What astonishing majesty and dignity are displayed in these brief but comprehensive words! John carries us back to eternity itself, and informs us, not only of what Christ did and suffered, but Who He was. He calls Him by a very peculiar name, "the Word"; and in other places, "the Word of life’’ (I John 1:1-2), and "the Word of God" (Rev. 19:13). This name, "the Word," as applicable to the Messiah, seems peculiarly proper to the Son, because it is by the Son that God has in all ages revealed His mind to man. And perhaps this very explanation of the term was intended to be conveyed to us by John, when he says, "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (v. 18). But, without dwelling upon matters of conjecture, let us consider:
The beloved apostle, speaking of the Lord Jesus, here declares,
A. His Eternal Existence."In the beginning was the Word" — even before the creature existed, either in heaven or on earth; and from Him every created being derived its existence (v. 3). So Paul also informs us: "By him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col. 1:16-17).
B. His Distinct Personality.From all eternity "the Word was with God"; having a glory with Him before the worlds were made (John 17:15); and having a perfect participation of all that the Father possessed, whether of wisdom and knowledge (Matt. 11:27), or authority and power (John 5:27). This appears also from the council held, as it were, between the Father and the Son, respecting the formation of man (Gen. 1:26); and man’s consequent expulsion from Paradise (Gen. 3:22); and the confounding of the projects of man’s apostate race by changing their language at Babel (Gen. 11:7). Hence, the Lord Jesus is said to have come forth from the Father (John 16:27-28), even from "the bosom of the Father" (John 1:18). The importance of this is marked by the repetition of it by John here, in verse two: "The same was in the beginning with God."
C. His Proper Deity."The Word was God," even "The mighty God" (Isa. 9:6), "the great God" (Tit. 2:13), "God blessed forever" (Rom. 9:5). "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God" (Phil. 2:6), and was therefore rightly named "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (Matt. 1:23); and is with truth declared to be God "manifest in the flesh" (I Tim. 3:16).
Now, that this is not a mere speculative subject, I will proceed to show, by pointing out:
On the very face of the question, "Whether our Savior be God, or only a created being," it cannot fail of appearing a subject of extreme importance. Know, then, that Christ is truly God, as well as man; and on this truth depends, first:
A. The Efficacy of All That He Did and Suffered for Us on Earth.Had He been only a creature, He could only have done what was His duty to do; and therefore He could have merited nothing at the hands of God; or, at all events, could have merited only for Himself. But being God, His whole undertaking was gratuitous; there was no obligation lying upon Him, to do anything, or suffer anything, for us. What He did and suffered, therefore, may well be put to our account; more especially since it was so concerted between Him and His Father, when He undertook to redeem our ruined race. His sufferings, though only for a season, may well be regarded as equivalent to the eternal sufferings of man; and His obedience to the law be justly considered as if all mankind had obeyed it. On both the one and the other, His deity stamps an infinite value; so that He, having been made sin for us, we may well "be made the righteousness of God in him" (II Cor. 5:21).
B. The Efficacy of All That He Is Yet Doing for Us in Heaven. There our adorable Savior is seated at the right hand of God; and all judgment is committed to Him, that He may complete for His people the work which He began on earth. He is appointed "head over all things to the church" (Eph. 1:22). But — supposing Him to be a mere creature — how can He attend to all at once, and supply the necessities of all, in every quarter of the universe, at the same instant of time? Yet, there is no room for such a question as that, seeing that He is the omnipresent, omniscient, almighty God. Our help is, indeed, laid upon "one that is mighty" (Ps. 89:19), upon One that is almighty, in Whom "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). We need not fear, therefore, however great our necessities; but be fully assured, that "he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him" (Heb. 7:25).
Behold, then, how inconceivably great is the condescension of our God! Behold, then, what unbounded consolation He has provided for sinful man!
This doctrine meets my every want: I have guilt, which nothing less than the blood of Christ can wash away. I have corruptions, which none but the Spirit of God can subdue and mortify. I have wants, which none but the all-sufficient God can supply. But having Jehovah for my friend, my surety, my righteousness, my all, I fear nothing. I hope in Him; and believe in Him; and glory in Him; and make Him all my salvation and all my desire. Trusting in Him, I will defy all my enemies (Rom. 8:31); and, believing in Him, I will anticipate in my soul all the glory and blessedness of heaven. — Charles Simeon, 1847.
The divinity of Jesus Christ has always been considered by Christians as the chief corner-stone in the edifice of Christianity. Those who have surveyed all parts of the Christian system with the closest attention, and who have been most deeply influenced by the spirit of religion, have in every age evinced the greatest attachment to this fundamental doctrine.
