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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God unveils Jesus to John and through John
Text:John 1:29-34 (View)
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 122

Psalm 25:3,4 (after the law)

Hymn 49

Hymn 84

Psalm 68:1,8,12

Scripture readings:  Acts 1:1-5, Acts 2:1-13

Text:  John 1:29-34

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

There once was this man who had several brothers.  He’d been estranged from them for several years.  They were estranged, that means they hadn’t seen each other for a long, long time.  Then one day, the brothers happened to run into their long-lost brother.  It happened in a foreign country, in a place they never expected to meet him.  Moreover, when they met him again, they didn’t recognize him.  So much about him had changed, including his social status.  When they last saw him, he was a boy being carted off by human traffickers.  In fact, the brothers arranged it.  But now he was the second-in-command of one of the most powerful nations in the world.  Eventually, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers who’d come to Egypt.  You can read about that in Genesis 37-50.  If it had not been revealed to them, Joseph’s brothers would have carried on in their ignorance.  They had to have the veil of their ignorance removed so that they could see Joseph clearly.  It happens more often.  A revelation removes ignorance. 

There’s ignorance in our passage from John this morning too.  Notice how John the Baptist says twice, “I myself did not know him…”  It’s in verse 31 and verse 33.  John the Baptist confesses that he had been ignorant about Jesus.  We need to be clear on what that means.  Some background is in Luke 1:36.  We learn there that the mothers of Jesus and John were relatives.  Mary and Elizabeth were somehow related – perhaps cousins.  Mary even went to visit with Elizabeth.  It’s quite likely that Jesus and John had an acquaintance with one another.  When John says, “I myself did not know him,” he doesn’t necessarily mean that he didn’t know him at all.  Rather, it means that he didn’t know him in regards to his full significance.  He may have known him as a person, even as his relative, but he didn’t know him as the Lamb of God, or the Messiah, or the One who would baptize with the Spirit, or as the Son of God.  John was in the dark as to all of these important aspects of Jesus’ identity.

But then God revealed these things to John the Baptist.  God opened his eyes to who Jesus was.  He did that for a purpose.  God wanted John to bear witness to Jesus and everything important about him.  He wants us also to see Jesus in his full significance as our Saviour.  I preach to you God’s Word as we see how God unveils Jesus to John and through John.  We’ll see that Jesus is revealed here as:

  1. The Lamb of God
  2. The Anointed Messiah
  3. The Spirit-Baptizer
  4. The Son of God

The day before the events in our text, John the Baptist had his encounter with the priests and Levites from Jerusalem.  They were confused about John’s identity.  They asked him whether he was the Messiah, or perhaps Elijah, or the Prophet mentioned by Moses in Deuteronomy 18.  John said that he was merely a voice pointing ahead to someone else, making straight the Lord’s way in the wilderness.  He knew that he had been sent as a forerunner, preparing the people for the coming of One greater than him. 

Then the next day, says verse 29, Jesus approached John the Baptist by the shores of the Jordan River.  And as he saw Jesus approaching, he made a remarkable exclamation:  “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Remember that John was a prophet, the last of the prophets of the Old Testament era.  Here he’s speaking in his office as a prophet, pointing people to the ultimate fulfillment of all the OT prophecies that spoke about a coming Saviour.

It wasn’t just the prophecies that pointed ahead to him, but also the sacrifices.  John the Baptist specifically calls Jesus, “the Lamb of God.”  Lambs figure prominently in the Old Testament.  When we hear Jesus being called “the Lamb of God,” we think right away of the Passover lamb.  This is first mentioned in Exodus 12.  Before leaving Egypt, the people of Israel had to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their homes.  The Angel of the LORD would see the blood and pass by the houses of the Israelites.  The Egyptians who didn’t have the blood on their doorposts, the Angel of the LORD would kill their firstborn children.  The Passover lamb represented salvation for the people of Israel.  But the Bible says more about lambs in the Old Testament.  Lambs were also offered as sacrifices for sin.  Isaiah 53 spoke about how the Messiah would be “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”  When John called Jesus “the Lamb of God,” he was using an expression that brought to mind all these different Old Testament references.  The Lamb represents salvation, sacrifice for sin, innocence and suffering without protest.

Jesus is the “Lamb of God.”  That means that he’s the Lamb provided by God, sent from God in his love.  In John 3:16, we read that it was in love that God sent his Son to bring eternal life to all who believe in him.  It’s just like how God provided the sacrifice for Abraham in Genesis 22.  God provided the sacrifice in the place of Isaac.  And so here too, God has provided the Lamb to be salvation for us, to be the innocent sacrifice in our place, to suffer and die as our substitute.

John pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world.”  That tells us what the Lamb does.  He takes away sin.  He removes it by offering himself as a substitute for those who have sinned.  What we find here is that beautiful gospel doctrine called propitiation.  That may be a word you haven’t heard before.  Unfortunately, our old Bible translation (the NIV) dropped that word.  Our new Bible translation (the ESV) reintroduces us to that rich gospel word: “propitiation.”  The word itself is used by John in his first letter.  First John 2:2 speaks of Jesus and says, “He is the propitiation for our sins…”  What does that word mean?  Propitiation refers to the turning away of God’s wrath from sinners and the turning to us of his favour.  You children can learn that too.  Listen again:  Propitiation is when God’s wrath is turned away from us, and his favour turned towards us.  Your parents can ask you that when you get home, maybe over lunch.  I want you to remember that, because it’s important and it’s so comforting to know it.  Propitiation is what John exclaims about Jesus in verse 29.  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is our propitiation:  by taking away our sin, he turns away God’s wrath from us and returns to us his favour.  We have fellowship with God because the Lamb has taken away our sins.  He did that at the cross.  At Golgotha, our sins were disappeared.  Our sins are gone, God’s wrath is gone.  His favour is ours.  This is good news!  Great news to encourage us! 

Now there might be some confusion about the fact that John says that the Lamb takes away “the sin of the world.”  Does that mean that Jesus takes away the sins of everyone, the whole world?  You could only argue that if you didn’t pay attention to the rest of the book, and to the rest of the Bible.  A minute ago, I mentioned John 3.  John 3:16 is a beautiful statement of the love of God in sending his Son.  But don’t forget that it says that it’s only the person who believes in the Son who has eternal life.  Verse 18 adds that if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, you’re condemned.  That means your sins have not been taken away.  That means that God’s wrath has not been turned away.  God doesn’t relate to you favourably, but in judgment and just wrath.  So when John the Baptist says that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, one thing it cannot mean is that everyone is going to heaven.  Scripture stands totally against that view.  You’re only going to heaven if you believe in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.  Loved ones, you have to believe that, you’re called to believe that even right now.  Believe it.

But that still doesn’t answer the question of what “the world” means here in verse 29.  Well, it’s a statement that Jesus is not only the Saviour of Jews, but also of Gentiles.  Everyone who believes in him will have their sins taken away, whether Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t matter.  Jesus Christ is the propitiation for all who believe in him, regardless of their ethnic background, regardless of their country of origin.  Jesus is a Saviour for all peoples, not just for one.  That reminds us again that the gospel message is for all people.  The good news that’s blessed us with joy and peace is meant for everyone.  It has to be shared with everyone.  God wants to bless the whole world with the message of salvation.  The work of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God was sufficient to take away the sins of the whole world, for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  So we ought to bring it to everyone and call everyone we can to share in the salvation we have in him.

That’s why God unveiled this truth about Jesus to John and through John.  John’s exclamation wasn’t made in private – it was done publically, so that people could hear.  God’s purpose was to announce the truth about Jesus as the Saviour so that the people who heard would believe. 

That’s what John is talking about in verses 30 and 31.  He says that Jesus is the One for whom he was preparing the way, the One who is far greater than him.  He’s far greater because his existence didn’t start with his birth.  Jesus existed long before John as the eternal Son of God.  John came baptizing with water, to point ahead to him.  Remember John’s baptism was all about reminding the Jewish people that they were unclean.  They were dirty from their sins.  They needed washing with the blood of Jesus.  John’s ministry was part of God’s plan to reveal Jesus to the Israelites.  They were the people to whom he’d first been promised through the Scriptures.  Now John comes to reveal him, to point the Jews to him.  John the Baptist was God’s instrument to begin revealing Jesus Christ.

In verse 32, John the Baptist looks back at the baptism of Jesus.  The Gospel According to John is unique among the gospels because it doesn’t give a direct story about the baptism of Jesus.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us a direct accounting of what happened when John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  But not this gospel.  John’s gospel is different.  Instead, we have it from the mouth of John the Baptist, from his perspective.  His perspective doesn’t even include the baptism itself.  We don’t read of how John baptized Jesus here.  Instead, John the Baptist focusses on what happened right after the baptism.  He recounts what he witnessed.  It happened some time before our text, we don’t know exactly when.  But John says that when it did happen, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove…”  This is about the anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit.  Let’s take a closer look at this and what it means. 

