The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 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.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 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.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”John 1:29-34
John the Baptist was a mighty prophet in the same line as great prophets of the Old Testament like Elijah and Isaiah. God ordained John the Baptist for a particular ministry, to prepare the way of the Lord. Much like a red carpet might be laid down before those of high honor, John was sent to prepare the hearts of Israel for the coming of their King.
On one occasion John the Baptist was baptizing men and women at the Jordan River in Israel. Faithful men and women had come from all over the nation having heard of his ministry. The crowds swelled and the air was thick with anticipation when John had his breath taken away. There amidst the crowd appeared Jesus who had come to be baptized by John. John had known Jesus as a result of the familial relationship of their mothers. But John did not yet understand Jesus’ true identity. He had been told by God however that one day he would see the Spirit of God descend on the Christ (John 1:33). And so when the Spirit of God descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, John immediately made a declaration that struck the hearts of every man, woman, and child present, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
The imagery of a lamb being slain was important imagery for Israel and carried grave connotations. For the Israelite these words hearkened back to the ancient sacrificial system given to them by Moses in the book of Exodus where lambs were slain regularly as an offering to stand between a Holy God and a sinful people. Particularly however the lamb imagery would have hearkened back to the Passover celebration in which God’s people remembered how when they were slaves in Egypt, God spared the Israelites when they took shelter underneath a home marked by the blood of a lamb.
While these sacrifices of blood are not the most appealing images for us to dwell upon, they are indeed the key to unlocking the great mystery of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Here at the Baptism of Jesus, John the Baptist makes a stunning proclamation. Jesus would become the final sacrificial lamb whose blood shed would take away the sins of the world. Jesus’ death on the cross would not just function as a martyr’s death for a religious belief, but Jesus would offer his own life to God as a substitute for our own, thereby becoming the sacrifice himself.
It is good for us as we prepare our hearts through this Lenten season to reflect on the fullness of what Christ came to do. His was a life like no other, as John the Baptist so clearly declared when he said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me (John 1:30).” But more importantly, this was a death like no other. All men die, but only Christ’s death could take away the sins of the world.