THE LAMB OF GOD
29The next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!30This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me, but he is greater than I am, because he existed before I was born.’31I did not know who he would be, but I came baptizing with water in order to make him known to the people of Israel.”
32And John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and stay on him.33I still did not know that he was the one, but God, who sent me to baptize with water, had said to me, ‘You will see the Spirit come down and stay on a man; he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’34I have seen it,” said John, “and I tell you that he is the Son of God.”
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
Context is key for a deeper understanding of the Gospel readings each week. In this Gospel the passage opens in verse 29 with the phrase, “the next day.” What happened the day before? A careful Bible student will notice that John the Baptist has been answering the questions of the religious leaders about who he thinks he is. Is he the Messiah? No! Elijah? No! The Prophet (promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15)? No! Then who are you? John responds, quoting Isaiah 40, that he is “the voice of one crying out in the desert, Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:19-23).
This narrative context allows the reader to better appreciate John’s announcement to his disciples “the next day.” When John sees Jesus coming to the Jordan River, he tells his disciples (the term reminds us that they are his students) that they are looking at “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” This evocative term the Lamb of God is a powerful theological image too, from the first Passover before the Exodus. Under the Law of Moses, a lamb was the preferred animal to offer in sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. In offering a lamb every year in God’s Temple, the person of faith seeks to secure the forgiveness of sin God grants. The title Lamb of God as conveyed by John to Jesus is one of great honor and esteem. John could not have thought more highly of the Lord.
John reminds his disciples that he was told by God to wait for the one upon whom he would see the Spirit descend and remain. This had happened a few days earlier when he baptized Jesus. This is how John knew that Jesus was God’s agent and Messiah.
According to Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist and Jesus were related. They were cousins. John was the elder but seems to have known that Jesus was chosen by God for a unique purpose. He says that Jesus ranks ahead of him because he existed before him. John was surely aware of the unusual circumstances surrounding Jesus’s birth. These two could have spent weeks at a time together as their parents celebrated the thrice annual pilgrimage feasts in Jerusalem. There was something special about Jesus and John now knows what it is. He has seen and can testify that his cousin is the Lamb of God, God’s chosen one.
John the Baptist was patient. In the course of ministry by the Jordan he would have dipped thousands under the waters, waiting with heightened expectation for the one upon whom the Spirit of God would descend. When would this happen? What would it look like? He describes the eventual occurrence to his disciples by relating that it was like a dove slashing through the air and coming to rest upon Jesus. It all happened in that moment. John prepared the way, and the chosen one made his way to the Jordan. This was the beginning of the ministry of the Son of God and the culmination of John’s role in salvation history.
Later Jesus will speak of John and say that of all those born of women, no one was greater than John—yet the lowest in the emerging kingdom of God would be greater than John. We are those born as the least into the kingdom, and we have John the Baptist to thank for our safe arrival. His faithfulness and patience were rewarded when Jesus came to the Jordan to begin his journey toward the sacrifice that would secure our salvation.
Slow down and meditate for a moment on this meeting between John and Jesus. First introduced to one another in the womb when the infant John leapt for joy. Now reunited as grown men, each has a particular role to play in the story of salvation that has been promised through the ages. We are blessed because they were faithful.
“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.”
Father, may I be open to the coming of the Spirit in my life. I ask that you send your Spirit into my world, my family, my church, and my heart. I want to be led by the Spirit into closer communion with you. Send down your Spirit and let it remain upon me.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.”
Kevin Saunders is a Catholic Bible teacher in Phoenix, Arizona. He became particularly interested in the cultural world of Jesus while living in the Old City of Jerusalem. His popular Bible class can be found online at ArizonaBibleClass.com.