By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 19, 2020
John 1:29–42 (ESV)
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
Today we come together again during this period of the Church year where we basically say, “no what?” We know exactly what to do leading up to and during Christmas. We know what to focus on during the time leading up to Easter. Even during that time between Easter and Christmas we are okay with because it is the time, we celebrate the Spirit of God being with us. It is this period of time between Christmas and Easter that we struggle with. These winter weeks after the New Year, where we really just want the spring to come but that silly ground hog keeps seeing his shadow.
It is this time where we are left wondering. We know certain things in our mind, but are they a true reality. We recognize and profess that Jesus is with us, yet do we really live as if that is real?
Last week we met John and Jesus on the banks of the Jordan. I said that John was the one man in Israel that truly understood what was going on. But even John struggled with his faith. His life began in a miraculous manner similar to that of the patriarchs of old, and angel announced his birth to the father and the father was left almost laughing at the prospect. John knew that story of his origins, because I seriously doubt anyone involved in his life could refrain from talking about it. Imagine his dad enduring those nine months unable to speak. He was a priest of high regard; he was a leader in the Synagogue when he was not performing his duties at the temple. His wife, who in advanced years and never bore a child, was obviously pregnant and he could not say a single thing about it. And as John grew, he had this destiny presented to him that undergirded everything he was going to experience.
He was a child of privilege; whose life was to be dedicated to the service of God. Luke 1 tells us, “for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” John knew his life’s purpose before he was even born. Once his father could speak again, he would have directed his son into this life, giving him the necessary opportunities to make it happen.
Imagine what you would have done if you had been given this sort of direction in the rearing of your children. Imagine the decisions you would make to provide for the fulfillment of this prophecy spoken over your child. I have often wondered how John ended up on the banks of a river when the temple was such a central focus to the lives of the first century religious community. I have wondered how a religious community that was so efficient and organized could have a child with a destiny like that of John would not have offered space for him to within their colonnades? This gives us a glimpse into spiritual reality and institutional practice. John lived his faith with passion. His life and lifestyle fulfilled the very destiny that was proclaimed to his father, but I am certain that many within the organization suspected that John had turned from the truth path. We know this because when Jesus asked the teachers if John had come from God, they responded that they did not know. They responded in this way because they did not want to alienate themselves from those that had an opinion to either side.
John was the only person that knew Jesus in a way beyond the obscure builder. John knew that there was more to this cousin of his that met the eyes, but even John did not know exactly what to expect. I said last week that John knew Jesus, and in today’s passage John says that he did not know him. You might think that your pastor is off his rocker, and you might not be far from the truth, but we need to look deeper.
Words have power. When we group words together in certain ways they can inspire or condemn. They can empower or enslave. When we speak using words, we need to be careful. If a parent uses words with their children, they use can encourage them to become men and women of wisdom, honor, grace and faith. But we can also use words that belittle and discourage our children to the point they lose all desire to try to improve. This is one of the reasons being a parent is the hardest job in the world, because we really do not know until we enter eternity if we dealt faithfully with the precious lives we were entrusted with. People have made careers in teaching people and parents different methods of speaking to those they supervise, to promote greater response without causing harm. Words have power because words are often layered with meaning.
The word “know” is one such word. We can know in various ways. I know actors and actresses that star in my favorite shows. I know where they were born, and for some I even know if and where they went to college. And I am excited because the Ant-Man is going to be at the game today, because Paul used to live in this area, and he went to school at KU. I know these people, but I do not know them like I know my children.
I know my children in a much deeper sense of the word. With my children I can look at them and can basically predict exactly what they are about to do. I know by the tone of their voice if they are hungry. With the change of a single breath I know if something has changed in their current state of being. I know my children in a way that is deeper than any celebrity because I have spent a greater amount of time with them. Even this is different than how I know my spouse. There is a whole different aspect to knowing in this regard. Which includes everything we know about our children and more. Our spouses are those people that we have a special bond with one that we do not share with anyone else.
Knowing can be something attached to information and various relational aspects. When John says that he did not know Jesus, he is not saying that he had no knowledge of who he was. He knew his cousin, if not personally, he knew about him. I find it impossible to believe that John’s mom would be able to keep quiet about the reaction the fetus inside her responded during the visit of Mary. John knew Jesus, so what does John mean when he says he did not know him?
If we were to look up the word know in this case, it is references experience not facts. When John speaks about Jesus after he had baptized him, John is speaking of a different level of knowledge, he did not know him in the same way before. He knew him before in one way but the day after the baptism John knew Jesus in a much deeper way. Before he spoke in abstract, and today he speaks with experience.
John remained out in the wilderness preaching to those that came out to see him. He remained out there in the wilderness shouting out to those that came to repent for the kingdom of God is near. He remained out in the wilderness pushing people under the water to mark a moment where they had made a decision to turn from the life they once lived and embrace a new form of life. He was out in the wilderness, that next day and he sees Jesus walking by in the distance. He sees Jesus, and the message he was shouting changed from repent for the kingdom is near to, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Do we see the change? John moves from Prophet to herald. “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” John goes on to say that he witnessed the spirit of God descending on Jesus like a dove, and that he knew Jesus to be the son of God.
