My dear friend in the Lord Jesus Christ,
The amazing and sad thing about sinful man is that social pressure can make him do things he would not dream doing when all by himself. Just look at a crowd respond and participate in the Mexican wave at a sports gathering. It usually starts with one person who has the ability to get people going.
One of the nightmares of police are violent troublemakers who can stir up a mob. They are the ones who get people going, and they are the ones who can keep the momentum going until people start overturn motor cars and set buildings alight.
They say the police now have powerful face recognition software. Footage of unruly mobs are scanned for known troublemakers – and from just a very small picture, almost like a fingerprint, a face can be recognised.
Our Lord is more powerful than that! He is from eternity, and He knows the minds of everyone. He recognises the face of everyone. Remember what we learned about him last week,
Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3, NIV)
The Lamb who takes away the sin of the world
Although He knows everyone, not everyone knows Him. In fact, no one will ever know Him unless He reveals Himself to him or her. This is the point from the message of last week. Born in darkness, we are unable to see, to know, to believe, or to accept Christ. It calls for the light which shines into the darkness to make us see and enable us to believe. This light of course was Christ, as John puts it,
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1:9, NIV)
Even the one God called to be the herald and forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, confesses,
And I myself did not know Him, but the One who sent me to baptise with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:33, NIV)
It is quite possible that Jesus Christ and John, who were related through their mothers, and were born only six months apart, as boys played together. It is even possible that, together with their parents, who usually travelled in family groups, they took the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the big festivals.
But John did not know Jesus. Later their ways parted. God called John to be the one preparing the way for the Messiah, but it seems up to the point when Jesus arrived where John was baptising the people, he did not know that Jesus indeed was the Lamb of God. This fact God, through the Holy Spirit, made clear in a visible way. He says, Then John gave this testimony:
“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” (John 1:32, NIV)
God had made it clear to him that “the man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain, is He who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33)
Then, by revelation of God, John understood that his relative, Jesus who grew up in Nazareth, was before him, and surpassed him. He acknowledges,
“I baptise with water, but among you stands One you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:26–27, NIV)
His message was clear, as the Bible tells us:
He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (John 1:20, NIV)
His task was plainly to point to Christ, “that He might be revealed to Israel.” (1:31) He preached,
“I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1:34, NIV)
He had some disciples too. And on a certain day, Jesus passed by. John was quick to point to Christ, “Look the Lamb of God.” This was a loaded statement. It summed up in a few words what Christ came to do in a perfect way, which all the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not do: He would take away the sin of the world. His arrival on the scene was God’s answer to the promise in paradise: He would crush the head of the serpent.
His ministry, combined with the ministry of the Holy Spirit, brought new life, a new creation. The Lamb would take away sin, the power of sin and the guilt of sin, and based on this ministry, the Holy Spirit would make holy, cleansing, replacing the old hearts with new ones, yes, giving new birth to sinners – the ones we read about in John 1:12,
… all who did receive Him, to those who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12–13, NIV)
John, found by God, himself seen by God, born of God, appointed by God, points to the Saviour of the world: “Look, the Lamb of God!”
The “look” of the Lamb of God
Two of John’s disciples left him and followed Christ. This was the first step in them becoming his disciples. The question of our Lord, “What do you want?”, seems unfriendly, almost off-putting. Later they would sit at the feet of Christ and learn from Him,
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26–27, NIV)
And yet, they wanted to know where Jesus stay -they wanted to learn from Him and spend time with Him. It was already late in the afternoon. They learned so much that afternoon that they became convinced that they found the Messiah. Andrew, one of them (the other one was most probably John who wrote the Gospel), led his brother to the Lord.
And then we read an amazing statement, “Jesus looked at him [Peter].” Let’s just pause here. This was not just a look into the face of Peter to introduced Himself with a “Hello, how are you?”
The Bible uses a very interesting word for “look”. It describes looking with more than just the eyes. It speaks about a look with understanding and knowledge. This word occurs also in John 5:19, Jesus gave them this answer:
“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees his Father doing… (John 5:19, NIV)
We have an expression, to”eyeball” someone, to have your eyes on someone. Later in our chapter, 1:48 our Lord also saw Nathanael,
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1:48, NIV)
And towards the end of this paragraph we read, Jesus said,
“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” (John 1:50, NIV)
This “see”, this “look” of Christ is a look from all eternity. It is a searching look, it is a look for that finds and saves. And only the Son of Man, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world was sent into this word to seek and to save the lost.
Talking about face recognition! This is endlessly more than that, it’s a look into the heart, know that the heart needs replacement.
Our Saviour, who knows our heart and our lostness in the darkness of the word had his eyes on us – and He knew us from before time began.
Just to make sure that He knows us better than we know ourselves: He makes the case in Peter and in Nathaniel. Nathaniel was one who spoke his mind. What did he think of the Messiah? “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” What an embarrassment to stand before Christ who says he knew you even before your friend introduced you to Him!
Seeing into eternity
Nathaniel might have been someone who spoke his mind without being false, but the way our Lord taught him took him to someone in the Old Testament, Jacob – who was a deceiver. He also had a meeting with God. After deceiving his brother he fled from his home out of fear that his brother could kill him. One night he slept under the starry skies with his head on a rock. God revealed Himself to Jacob and he saw the angels of God descending and ascending on a stairway from heaven. He heard God speak to him with heavenly promises. God said,
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15, NIV)
I will watch over you! I will have my eye on you. When Jacob woke up from this dream he said,
“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:17, NIV)
Our Lord brought this into the sight of Nathaniel.
Jesus opened the spiritual eyes of Andrew, Peter, the other disciple and Nathaniel to see, and He keeps on doing so on all He calls to be saved. He saw them from eternity; now they will see into eternity. Meeting Christ, having you spiritual eyes opened to know the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is to stand at the gate of heaven.
Face recognition which can scan and spot a troublemaker in the crowds – it is really the thing? I think it is something special. But it is one thing to spot a sinner, and it is another thing to sport a sinner, take his sins way, and give him eternal life.
Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 October 2016