Nor have they regarded it as merely a sublime and abstruse speculation, but as intimately connected with Christian holiness. Were it true that it is a mere speculation, it would indeed be little worth our earnestly contending for, since the grand object of all that is revealed is unquestionably our personal and practical improvement. But it is found to have the most powerful influence on this; it involves the greatest of all motives to Christian piety and obedience; and hence, it justly occupies a most important place in the Christian system.
The beloved disciple lays the foundation of his Gospel record in this truth, and begins with tracing the existence of Jesus Christ to a higher state of being, exhibiting Him as incarnate Deity, as Emmanuel, God with us. Let us consider some practical aspects of this subject:
Be assured that God has greater things in reserve for those who love Him, than eye has seen, or ear heard, or heart of man conceived! And doubt not, that those things will bear the full stamp of that eternal love of God, which was revealed in the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ! — Robert Hall (from sermon preached at Bridge-street Chapel, Bristol, Aug. 15, 1824; slightly revised, and abbreviated).
The first part of Matthew’s Gospel contrasts strikingly with the first part of John’s. Matthew’s human pedigree of the Son of God reads strangely when placed side by side with, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Yet, it all the more exhibits the true Person of Him Who was "the Word made flesh," "God manifest in the flesh" — true and very man, yet also true and very God.
As we take Matthew’s history literally, so do we take that of John. If we allegorize the first chapter of the one evangelist, we must allegorize the first of the other. If John does not mean that Christ was very God, Matthew does not mean that He was very man.
The divineside of Christianity is as strongly shown by the one evangelist as the human side in the other. He whom we call Lord and Master, Savior and Redeemer, is One in whose Person the extremes of all being unite. All Godhead and all creaturehood are in Him; the fulness of the finite, and the fulness of the infinite.— Horatius Bonar (1874).
The word "grace" expresses more concisely than any other term the principle on which God is dealing with men under the Gospel. It is the reversal of all human precedents, ideas and principles.
Man knows something of justice and of meeting conduct with its due need of reward or punishment. Man knows something of law in its inexorable recompense for the guilty and the innocent. Man knows all about culture, education and development and the attempt to improve character through the patient processes of discipline.
But man knows nothing naturally of grace. The idea of meeting sinful and unworthy beings as God has met the fallen human race and making its very crimes the occasion for infinitely greater blessing is something so unique and original that we can only say of it as God says Himself, "My ways are not your ways, neither are your thoughts, saith the Lord. But as high as the heavens are above the earth so are My ways above your ways and My thoughts above your thoughts, saith the Lord."
The definition of grace is not easy. It is too vast in its scope to be confined by the most skilfully chosen phrases. Perhaps these four points will express it as well as anything we can frame.
(1) Mercy for the undeserving.
(2) Help for the helpless.
(3) Everything for nothing.
(4) All this with whole-hearted love and loving kindness, not because of anything in the object whatever but wholly because of something in God Himself. Let us look at grace in four particulars.
We are saved by grace. How very finely this is brought out in Ephesians 2:4-7!
Note the redundant richness of the phrases here employed. It is not only mercy, but "rich in mercy." It is not only love, but it is "His great love wherewith He loved us even when we were dead in sins." It is not merely grace but it is "exceeding riches of His grace." And then a fourth word is used adding a touch of humanness and nearness exquisitely beautiful, "His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus." The word kindness is derived from kinship, and it denotes the tenderness which God shows to those whom He trusts as His very kin.
Then He proceeds to connect all this with our salvation. "For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God."
A. It is grace that designed our salvation for us.
B. It was grace that purchased and procured it by the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
C. It is grace that applies it to us, and brings us personally into its enjoyment.
The grace of the Holy Spirit seeking and finding us and enabling us to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and accept the riches of His grace: it is all grace from first to last.
"Oh, the love that sought me,
Oh, the blood that bought me,
Oh, the grace that brought me to the fold."
The ordinary conception of Christian life is that we are saved by grace, but our sanctification, our walk and our deeper life must all be worked out by ourselves. God rescues us from the fearful pit and from the miry clay and starts us on our way and expects us to run along ourselves.
Many think that goodness is a matter of temperament, but grace reverses all this and makes people the opposite of their natural selves.
Others again try culture and endeavor to grow into sanctification by carefully watching themselves, imitating high examples, using powerful motives and struggling and striving against the old natural heart. Their favorite illustration is the seventh chapter of Romans and the deadly fight between the two natures there. But this fight is a never ending one so long as we remain under the law and on the plane of human effort.
God has a better way through the riches of His grace, and that is the free gift of the Holy Spirit to come into the heart and undertake to cleanse, to fill and to keep it and bringing with Him the Lord Jesus Christ to abide as our life and to impart to us the qualities of His holy character; and we are thus transformed into the image of God’s dear Son.
