Friday, September 28, 2007

John 1:32-37

32Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on Him. 33I would not have known Him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' 34I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God." 35The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" 37When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

How does John know Jesus? The Holy Spirit descended and remained on Jesus. John the Baptist has cried out, “Look, the Lamb of God!” Any Jew paying close attention here – namely our writer, the apostle John – may have wondered how John the Baptist knew that Jesus was the Messiah. John the Baptist certainly knew Jesus; they were cousins. But we are told that John the Baptist would not have known Jesus except that God told him to watch for the Holy Spirit to descend upon and remain on the Anointed One. And John describes the Holy Spirit as being “like a dove.” John did not see a dove. The Holy Spirit is not a dove. He is Spirit, and therefore invisible. But why describe a dove?

Consider three meanings: First, in the account of creation from Genesis 1, which obviously played a major role in John’s prologue, we read that the Spirit of God hovered or brooded over the face of the deep. Can you picture a dove calming the turbulent waters of an unformed earth in that image? Second, as Noah searched for dry land after the flood, it was a dove that brought him an olive branch as a symbol of peace and comfort and safety, a symbol of the end of the raging waters of the just wrath of God. And third, when a poor person couldn’t afford a lamb or goat, they would come to the temple in need of having their sins forgiven, and they would bring two turtledoves. The image of the dove is forgiveness of sins and peace with God. Furthermore, it had long been prophesied of the Messiah that He would accomplish His work on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 42:1-4; 61:1-3). The synoptic gospels make clear that these prophecies in Isaiah were fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 12:17-21; Luke 4:17-21). It was not by power, nor by might, but by His Spirit that Christ accomplished His task.

John is saying, “I didn’t realize it until I saw Him identifying Himself with all of the sinners that were coming into the wilderness to the river to be baptized, and then, all of a sudden, the dove descends and God is saying, ‘This is the One; this is My Son; this is the One in whom I am well pleased.” Many have stumbled here, because Matthew 3:13-17 seems to show that John already knew Jesus’ identity prior to His baptism (“I ought to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me!”), yet the apostle John notes that the Baptist did not know Christ until the Spirit landed and remained on Him. What do we make of this? Most say that the statement of not knowing Jesus was simply made for the audience – to confirm that God Himself revealed that Jesus is the Christ – even though John really did know earlier that Jesus was the Christ, but even his prior knowledge was a result of God’s making it known to him. Any thoughts?

John loses disciples to Jesus. Every time that John the Baptist sees Jesus, he declares, “Look, the Lamb of God!” John is trying to lose his disciples. Losing followers = success! John rightly is shrinking his own ministry for the sake of the Savior’s. John will later say, “He must become greater. I must become less” (John 3:30). Picture him saying to his two disciples, “What are you still doing with me? I am not the One you need to be following. There He is. Go follow Him. He’s the One who will forgive your sins. Not me.” And so the two disciples go to Jesus. Following meant, “to walk behind,” in this cultural of rabbis and learners; but needless to say, John has more in view here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

John 1:24-31

24Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" 26"I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." 28This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' 31I myself did not know Him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that He might be revealed to Israel."

Why does John baptize? That Jesus would be revealed to Israel. The Jewish leaders, seemingly content with John’s answer regarding his identity, though no doubt perplexed, probe further into his ministry. They ask why he baptizes if he is not the Christ, not Elijah, and not the Prophet. Baptisms of Gentile converts to Judaism were performed by the priests, and John was not a priest. So the leadership saw John as challenging the Jewish system of Temple and worship order. Later, Jesus will ask this question of the religious leaders to show them that John’s baptism was legitimate, as decreed by God (Matthew 21:23-27). John says, “I’m only baptizing in water, or with water, but Jesus is here, and – [from other Gospels] – He’ll be baptizing with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is standing in their midst. They should be excited to meet and learn more about this Person John describes, but we don’t hear a response from the Jewish leaders.

Then John testifies of Jesus in v29, saying, “Look, Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This was why John was baptizing, that he would baptize Jesus to signify the beginning of His ministry, that Jesus would be identified as the Messiah, not for Jesus’ benefit, but for the benefit of the Jewish people. And v31 gives a surprising truth: John says, “The reason I came baptizing with water was that [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel.” We might consider John’s baptism to have a different meaning, perhaps a more personal meaning for those engaging in its practice. And I think we’d all agree that it probably had that personal significance for all those who repented under John’s ministry. But the apostle John tells us here than John the Baptist recognized a much deeper and more important significance to his practice – that of revealing Christ.