This is huge. John tells us that God called him to leave the richly decorated walls of the temple to embrace the ascetic life. He tells us that he was called by God to call people to repentance and he was even called to baptize them with water. If we were to look at the full report of John’s message, we would see that even John did not put any real power in his activity beyond encouraging a public declaration of repentance. He said that we cannot say that we have the right heritage because God could raise up children from Abraham from the very stones beneath our feet. His message states that it is not nationalism that save you because He was out in the wilderness baptizing gentiles along with those of Hebrew decent. John says that his baptism is in itself worthless because there is one that will come after who actually came before, that will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Maybe we do not understand what that means. What lead John out to the wilderness? What empowered John to proclaim the message that he proclaimed? The Spirit of God would be upon John even in the womb, meaning that John would experience God directing his life from the very beginning of his existence. John responded to that Spirit when he left the temple, and he began doing something different. Baptism has its roots in Jewish practice, but John expanded the meaning. The Jewish people would bath before they were to enter into worship in special pools. And as they entered these baths, they would fully immerse every part of their body into the water, every part of their body was clean. And the water would need to be living water, which basically means that the water needed to have a constant flow. The symbolism of the bath is that the things that might make us dirty are immersed and carried away from us. That which makes us unclean is removed and totally washed away. At that point they can enter the sacred place to worship. John is out in the wilderness; he is in the Jordan river. The symbolism here is even greater.
The Jordan is the often regarded as the border between Israel and the rest of the world. The fact that John was in the Jordan gives the impression that the holy place that people are to enter is not only a place of worship but the land itself. He is saying that no one is worthy of being called Israel, because all have sinned and need to repent. And when John baptizes Jesus it marks or reveals a new era of history. Jesus becomes Israel, he takes on himself all the future and history of Israel and redeems it in himself. Everything before, everything now, and everything in the future is now on him. John baptized with water; Jesus baptizes with God.
John did not know him in this way before, but now he knows. Now he knows that everything about his existence is made complete in Jesus. And later John will say, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Meaning the initial act of turning is not as important than the life lived in relationship to God.
John is out there in the wilderness. He is out there like many of us. We do not fully know what to do or where to go from here. John baptized Jesus, and all at once his life comes into focus. Yet what about us? A day passes and John’s message turns from repent because the kingdom of God is near to Behold the Lamb. Now another day has passed and again John sees Jesus. John is a man that has a following. People have come from all over Judea to listen to him preach. We know that his message had even extended to places far beyond Israel because, Apollos of Alexandria is found in the Book of Acts proclaiming the message of John. Jesus is seen approaching again on the second day, and John is standing there in the water of the Jordan with two disciples. And he looks at Jesus and he says to those with him, “behold, the lamb of God!” On the second day, John sends his disciples away from him, he directs them no longer to this abstract concept of repentance and baptism. He directs them to experience God with us. He sends his disciples away, encouraging them to follow Jesus.
Consider this moment for a bit. John sent his disciples to Jesus. His entire life had been lived a certain way; he had responded to the call of God to leave the privileged life of the temple to live in the wilderness. He had disciples that had responded to his lifestyle and had joined him in it. And here he is sending them away. All that we have is God’s, and is given for His glory not our own. If we do not release what we have to God, we miss the very essence of our lives.
John’s disciples hear his voice saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” They hear his words, and they know that what John is saying is the life you seek is not in the water but with Jesus. They walk to the shore, they climb out of the water, and they follow. I wonder how long they followed Jesus, before Jesus turned and spoke to them. I wonder if Jesus took a particularly strenuous path just for the fun of it that particular day, before he turned to them and spoke. He leads them for a while, an unspecified distance but enough to know that they were indeed following him. Which seems to mean that they were now away from the crowds of people and in a place of some privacy. And he asks them a very important question. “What are you seeking?”
Think about that question, because it is not only a question for them two thousand years ago. It is a question for each of us. A few weeks ago, I asked a question, “Why are you here?” that question stems from this question Jesus asked these two disciples of John. Jesus at this point had no real interaction with those that followed John. There is no indication that Jesus had spent any time engaged in John’s ministry up to this point. As far as we know, this is only the third time they had seen Jesus in any aspect outside the obscure builder he had been for the previous thirty years. Yet, they trusted John. When they heard his words, their desires turned from following the baptizer and rested on this unknown figure. And He asks them, “What are you seeking?”
The question is profound, because the term to seek is abstract enough to basically cover any answer. What is your greatest desire? What is truth? What is the purpose of my life? All of these and more are found in that simple question, “What are you seeking?” And their answer is simple at first, yet equally profound, “Teacher, where are you staying?”
Their greatest desire is to spend the day with Jesus. Their greatest desire is to have a conversation with a man their teacher finds so interesting. Their greatest desire is to know the person their teacher, upon sight, instantly changes from passionate proclaimer of repentance, to reverence and awe.
They followed Jesus because there was something more behind what they saw. It is one thing to enter the water and to re-emerge, the change that they saw in John when Jesus approached was something that affected the very essence of his being, it was the substance of life itself. They left the river and they wanted to spend the rest of the day with this man. “Where are you staying?” And Jesus says, “Come and you will see.”
They continued down the path, and the tenth hour approached, meaning that there was only about two hours of daylight left. They finished their day talking with Jesus. They experienced life with Jesus. They felt a different call, because the call of Jesus is not just adjusting your life to live better. It is to walk with him, stay where he stays, and to share life in a community.
The next day those two went out and they found others and asked them to come see as well. John called Israel to leave the comfort of their organization, and in the face of Christ he says behold the Lamb. Jesus looks at John who said I need to be baptized by you, yet you come to me. And Jesus tells John let’s do this, and John takes the back seat and redirects people to Jesus. I ask you because you are here listening, “What do you seek?” And as we enter this time of open worship, I encourage you to approach the silence as George Fox did, because like John he knew Jesus by experience. And experience occurs when we “Come and see.” So let us see what God with us has to show us, and experience His life with us.