget which one of the Niebuhr theologians said it about Protestant liberalism, defined it as “a God without wrath brought a people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross.” That’s what passes for good news too often these days.
You do not now Jesus as John the Baptist knew Jesus unless you know him as one chief in his work, who takes away sin. Do you understand what sort of savior Jesus is? Or let me put it another way: Do you understand what sort of savior you need? Yeah, Jesus is an example, but if that’s all Jesus is, let’s pack it in. What, what, who’s going to live up to the example of Jesus? That’s all you have with your Jesus? A life force, an example, a centering agent?
He takes away sin. And you need to think, was John the Baptist right or not? Is this who Jesus is? Is this the savior I need, because if John was right, then your biggest problem and my biggest problem, it’s not your lack of education, it’s not the politics, whether you got the right people or the wrong people in there, it’s not your challenging circumstances. Your biggest problem and my biggest problem is the same: Sin. We’re sinners. And we need a savior.
Surely it is significant that the first thing John the Baptist says about Jesus in his public ministry is that “he is a lamb.” Think about the two designations that have been leading the way so far. First, he is the Word, speaking of Christ as revelation, and now we hear he is a lamb, Christ as our redemption. Do you know who Jesus is? Do you know what kind of savior you need? You need this savior. Not just you need church, you need people to help you be better, you need a place to belong in the community, you need to find friends, you need people in town to think that you’re a respectable person. We need a savior for sins.
Good news. You have one in Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
And then you see the next “B” word, the second word: Before. This is now the third time that John the Baptist has made clear that he is going to take a backseat to Jesus. Verse 15: “John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'” And then verse 27: “He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie,” and now again in verse 30, he says “after me comes a man who ranks before me because he was before me.”
John the Baptist was older than Jesus by a few months. He came on the scene prior to Jesus. So it may have seemed as if John was before Jesus in terms of earthly significance and chronology. At this point, John has a large following. He has people coming out to him. He’s attracted a lot of attention, and Jesus has yet to really the scene, so you would be forgiven for thinking that, um, you know, John the Baptist seems to be the important one here. But that’s not the case.
John says now for the third time, “he who was before me is before me.” Now, did John understand all of the Christology that the apostle John would later write in the prologue, “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Now I don’t know if John the Baptist understood all of that, but he understood enough. He understood enough to know that this is not an ordinary man who has come on the scene. He is the eternal, pre-existent Word made flesh as we know.
See, this is not John just kind of feigning humility, just doing the, you know, “Who me? Aw, shucks” kind of routine. He said this is not an ordinary man. This is the one you’ve been waiting for. He was not just a special man or an important prophet. John, remember, John understood himself to be what? A voice. And he quotes from Isaiah 40: “A voice crying in the wilderness, prepare the way for” whom? “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
So, put two and two together. If John is a voice preparing the way for the Lord, John’s the voice, who does that make Jesus? Well, he’s the Lord. He’s Yahweh, come in human flesh, the long-awaited king and messiah, the suffering servant.
So, what does it mean to say Jesus is before you? You don’t have to go around saying, you know, “Oh, I’m no good, I’m worthless, I’m just a failure.” That’s not what John does. That’s not what humility means. Humility doesn’t mean you go around and you just tell people all the time how bad you are. You know that that actually does? That actually draws attention to yourself and then everyone else has to say “no, no, no, it’s okay, you’re not so bad.”
Humility is drawing attention away from yourself to another. That’s what John does and that’s what all of us should do when it comes to Jesus. He, Jesus, is the important one, not me. Keep this in mind in your evangelism. It’s wonderful to share your testimony. Some of you have boring testimonies like me and we praise God for boring testimonies. We want all of our kids to have boring testimonies, don’t we? “I never knew a day when I didn’t know of Jesus.” And some of you have different testimonies, of going through periods of rebellion, or learning of Christ when you were an adult and coming to him in some dramatic fashion. However you tell your story, I hope you tell the story so that ultimately it’s not about you. You know, because if you just say, “Well, you asked me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.” Well, that’s good for Jesus to live in your heart. Buddhists can say Buddha lives in their heart, and Hindus can say Krisha lives in their heart… You need to have a better reason than just he means a lot to you.
This Jesus is more than just one who makes us feel better and gives us purpose. This is the objective Jesus of history, the one who came, how was born, who lived, who taught, who worked miracles, who died, who rose, who ascended and now reigns. And so in your evangelism, as much as you tell your story, what you really want to get to is to tell his story. “I want to tell you about Jesus.” And isn’t that freeing? You’re not trying to sell anything. You’re not trying to twist somebody’s arm. “You need Jesus, right? Right? Right? Right? Right? Do I hear 5, 5, 20, 25, 30, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, you want Jesus.” You don’t have to do that. You’re not an auctioneer. You say, “let me tell you about him.”
