John the Baptist was apparently proclaiming a new doctrine, something that would take the Jews beyond the form and ritual with which they were accustomed.
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We are still in the time of celebrating the season of wonder.
Not wonder as in a question—I wonder what is going on?
But the feeling of being awestruck with something so beautiful that words fail us for trying to describe it.
Christmas with its wonder of the birth of a baby destined to change the world.
The Epiphany with the wise men from the East filled with wonder at the signs they witnessed concerning this little baby.
Today, though, we come to both kinds of wonder—the question and the awe.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan River when Jesus came walking up to him.
John was filled with awe at what the Holy Spirit revealed to him in that moment; but his statement must have left the people on the banks full of questions.
Have you ever tried to place yourself in their shoes at that moment?
These people were Jews who attended synagogue on a regular basis and never missed attending the required feasts of the Lord.
They knew the rituals associated with each feast—what they were to bring, and what the priest was supposed to do.
They were familiar with all the noise and festivities in conjunction with a national gathering in Jerusalem.
Then John yells out that they should turn and look at a man walking in their midst.
Not only does he tell them to take a look, he also tells them who he is.
John did not call Jesus by name. Instead, he referred to Jesus as the lamb of God.
Not just any lamb, but the lamb that takes away the sin of the world.
Notice that it is “sin” singular, not sins, plural.
What could John have possibly meant by this?
Was he drunk? Had he been drinking a brew of ayahuasca from the harmal plant?
We can tell from the context that he simply had a revelation in the moment concerning the man walking on the shore.
It was not uncommon when being around Jesus that people would have a revelation that completely bypassed their brain.
If they had been given time to think about it, they would never have opened their mouth.
When Peter was asked who he thought Jesus was, he replied,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The disciples had each responded with what people were saying about Jesus, but then the question was put directly to them, and Peter—the one who had a ready answer for everything—spouted off with something of which he had no idea.
The same situation occurs here at the baptism of Jesus.
John was not looking for this to happen.
He had not been prepared for this day.
His words startled not only the ones who heard him, but also startled John.
Remember, even though John had this revelation, he still was not sure as to the reality of it all.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ,
he sent word by his disciples and said to him,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or shall we look for another?”
Therefore, what about the Jews who were within earshot of John’s revelatory statement?
What did they hear?
They obviously heard the words, but what was their understanding of those words?
What was their point of reference?
John was apparently proclaiming a new doctrine, something that would take them beyond the form and ritual with which they were accustomed.
We don’t know if they heard it for what it meant in its entirety, but we have the benefit of hindsight now so that we can understand what he meant.
But do we?
The Holy Spirit is currently revealing the fulness of John’s statement to the Church at large.
Of course, not everyone is seeing it or agreeing with it, because the revelation definitely upsets the established order of things.
That is what Jesus did with His ministry among the Jews—He upset the established order with His teachings.
So, let’s look a little more closely at John’s revelation and what the Jews may have understood.
Behold the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world.
John was making reference to something with which every Jew would be familiar—the day of atonement.
The Day of Atonement was an annual feast of the Jews in which they were taught to begin everything new as far as their guilt was concerned.
Their guiltiness of sin would be wiped out on this particular day—at least for the foreseeable future.
There is a very interesting ritual associated with this day, as we read in Leviticus.
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat,
and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel,
and all their transgressions, all their sins.
And he shall put them on the head of the goat
and send it away into the wilderness
by the hand of a man who is in readiness.
Of course, there was a lot of other ritual leading up to this moment, but this is the aspect to which John the Baptist referred.
Let’s look at its parts.
Aaron, as the high priest for the people of Israel, was to lay his hands on the head of the live goat.
He was to confess all the sins of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, and all their iniquities and place those things on the goat.
Then, that goat was led away into the wilderness carrying all the sins of all the people of Israel.
This was an annual ritual for Jews.
And the writer of Hebrews tells us that it was only a temporary ritual without lasting effect.
(which is symbolic for the present age).
According to this arrangement,
gifts and sacrifices are offered
that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,
The author says that those rituals were symbolic for that time, but they could not do what was necessary to remove sin from the people.
The effects lasted for less than a year, and had to be repeated each year.
The book of Hebrews, which is all about how Jesus fulfilled all the types and shadows for the Israelites, says that Jesus entered the most holy place once for all never to enter again.
Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly,
as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,
for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages
to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
When we see that phrase once for all, we probably think about how we use it, which is not the way it is used here.
We say, “I’m telling you once and for all, stop doing that.” We mean stop NOW, ‘cause I ain’t gonna tell you again!
In this verse there is a tinge of that meaning in that Jesus has died once, not to ever die again.
But the emphasis is on the “for all” just as it was with John the Baptist’s proclamation.
His death on the cross put away sin for everyone, for all.
Again, notice that it is “sin” singular, not “sins”, plural.
Let’s return to thinking about the passage in Leviticus.
The high priest confessed all the sins of all the people over the scapegoat.
ALL THE SINS
Surely we understand that to be a general confession along the lines of “We have sinned, each and everyone of us. We’ve lied, cheated, fought, committed adultery and other forms of immorality. We’ve disliked our neighbor and the horse he rode in on.”
Here’s the really interesting part.
No one brought a list of their sins to the high priest.
No one asked to have their sins forgiven.
No one admitted any contrition for their sin.
But, they were all forgiven—even the ones who did not make it to the ceremony.
That scapegoat took all the sins of every Israelite away into the wilderness.
This was a ceremony for Jews and those who identified with them.
Now John sees Jesus walking on the bank of the Jordan River and declares that He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
This man is the fulfillment of the type which was played out for them each year.
But He not only took away the sin of Israel, He took away the sin of the whole world.
The word sin in that verse is singular. It is SIN, not sins.
It was the one sin of Adam that brought condemnation on the earth.
It was the one sin of Adam that brought the disease of sin into the world.
That disease is the one overriding principle that had kept humans in the dark for millennia is now removed.
This had to be another confusing aspect for the ones who heard John that day.
The whole world?
I thought God only liked Jews.
It took a while for the apostles to grasp this truth even though Jesus had told them to carry the gospel into the whole world.
But, Paul got it. He understood.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men,
so one act of righteousness
leads to justification and life for all men.
The lamb of God in the OT was a temporary symbol only for the Jews.
The symbol was fulfilled in Jesus and is for all time for all people.
The high priest, Jesus, has taken our sin and done away with it without our ever asking for the favor.
He died to take away the sin of the world.
You are free.
They are free.
We are all free from the penalty for sin.