The Seventh in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
John the Baptist said of Jesus, “he must increase and I must decrease.” In the closing verses of John chapter 1 this is exactly what happens. John identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John also identifies Jesus and the very Son of God. Jesus is that one greater than John, who was before John, and about whom John had been preaching. But John represents the old order of things about to pass away into obsolescence, because the turning point in redemptive history has come. When Jesus approaches John a second time, John directs two of his own disciples to follow Jesus because he knows the messianic mission of Jesus is about to begin.
As we continue our series on John’s Gospel, John’s account now moves on from the messianic forerunner (John the Baptist) to the Messiah himself. In verses 35-51 of John 1 (our text), the focus shifts away from preliminary matters to the formal beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In this section, we have John’s account (likely as an eyewitness and participant) of Jesus initial meeting of several of the men who would become his first followers, men whom eventually we come to know as Jesus’ “disciples.” Our text can be a bit confusing because it recounts events not found in the other gospels, and which at first glace may even seem to contradict the account of these same events in the synoptics. As we will see, this is not the case and these issues are easily resolved.
As we saw a couple of sermons ago, the events which follow immediately after the prologue of John (vv. 1-18) focus first upon John the Baptist (vv. 19-28), then John’s identification of Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (vv. 29-34). But in our passage (vv. 35-51), John recounts events which occur over the next two days. The time line and chronology which is set out by John in this section of his Gospel is interesting, if not highly symbolic. In verses 19-28, the first day in this sequence of events, John the Baptist (the other John) is confronted by a group of Levites and priests from Jerusalem. These men (who are likely aligned with the Sadducees) were either sent by Pharisees, or else included Pharisees among their number. This is significant because the Sadducees and Pharisees were theological and political enemies–they hated each other, but were united in their opposition to John.
John the Baptist was the son of a priest and Levite, and so the group of Jews who came from Jerusalem to confront him out in the Judean wilderness, were probably troubled that one of their own had strayed from the faith. When the group finds John, they ask him if he is the Messiah. John says no. They ask him if he is the prophet. He says no. They ask him if he is Elijah come back from heaven. John says he is not. Well, then who is he? John tells his inquisitors that he is the voice out in the wilderness (foretold in Isaiah 40), warning Israel that the Messiah is about to be revealed. But the real issue for the group sent from Jerusalem is that John is preaching and baptizing without the permission and sanction of the Jewish religious leadership, and even worse, the number of people following John out in the wilderness is growing rapidly. Something significant is going on. Messianic expectation was reaching a fever pitch.
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