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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2007-03-25

Text: John 1:19-34

The title of this sermon tells us what our focus will be on - identification. There are times when we encounter problems in making a right identification of a person. In fact we sometimes make a wrong identification and with disastrous results. Have you ever seen someone from behind whom you thought was your friend and you called out to him only to be disappointed and embarrassed when he turned out to be someone else? Even knowing a person's name does not guarantee that you will not identify him wrongly, because many people may share the same name. Take for example the name David Tan - there are four members of our church who have that name! 

If you were to look up someone's name in a phone book to get his phone number you may have great difficulty contacting the right person if his name happens to be Mr Tan Ah Kow - there are 35 Tan Ah Kows listed there. And if you were to look up my name in the phone book using only my Chinese name 'Seet Chim Seng' you might find yourself talking not to me but to someone who lives in Choa Chu Kang Central!

The consequences of not making the right identification are much worse when the person is someone of great importance. And in no instance is it more crucial for us to make the right identification than when identifying the Lord who came into the world to save sinners. In our first sermon of this series on John's Gospel 3 weeks ago, we had seen that God was manifested in frail human flesh and that John 1:14 contains the most important words: 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.' He came into this world and entered into a new dimension of existence through the gateway of human birth in order to identify Himself with us. 

And so complete and intimate was His identification with humanity, that it was not immediately evident to all that He was actually God in the flesh. 'He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.' (v.10) He lived on earth as a man among men, mingling with all kinds of people, experiencing our joys, our tears, our cares and disappointments. Only those like Joseph and Mary who knew Jesus well enough and had watched Him grow up from childhood into adulthood, would have known that He was truly God in the flesh. And those who had any opportunity to interact with Him at length (for example, the religious teachers at the Temple in Luke 2:46,47) would soon realize that He was no ordinary person and would think quite highly of Him. 

But to the rest of humanity who saw Him at his daily work in a lowly carpenter's workshop or who exchanged greetings with him on the dusty streets of Nazareth, Jesus appeared outwardly to be no different from anyone else. The question then is how would He be properly identified to the world as its Lord and Saviour? How would the correct identification of Him be made so that all Israel would know who He really is and why He had come into the world in human flesh?

As we look at our text in John 1:19-34 this morning, we see that God provided Jesus with a special forerunner to identify Him to the world. And this forerunner came at a time when that identification was most needed - when Jesus was about to launch His public ministry in Israel. This forerunner was John the Baptist. 

I. The Forerunner's Prophetic Authority (vv.19-28)

You will notice that the text began with the words, 'And this is the record of John' and it ends on the same note with John the Baptist saying, 'And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.' The words 'John bare record' also appear in v.32. This record or testimony that John bore about Jesus was of great value to the Jews, because of the esteem that he had from them. From the time of his birth it was already known that John would be 'the prophet of the Highest' and the forerunner of the Lord (Luke 1:76). Although he came from the privileged line of the priests of Israel, the early call he had received to be a prophet of God set him on a path that was altogether different from all his brethren. He grew up in a harsh desert environment eating nothing but locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). There he spent much of his time in solitude with God until the time was ripe for him to begin his ministry.

And when his ministry began his preaching was so bold, so powerful and so effective that thousands of people came from all over Israel to hear him and to be baptized by him. Matthew 3:5-6 tells us that 'Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.' People from all walks of life came - fishermen, soldiers, despised publicans, and even many of the Pharisees and the Saducees, who were the religious elite of Israel. 

And they came not to have their ears tickled by someone's eloquent, popular or inspiring preaching. They came to have their conscience sensitized, their deepest sins exposed, their hearts pricked, and their lives radically changed! The fearless, Spirit-filled preaching of John the Baptist brought them all under conviction and they repented of their sins and were baptized by him to signify their total change of attitude toward sin. John the Baptist was truly a remarkable prophet of God, a man of great conviction and power whose life made a huge impact on the people who lived in his time. Jesus said that 'Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.' (Luke 7:28)

But there was also another reason why such great crowds of people came to listen to John the Baptist. It was a time when messianic expectations ran very high in Israel, and people were desperately longing and looking for any indications that Israel's Deliverer had arrived, to bring about the restoration of Israel spiritually as well as politically, as foretold by the OT prophets. Besides this, for about 400 years God had not sent any prophet to His people. After the prophet Malachi had delivered the last word of God to His people, the prophetic voice fell silent. And so we can understand why everyone was so excited to hear John the Baptist when he appeared on the scene. 

And John proved to be everything that they had hoped to see in a true prophet of God. His rustic appearance resembled that of the prophet Elijah. Like the prophets of old he spoke with divine authority and he spared neither king nor commoner from receiving the full blast of God's rebuke and call to repentance. And because he preached at Bethabara which was in the vicinity of the place where the prophet Elijah was last seen before he was taken up to heaven, many thought that John was actually Elijah who had returned to earth from heaven! This was further supported by Malachi's prophecy that God would one day send Elijah the prophet back to Israel before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes (Malachi 4:5,6).