This is not through the improvement and culture of the natural heart, but it is the substitute. It is the new distinct and divine life which lifts us above the natural and is nothing less than Christ Himself reliving His own life in His children.
John describes it perfectly when he says, "Of His fulness have all we received even grace for grace."
Of course, we must receive this grace, appropriate it and work it out by watchful patience in our lives. It does not fall upon us forcibly and hypnotize us into some irresponsible state in which we are not acting out our own consciousness. We must consent to it. We must choose it. We must believe for it and we must step out upon it, and stand the tests and temptations which our new attitude will bring, and in every way be intelligent and voluntary "workers together with God," so that every act and quality will be our own, while at the same time we will confess "it was not I, but the grace of Christ which was within me."
This grace is therefore dependent upon our response to it. We can have little or much, as we ourselves choose. We can live on a narrow margin and have an impoverished life, or we can revel in all the bounty of our royal inheritance.
The current idea about service is that God is in great need of our help and that our work for Him is done to help on His cause. This is not the grace conception of service at all. According to that, God has no need of our work but accepts it as a partnership with Him and a privilege for us, and the very power to serve is given wholly through His grace so that every true servant must say, "Of Thine own have we but given Thee." It was no more I but the grace of Christ which was with me.
This is the New Testament conception of service. "We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before prepared that we should walk in them."
The Holy Spirit endows the servants of the Lord with power from on high for all the ministries required in the body of Christ. "If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister let him do it as of the ability which God giveth." That is grace in our service.
Our human self-sufficiency is often our greatest hindrance in the Master’s work. True service is the outflow of a heart filled with the Holy Ghost. From Him we receive the love, the faith, the power, the very prayer in which we prevail with God and with men, and our usefulness depends not so much upon what we do, as upon what we take from His divine resources of grace and all-sufficiency. Therefore, "let us have grace; whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:28). — A. B. Simpson, 1905.
Six-years-old tip-toed softly up to the little low crib where one of the world's very latest hopes was lying throned and swathed in the coverlets that love had sewn for its coming, writes Collier’s Weekly. Big Brother’s face was gravely intent, his eyes bright and shining. He stooped far over and gazed down at that wrinkled, peevish bit of a face.
"Now, baby brother," he whispered into one tiny red ear half hid by the clustering black hair, "tell me about God before you forget." Before the world closes in on the new life you have brought to our greying days. Before work and money and clothes, and what people say, can matter to you. Before these earthly things have their way, and you lose touch with that eternal mystery and glory of which you were a part only such a little while ago.
"Quickly, brother, before you forget!" If only we grown-ups could remember. There was One once who did.
There was One who did tell us about God, and who did not forget, and that One was Christ. He did not forget:
References (relating to John 1:18): Exod. 33:20; Matt. 11:27;
Luke 10:22; John 6:46; 14:9; I Tim. 1:17; 6:16; I John 4:12; I John 4:9.
"Who art thou? . . . What sayest thou of thyself?" (vs. 22).
John was a conspicuous figure, and generally regarded as a prophet. Of all the men then living, he was looked to as perhaps the one whom they were expecting, and him they seem to have been ready to accept as their great leader and lord in case he should so announce himself. Hence this official embassage to get his answer on the subject. And the text before us contains the record of that answer. In considering the matter, two things are brought to our attention:
People in this world must expect to be asked who they are, whence they came, and what is their business. The community has a right to know, and the Jews were not to blame for asking these questions. Under the circumstances, it was even creditable for them to inquire. It is also a matter of importance for one to be able to give a satisfactory account of himself. There be people who could not honestly do that and retain the standing and credit they are anxious to enjoy; but it is altogether right and just that we should know those with whom we have to do. John acknowledged the right to ask these questions, and also felt that it was no more than his duty candidly and fully to answer them.
A. He "denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ." This was a hard thing for a self-seeking and ambitious man to say, knowing that it was in the mind of the heads of his nation to honor him as the great Messiah. But the literal truth was more to him than all the dignity and honor the Jewish Sanhedrin could confer.
The native tendency of every one is to be his own Messiah, if such a thing as a Messiah is at all necessary, which many are slow to believe. People are reluctant to admit that they are spiritually poor, blind, wretched, helpless sinners, and undone without a divine Redeemer. Human power, virtue, and wisdom, and the self-perfectability of human nature are what many rest on, and make a Christ of their own abilities and capabilities.
B. And equally positive was this great man in denying that he was Elijah, Enoch, Moses, or any other of the old prophets who were expected to appear along with the Christ about that time. Nor can I but admire the sturdy refusal with which he declined and resisted the proposals of the Jewish authorities to accept, endorse, and honor him as their fancies and carnal interests ran.
