Updated: Jan 24
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In our series, we are talking about conversations and interactions Jesus had with others. Through these interactions, we are considering what we can learn about Jesus and God's wisdom for us today. We began last week with Simeon from (Lk. 2), where Simeon, looking at Jesus, said, "For my eyes have seen your salvation" (Lk. 2:30). Through Simeon, we see the faithfulness of God, the hope of Messiah Jesus, and the promise of God's kingdom. Continuing our journey, we visit the banks of the Jordan River (Jn. 1) and a strange man calling Israel to repentance.
Setting the Scene
The Jordan River is north of the Dead Sea and east of Jericho. This river, mentioned 180 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and 15 times in the New Testament, plays a significant role in the story of God's word. For example, in (Gen. 13) Lot looked over the plains of the Jordan, seeing that they were well watered and like the "garden of the Lord," the Jordan provides a boundary to the promised land. Indeed, God separated the waters of the Jordan as the people of Israel, led by Joshua, crossed into the land of promise on dry ground (Joshua 4). Furthermore, the Jordan is a place of newness and purification as we consider Naaman, who dipped seven times in the Jordan, as Elisha instructed, to be healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-15). John the Baptist stands in the Jordan as he calls Israel out to repentance.
The crowds gathered on the banks of the Jordan are eager to hear the message of this oddly looking messenger of God. Clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, eating a diet of locust and wild honey, those in Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to hear him (Matt. 3:1-6). As he preached his message of repentance and baptism, many, religious leaders began questioning his authority.
John 1:19–23 (NIV)
"Now this was John's testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Messiah." They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'"
John was not the Messiah. He was not Elijah nor the long-awaited Prophet. Instead, John was sent to prepare the way for God's Anointed, whose sandal strap he was not worthy to loose (Jn. 1:26-27).
John 1:29–34 (NIV)
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is God's Chosen One."
The Lamb of God
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
John's words would have been startling to his original hearers. The "Lamb of God" these words certainly would have provided vivid images of a sacrificial lamb offered in the temple. How could the Lamb of God be in the form of a person?
Although it may have been a striking image for the hearers of John's day, Jesus understood the significance of this moment and its connection.
As God delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, His judgment was to pass through the land. On that night, the people of God were instructed to sacrifice a Passover lamb. A male lamb, without defect, was to be selected. The sacrificial lamb's blood was to be whipped on the frames and doorpost of the house where the lamb was eaten. As the Lord's judgment passed through the land of Egypt, all the firstborn of the land would be consumed. The blood over the doorframes of the house would be a sign. The Lord's judgment would pass over the home that bore the sign of the blood, and no destructive plague would touch them (Ex. 12).
The Sin of the World
John's words, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" would have connected the moment with Jesus and the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 53:6–7 (NIV)
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
Isaiah connects God's Suffering Servent with sheep's quiet, gentle nature. Living where we do, we may not be familiar with the nature of sheep. However, those gathered on the banks of the Jordan would have seen sheep sheared for their wool. They would have seen them sacrificed in the temple. They would have been used to seeing the submissive nature of sheep.
Although in hearing John's words on this day, they may not have fully understood them, Jesus would go forward to demonstrate them as He quietly submitted Himself to the cross. He willingly did so to benefit those who would come to understand and believe in Him, God's Messiah.
Bridging The Context
Pressed along the banks of the Jordan, many had come from the region to hear the words of an oddly dressed man calling for Israel's repentance. At a place that marked newness of life, restoration, and entrance into God's land of promise, Jesus, God's Messiah, steps into the waters. John's witness of the Messiah may not have been fully realized to his hearers at the time. However, the Lamb of God would demonstrate the moment's significance.
Today, we have the benefit of looking back over the story of God through Jesus. We have the benefit of connecting the cross to this moment. As we notice Jesus standing in the Jordan and the words of John's witness to Him, what can we understand for today?
A Connected Story
One of the things important to notice is how God's word, the Scripture, is a connected story. Noticing the significance of a place, such as the Jordan River, helps us see how the Scriptures are connected. The significance of Israel's past marks a connection with the future story of God and His Son, Jesus. This story grows through the New Testament, and we learn how they merge into one story. As Christians, our story merges with Israel's story. In (Rom. 11), the apostle Paul speaks of how we have been grafted as part of the whole. Somewhat like a wild olive branch, those outside of the covenant promises of God has been grafted into the root. Through his deep understanding of the story of God, Paul describes how we become one family in Christ through faith. As Christians today, we need to realize the importance of the past, the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), in connecting our story today.
Rescue form Bondage
From The Fall in (Gen. 3), sin's curse has plagued humanity. We have seen this played out in selfish, destructive, and oppressive actions toward others. We have seen this in our lives as we walk outside of God's wisdom. We become enslaved to the curse of sin through our attitudes, choices, and actions. However, as God rescued His people from Egypt and brought them out of captivity, He redeems us today. As the apostle Paul records in (Col. 1:13-14), "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." God's rescue from the curse is not just for us. As we connect the story, we see the redemption of His creation through His Son.
Romans 8:20–21 (NIV)
"For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."
Connecting the story, we find that God's purposes are often far greater than our expectations.
Newness of Life
Naaman, who dipped seven times in the Jordan, experienced a new life when healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-15). So likewise, Jesus has come to give new life. He takes away the sin of the world! Through Jesus, the curse of sin is crushed. Connecting the story, we see that one day, everything opposed to life, even death, will be destroyed and placed under the feet of Jesus (ref. 1 Cor. 15:26). Through Jesus, we can experience newness of life, the forgiveness of sin today.
Our journey begins as we believe in God's Messiah, Jesus, and join Him as we step into the waters of baptism. By doing so, we are connected to the story of Scripture and are united as one family.
Scripture quotations: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.