And keep this in mind in your controversies, because you’re bound to talk with people, non-Christian friends, maybe someone with you this morning, maybe someone who does go to church but you have some real strong differences of opinion on some of these controversies. And when it comes to talking about heaven or hell or marriage or could Jesus be the only, all these sort of things, just remember what you’re really talking about at the end of the day, is Jesus. Who was Jesus? What did Jesus say? What did Jesus teach in his word? What does this word, which is the revelation of Jesus put into scripture, what does it say? We’re not trying to win people ultimately to a certain view of marriage, we’re trying to win people by the Spirit to Christ. And then as they follow Christ and know him as savior and Lord and treasure, then they see how they need to submit theirselves to him.
Keep this in mind as you think about your own place in the world, and my own place in the world. We’re grass. You walk through a cemetery sometimes and it could be depressing, but it also can be salutary. And you look and you see people and their lives get represented with a dash. Birth, death, dash. And maybe their lives continue to live on through family and friends and tell their stories, and over time it fades. You know what lasts? Jesus lasts. You want your live to last? Speak of Jesus, pray to Jesus, proclaim Jesus, sing of Jesus, share Jesus.
John the Baptist is smarter than any of us, because he knows what lasts. He knows who matters. He knows what counts. “I may be older, I may have more of a following,” he says, “but let me tell you who ranks before me: It’s this one. And my whole life is to point to him.”
That is a life that will ultimately in heaven never be forgotten. That’s why Jesus can say that among those born of women, there is no one greater than John the Baptist. No one greater than John the Baptist because he spent his whole life to point to another.
And then we come to the last word—baptize. John has this strange word in verse 31. He says “I myself did not know him.” And you think, “John, how could you not know Jesus? You’re relatives, you’ve grown up together, you’ve seen each other. You don’t him?” Well, he doesn’t mean I’ve never met him. He means “until his baptism, and the signs at his baptism, I didn’t fully know, I didn’t really get who this was.” That’s why he says, in verse 31, “but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” Think about that. John has been doing this amazing ministry, calling people to repentance, baptizing, drawing a following, and he says “You know what? The whole point of all of this was to reveal Jesus. This whole ministry was for this moment, when Jesus would be baptized to fulfill all righteousness.”
We tend to skip past the baptism of Jesus. We do a lot—Christmas/his birth, and we know some of his teachings, and of course we do Good Friday and Easter, but his baptism doesn’t loom as large in our thinking, but it does in the gospels. It’s mentioned in all four gospels. We see the significance in Acts chapter 1 when they are looking for someone to replace Judas: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from among us, one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” They said we want someone who was with us from the very beginning, from the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist all the way now to his resurrection. That’s how significant his baptism is.
There were three attendant signs at his baptism. The sky was torn, the Spirit came down as a dove, and a voice spoke from heaven. Now here we have focus on the second of those: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend,” verse 33, “and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” So the Spirit came down in form of a dove. Why a dove? That’s what the other gospels record. Now there is some evidence that the Jews in the first century understood the nation of Israel as a dove, so it could be a reference somehow to their status as a nation, or it could be a reference to Noah’s dove. Or it could harken back to the Spirit hovering the waters at creation, brooding there like a bird. Or maybe all three possibilities come together, because they all suggest the same thing—newness. Jesus is constituting a new Israel, he is a new Noah come to save the world in sin, he is a new Adam ushering in a new creation. So the dove, very familiar to us now as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, probably struck them as a symbol of something new.
All four gospels want to emphasize there is a new day that has dawned now with the coming of Christ. A new era of salvation history. Just like you would say, you know, with a new president, it’s a new day, or a new coach. There’s a new regime here. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the story of the world turned a page, you could actually say turned to a new book at the coming of Christ when Jesus of Nazareth came on the scene. Jesus—just a man with another ordinary Jewish name, just a man. You know they’ve done some research of bones from first century men around that time and sort of they do all the scientific analysis and they estimate that an average Jewish man in the first century would have been 5 foot 1. Of course, people were much smaller then. So, you’re just picturing a 5 foot 1, dark-complected, dark hair, no doubt a beard, man named Jesus from a little Podunk town of Nazareth, coming on the scene and at his baptism, the sky opens and a dove, the Spirit comes, and a voice speaks from heaven. John says the Spirit remained on him, not because he was lacking in anything, but to show now that we have entered a new age, the age of the Spirit. John says “I baptize with water, it’s a sign. He does the real thing.”