C. But he did not stop with denials. A mere negative man is of little account. He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias."
A wilderness, indeed, was the moral and spiritual condition of his country when John appeared. It was then already far on the way to terrible destruction. His age was one of transition, great uncertainty, and abounding corruption. Palestine had become a moral waste. And in the midst of it all this Son of Zachariah was set to proclaim the nearing judgment, and to call upon the people to repent, change their ways, and push forward their ready-making, if they would at all be saved.
D. But a still more specific and momentous part of John’s business was definitely to identify and point out the Christ, Who was then already moving among the people unrecognized and unknown. It was needed that some great and commanding prophet should identify and declare Him. And this was John’s great office, as he himself testified. "That he — the Christ — should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water" was his own statement (John 1:31).
What, then, was this great, honest, and divinely sent man’s testimony respecting Jesus? Let us hear him, for he is a prophet, and "more than a prophet," and could not be mistaken in what he so emphatically declared.
A. First of all, he said to the people of his time, "there standeth one among you whom ye know not." This he said of Jesus of Nazareth, which is an invincible proof of the genuine humanity of Jesus. Having been born and reared as a human being, and having lived among men for the space of thirty years, without creating any impression that He was anything other than an ordinary member of our race, proves that He was not a phantom, but a real and true man, "of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting." And this we believe and teach as an essential feature in the nature and constitution of our Savior. "As the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same" (See Heb. 2:14-17), for the work for man’s redemption could not be accomplished except in man’s nature and complete identification with the human race. And to this John thus testified.
B. But Jesus was more than a man. John says, "He it is, who coming after me, is preferred before me, — for He was before me" (vs. 27, 30). Jesus was born six months subsequent to John, and so came after him in point of his human life. But what about the declaration that He existed before John? That He was, before John was born? Here was something beyond humanity; an existence prior to His human existence. It was not an angelic existence, for the positive record is, "verily he took not on him the nature of angels." And what is above angels means Godhead. (See also John 1:1-3, 14; Phil. 2:6-7).
Nor was this a mere impression of the great Baptizer, or a conclusion wrought out by his own reasoning on the subject. It was a matter of divine assurance miraculously shown him. He says he did not himself know Jesus as the Christ until God from heaven demonstrated it to him. He says, "I knew Him not; but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God." Thus, then, are we assured, by this great man and messenger of God, that our salvation does not rest on a mere arm of flesh, but on a sympathetic and gracious Savior, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. — J. A. Seiss.
Note: For John’s further testimony concerning Christ, confer our Notes on John 1:29-34. For an orientation of passages related to John 1:23 —Isa. 40:3; Mai. 3:1; 4:5-6; Matt. 11:10, 14; 17:11; and Luke 1:17 — confer Lange’s Commentary on Matt. 3:3-— H. E.
We are on the eve of the celebration of the birthday of God manifest in the flesh! But the end of Christ’s visible advent two thousand years ago will be realized only when a spiritual advent of Christ takes place in us (Cf. Ps. 132:13-14; John 14:21-23; Eph.
2:17). A solemn responsibility was laid on the Jews when Christ "came unto his own" (John 1:11). But He came also to the world (John 3:17).
We have been busy, in many ways, preparing for a joyful festival. Is our heart now garnished and ready to receive the Savior?
"All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field" (Isa. 40:6) ; this truth the crier in the desert, amid the ruined grandeur of man’s past glory, had been commissioned to proclaim. The trend of all his preaching has been: Man, consider how utterly small and worthless thou art, and thy doings!
"These things (and subsequent things related in this chapter) were done in Bethabara." Why does the Evangelist make special mention of the place? The reason may be simply this: Bethabara had become a place of hallowed memory in his own life! There he had listened to the inspired and inspiring teachings of John the baptist; there he had witnessed true greatness as personified in the character of the fore-runner; and there, too, the beloved disciple had first been introduced to his own Master and Lord.
There ought to be such hallowed places in the lives of all true disciples of Jesus Christ. Such, at any rate, should be this House of God, this holy place, where He meets us in His Word, and where we commune with Him in the blessed sacrament! — H. Ellingsen.
Illustration: The Hidden Worker
In one of the famous lace shops of Brussels there are certain small rooms devoted to the spinning of the finest and most delicate lace patterns. These rooms are altogether darkened, save for the light from a single window falling directly upon the pattern. There is only one spinner in the room, and he sits where the narrow stream of light falls upon the threads that he is weaving. "Thus," the guide will explain, "we secure our choicest products. Lace is always more delicately and beautifully woven when the worker himself is in the dark, and only his pattern is in the light." — Good Words.
"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias." "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isa. 40:3).
We must prepare the way for the Lord, before we can traverse the way prepared by him! The world is like a wilderness. Man has gone astray, and has lost his way amidst the many misleading paths of human invention.
