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John 1:35-39. The Lamb of God

   The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

For a second time now, John declares Jesus to be ‘the Lamb of God’. Two of John’s disciples hear it, immediately abandon John, and start following Jesus as their ‘Teacher’. Jesus seems at first a little surprised by this turn of events, but invites Andrew and the other disciple (Philip?) to tag along anyway.

So what does it mean to Andrew and Philip for Jesus to be ‘the Lamb of God’? In the Old Testament lambs were usually associated with the idea of sacrifice and the temple cult. A one year old lamb, without defect, was considered an appropriate sacrifice in many situations. But these sacrificial lambs were provided by sinners seeking a restored relationship with God. When did God ever provide a Lamb?

At God’s direction, as Abraham set out to sacrifice, his young son Isaac asked, “Where’s the lamb?” In Genesis 22:8 Abraham replies, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And so, in the fullness of time (and just in the nick of time!), God provides a ram for the sacrifice.

Whatever Andrew and Philip understood by John’s use of the phrase, “the Lamb of God,” the sum of his testimony prompted them to transfer their allegiance to Jesus.

Lord, grant that all my former allegiances be absolutely transferred to Jesus. May he fill my horizon. May his sacrifice truly stand in my place. Amen.

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John 1:29-34. Testimony

   The next day John saw Jesus coming toward 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.”

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 baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1:29-34)

Here, now at last, is John’s formal testimony. He gathers up his preparatory remarks from earlier in the chapter and focusses them all upon Jesus of Nazareth. His concluding remark, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One” is framed in the perfect tense. This infers that John’s statement, made at a singular point in time, has enduring effect. His words echo down through time, even in the pages of this gospel, for the benefit of those who will hear. John declares that Jesus is God’s Son.

I know that in the NIV cited above John says, “…God’s Chosen One” but the best Greek text that we have actually has John saying, “this is the Son of God.” The usually very good NIV translation is perhaps trying to give the reader some kind of interpretive help but it robs us of the introduction of one of this gospel’s great themes (culminating in John 20:30-31). John’s testimony– both the baptiser and the gospel author– is that Jesus is ‘the Son of God.’ When John spoke these words, ‘Son of God’ did not necessarily mean “Divine second person of the Trinity”. Instead, this phrase meant something like, ‘a king in the line of David.’ The true kings of Israel were referred to as God’s sons (see D.A. Carson, The Son of God, Crossway, 2012). It was a messianic term. And yet, it is only as John’s gospel unfolds do we come to understand the greater reality that Jesus the Son of God is also truly divine, the second member of the Godhead.

In addition to the Baptist’s personal testimony, John also reports the action of the Holy Spirit. His dwelling with Jesus (an enduring reality) not only commissions him for his ministry, but also shows God’s recognition and approval. Jesus is truly God’s agent, acting with his authority and power, affirmed by the Spirit.

Once again, I am prompted to consider my response to this further revelation of Jesus. John’s ministry had a twin purpose– (i) to prepare Israel for their Messiah by calling people to repentance, and (ii) to testify to Israel as to the identity of their Messiah. “Turn back to God because here He is in our midst!” I wonder if our response to ‘God in our midst’ is true repentance?

How might this reality prompt you to prayer now?

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John 1:19-28. The Baptiser

  Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders  in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:19-28).

The prelude complete, John’s gospel now moves into narrative mode. The prophet Malachi (4:5-6) created the expectation that Elijah– whether resurrected or a ‘type’– would come as a heralding prophet immediately prior to the Messiah’s arrival. The ministry of baptising and preaching repentance would be seen as “turning the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents”. So the delegation from Jerusalem are asking reasonable questions of John.

Verse 24 employs a narrative technique used frequently throughout John’s gospel. A further detail is introduced into the story that heightens the drama. Only now do we find out that the delegation from Jerusalem also included a group of Pharisees (imagine some foreboding music now added to the soundtrack). The Pharisees were the ultra-orthodox religious party– ‘different’ to the priests and Levites previously introduced in verse 19. Their scrutiny ups the ante on John. He’d better know his bible and he better be careful what he says.