John was revealing the Messiah by calling Him the “Lamb of God.” How amazing! A lamb to the Jewish people was synonymous with sacrifice. Think: Passover lamb. That’s Jesus. He’s the Passover Lamb, the lamb of priceless sacrifice. But it’s much more. Jesus is the Servant Lamb of Isaiah 53:7. Countless lambs were offered on altars in Old Testament times. But Jesus is The Lamb. What an honor to be able to point to Jesus of Nazareth and say, “He’s the One! He’s God’s Messiah! He’s The Prophet! He’s the Lamb; it’s His blood that’s going to forgive us our sins.” And the word “sin” is singular to convey any kind of iniquity. And “the world” is intended to convey non-discrimination of any people group. This is not just for Jews. This is for humanity in its hostility to God.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

John 1:19-23

19Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ." 21They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." 22Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.' "

Who is John? The voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ John’s ministry kicks off, and he draws lots of people to hear him and repent and be baptized. This is a genuine spiritual revival, and the Jewish religious leadership was concerned. One of the roles of the Sanhedrin was to deter false teaching and maintain order among the multitude of teachers and preachers that would spring up during the 400-500 years of inter-testimental history. The leadership asks John, “Who are you?” And they must have had it in the back of their minds that he could have been the Messiah. That’s how influential his ministry was. But our text says that John had no trouble confessing that he was not the Messiah. Who then was he?

God says about John the Baptist in Malachi 3:1, “See, I will send My messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” And in Malachi 4:5, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” So here the Jewish leadership asks if he is Elijah. Calvin explains that “the question is founded on a false opinion which they had long held; for, holding the opinion that the soul of a man departs out of one body into another, when Malachi announced that Elijah would be sent, they imagined that the same Elijah was to come. It is therefore a just and true reply which John makes, that he is not Elijah; for he speaks according to the opinion which they attached to the words; but Christ, giving the true interpretation of the Prophet, affirms that John is Elijah (Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:13).” Luke 1:17 records the angel telling Zechariah that John “will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” So they expected the same Elijah. John knew he was not what they expected. Jesus affirms that he was in the spirit of Elijah. The Jewish leadership then wonders if John is the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). This is not merely a prophet, but The Prophet signifying the end times, the Day of the Lord. Only Jesus could fulfill this description (Acts 3:22, Acts 7:37), and John rightly answers that he is not The Prophet. Jesus calls John the Baptist a prophet, and even adds that he is more than a prophet (Matthew 11:9).

Instead John says, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, or the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” This quote is from Isaiah 40:3, but the whole of chapter 40 is probably in view. Just listen to the first part, Isaiah 40:1-8, which reads like this: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’ A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.’” It’s about God’s Israel returning from exile.

A couple things here: John is “in the desert” or “in the wilderness.” This is critical. It’s not that he’s literally outside the city limits and in the wilderness of the region, though that is true. Rather, John is in the spiritual wilderness, the spiritual desert. Just as the Isaiah passage says, the people of God have been rescued from exile in Babylon and slavery in Egypt; their “hard service has been completed,” and Israel is on her way to the Promised Land. What comes upon leaving exile or departing Egypt? The wilderness, the desert. And so Jesus comes to the people of Israel where they are – in the desert, in the wilderness. God’s promises to deliver them from physical slavery had come true. Now was the time for deliverance from spiritual slavery as well. (Jesus will talk to the leaders about their slavery to sin in John 8.) And there’s even more in this loaded phrase. God is in the process of restoring creation. It was originally the Garden of Eden. And sin corrupted it; creation was subjected to frustration, and it became wilderness and desert. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and the beginning of His ministry, is a critical stage in this process of restoration and renewal. John writes about that here, and he will write about the completion of that in Revelation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

John 1:17-18

17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made Him known.

The law came through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John, as any Messianic Jew would, contrasts Moses and Jesus to show not the weakness of Moses but the greatness of Christ. The author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to show Jesus’ superiority to Moses. This statement feeds from v16, where Jesus is shown to be the fullness of true grace. Even the patriarchs were extended grace, and this grace came from Jesus Himself, even prior to His Incarnation. Calvin offers great insight here, saying, “Grace, in which the truth of the Law consists, was at length exhibited in Christ.” The point is not that Christ and His truth and grace dominate any talk of Moses and the law, but that the true law pointed to grace in Christ, and that Christ by His fulfillment of the law, exhibits true grace (Colossians 2:17). Furthermore, Moses revealed God’s glory in his shining face after seeing God’s backside in Exodus 33:18-23. But Christ reveals God’s glory in His entire life, death, and resurrection as One who is God and as One who is with God. As the author of Hebrews declares, Christ is better.

