Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | December 21, 2007

Does John point his followers to Christ intentionally? (Lesson 5: Question 1 Answer)

1.  Does John point his followers to Christ in this passage intentionally?

As we consider whether John was intentionally pointing his followers to Christ, we will be examining the following verses of our passage:

35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  38Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

Here again in our text we encounter Jesus in Bethany beyond the Jordan where John and his followers were staying.  As Jesus was within the vicinity of John, John repeats the statement that he made in the previous day proclaiming the identity of our Lord.  We know from our text that at least two of the disciples in the midst of this scene heard John’s words.  We have no information to support that they were within a crowd of fellow disciples, however it would not be unreasonable to state that there were probably much more than four people noted in our text present during this event.  In the Greek version of our text we have grammatically a genitive construction in verse 35 that appears to be a partitive (των μαθητων αυτου δυο).  This would suggest that the two disciples were part of a whole group that was with John the Baptist present during this event, thus supporting our statement that the apostle John is not reporting to us all the people who were present.  Most likely there is no qualification of others present, because the apostle intends to keep us focused on the main point of the passage which is the calling of the first disciples.  To us the quotations within this text probably seem strangely vague or cryptic.  Either the apostle John is not providing us with the full detail of the conversations and/or the speakers in this text are expecting the hearers to possess the necessary presupposition pool of knowledge required to interpret the comments accurately.  This text has been used to illustrate a semantic tactic known as implicature, which essentially is the use of a plain statement that bears a specific connotation for its hearers.  In the book Linguistics and Biblical Interpretation the authors help to round out possible implications of the quotations in the following:

I told you that a prophet was coming who is greater than I, and you seemed interested in him.  Well, behold the Lamb of God, so if you wish to find out more about him go and talk to him Rabbi, we would like to know more about you.  May we spend time with?  Where do you live? If you tell us then perhaps we might come to talk with you? 83 

The italicized words are the authors commentary on the meaning of the statements made by John the Baptist and the disciples.  These assist in contextualizing the biblical quotations that are left in the unmodified text. It seems clear that John the Baptist is re-emphasizing his statement about our Lord to intentionally cause them to follow Him and not himself.  As we posited in the summary comments of this passage the apostle John was likely one of the disciples referenced in this text.  Although, the Baptist’s re-emphasis of Jesus as the Lamb of God may not have initiated more than two of his disciples to follow Jesus at that time, the apostle John certainly recalls the importance of this “Christ-centered preaching” and its affects on his (presumably) and Andrew’s life. Thus, we might also pose that this text further reinforces John the Baptist’s philosophy on ministry, which is clearly Christ-centered.  Specifically, it was emphasizing man’s desperate need for reconciliation with God and accurately sought to direct their attention to the redemption that could only be found in Christ, as Calvin states:

We ought also to observe what is the chief object to which John (the Baptist) directs the attention of men; it is, to find in Christ the forgiveness of sins. 84 

As we have encountered John the Baptist in the study of this Gospel, his ministry has been characterized by “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Rather than bask in the fame of possessing a great following and seek to maintain this by focusing the message on himself or his audience, John obediently and faithfully maintains the focus of the message on Christ and the need for reconciliation.  There is no greater need for human beings in this world than to achieve propitiation between ourselves and God.  We are in a perilous predicament that has no mere human solution to resolve our eternal destination.  We have only one resolution and it is solved in the redemption promised in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When all other things are considered in light of this peril, it exposes our desperate need for this message to be preached in all its purity and simplicity with regularity.  Although, messages about piety, “spirituality”, social justice, healing, success, and family values are important and have a time and a place, in light of our need for reconciliation with God they are insignificant in the overall scheme of things.  Unfortunately, a lack of emphasis on our need for reconciliation substituted with an emphasis on things noted above may have an uncanny affect on the listener in producing Pharisees rather than Tax collectors (Luke 18:9-14).   Another way to look at this that may be helpful is that these things that typically distract our attention from the gospel are focused on this passing evil age.  The gospel, however and our acceptance of it plays a vital role in our entrance or exclusion in the age to come.  Nothing is more important than where we will spend eternity, yet it is lamentable when the message of the gospel takes a back seat to these things that are so concerned about this passing evil age.