John’s series of denials—all of which could be true in one sense or another— serve to give increased attention to the quote from Isaiah. The reason for John’s denials is unclear. Perhaps he refers only to his own perception of his calling. His later queries addressed to Jesus suggest he knew little detail of God’s plan in progress. But what is clear is that he believes he is announcing the arrival of the LORD coming to his temple (Isaiah 40:1-5). “The time for exile is complete. Get ready because God is coming. His glory is about to be revealed and everyone will see it together– not just the high priest in the temple.”

This interaction between John and the Pharisees feels a bit like two boxers testing each other out at the beginning of round 1– a jab here, a poke there. In verse 26, John’s answer to the Pharisees’ interrogation sounds incomplete. “I baptise with water…” Yet he does not continue, “but the one to come will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Instead, enigmatically, John simply affirms that he is indeed baptising with water, and then he redirects to his purpose of revealing the coming One, whose sandal he is not worthy to untie. Instead of John, the Pharisees need to pay attention to the One who is to soon be revealed. He is already among the people of Israel, so they must be alert; be ready.

I’m moved to ponder my own response to the coming of Jesus– his second coming. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, God’s word tells me he’s coming. I have a rough idea of what to expect. The prophets continue to speak. I’m curious about any signs or hints of his impending arrival. But is my heart ready to receive his revelation for all that it will be?

Lord, prepare my heart to receive you when you come. Thank you for all who have come before me, all who have sought to prepare the way for your coming. Grant that I might be ready: no excuses, no regrets. Amen.

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John 1:15-18. God revealed by God

John 1:15    (John testified concerning him [the Word]. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and  is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

These few verses are contested ground, and on several levels. And yet, the author’s point is obvious: Jesus is first. The Baptiser’s testimony is that although Jesus comes ‘after him’ (temporally), he is ‘before him’ in two ways (i) he was pre-existent, explaining v1-14; and (ii) he is ‘before him’ in rank and greater in honour. See John 1:30. So on both counts, Jesus is first.

This testimony is significant because John was widely regarded as God’s prophet. John the Baptist is the first major witness to step forward in this gospel. The signs of Jesus and the words of Jesus will also play their part in verifying his identity, divine origin and nature. These are all put forward to commend belief in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (John 20:30-31).

The NIV struggles to translate the original language at verse 16. Out of Jesus’ fullness– his completed work and fully recognised person– we have received ‘grace over and against grace’ (χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος). So it seems that Jesus gives us grace replacing the grace that was already given in the Old Testament. This is one blessing after another. Indeed, Jesus supersedes Moses.

Already in this gospel I am being drawn to recognise that, before Jesus, I am in the presence of such greatness that I cannot remain unmoved. Undoubtedly I am dwarfed when standing before Moses– the great law-giver. But Jesus Christ is far greater, because he is the one who brings grace and truth from God.

Jesus supersedes Moses because what he brings from God is from God’s very heart. Jesus stands in such unique relationship to the Father– he comes straight from his bosom, as the ‘only-truly-born’ Son.

Heavenly Father and my Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for revealing yourself to me. Thank you that your Spirit has enabled me to receive this revelation, believe it, and benefit from it. Thank for your grace upon grace, one blessing after another. Please graft into my heart a response befitting your kindness to me. Amen.

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John 1:14. Incarnation.

John 1:14    The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

I like camping with friends. It’s like making a new home together, as an extended family. We pitch our tents side by side, share our meals, pool our resources and live in close community. Camping friends get to know one another very well, simply by doing life together in close quarters.

When the eternal Word became fully human, he pitched his tent right in our midst and moved on in. He ‘tabernacled’ with us. This tabernacling is so much better than the Exodus desert experience of God living among his people in a mobile temple made from seal skins and acacia wood. Instead the author of this gospel declares that, when up close and personal with Jesus, he saw the glory of God revealed in a man. The eternal Word was visible and tangible, revealed and made known. Yet he retained his unique and divine glory— full of grace and truth— but he was among humanity as one of us.

So our God is not aloof and remote. He has made himself vulnerable to our touch, open to our friendship and our experience. All this changes how I see God.

Lord, as you have given yourself to me, so I give myself to you. Amen.

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John 1:9-13. Receiving the Light

John 1:9    The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The metaphor of light is now deepened. We have already noted that in John ‘light’ can refer to the observable light emanating from the source (akin to photons of light), or light can refer to that which is revealed by the light– enlightenment. The true light (Jesus) emanates from its source (the Father) and gives light (enlightenment) to everyone.