A. There Is the Way ofAtheism. "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God" (Ps. 14:1). "Denying the only lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 4. Cf. II Pet. 2:1).
B. There Is the Way ofAgnosticism. The agnostic may appear intellectually humble, but he is brave enough to deny the authority of the Bible. He will quote the first part of John 1:18, "No man hath seen God at any time;" but ignore the second part of the same verse, "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."
C. There Are the various Ways ofModern Idolatry. Ancient idolaters did not know any better than to worship gods of their own conception; modern idolaters do not want any better object of their worship, than that which appeals to their carnal mind and natural inclinations. And so we have:
A. It Is a Highway Stretching from the Beginning to the End of Time.It leads from the Garden of Eden to the Paradise of God, and its course is described through Genesis to Revelation.
B. It Is a Highway of Holiness and Separation."A highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; . . . but the redeemed shall walk there" (Isa. 33:8-9).
C. It Is a Highway of Safety and Exultation."No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there . . . And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa. 35:9-10).
A. The Highway Has Been Revealed to All,as the prophet declared: "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" (Isa. 40:5. Cf. Luke 3:6).
B. The Directions Have Been Given to Allso plainly that "the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein" (Isa. 35:8).
C. And, God’s Call is Clear:"Let the wicked forsake his way" (Isa. 55:7); then he shall discover that "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18). —H. Ellingsen.
The scenein which these words were uttered was grand and impressive. The rapidly descending river in which John was baptizing originates in the far north, where lofty Lebanon stretches northward to the snowy summit, and Hermon raises its hoary head to heaven, in solemn, solitary, and majestic silence. Around in the distance rise the mountains of Galilee, and Samaria. Below in the valley lie the sluggish waters of that dead and accursed lake which seems to fill the air with a subtle and quivering flame.
The Jordan valley is picturesque; much "green grass" and pasture lie around. Trees are waving high in the air, the mountains and hills form a noble background, and the roar of the falling river imparts a solemnity to the whole, which is better conceived than expressed. Though the place itself is not inhabited, cities are near, and men are frequently passing.
The report of the Baptist is spread far and wide. Priests, soldiers, and publicans, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, and the multitude from all the region round about, are come to hear the Baptist preach.
He warnsthe Pharisees and the hypocritical; instructs the soldiers, publicans, and ignorant. One day, One draws near for baptism, with purity and innocence written on His countenance. At first John refuses to baptize Him, but afterwards consents. By proper signs he is convinced that the stranger is the Messiah, Who presently withdraws from the place, and is led into the wilderness.
About six weeks later He appears again. The messengers from the Pharisees are questioning John as to his mission, and he, having said plainly that he is not the Christ, but only His herald, and a "voice" preparing His way, "seeth Jesus coming unto him, and says "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." — John R. Taft, England, 1879.
(The following forceful argument of Sir Robert Anderson may not properly classify under "Homiletic Notes," but I offer it for what it is worth, believing it will interest many a homilist. — H. E.)
The English rendering of the text (John 1:29) savours of exegesis. The Baptist’s words are definitely clear, "Behold the Lamb of God, who is bearing the sin of the world." And they are usually supposed to be a revelation to the Jews that Christ was to die; the only question in doubt being whether the type to which they refer be the Paschal lamb or the sin-offering.
But this involves a glaring anachronism. For it was not until the Sanhedrin decreed His destruction (Matt. 12:32) that the Lord revealed even to the Twelve that He was to be put to death. And so utterly opposed was it to all Jewish beliefs and hopes that they gave no heed to it. Upon other grounds also such an exegesis is unintelligent. For the Passover did not typify "bearing sin," and a lamb was never the sin-offering victim. Nor was it "the sin of the world" that the scapegoat bore away, but the sins of the children of Israel (Lev. 16:21).
"Who is bearing the sin of the world." This was not a prophecy of Calvary, but a revelation of what the Lord was during His life. Therefore the word here used is not a sacrificial term as in I Peter 2:24 and other kindred passages, but an ordinary word in common use for taking up and carrying burdens. Its five occurrences in John 5:8-12 are fairly representative of its use in the ninety-six other passages where it is found. Accordingly, we read in I John 3:5—the only other passage where the word is used in this connection — "He was manifested to take away (or to bear) sins" (R.V.); the Apostle’s purpose being, as the context plainly indicates, not to assert the doctrine of expiation, but to impress on the saints that sin is utterly opposed to Christ, and hinders fellowship with Him. Mark the word "manifested;" it was not the mystery of Calvary, but the openly declared purpose of His life. For in this sense He was a sin-bearer during all His earthly sojourn; as witness, for example, His groans and tears at the grave of Lazarus. He took up and bore the burden of human sin; not as to its guilt — thatwas not till Gethsemane and Calvary — but as to the sufferings and sorrows it brought upon humanity.