Others thought that John the Baptist was not Elijah but the prophet that Moses had foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15 'The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken.' This Prophet like unto Moses was to be the final Prophet from the Lord, whose authority would surpass even that of Moses. Now the Lord's apostles later on revealed under divine inspiration that Christ was the fulfillment of this prophecy. But the Jews in John's time thought that that Prophet would be some other person than their Messiah. 

All these identifications of John the Baptist as the Messiah, as Elijah and as the Prophet like unto Moses were of course grossly mistaken. But they do help us to see what high esteem and authority he had in the eyes of the people. In their minds, if anyone was to be the Messiah, John the Baptist would certainly be the best candidate of that time. And if he is not the Messiah, then surely he must be some other great personage such as Elijah or the Prophet like unto Moses. 

But what was John's own response to all this? He denied them outrightly in vv.20 and 21 of our text. The only identification he gave of himself was in v.22 'I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.' What a contrasting view John had of himself! He saw himself as being nothing more than a voice - a nameless voice with only one role: to call all men to prepare for the Lord's appearance to Israel. By identifying himself in this manner John the Baptist was only being true to his calling as the Lord's forerunner. 

In ancient times, whenever a great king went forth among his subjects, he would be preceded by someone called a forerunner. The sole duty of the forerunner was to get everyone in the way ready to welcome his majesty. Wherever he went to herald the king's approach people would stop whatever they were doing and prepare to pay homage to their king. Now, here is the point that we want to take note of: As long as the king was the one who received such homage, the forerunner's joy was full and complete. He had done his job well. But if anyone were to pay homage to him rather than to the king, the forerunner would be most upset, for that would certainly diminish the honour that the king ought to receive. 

This explains why John the Baptist described himself in v.23 only as a 'voice crying out in the wilderness.' He want no attention to be diverted away from the Person he was introducing to Israel. This also helps us to understand why John answered the question about his baptism in v.25 by saying 'I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.' Can you see in this answer how John spoke the barest minimum about his own water baptism and gave more prominence to the One who comes after Him? To him, knowing the purpose of his water baptism was nothing compared to knowing the Lord Jesus Christ. As John would say later on, 'He must increase, but I must decrease.' (John 3:30)

Let us learn an important lesson from this: Like John the Baptist, our greatest desire should always be to exalt the name of Christ above our own name. He must increase but we must decrease. Dearly beloved, if you are seeking great things for yourself, seek them not. Speak less of yourself and more about Christ. Let the honour of Christ become the goal of everything that you do. Use whatever respect or esteem that you receive from others to point them to Christ. Turn every personal success in your life into an opportunity to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever someone compliments or praises you for any achievement be quick to give all credit to Christ and what He has done for you. Always remember that the greatest privilege you will ever have is to show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)!

Perhaps you may want to know now what you should be testifying about Jesus Christ. This is what we will see now as we look at the next section of our text on:

II. The Forerunner's Priestly Announcement (vv.29-30)

According to v.29, this announcement of John the Baptist concerning Jesus came about the very next day when he saw Jesus coming to him. Now, this was not the first time that Jesus had come to John. According to the other Gospel writers more than 40 days earlier, Jesus had come to John to be baptized in the river Jordan. Now, since Jesus has no sin there was really no need for Him to be baptized by John the Baptist. But Jesus went through the waters of baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). The righteousness here may be a reference to the OT Laws which required all candidates for the priesthood to be baptized with water before they could begin their service at the Tabernacle or Temple at the age of 30 (Number 8:6-7). Since Christ was to become our great high priest, He had to abide by that Law and therefore He submitted Himself to John's water baptism. Following this event, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the Devil. 

After spending 40 days and 40 nights there and resisting every temptation from the Devil victoriously, Jesus returned to John at Bethabara. And that was the time when John the Baptist saw Him coming and made that important announcement in v.29 of our text: 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' Now the words that John used here actually come from the vocabulary of the priesthood, which John was most familiar with since he was from the priestly line of Aaron. The words describe an offering that was to be made for sin. There are several important points that we should take note of here: 

Firstly we observe that John called Jesus a lamb. This reflects the sacrifical character of His ministry, because lambs occupied a very prominent place in the Temple sacrifices. Two lambs were offered at the Temple's altar every day, one in the morning and the other in the evening, and two more lambs were added to the sacrifices on each Sabbath day. Each lamb was only a year old, and as the lamb was led to the altar to be slaughtered, it was a perfect picture of humble, meek submission. There was no sound of protest or struggle at all. And this becomes an apt description of how Christ went to the Cross of Calvary. In Isaiah 53:7 we are told that 'He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.'