What does it mean to ‘receive’ Jesus, the light? It must mean more than simply agreeing that he existed. Verse 12 parallels ‘receiving’ with ‘believing in his name’ so the two are closely connected. But I suggest that ‘receiving him’ means more than acknowledging that he is ‘God who has come from God’, to be the saviour of the world, as this gospel testifies. No, to actually receive him requires that he be installed as my God, my Saviour, and my Lord. ‘Receiving’ him is personal.

John’s gospel reveals much about Jesus. I can learn a lot and pass an exam on the topic of Jesus… but remain unchanged. I can agree with all that John teaches, but not know Jesus.  Receiving Jesus requires me to engage in a relationship with him such that his life becomes my life. While my old life is discarded, I am (we are!) born of God. We are children of God.

The distinction between Jesus as “Son of God” and the status given to his people to become “children of God” (τέκνα θεοῦ) is significant. It is a profoundly close association but not the same. The power given is that of “becoming”; yet even in the fulfilment they are not the same. As we shall see in verse 14, Jesus is unique in his relationship with God, as God, in the persons of the Trinity. And yet, as God’s children by adoption, we are invited and enabled to share in relationship with him.

Dear God, I am humbled and surprised. 

I was an orphan lost at the Fall
Running away when I’d hear Your call
But Father, You worked Your will
I had no righteousness of my own
I had no right to draw near Your throne
But Father, You loved me still

And in love before You laid the world’s foundation
You predestined to adopt me as Your own
You have raised me so high up above my station
I’m a child of God by grace and grace alone.*

Amen.

 

*from ‘Grace Alone’ by Dustin Kensrue.

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John 1:6-8. The witness

John 1:6    There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

John– not the author of this book, but the baptiser– is all about testimony. He testifies concerning the light of humanity, given for all, still shining in the darkness. While respected as a prophet, he is not the light. He simply testifies to it for one clear purpose: that we might believe.

What is his testimony that I might believe it? He testifies that:

  • Jesus surpasses John in stature and honour because he was before him (Jn 1:15).
  • John is sent to make preparations for the arrival of ‘the Lord’ (Jn 1:23). This arrival of ‘the Lord’, God himself, is foretold by Isaiah 40:1-5.
  • Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
  • The Spirit of God has come down from heaven and remained on Jesus (Jn 1:32).
  • Jesus is the Son of God (Jn 1:34).

This testimony– especially in first century Israel, as well as now– is revolutionary. Looking back over the list, ponder each point again slowly. Consider how it might confront your regular patterns of thought.

Dear God, grant that I might embrace John’s testimony to Jesus and so enlarge my vision of who he is. Amen.

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John 1:1-5. Genesis

John 1:1    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

We begin at the very beginning of all things, echoing Genesis 1:1-5. Whereas Genesis is concerned with the very widest array of ‘origins’ issues– Who is God? Why has he created? Where do humans fit in the cosmos?– John is concerned specifically with the origins of ‘the Word’ (whom he soon reveals as Jesus of Nazareth). Here we learn that the Word is God and has always been God. We also learn that the Word was with God– literally ‘towards God’, which requires a distinction between God and the Word and yet a relationship of intimacy between the two.

Just as in Genesis 1, after announcing God as creator, the next major theme introduces light. The Word has life within him, the life which is the light of all humanity. Without this light of life, humanity is overcome by darkness.

The metaphor of Light is significant throughout John 1-12. God the Father is the source of light, Jesus is the light that shines (akin to the photons of light that share the nature of the source and which emanate from the source), and then there what is revealed by the shining of the light. This is the testimony to be received by humanity. What is revealed by this light? God himself.

Dear God, I am delighted to learn that before the beginning you were in relationship– Father, Son and Spirit. I stand amazed that you sustain the life of humanity collectively– and me individually– from your Word. In him is my light and my life. Amen.

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31 Days of Purity: Persevering

Day 31

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Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.  (Jude 1:24-25)

This closes our 31 days together. You have completed the challenge I offered on New Years Day, but it does not close our lifelong pursuit of sexual purity. In fact, we have only just begun. Today we are praying for ourselves and for one another that we would persevere. Keep going, men. The battle is not over. Tomorrow you will continue your pursuit of purity. And as you do, remember that the Lord Jesus—and only the Lord Jesus—is able to keep you from stumbling.