"He was oppressed, yet He humbled Himself and opened not His mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb, yea He opened not His mouth" (Isa. 53:7, R.V.). There is a general consensus of opinion that to this passage it is that the Baptist’s words refer. And it is noteworthy that it contains no sacrificial language; for, in the Hebrew, "slaughter" is a common word that points to the shambles. It foretold the Messiah’s earthly life of humiliation and suffering. And this it was that the Jews could not understand, and would not accept. Hence the force and meaning of the Baptist’s inspired words uttered at the very threshold of the ministry.
Let no one suppose then, that the foregoing exposition of them disparages the truth of the expiation accomplished upon Calvary. That great truth rests upon a foundation too firm and sure to need support from a misreading of the Baptist’s testimony. Indeed, it is the accepted exegesis of the passage that imperils that truth. To form too high an estimate of the death of Christ would be impossible, but it is a deplorable fact that the prolonged martyrdom of His earthly life has far too little place in our thoughts.
Illustration: In 1857, a day or two before preaching at the Crystal Palace, Mr. C. H. Spurgeon went to decide where the platform should be fixed; and, in order to test the acoustic properties of the building, he cried in a loud voice, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." In one of the galleries, a workman, who knew nothing of what was being done, heard the words, and they came like a message from heaven to his soul. He was smitten with conviction on account of sin, put down his tools, went home, and there, after a season of spiritual struggling, found peace and life by beholding the Lamb of God. Years after, writes Mr. Spurgeon, he told this story to one who visited him on his deathbed.
It is revealed in the Scriptures, that the sin of Adam, in the garden of Eden, introduced death into our world; but that sin is so far taken away by the Lamb of God, that all men will rise from the dead, and no believer will suffer in the eternal world for that original offence. (Cf. Ezek. 18:20-23)
But we understand by this phrase, "the sin of the world," all the sins of men, whether Jews or Gentiles; including every sin, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; and every degree of sin. Thus a complete and all-sufficient remedy is provided for the whole world of mankind, by the sacrificial Lamb of God.
There is a tendency in human nature to narrow God’s promises. This must not be allowed. Offers of mercy must be proclaimed in all their comprehensiveness. There is a glory, a grandeur, a freeness in this text more than mortal can express; but it is in harmony with the whole Gospel.
How wide, how long, how deep, how high, is this love which provides a full, free, perfect salvation for all who will avail themselves of it! — J. R. Taft.
What, indeed, is the Gospel, but the proclamation of God’s mercy to sinners; the announcement of salvation to fallen man; the divine publication of forgiveness and eternal life through the merit and mediation of Jesus Christ?
Such was distinctly its nature when yet confined to the first promise made in Paradise. Such was its nature as shadowed forth in all the ceremonial appointments of God, from Abel to Moses, and from Moses to the days of John the baptizer.
Even under the Law, it was the ever-outshining glory of the revelations and theophanies made to the ancient saints, that the Lord God, with all his terribleness and purity, is "merciful, and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin" (Ex. 34:5-7).
Isaiah was the great evangelical prophet; but the sum of his Evangel to Israel was: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 1:18, 55:7).
Before Christ was born, the angel gave command to "call his name Jesus;for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).
John pointed to Him and said: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
And He Himself after His passion, explained to His disciples what was written of Him "in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, "as burdened with this great testimony, that, "Thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:44-47). — Joseph A. Seiss.
If a man is to be pardoned, God must be vindicated. Reason is silent. It cannot say how God shall pardon the sinner, yet not plainly connive at sin. But what says Revelation? It tells of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. It proclaims the mighty atonement, in which our sins are laid on another. It points to the cross, where, with wounds and chastisement, with bruising and grief from the hand of the Lord, with agony unknown, and a dying passion unspeakable, the Just One suffers for the unjust, and Messiah is "cut off, but not for himself" (Dan. 9:26). There is the proof that God relaxes not His indignation against sin, when He pardons and rewards the penitent sinner. — Henry U. Onderdonk, 1851.
(It is evident that John the Baptist here had in mind two momentous facts: the Holy Spirit as He descended upon Christ, and the Holy Spirit as imparted to the believers. The following thoughts bearing upon this theme are culled from a lengthy discourse by A. B. Simpson, in the Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly, (1891). — H. E.)
The greatest gift of the New Testament was Jesus. The greatest gift of Jesus was the Spirit. The Father sends the Son; the Son baptizes with the Spirit; and the Spirit brings both the Father and the Son into our heart and life.