Despite this apparently clear distinction on what the focus of the Christian message should be, there remains much confusion over this matter.  A significant contributing factor to this confusion is the methodology that seeks to redefine the gospel in a much broader sense than the Scriptures merit.  For example, some seek to define the gospel as political, maybe or maybe not to justify the integration of policy matters into the message.  There are some that would go so far as to dedicate an entire sermon to a speech on Christian America (i.e. D. James Kennedy), however in this specific citation it does not seem to be the case.  Nonetheless, it is certainly seen as a justification to support causes for social justice and the like to be emphasized in the message.  Mournfully, at one time we were exposed to a steady diet of social justice “propaganda” from the pulpit for a prolonged period of time (this was in a former denomination).  The gospel went undeclared for months except for the periodical (monthly) participation in the Lord’s Supper. The redefinition, however does not usually stop here and these advocates would also promote a definition of the gospel that would include the beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Thus, the words, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” are somehow construed to be good news. Although advocates of this view would argue that these are aspects of the gospel to justify the emphasis of them, we would appeal to Scripture to argue against this position.  As Paul states in his letter to the Church at Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  It is evident when reading the New Testament that the apostles would not have defined the gospel so broadly.  The good news about Christ and the reconciliation that He has wrought between God and men is very difficult to confuse with “be perfect”.  The message “be perfect” is not good news at all, but an imperative proclaiming to us the need to fulfill the Law in order to gain access to God.  When we are honest with ourselves we know that this is impossible for us to do as children of Adam.  This is then bad news and definitely possesses no power to reconcile us before a holy God (i.e. Rom 1:16).  Thus, we would do well to sit under preachers who follow the example of John the Baptist (and the apostles in the book of Acts) who focus on “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).      

We have already labored in this study to classify the message of John the Baptist (How would you classify john the Baptists message?).  However, for the purposes of the question at hand we would do well to reiterate some of that material with a treatment of John’s proclamation in this text.  We see in this passage John the Baptist, in an intentional fashion, pointing his followers to “the greater one who was to come after him” with a summary of the gospel “Behold the Lamb of God!”  This term Lamb of God, which does not refer to a particular rite or ceremony in the old covenant, more appropriately is a reference to His embodiment of the entire ceremonial law.  He suffered no blemish during His earthly life and despite a rigorous temptation in the wilderness He remained blameless and fulfilled all the demands of the Law.  He was “perfect” just like His heavenly Father, unlike the rest of us who are condemned by our being born in Adam and our incessant law breaking (WSC Q18).  Thus, unlike the priest of the old covenant who were tainted by sin and unable to clear the conscience of the worshiper.  He, that is “Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrew 9:11-12).  Now in the gospel we are promised the righteousness of Christ and can be sure that He has cleansed our conscience by taking our sins out of the way nailing them to the cross.  (Col 2:14-16).  It seems to be self-evident that this message of the gospel is antithetical to any attempts to dress up the law and call it gospel.  The law convicts us, the gospel assures us.  The law condemns us, the gospel gives life.  The law points out our sin, the gospel purifies our souls.  As we can see in these contrasts between the law and the gospel the differences substantiate our position in a formidable way.

Before we conclude it would be appropriate for us to point out that the events in our text implicitly support our characterization of John the Baptist’s faithfulness to the gospel.  It is significant that this simple proclamation by John the Baptist provoked the two disciples to follow Jesus.  This was no mere coincidence, but goes to show that these disciples had been given a steady diet of Christ-centered preaching to respond in faith.  The religious atmosphere of this time could be characterized as a period when law-centered preaching dominated.  The light of the gospel must have almost been extinguished except for the flickering that emitted from the preaching of John the Baptist in the wilderness.  The disciples in this text had been convinced that they needed to be reconciled to God not through their own efforts, but through the work of another.  This would not have been the case for the disciples of the Pharisees or Sadducees.  Thus, let us consider the uniqueness of John the Baptist who preached Christ in such a way that his disciples were aware of there need for a Savior.  Once that Savior appeared they were prepared to follow Him who had the double cure for their sins.  As we continue in this text we will examine in more detail how Christ is found in the Scriptures of the Old Testament.  Moreover, we will also examine the implications of His becoming flesh and blood walking among us in our shoes.  For now, however let us be reminded that the gospel is not about politics, victorious living or even about raising healthy families.  The gospel is about our salvation and reconciliation, which is “folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

83 Peter Cotterell & Max Turner Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation (Downers rove, IL; IVP, 1989) 48

84 John Calvin (1550) Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John (Calvin’s Commentaries, 17; Baker, 2005) p 70

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