By Sam E. Stone
This month’s lessons highlight “The Pledge of God’s Presence,” as seen in the Gospels of John and Mark. The quarter’s overall theme is, “The Spirit Comes.” The preparatory ministry of John the Baptist is recounted early in John’s Gospel. It had been almost 400 years since the last Old Testament prophet appeared on the stage of Scripture. Malachi concluded his message by predicting that the prophet Elijah would come one day to call people back to God’s Word and his will (Malachi 3:1). The people were waiting for this to happen.
John the Baptist is introduced by John the apostle with the words, “There was a man sent from God; whose name was John” (John 1:6). He came to bear witness to “the light” (v. 8). John added, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (v. 14). John the Baptist denied that he was the Messiah, but instead pointed the way to Jesus (1:19-28).
One day as John was baptizing in the Jordan River, he saw Jesus coming. He pointed him out to the crowd, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John clearly affirmed that Jesus was not coming just to teach.
J. W. McGarvey correctly pointed out, “Lambs do not teach, and sin is not removed by teaching, but by sacrifice (Hebrews 9:22; Revelation 5:9). Jesus was sacrificed for the world, the entire human family in all ages. All are bought, but all do not acknowledge the purchase (2 Peter 2:1).” When John immersed Jesus, he saw the literal fulfillment of what God had promised him.
The significance of “the Lamb of God” expression must not be missed (1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:19). A. T. Robertson noted, “The passage in Isaiah 53:6 is directly applied to Christ by Philip in Acts 8:32.” Jesus is the Lamb of God for the world, not just the Jews.
John’s baptism was connected with his larger work of preparing people for the Messiah. He was helping the hundreds who came to be baptized by him to be ready and willing to accept the one who would be revealed to Israel. John had been provided certain, visible evidence to confirm that person as the one who fulfilled his message of repentance.
John testified, “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” The descent of the dove and the voice of God from Heaven made it abundantly clear that the person John was then baptizing was the long-awaited Messiah. R. C. Foster observed, “John knew that Jesus was without sin and did not need his baptism, but he did not fully realize that he was the Christ (I knew him not) . . . . In the moment after his surrender to the watery grave, he was revealed in glorious fashion as the Christ, so that John, by this infallible sign, might identify him, direct his followers to him, and further aid his ministry.”
Jesus had walked many miles from Galilee to the Jordan River. There he asked John to baptize him (Matthew 3:13). John was reluctant at first, saying that he was the one who needed to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around (v. 14). Jesus insisted, however, explaining that he had to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). When he did so the Holy Spirit descended upon him.
John explained, “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.’”
William Hendriksen evaluated the significance of the event like this: “What John saw was the visible manifestation of the anointing of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. This anointing, as the references indicate, includes two elements: a. that the Mediator was ordained by God for his specific task, and b. that he was qualified to carry it out.” He concluded, “By this token Jesus had become revealed as being, indeed, the Christ; i.e., the Anointed One, set apart and qualified by the Spirit for his task as redemptive Mediator.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.