A. Jesus Is the Giver of the Spirit, Inasmuch As He Has Removed the Hindrances to the Coming of the Spirit into Our Hearts.
The great hindrance was sin. The human heart was not the temple of the Spirit until after Jesus had finished His work of atonement.
B. Jesus Baptized with the Holy Spirit in This Sense That He Distinctly Sent Him on the Day of Pentecost.It was His promise that He would do so (John 14:16). And so Peter, speaking of the coming of the Spirit, says, "Jesus having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye see and hear" (Acts 2:32-33). From that hour His residence has been in this world, in the hearts of Christ’s people, and the sacred sanctuary of His body, the church.
A. The Coming of the Holy Spirit Will Give Reality, Vividness, and Intense Consciousness to Our Union with Jesus Christ.We shall not only believe or hope, but we shall intensely know by the deepest cognition and consciousness — by an intuition deeper than any emotional impression or feeling — that "He is in us, and we in Him."
B. The Coming of the Holy Spirit Will Give Instruction and Light."He shall teach you all things." Our minds need to be instructed, as well as our spirits united to Christ. Our thought needs to be directed into the fullness of divine truth. Our understanding needs to be illuminated in the knowledge of His word. Our Bible needs to be made plain and living to us; and all this the Spirit does.
C. The Spirit Will Not Only Teach, but "He Will Guide You into All Truth"(John 16:13). This is more than teaching; this is direction of our steps, the leading of our feet into the paths of His holy will. Wisdom is more than knowledge, and guidance more than instruction. Wisdom is that which shows us where we are and ought to go; and this is the blessed Spirit’s special ministry, to guide the trusting and obedient heart.
D. The Holy Spirit Will Give Power;for "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you" (Acts 1:8). This is not the power of human persuasion or natural ability of any kind, but it is the divine power working through us. It is that which makes our words effectual. This made Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, although the utterances of the few simple words of truth, the means of converting thousands of souls.
E. The Holy Spirit Will Also Give Efficacy to Our Prayers. "The Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom. 8:26). — Adapted.
The names of eight persons, besides Jesus, occur in this text. But, whereas they are mentioned altogether twenty-four times (an average of three times each), Jesus is named nineteen times — and in all but five of the seventeen verses — by eleven different titles.
Hence, it should be obvious that the main subject for consideration is neither John nor Joseph, Peter or Andrew, Philip or Nathanael, Moses or Jona; but the Lamb of God, the Messias and Master, Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of Israel. — H. Ellingsen.
What heavenly peace, calmness, confidence, innocence, breathes in the picture which the beloved evangelist has given us of the first gathering of disciples round the divine Savior! After thirty years of quiet, unobtrusive obedience to His Father in heaven and to His earthly parents, He has been solemnly set apart for His prophetic and Messianic office. John the Baptist who, as a living embodiment, summed up the teaching of the law, in its awful severity and inflexible justice, as well as the hope-inspiring predictions of the prophets, had acknowledged the Savior and introduced Him to the people.
Now the time was fulfilled. We behold the Eternal Son walking beside the Jordan in quiet, silent dignity, waiting for the guidance of His heavenly Father. Satan’s recent defeat and the homage of angelic hosts cannot disturb the tranquillity of His soul — cannot alter His true humility and meekness, His filial reverence and obedience.
The "Lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Pet. 1:19).
A. What More Fitting, Revealing, Obvious Emblem of His Meekness, Gentleness, and Obedience, Than theLamb? When we remember that all things were made by Him, and that He is the center of creation, as well as its head, and glory, we do not wonder that wherever we look we see parables declaring to us His beauty, goodness, and truth: The rock, the vine, the rose, the lion, the morning star, the sun, the friend, the brother, the bridegroom — whatever suggests shelter and rest, whatever diffuses light, and joy and fragrance; whatever breathes faithfulness, affection, and tenderness, declares and manifests Him, in Whom it pleased the Father that all His fulness should dwell.
B. Every Child Understands the Symbolism of theLamb. The child-like, humble, confiding, docile soul instinctively feels itself drawn to the lamb. Fearlessly the child will put its tiny arm round the lamb’s neck, and think that it has found a companion — one like himself. There is a suffering of a willing heart which cannot be better described, than by calling it lamblike. The lamb feels, as it were, that in suffering it fulfils its destiny, its nature, and that no strange thing has befallen it.
C. But, besides the child-like character, and the peculiar willingness to suffer, and meekness in the endurance of suffering, a Lamb Conveys to Every One the Idea of Purity and Spotlessness, and Lastly, of Attractiveness,which renders it difficult to pass by it unnoticed and uncaressed — a striking contrast to the repulsive, hostile, combative, and vindictive beings with which, since the entrance of sin, the world abounds.
