St John 1: 29 – 34
Once again, Saint John teaches us by means of a story.
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ (John 1: 29 – 31)
John the Baptist has been preaching that one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit is coming. He’s been calling people to repentance and baptising them (Luke chapter 3 tells us this). He’s done this purely in faith, because he hasn’t known the identity of the one who is to come. Suddenly, he realizes that Jesus is the person whose way he has been preparing.
Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptise with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’ (John 1: 32 – 34)
This is, if you like, John the Baptist’s witness statement. It recounts what he heard and saw for himself. It is evidence.
When we consider this evidence, what might we say about it?
- It’s not contemporaneous – the gospel was written many years after the event, so St John could have misremembered.
- John the Baptist may have imagined the whole thing.
- It could be true and correctly recorded by St John.
Still, we don’t need to make up our minds immediately. St John has many more witnesses to present, and there are other lessons we can take from this passage.
Firstly, John the Baptist went out into the wilderness purely by faith. He didn’t know to whom he was witnessing until it was revealed to him. That is certainly a lesson for me; indeed, this blog is my equivalent. I have no idea who God wants to read it – if anybody – but I feel I have been called to do it.
Have you ever stepped out in faith, not knowing exactly what will happen?
Secondly, look at the way John the Baptist describes Jesus:
- He is the Lamb of God.
- He takes away the sin of the world.
- He will baptise with the Holy Spirit.
As a writer, I would describe what St John is doing here as ‘foreshadowing’, which is to say he’s preparing the reader for what comes later. The Lamb of God is a sacrificial lamb; the sacrifice is to take away the sin of the world; and as a consequence, those who follow Jesus will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.
I confess that I struggle with the doctrine of the atonement. The idea that a loving God requires the death of an innocent victim to put things right seems inexplicable, barbaric even. I have to treat it as a mystery. If anyone is reading this, please pray for me that God will tell me what I need to understand about the sacrifice made by Jesus.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your love. I trust your love, I trust your mercy and I trust Jesus. Please help me to accept whatever I need to understand to do your will.
In Jesus name,