No one has ever seen God the Father, but God the Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. How could we miss the clear declaration that Jesus is God? I have a tape of a Muslim caller to the Hank Hanegraaff’s show (The Bible Answer Man), and he asks for evidence of Jesus’ claim to Deity apart from the Gospel of John. He didn’t accept the Gospel of John, because it wasn’t a synoptic Gospel. But we saw it in Romans repeatedly; we saw it in Mark 6:50 when Eric led Coram Deo through Jesus’ walking on water. Jesus is “I AM.” We can see Jesus’ claim to Deity elsewhere (Titus 2:13-14), but it is no doubt most evident in John’s Gospel. And we might expect this, as no human knew Jesus more intimately than John, the one Jesus loved.

One important thing here is that if “no one has ever seen God,” how can anyone prove or deny that He exists? God revealed Himself through Moses in the law. God revealed Himself in a greater way in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, who pitched His tent in our midst. In Jesus, we see God’s full image and know what He is like. And finally, we don’t just see what God is like; we experience the fullness of true grace in His presence by His indwelling Spirit.

The simple point here is that Jesus is the only way to the Father. And He has done that work which brings His people to the Father. Jesus has made the Father known, as He has taken all of the qualities of the Father and wrapped them in Himself in bodily form in order to reveal the Father to the world. When John says that “no one has seen the Father,” he refers to God’s existence as unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16). But there’s more to it than that. We have an experience in knowing the Father through Jesus Christ that the patriarchs before Christ did not have. They knew the Father only by His mysterious revelation – in the storm, the cloud, the fire, the whirlwind, the dreams, etc. We know the Father by the Son and the Spirit who dwells within us. That’s the only way to know the Father since the Incarnation.

And finally, “at the Father’s side,” shows a position of authority and involvement. The Son is not just about the Father’s business without being privy to His eternal purposes and expectations. The Son was acquainted with His Father, in order to inform us that we have this same closeness with God laid open to us in the Gospel. Jesus has explained the Father; Jesus has given His earthly life as an expository sermon on God the Father. It is in that sense that Jesus is the Word made flesh. Psalm 138:2 declares that God has “magnified His Word above [or according to] His Name.” In C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, in the final book (#7), The Last Battle, Tirian and Lord Digory are looking into a stable, and there is an astonishing statement that the inside of the stable was bigger than the outside. And Lucy says, “In our world, too, a stable once had something in it bigger than the whole world.” This prologue is meant not meant to bring full comprehension, but to bring wonder, awe, reverence, a sense, a sight, a little glimpse of the glory of Jesus Christ. And so it does. And we’ll continue the journey as John reveals Christ and His purpose more fully throughout this glorious Gospel, and as Christ makes the invisible God visible.

Monday, September 24, 2007

John 1:14,16

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth... 16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He came from the Father, full of grace and truth, and we have seen His glory. From the fullness of His grace, we have all received blessing. How does this make you feel? Jesus, the Word of God became man as God Incarnate. And we have all received blessing upon blessing as a result of His ministry.

The fullness of God was clothed with the fullness of human nature. The eternal God became flesh. And from other Scriptural references to flesh, this is not a glorious image. Had Jesus been made man, that could have been seen by some humanist Christians as a positive thing, but flesh is not so pretty. Flesh is fragile and mortal - not something we like to consider for the image of Deity. Many have tried in futility to explain away this doctrine of the full Deity and full humanity of Jesus. They have suggested that Christ was only a man, filled with God only for a time. Some say that His divinity was not complete, but only partial. They have suggested that Christ was only God, entering a man for a time to give a message and show an example of love. Some say that His humanity was only partial and not complete. And others claimed that He was two people � one divine and one human, seen in different ways at different times over the course of His life. But we see here that when the Word was made flesh, He did not cease to be the Word. John upholds Jesus' full humanity and full Divinity in this passage.

And He dwelt among us. Jesus tabernacled with us. (John offers rich imagery of the tabernacle in his gospel - seeing Christ revealing the Father is like touring the tabernacle). He pitched His tent in our camp and showed that He desired intimacy with us, despite - even on account of - our sin. He visited us. "Us" here probably refers to the disciples of Jesus, since John writes, "we" beheld His glory (ala, the Transfiguration and the Resurrected Body). Can we view it as "believers" or "all of us"� Jesus demonstrated not only that He was God in the flesh by His miracles, but also that He was full of grace and truth, or "true grace," or "perfection," by His fulfillment of the Law and His patience with our feeble humanity.

In all things, He showed Himself to be the Messiah, which is the most striking mark by which He ought to be distinguished from all others. And that's where John goes in v16, after the brief reminder of John the Baptist in v15. When we read, "We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only," that is a single Greek word (monogenes), alluding to the uniqueness and eternal nature of the Son. When we read, "Full of grace and truth," note that it is parallel to the Old Testament phrase, "Full of steadfast love and faithfulness." Grace is like steadfast love, and truth is like faithfulness.