A. It Was His Delight to Obey and Follow His Father;not for a single moment did a thought of self-assertion gain ground in His holy mind. He bore reproach, hardship, persecution, ingratitude, unspeakable pain and agony, but no murmur of impatience escaped His lips, no thought of bitterness entered His soul.
B. He Lived in a Sinful and Polluted World, but He Was Holy, Undefiled, Harmless, Separate from Sinners.Though all around Him used weapons of self-defense and attack — the strength of the arm of flesh, worldly power — He remained meek like a lamb. No other defense was His, no other power, than His purity and love.
C. And, lastly, so merciful and beneficent was He to all who needed His help, so gentle and meek toward His enemies, so tender and overflowing with love to the soul who sought Him, so forgiving and compassionate toward the trembling penitent, that Even the Most Timid Could Draw Near, and Approach Him Boldly.
After John the Baptist had risen like a mighty lion in the wilderness, and with majestic indignation had expressed the guilt and degradation of his people, and announced the impending wrath and judgment — denouncing the sin, the hypocrisy, and the corruption of the nation, so that even the secure and self-confident Pharisees and Sadducees trembled — how wonderful is the brightness and sweetness of the word of love and pardon, "Behold the Lamb of God!" To guilty and apostate Israel, the Father sends not judgment and destruction, but the meek and lowly Jesus — the Lamb of God. — Adolph Saphir (1831-1891), adapted.
Judgment will come, eventually, upon all the impenitent and ungodly, but today we still live in the time of grace, when we can "Behold the Lamb of God," and heed His gracious invitation, "Follow me". — H. E.
Nathanael, evidently, was an earnest inquirer. In his quest after truth he had retired to the silent shade of his fig-tree. In that calm retreat he had meditated and prayed. He was alone; no mortal eye beheld him, but only the eye of Him who "seeth in secret." It was therefore with mingled wonder and awe that he heard the words of Jesus, "Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee." This incident suggests:
A. "His delights were with the sons of men" (Prov. 8:31). ItWas Love that Moved Him to Come from Heaven, and Love Shines Brightly in all His Earthly Life: See Him in the wilderness (Matt. 9:36) ; see Him on the mount of Olives (Luke 19:41) ; see Him on the cross (John 10:11; 15:13).
B. His Was a Personal Love, not Merely a General Interest in the Welfare of Men.His love adapted itself to the special cases of individuals, and respected the delicate shades of character (Cf. John 10:3, 27). He hears the cry of blind Bartimeus. His heart is moved by the grief of the desolate widow of Nain. The touch of the shy, lone woman in the crowded street of Capernaum calls forth His healing virtue. So with Zaccheus; so with the weeping penitent in the house of Simon; so with the dying thief, amidst the horrors of Calvary.
So still. Whoever thou art, thy soul is precious in the sight of Jesus, and if thou art truly seeking God, light will arise also to thee. Believe His word. Trust in His redeeming love!
A. The Beginnings of Life Are Full of Interest;the budding of the flower; the lispings of infancy; the first tokens of love. How carefully the gardener watches the germinating of some rare seed. With what tender solicitude friends wait for the signs of returning health to the loved one brought low by severe illness; what joy when fear gives place to hope, and dire suspense to delightful assurance!
B. But Infinitely Deeper Are the Feelings of Our Lord!Let us think of His joy in the springing up of the "good seed" of the kingdom; His delight in the rescue of a soul from the awful consequences of sin, and its restoration to spiritual health in the love of God! Remember the touching word in connection with the prodigal: "When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him."
There are secrets in your life which are known to none but God. When like the man of Ethiopia you are searching the Scriptures; when like Cornelius your heart is bowed in secret prayer; when like Saul of Tarsus you wrestle, and cry to God in the darkness — in all your gropings for truth, in all your honest endeavor — Christ sees you. "When thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee." Cf. Isa. 43:2.
What was it that drew the eye of our Lord to Nathanael?
A. The Beauty of His Character.He was an Israelite, not merely by birth, or training, or profession, but in reality. In him there was no sham, or vain pretence. He was true to the light he had, and before God and man he was sincere. "No Guile."
B. The Social Rarity of His Character(Cf. Ps. 14:2; Jer. 5:1). Amidst the corruptness of society in his day, the sight of this guileless man was refreshing to the heart.
C. Finally, Our Lord Was Drawn to Nathanael by His Kindredness of Spirit.He Who came to bear witness to the truth, and in Whose mouth was found no guile (I Pet. 2:22), rejoiced over Nathanael, as one like-minded with Himself. And now, as Nathanael acknowledges his Lord and Master (v.49), Jesus promises that he shall henceforth "see greater things."
Under His divine guidance our path also shall be "as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18). — William Forsyth, 1876 (somewhat revised, and adapted).