Here’s how John Piper puts it: “Baptizing with the Spirit and baptizing with water is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. It’s the difference between a person and a painting. Between a marriage and a ring. Between a birth and birth certificate. Between immersion in water and immersion in God.”
Baptism by Spirit speaks of Christ’s sin-removing power. Not just a sign, not just a symbol, not just an example, not just a rallying point, but real power.
I’m sure all of you have seen that the American flag has been in the news a lot, and right now I got everyone’s attention. You were drifting away and now you’re uh uh uh uh uhmmm. Well, I don’t want to say anything about that, except to say the flag we all recognize is a powerful symbol. The flag can inspire you, and the flag can impress. I think most of us have had the experience at some game or some of you have served in the military, that emotion that wells up when you stand at attention and you salute, or you put your hand over your heart and you take off your ballcap and there’s the flag. The flag can move you to sing, and to cry. But the flag can’t change your heart. The flag can’t make you a new person. The flag can’t give you a new nature. The flag can’t save you from your sins. You see, the flag is a symbol. Stands for something. There’s a lot of discussion in our day what it stands for and how we should respect it. It stands for something.
The water stood for something. For cleansing, for removing. But John says, “Don’t get over-impressed with water—it’s just water. I’m announcing one who comes not with the sign, but what the thing signified. I can wash you and have a ceremony and have a ritual, but this one, this one can cause to be born again. This one can actually save you from your sins. This one baptizes with the Spirit.” So John baptized Jesus so that Israel could see the difference between John and Jesus. To give an occasion for the glory of Christ to be manifested in their midst.
Behold. Before. Baptize. I said there were three “B” words, but, mmm, I’m going to tweak that. There’s a fourth one. It’s not here, but it’s in the other accounts in the gospels. There is another word that starts with a B. It’s the word “beloved.” Because at Jesus’ baptism, not only is the sky rent and the dove comes down, but a voice from heaven says “you are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” That’s how Mark records it. The only other time in Mark’s gospel there is direct discourse with God in heaven is at the Mount of Transfiguration, and both times at the baptism and at the Mount of Transfiguration, God says “you are my son.” Not just my son, my beloved son.
Doesn’t that make you think of a story in the Old Testament? Genesis 22. He said “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, your beloved son. And go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains.” Or verse 12: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And again in verse 16: “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son.” That was God speaking to a father who was willing to give up his son. But of course, Abraham at just the last moment was given a lamb, a ram, in the thicket. But there would be no substitute for God’s son. He would be the substitute.
So when he thunders from heaven at his baptism, “This is my son, my only son, my beloved son,” he is speaking in the language of Genesis and Abraham and Isaac. This is the one who will go up carrying his own wood to the mountain. And there will be no one to take his place.
What a marvelous picture of the Trinity at work. Our salvation is not the product of the Trinity somehow at odds with each other, the Father convincing the Son, “Sell, you have to go” and the Son’s like “Oh, don’t do it, Father,” and the Spirit’s saying, “What am I to do?” No. It’s the product of perfect union in the Trinity, each person fulfilling their perfect place and role, the Son submitting to the Father, the Spirit pointing people to the Son, the Son gifting the Spirit, the Father commending the Son, the Spirit magnifying the Son so that the Son might glorify the Father. “This is my beloved son.” Unlike any other Son, the only Son, the natural Son, the only begotten Son.
That’s how God introduced Jesus. How might you introduce Jesus? Some of you kids here, you’ve heard about Jesus, you know about Jesus, you know songs about Jesus. Are you beginning to see who this Jesus really is? He’s so much more than any song could ever say about him. Maybe some of you are meeting Jesus for the first time, and you’ve sort of known him as “yeah, he’s an important person, and you know, at church we sing about him, and yeah, I like Jesus, I’m pro Jesus,” but you haven’t begun to grasp all that John has said here, let alone what God the Father speaks of him at his baptism. Whether you’re meeting him for the first time or you need to be reacquainted with him, you need to know the real Jesus. This is no ordinary son, this in no ordinary introduction. He who baptizes with the Spirit is before all things, so behold the beloved. And I’ll give you one more “B”—Believe.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, how rich is our privilege that we can be your sons and daughters, and we can know your beloved Son, your only Son, the Son you did not spare but gave him up for us to take away the sin of the world. We thank you. We thank you for sending your Son. We thank you for Jesus whose blood washes away our crimson stain and makes us white as snow. We thank you for this Jesus who paid it all, and we pray in his name. Amen.