The four Gospels were written for different audiences hence are different in what they emphasize. But there are certain structural features that all four Gospels share. They all center on Jesus, of course, they all teach his divinity; they all end with his Passion, Death, and Resurrection; and they each have an early chapter on John the Baptist, who was the last and greatest of all prophets, according to Jesus himself.
At the end of John’s Gospel, from which we hear on Sunday, he refers to all the books that could be written and yet not contain all the works and words of Jesus. His conclusion is that “…were every one of them to be written …..the world itself could not contain…” them all. If then, there is that much to say about who Jesus is and what he came to do, it should get our attention that the very first thing John the Baptist says about Jesus is that He is the Lamb of God; the sacrificial lamb, the Paschal lamb, of the Old Testament. If sin is to be removed, it will be by the sacrifice of Jesus’ own body. Just as the doorpost had to be covered by the blood of the lamb as the Israelites prepared to be freed from the bondage of slavery to the Egyptians, so too must Christians be covered by the blood of Christ.
John knew Jesus before Jesus’ baptism, but he didn’t know Jesus as the one he was to reveal to Israel. John says that he was baptizing to make Christ known; so people would see their own sinfulness and their need of the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed to take away the sin of the world.
In Sunday’s Gospel, John tells us how he and his mission are different from Jesus and his mission. John was not the Lamb of God. John could not take away our sin. But he also tells us that he saw the heavens open and the Holy Spirit come down upon Jesus in the form of a dove when Jesus was baptized in the waters of the Jordan. When Jesus was baptized, the water did not do anything to him, but he did something to the water: he gave it the power to cleanse our sins when we are baptized. John could not do that. You can’t give what you don’t have, and Jesus gives us divine, eternal, supernatural life, because he has it himself.
John the Baptist said that he baptized people with water but that Christ will baptize with the Holy Spirit. One baptism is symbolic in nature, while the other has real power. John baptized with water to make Christ known to Israel; Jesus baptizes with the Spirit to enable us to make Christ known to the world. It should be the desire of our hearts, empowered by the Spirit, to carry out this mission.
John summarizes Jesus’ identity by giving him two titles: the Lamb of God and the Son of God. As the Lamb of God, he is our Savior; as the Son of God, he is equal to the Father and is our Lord.
Jesus, Son, Servant and Savior, was sent to lead a new exodus—to raise up the exiled tribes of Israel, to gather and restore them to God. He was to be a light to the nations, that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
The sacrifices, oblations, holocausts, and sin-offerings given after the first exodus had no power to take away sins. They were meant not to save but to teach. In offering these sacrifices, the people were to learn self-sacrifice—that they were made for worship, to offer themselves freely to God and to delight in His will.
Jesus has made us children of God, baptized in the blood of the Lamb. We are to join our sacrifice to His, to offer our bodies—our lives—as living sacrifices.
Believers in Jesus receive not only forgiveness for sin but become partakers in his divine life, and are gifted with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This new life in Christ brings great hope as we look to eternity. And as we live in the here and now the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit guides us into truth, that truth found in God’s Word.
Those who are unsure about Jesus as the messiah, do not stand alone; John too was unsure. He says twice, in this Gospel, “I did not know him.” And John had the privilege of seeing Jesus. We however, do not see Jesus with the eyes of the body but only with the eyes of the heart, with the eyes of faith, hope, and love. Jesus said to “doubting Thomas”: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not yet seen and have believed.” (John 20:29) With those words Jesus is blessing each one of us personally, right here and now, at this very moment. Let us behold the Lamb of God and testify to his self –gift and abiding presence.