The meekness of the lamb is also an apt description of our Saviour's meek and gentle character (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1) that attracts all sinners to come to Him. That is perhaps why Jesus loves to be called 'The Lamb.' In the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, Jesus is called 'The Lamb' no less than 27 times, making this His most used designation in His heavenly glory. When all of us who are saved gather around His throne in heaven one day, the song that we will sing to give praise unto Him is: 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.'

The next thing we observe in the announcement of John is that he called Jesus not just 'the Lamb,' but the Lamb of God. This emphasizes that He is the lamb that God Himself provides for us, to be our substitute. When Abraham obeyed the Lord's command by taking his son Isaac up Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice, Isaac said to him, 'Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?' (Genesis 22:7) Abraham's reply to him was, 'My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering.' And those words have found their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God! 

The third thing that we must observe in John's announcement is found in the words 'taketh away.' This is translated from one Greek word (airo) which has the meaning of carrying away a burden, and in the process of doing this, also bearing the full weight of that burden. When God took away the sins of the world in the time of Noah, they were carried away by the waters of the Great Flood. But at the same time the waters also took away the lives of all who were responsible for those sins. It was as if they all sank into the deep floodwaters under the weight of their own sins. 

But the Good News is that there is now a way to take the sin of the world away without also taking the lives of sinners away - but that new way required God's only begotten Son, Jesus to be weighed down to death by the awful weight of our sins. Dearly beloved, let us reflect deeply on this amazing truth: The only way that Jesus could take away our sin was to bear it all on Himself. He who had no sins of His own to bear, lovingly chose to bear the sin of all believers. 

This brings us now to the fourth thing about John's announcement that we want to take special note of. It is not only your sin or my sin which the Lamb of God takes away, but it is the sin of the world - the world which consists of all kinds of believers both Jew and Gentile, old and young, rich and poor. All alike must come to the same Lamb to have their sins taken away! God has made no other provision than this for the taking away of sins. This truth is stated clearly in Acts 4:12 'Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.' Dear friends, if you have not come to Him yet I would urge you to do so right now. Come to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Now, perhaps some of you may want to ask, 'How can I know for sure that John the Baptist has made the right identification? He may have the authority of a prophet, but prophets are still men and perhaps they may sometimes be mistaken. How sure was John that he had recognized the right person as the Lamb of God? What evidence did he have? Is there any possibility at all that John the Baptist could have been biased, because after all Jesus was related to him since their mothers were cousins according to Luke 1:36?' The answers to these questions can be found in the last section of our text:

III. The Forerunner's Permanent Attestation (vv.31-34)

First of all, take note of the words, 'And I knew Him not' in v.31. Notice that they appear again in v.33. This emphasis clears away any doubts that there was some kind of secret collusion between him and Jesus to choose Jesus as the Messiah. John may have met Jesus before, and perhaps he had even sensed that God had greater plans for this younger cousin of his than for him. But John really did not know that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God - until he saw a sign from God when he baptized Jesus. That special sign settled the matter of identification for John once and for all. Let us read v.33 to see what that sign was: 'And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.'

Here we see that God had already revealed to John the Baptist that he would see the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on the one who is the Messiah. How exciting it must have been for him to look for the appearing of this sign from God. As he preached to the multitudes daily on the banks of the river Jordan, he might have looked at the sea of faces before him and wondered which one of them would be the one upon whom the Holy Spirit would descend. 

Then one day it really happened. And so glorious was the sight of the Spirit's descent upon Jesus that John could never forget it. From that day onward it became the foundation stone of his testimony, and he would speak about it with glad conviction, 'I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.' (v.32) Let us read the full account in Matthew's Gospel to understand the amazing phenomenon that John saw. Matthew 3:16-17 'And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'

What is really of great significance here is that this sign revealed as never before all three persons of the Godhead together at the same time! We see God the Father speaking from heaven. We see God the Son fulfilling all righteousness on earth, and we see God the Holy Spirit descending from the Father to the Son and remaining on the Son. Never before had anyone set their eyes on such a unique manifestation of the Triune God as this! It was as if that very spot where Jesus was baptized was suddenly transformed into the Holy of the Holies of God's Temple and John the Baptist was standing within the veil, overwhelmed by the sublime vision of God's blazing glory, a glory that every priest and prophet before him could only dream of witnessing! 

What greater proof of identification do you need than this record of John the Baptist, that Jesus Christ is, beyond all doubt, the beloved Son of God? Can there ever be any attestation better than the one that comes from the Triune God that Jesus is truly the eternal Word who was made flesh, and the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world? 

Dearly beloved, if the Word of God that you have heard this morning has convinced you that you have made the right identification of Jesus when you received Him as your Lord and Saviour, then you must now give Him the first place that He deserves in your life, for the Son of God came not only to save you from sin, but also to claim full ownership of your life. You must let Him reign in your heart and direct your life until everyone can see Christ in you. Let Him stamp His own divine image in you, so that no one would have much difficulty in identifying you with Jesus Christ.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25