First of all, there’s what this scene looked like.  The Spirit descended from heaven like a dove, says John.  It’s not that John saw a literal dove, but the Spirit’s appearance was similar to that of a dove.  That’s how he showed himself at that moment.  What’s the importance of that?  Doves are mentioned often in the Bible.  In the Song of Songs, doves are associated with love.  Noah sent out the dove three times after the Flood.  Doves were part of the sacrificial system in the Old Testament.  Doves are symbolic of love, new life (creation or re-creation), innocence, and sacrifice.  All these things seem to come together in this picture.  Now I should add that in our minds, we often think that this must have been a white dove.  Artistic representations tend to make us think that.  But here’s the thing:  nowhere in the Bible do we read that that the image of the dove involved a white dove.  It’s just not in the Bible.  You can look yourself, but I guarantee you won’t find it.  In fact, most of the doves in Palestine were/are rock doves.  These are just your regular pigeons that you’ll find all over the world.  Very few of them are pure white.  We think the image should be of a white dove, but the Bible doesn’t tell us that.  In fact, perhaps the ruddy grey, iridescent rainbow appearance of a rock dove might even be more appropriate than white.  It makes you think of the Flood again, God’s sign and promise towards the human race.  It’s not critically important here what colour it was, but we should be aware that the Bible doesn’t actually say. 

Far more important is the meaning and message of what happened at the Jordan.  What did John really witness?  He saw Jesus being anointed as Messiah with the Holy Spirit.  We know that from the words of Peter in Acts 10:38.  He speaks of this time and “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.”  Acts 10:38 tells us that Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at that moment. 

Let me be clear about what happened there.  It’s not as if Jesus didn’t have the Holy Spirit with him before this.  He’s the Son of God.  As the Son, he was one with the Father and the Spirit from all eternity.  The Spirit has been with him all along.  But at his anointing, at that moment John witnessed, God publically announced that this was the Messiah, the anointed one of Yahweh (that’s what Messiah means).  This was Israel’s Prophet, Priest, and King.  Our Prophet, Priest, and King.  Here was the One for whom John was preparing the way.  Here was Israel’s hope and expectation in the flesh.  Moreover, his anointing also signalled the beginning of his earthly ministry.  Just like presidents and prime ministers begin their work with some sort of inauguration ceremony, so also Jesus here.  What John witnessed was his inauguration as the Messiah.          

John saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus and remain on him.  That’s important here too.  In other words, his anointing was permanent.  Jesus was not going to be a part-time Messiah.  He wasn’t going to be a temporary Messiah.  No, he would be God’s anointed forever, from this time forward.  He would be and he is always the Christ. 

I need to say one more thing about verse 32.  Look at it with me.  Our Bible translation says that “it remained on him.”  That could give the impression that the Holy Spirit is an “it.”  I want to be charitable.  I think the ESV translators meant to say that the image of the dove remained on Jesus.  “It” then refers to the image, not the Holy Spirit himself.  After all, elsewhere the ESV is careful to refer to the Holy Spirit as “he.”  To be fair, even the old King James Version used “it” here.  The NKJV has “he,” and that is better at removing the danger that we might think and speak wrongly about the Holy Spirit.  What we need to remember is that the Holy Spirit is not an “it.”  We dishonour the third person of the Trinity when we refer to him as “it.”  We always need to speak of he, him, his, when we’re speaking of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force or power – that’s what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. No, he is a person, which means that he is a someone.  Scripture teaches that he is a someone whom you can grieve (Eph. 4:32), he is someone to whom you can lie (Acts 5:3) and so on.  Brothers and sisters, I urge you to be careful in your speaking about the Holy Spirit.  Be careful and don’t ever say “it.” Why?  Because this is a matter of honouring God.

So Jesus is revealed to John and through John as the Lamb of God and the One anointed by the Holy Spirit to be the Messiah, the Christ.  Verse 33 gives further revelation, there’s more unveiling going on here.  John again asserts his previous ignorance, and then mentions something that God further revealed to him.  God was the One who sent him to baptize and God said something to him.  John the Baptist doesn’t say how that revelation happened.  It might have been in a vision or a dream, maybe God spoke to him directly with an audible voice.  We don’t know.  What we do know is the content of that revelation. 

God told John the Baptist that when he saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain upon someone, that person would also later baptize with the Holy Spirit.  He would be the Spirit-Baptizer.  Through John the Baptist, God revealed a prophecy about what Jesus would later do.  Jesus was the One on whom the Spirit descended and remained, therefore Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

But then the question:  what does it mean to baptize with the Holy Spirit?  That has everything to do with Pentecost, the event we commemorate today.  When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, that was Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit.  At that moment, he sent his Spirit to bless and encourage the Church.  But you say, “How do you know that?”  How do you know that Jesus baptizing with the Spirit didn’t happen before Pentecost?  That’s why we read from the opening verses of Acts 1.  Jesus himself said it clearly in Acts 1:5.  He said that John baptized with water, “but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”  That’s exactly what happens 10 days after his ascension.  Jesus baptizes his church with the Holy Spirit. 

