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Epiphany Third Sunday

Season of Epiphany

Third Sunday: John 1:29-34
THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SINS

INTRODUCTION

John the Baptist introduced Jesus using the symbol of a lamb that has several Biblical implications. Instead of presenting Jesus as a deliverer like Moses, or as a victorious conqueror like David, he presented Jesus as “The Lamb of God” who would sacrifice himself to take away the sin of the world. This lamb who came from God existed before his incarnation. The descent and the permanent abode of the Holy Spirit on Jesus was the proof that he was the Messiah. This Jesus is the Son of God.

BIBLE TEXT

(John 1:29) The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, there is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (30) It is he of whom I said: A man comes after me who is already ahead of me, for he was before me. (31) I myself did not know him, but I came baptizing with water, so that he might be revealed in Israel.” (32) And John also gave this testimony, “I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him. (33) I myself did not know him but the one who sent me to baptize told me: ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (34) Yes, I have seen, and I declare that this is the Son of God.”

INTERPRETATION

(29) The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, there is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

The next day
After a short prologue, John the Evangelist gives a day by day account of what occurred in the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus. On the first day, John testified on Jesus and admitted to the priests and Levites who came from Jerusalem asking John’s identity that he was not the Messiah, the Elijah, or the prophet. He clarified that he was “the voice of one crying out in the desert” to make the way of the Lord straight (John 1:19-23). On the second day, John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared to the public that Jesus was the expected Lamb of God. On the third day John directed his disciples to follow Jesus (John 1:35-37).

He saw Jesus coming toward him.
Jesus’ arrival toward John the Baptist was not for baptism because John had already baptized Jesus as the synoptic gospels describe (Mat. 3:13-17; Mk. 1:9-11; Lk. 3:21-23). After the baptism from John, Jesus went to the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and temptation (Mat. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12, 13; Lk. 4:1-13). Then Jesus returned to John, who introduced him to the public as the Messiah.

Behold
John was pointing to Jesus when he came because many had asked John to identify the Messiah. John’s listeners could not recognize Jesus the Messiah until John revealed him. So, John told the people that Jesus was the one whom he had been speaking. On the next day, John’s disciples left him and followed Jesus (John 1:37).

The Lamb of God
The “Lamb of God” had several implications for John the Baptist and his listeners.

1. It could mean the paschal lamb, whose blood saved Israel at the time of exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:1-13). The pascal lamb without blemish stood for Jesus the sinless God, the blood of the lamb at the door posts stood for the blood of Jesus posted on the cross, and sacrifice of the innocent lamb for the deliverance from slavery stood for the innocent Jesus who died on the cross to deliver sinful humanity from the bondage of sin and Satan.

2. “Lamb of God” means a lamb that God provided. When Abraham traveled with his son Isaac for sacrifice at Mount Moriah, Isaac asked “‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’ Abraham replied, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, my son.’” (Gen. 22:7-8). God gave only a ram (Gen. 22:13) to substitute the sacrifice of Isaac. Whereas, God provided a lamb later, as Abraham predicted. That was Jesus, His only begotten son (John 3:16) who sacrificed at the same mountain centuries later.

3. Jesus stood for the sacrificial lamb in the Temple of Jerusalem. The priests sacrificed a lamb each in the Temple every morning and evening as a reparation for people’s sins (Exodus 29:38-42). They sacrificed more lambs and other animals during the Passover. However, these animal sacrifices could not take away the original sin. They were foreshadowing the sacrifice of the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

4. Prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah predicted a suffering servant led like a lamb for slaughter as a sin-offering (Jeremiah 11:19). “He was harshly treated and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7).

5. At the end we will see a victorious apocalyptic lamb who would destroy evil in the world (Rev. 5–7). John the Evangelist saw “a Lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb appeared to have been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out to all the earth.” (Rev. 5:6). “They will fight against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with him are called, chosen and faithful.” (Rev. 17:14)

Who takes away the sin of the world
The sacrifices of animals by the sinful men could not take away the first parents’ original sin. Since all people are born in sin, God became man keeping up his divinity. Only the self-sacrifice of Jesus, who was free from sin, could compensate for the sin, and take it away from the world.

John uses the singular form of sin instead of sins. The sin that Jesus took away by his sacrifice was the original sin that Adam and Eve committed. This sin was the root cause of all later sins, and so we call original sin. The singular form of sin can also mean all the sins in a collective form. The Israelites were offering animal sacrifices for their contemporary sins. However, the sacrifice of Jesus was for the original sin that affected all humanity and hence the entire world.

(30) “It is he of whom I said: A man comes after me who is already ahead of me, for he was before me.”

Who ranks ahead of me
John acknowledged that Jesus ranked higher than him: “although he comes after me, I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.” (John 1:27).

He existed before me.
Jesus existed even before the count of time and was active at the creation of the universe. God created the universe with his Word, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity.