One day we will be presented blameless before the Lord and there will be great joy. Though that day is not yet called “today,” it is absolutely certain. Therefore, let us press on all the more as we look forward to that day.

Lord, thank you for all those that have prayed and battled for purity these 31 days. I pray that they would continue on in the battle. Help me to continue praying with them and pursuing purity together. Cause us to endure in this great endeavor. May Christ be glorified through us. Transform our hearts and our homes for His name. I am thankful that you are able to keep me from stumbling. Help me press on in purity, all the while looking forward to the day when I will be presented spotless in Your presence. Amen.

Why don’t you grab a friend and take him with you through this challenge again? These resources will continue to be found at this web address.

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31 Days of Purity: an Eternal Perspective

Day 30

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So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Sometimes we get so caught up in the moment that we lose all sense of perspective. We become like the man who stands before the sweeping mountain vista, but will only gaze at the ground beneath his feet. What he sees is real, but it is so small and so limited. We need to lift our eyes to catch the bigger perspective—the eternal perspective. Like Paul, we need to fix our eyes on what is unseen and eternal.

This life matters. But this life is short. When we put our lifespans in the context of eternity, they are but the shortest blip, the shortest dash between the two dates on a gravestone. While another evening of resisting temptation can seem like the longest and most difficult night of our lives, it is but the shortest tick of the clock in the context of eternity. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). Even this temptation, this affliction, is so light when we compare it to the joy that awaits us.

Father, help me to keep my eyes fixed on what is unseen and eternal. Help me to view my life, and my moments of temptation, in the context of eternity. While these temptations can feel so weighty and so difficult, I want to know and believe that they are but light and momentary afflictions compared to the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison you have prepared for me. I long for the day when I will be with you forever. Prepare me for that day by giving me your grace to battle for purity in the face of temptation, today and every day.

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31 Days of Purity: A Renewed Mind

Day 29

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Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Our bodies follow our minds. Throughout his life, the Christian is to be renewing his mind by the Word of God, to take it into captivity and bring it into conformity. As he does this, his words and his deeds, and even his thoughts, will necessarily follow.

If there is any area where we let our bodies dictate our thoughts and our actions, it is often in the area of sexual purity, in those times when the body seems to cry out in dissatisfaction. When we wallow in sexual sin, we fill our minds with what is impure, as if Philippians 4 commands us to think about whatever is false, whatever is deplorable, whatever is unfair, whatever is impure, whatever is ugly, whatever is critical, if there is any depravity, if there is anything worthy of rebuke, we think about these things. And, not surprisingly, our bodies follow our minds.

It is so much better to heed and to practice Philippians 4 which commands us to think about what is good and noble and pure. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Think about those things, brother, and let God transform your thoughts and your actions.

Father, I pray that you would do your work of mind-renewal within me. I know that my behavior follows my thoughts, so I pray that you would help me to think about those things that are true and beautiful. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, I pray that you would help me to think about these things and to love thinking about these things.

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31 Days of Purity: the Victories of Grace

Day 28

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

God tells us that victory over sin is certain—even those sins we have held to for so long. This can be hard to believe when we look to the past and see only failure after failure. Yet we are assured that in Christ we are new creations—the old has gone and the new has come. In Christ we are becoming who we are, increasingly taking hold of who we are in Him. Where we once delighted to do evil, we can have confidence that one day we will delight to avoid evil. Where we once hated to do what is right, we can have confidence that one day we will delight to do what is right.

We really can know such radical change. However, it rarely happens overnight. In that period where you are battling hard against sin, where you are developing new patterns of doing what is right instead of doing what God forbids, be sure to celebrate the small victories. Each of those victories is an evidence of God’s grace in your life. When you choose to do the right thing instead of the sinful thing, give thanks to God. When you have gone longer than you’ve ever gone before without succumbing to the temptation, celebrate with a friend and thank the Lord. Celebrate his grace by praising his name.

Father, I am thankful that in Christ I am a new creation. I believe what you say: the old has passed away and the new has come. Let me be who I am in Christ. Let me take hold of all Christ offers. I thank you for giving me grace—grace to see my sin, grace to hate my sin and grace to overcome my sin. All of this is an evidence of your work in my life, and I thank you for it. Help me to celebrate day-by-day what you are doing in and through me.