The word “baptism” there is quite pregnant with meaning.  In the Bible, baptism can refer to immersion.  When John baptized at the Jordan River, it seems quite likely that he was immersing the people being baptized.  I say that because Matthew 3:16 speaks of Jesus coming “up from the water.”  However, baptism is not restricted to immersion.  Baptism can also be done by sprinkling or pouring.  The original Greek word includes all those meanings.  When we think about Pentecost and what happened there, pouring or perhaps sprinkling is what’s in view.  After all, the church was not immersed in the Holy Spirit.  Instead, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the church.  The language of “pouring out” comes from Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2, “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh…”  Peter quotes from Joel in his Pentecost sermon.  What happened at Pentecost was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy about the Spirit being poured out.  When Jesus baptized his church with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit was poured out, he came in abundance for the people of God.   Jesus baptized with the Spirit to bless his people richly through him.

In our text, John was pointing ahead to what Jesus would do at Pentecost.  Today we’ve benefitted from the fulfillment of that prophecy.  Jesus did what he said he would do.  Just as the Spirit came and remained upon Jesus, so also when Jesus baptized with the Spirit, the Spirit remained upon the body of Christ.  The Spirit remained with the church.  Today we continue to experience that reality.  The Spirit, he is with us, brothers and sisters.  He is with us in abundance.  We see his presence and power in different ways.  We see the miraculous way in which he takes dead hearts and brings them to life.  We see the faith that he creates and that he strengthens.  Because he has been poured out, we see the many spiritual gifts that exist among us.  Some are gifted with music, others are gifted with leadership and teaching, still others are good administrators, others have practical skills.  Because Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit, we see these things, and when we see them, we should praise God.  He has been good to us, not only in giving a Saviour in Jesus, but also in blessing us with the Holy Spirit, he has been lavishly poured out on us.

In verse 34, we hear one more element of who Jesus is, according to the revelation given to John.  He has seen and borne witness that Jesus is the Son of God.  That would have been an incredibly confronting statement to Jewish ears.  Where did John the Baptist get this revelation from?  We’re not told here in our text.  To find out, we have to go elsewhere in Scripture again.  When we go to the other gospels, we get the answer.  John was there at the Jordan.  He baptized Jesus.  He saw the Holy Spirit descend.  But then, he also heard something.  He heard the voice from heaven, the voice of the Father:  “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well-pleased.”  John heard it and now he bears public witness to it.  Without a doubt, Jesus is the Son of God.

This is going to become a major point in the rest of the Gospel According to John.  It’s a big deal to make a claim that someone is the Son of God.  Why?  Because to Jewish ears that was saying that such a person was actually God.  If God is divine and if God has a Son, then God’s Son must also be divine.  If Jesus is the Son of God, then he must be God himself come in the flesh.  That’s something most of the Jews just refused to believe.  But loved ones, we must believe it.  Scripture teaches it.  Our salvation depends on it.  If Jesus is not the Son of God, if he is not divine, then there’s no way that he can be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He would never be able to bear the sin of the world and God’s wrath against it, if he were not the Son of God.  Only God can bear his own wrath and deliver others from it.   God has provided full and complete salvation in his Son – and it’s to him that we all have to continue looking.  Trust in Jesus alone, always.  There’s no hope but in him.

John the Baptist had been in the dark about Jesus.  God brought him into the light.  He did it so that he could bring others into the light too.  This morning, God has also been at work among us.  He wants all of us to be in the light when it comes to who Jesus is and what he’s done and will do.  God also wants us then to be prophets – people who bring light to bear on ignorance.  Loved ones, you’ve heard about your Saviour this morning.  Take what you’ve heard to heart, believe it.  Continue to strive to learn more – and whatever you learn, also go out and share with others.  Tell as many as you can about Jesus, the Son of God, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  That’s good news worth sharing.  AMEN.


Merciful Father,

Thank you for your grace in revealing your Son Jesus to sinners, to us.  We’re thankful for your Word which tells us everything we need to know and believe about him.  Thank you for sending your Son as the Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world.  We’re glad that our sin is included in his propitiation.  We rejoice that in the Lamb, we have your wrath turned away, and your favour returned.  We have you as our Father.  We thank you that Jesus is the Messiah, anointed to be our Prophet, Priest, and King.  We’re grateful for all that he does in that three-fold office.  And Father, especially today on Pentecost, we’re thankful to you for your Spirit and his abundant presence among us.  We praise your Name for his having been poured out on the Church.  We rejoice in his blessings and benefits for us.  Holy Spirit, we pray that you would mightily continue your work here among us in this church.  Work faith, work fruits of faith, bring sinners to Christ, bring honour to our Father through transformed hearts and lives.  O Spirit, continue to empower and bless us in Christ our Saviour and Head.                                     


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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