Epiphany Third Sunday

The Lamb of God who takes away the sins. (John 1:29-34)

INTRODUCTION

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

Bible Text

(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) He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ (31) I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” (32) John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. (33) I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ (34) Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

 Interpretation

(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.

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 the Baptist testified to Jesus and admitted to the priests and Levites who came from Jerusalem asking John’s identity that he was not the Messiah or 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 pronounced 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
This coming of Jesus toward John the Baptist was not for baptism because Jesus was already baptized by John that is described in the synoptic gospels (Mat 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-23). After baptism from John, Jesus went to the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and the temptation. (Mat 4:1-11; Mk 1:12, 13; Lk 4:1-13). Then Jesus returned to John who introduced Jesus to the public.

Behold
John was pointing to Jesus when he came because many were asking to identify him. The listeners of John could not recognize Jesus 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 John and followed Jesus. (John 1:37).

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

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 delivered sinful humanity from the bondage of sin or Satan.

2. “Lamb of God” means a lamb provided by God. When Abraham was going with his son Isaac for sacrifice at Mount Moriah, Isaac asked "’Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’" (Gen. 22:7-8). God gave a ram (Gen. 22:13) to substitute the sacrifice of Isaac. The lamb that Abraham predicted was given at the same mountain when God gave His only begotten son (John 3:16), Jesus as the lamb of sacrifice.

3. Jesus represented the sacrificial lamb in the Temple of Jerusalem. Every morning and evening a lamb was slain in the Temple as reparation for people’s sins. (Exodus 29:38-42). Lambs and other animals were slain during Passover. However, these animal sacrifices were not able to take away the original sin and was a foreshadowing of the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

4. Prophets Jeremiah and Isiah predicted a suffering servant led like a lamb to be slaughtered as a sin-offering. (Jeremiah 11:19). “Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter.” (Isiah 53:7).

5. Instead of a suffering lamb, 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 that seemed to have been slain. He had seven horns and seven eyes; these are the [seven] spirits of God sent out into the whole world.” (Rev. 5:6). “They will fight with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and king of kings, and those with him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (Rev. 17:14)

Who takes away the sin of the world
The original sin committed by mankind could not be taken away by the sacrifice of animals or by the sacrifice of a sinful man. All people are born in sin. Hence, God became man so that he was human and divine. Only the self-sacrifice of Jesus, who was man free from sin, could recompense for the sin and could took away the sin of the world.

Sin is used in singular instead of plural form sins. The sin that Jesus took away by his sacrifice was primarily the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. This sin was the root cause of all subsequent sins and so we call original sin. The singular form of sin can also mean all the sins in a collective form.

Israelites were offering animal sacrifices for their contemporary sins. However, the sacrifice of Jesus was for the original sin affected by all humanity and hence for the whole world.

(30) He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’

Who ranks ahead of me
John acknowledged that Jesus ranked higher than John: “the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27).

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

(31) I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.

I did not know him
John the Baptist probably knew Jesus through his parents because Jesus and John were second cousins. The parents of John might have told him of the divine intervention in the birth of himself and Jesus. There are scholars who believe that at an early age of John, his parents might have fled to the wilderness for fear of King Herod the Great who had ordered to kill all male children two years or younger. This was the time when Holy Family fled to Egypt. Then the aged parents of John might have died sooner and John might have continued to live in the wilderness with the Essenes community.

The Essenes were a group of priests who left Jerusalem in disagreement with the governing priests of the Temple of Jerusalem. They moved to the wilderness to prepare for the way of the Lord and concentrated on the study of the Holy Scripture. They were active for about 100 years by the time Jesus started his public ministry. John might have been trained by this group though there is no evidence for it now.

When John said, “I did not know him,” it did not mean that John was ignorant of who Jesus was. John might be aware of Jesus because Jesus and John were relatives. However, it meant that he did not know what Jesus was until he had the vision of the Most Holy Trinity at the time of the baptism of Jesus. That made him realize that Jesus was the Messiah.

The reason why I came baptizing
John the Baptist’s baptism was not just for the forgiveness of sins but also that Jesus might be made known to Israel. That happened at the baptism of Jesus because the sign that God had given to John was manifested at the baptism of Jesus.

(32) John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.

I saw the Spirit come down
“I saw” is indicative that only John had the vision of the Spirit of God 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 just a real dove flying on the sky. The invisible Holy Spirit took the shape of a dove that the Spirit became visible to John. This dove came from the sky that stands for heaven.

Dove had different connotations in the Bible
At the time of creation “the Spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word for hovered is like 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 initiate a new spiritual creation 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).

Israel is compared to a dove in 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: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” (Mathew 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 of sin offering for sacrifice could offer doves. (Lev 5:7-11).

(33) I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’

John came to know for sure that Jesus was the Messiah not based on the information he might have received from his parents when he was young, but based on the revelation from God and its realization by the arrival of the Holy Spirit that remained on Jesus.

Spirit come down and remain
John repeated stating that the Spirit remained on Jesus. So, the Spirit took permanent abode on Jesus and he was always being guided by the Spirit of God. Wherever Jesus was present, there was the presence of the Most Holy Trinity because Jesus said, “whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.” (John 12:45).

Baptize with the holy Spirit
Every Christian has the same gift of permanent abode of the Spirit by the merit of Christian baptism. “When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.” (Luke 12:11-12).

Baptism of John had two implications: It meant cleansing from sin like cleaning the body by taking a bath and dedication to a new and better life. The baptism of Jesus imparted the gifts of the Holy Spirit on us besides the remission from all over sins.

(34) Now I have seen and testified that he 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 nature, he is also God incarnate and the only begotten son of God as in Psalm 2:7: “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”

“The Son of God” in the Bible has a figurative sense and is not to be taken in a worldly sense. It indicates the distinction of the divine Father and the Son who are equals and have mutual affection.

Message:

1. John the Baptist is a role model for us in the sense that we are supposed to attract others not to us but to Jesus. Parents, teachers, and Evangelists shall humble themselves and make Jesus the center of 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.