(31) “I myself did not know him, but I came baptizing with water, so that he might be revealed in Israel.”

I did not know him.
John the Baptist knew Jesus through his parents because Jesus and John were second cousins. John’s parents might have told him of the divine intervention at the birth of himself and Jesus. However, John did not know what Jesus was until he saw the divine intervention when he baptized Jesus. That made him recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

Some scholars believe that when John was young, his parents fled with him to the Judean Desert to save his life from King Herod the Great’s order to kill all male children two years or younger. Herod’s target was Infant Jesus, and so the Holy Family fled to Egypt at the same time. John’s aged parents died within a few years. So, John continued to live in the wilderness under the care of the Essenes community.

The Essenes were a group of priests who disagreed with the corrupt priests in the Temple and left Jerusalem. They moved to the Judean Desert that lies east of Jerusalem and goes down to the Dead Sea. These faithful priests lived in the caves preparing for the Messiah and concentrated on the study and reflection of the Holy Scripture. They preserved the Qumran scrolls discovered from 1946 to 1956. Essenes were active during the public ministry of Jesus for about 100 years. They might have trained and influenced John, which is clear from John’s lifestyle.

The reason why I came baptizing
John’s baptism had a double purpose: to offer the forgiveness of sins for welcoming the Messiah and to introduce Jesus Christ to Israel. John introduced Jesus after he baptized him because during that time, he saw the sign that God gave him to recognize the Messiah.

(32) And John also gave this testimony, “I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him.”

I saw the Spirit come down.
“I saw” clarifies that only John had the vision of the Spirit coming down on Jesus at the time of his baptism. 

Like a dove from the sky
The Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove. It was not a normal dove flying in the sky. The invisible Holy Spirit took the shape of a dove to make the Spirit visible to John. This dove came from the sky, which stands for heaven.

Dove has different implications in the Bible: At the time of creation, “the spirit of God hovered over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word for hovering has the sense of a mother bird brooding over her eggs. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, the dove had moved upon the waters of Jordan and descended upon Jesus to start a spiritual renewal through Jesus.

Dove was the symbol of a new creation in the story of Noah. At the end of the flood he sent out from the ark a raven and a dove. Raven, an unclean bird, ate dead bodies, and did not return. Dove, a clean bird, flew over the waters, and returned to Noah (Genesis 8: 7-12).

God compared Israel to a dove. (Hosea 11:11).

Dove is a taming bird and a symbol of peace, purity, and love. It is symbolic of innocence. Jesus told his disciples: “Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. You must be clever as snakes and gentle as doves.” (Matthew 10:16).

Dove was a sacred bird in Palestine. It was acceptable for sacrifice in the Temple. Those who could not afford to offer animals for sin offering could offer doves instead (Lev 5:7-11).

(33) “I myself did not know him but the one who sent me to baptize told me: ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

John came to know for sure that Jesus was the Messiah not based on the information he received from his parents when he was young, but based on God’s revelation and its fulfillment by the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus.

Spirit come down and remain.
John repeated stating that the Spirit of God took permanent abode on Jesus. Jesus affirmed the Holy Spirit in him as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy by saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and sight to the blind; to free the oppressed and to announce the Lord’s year of mercy.” (Luke 4:18-19). So, the Spirit remained in Jesus and guided him. The same Spirit continues to guide the church after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles on the Feast of Pentecost.

Baptize with the Holy Spirit.
Every Christian has the same gift of permanent abode of the Spirit by the merit of Christian baptism. “When you are brought before the synagogues, governors and rulers, do not worry about how you will defend yourself or what to say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time all that you have to say.” (Luke 12:11-12).

Baptism of John had two implications: It meant cleansing the body by taking a bath and renewal of life. Besides the remission from all our sins, the baptism of Jesus imparted the gifts of the Holy Spirit on us. 

(34) “Yes, I have seen, and I declare that this is the Son of God.”

The expression, “The Son of God” gives importance to the divinity of Jesus. John who points to Jesus from the crowd denoted that though Jesus was human in appearance, he is also God incarnate and the only begotten son of God as in Psalm 2:7: “You are my son. This day I have begotten you.”

“The Son of God” in the Bible has a figurative sense, and we shall not take that in a worldly sense. It shows the distinction of the divine Father and the Son who are equals and are one with the Holy Spirit as the Most Holy Trinity.

MESSAGE

1. John the Baptist is a role model for us. Like him, we must attract others to Jesus and not to us. Parents, teachers, and evangelists shall humble themselves and make Jesus the center of their activities.

2. Jesus who became the Lamb of God for us by his self-sacrifice is also our model in service for others. Jesus won victory through his dedication for us.

3. We have received baptism in the Trinitarian formula. Thus, we became the temple of God. So, we should respect our body and soul created by God the Father, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and confirmed by the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.