In John 1:19-34, John the Baptist makes a surprising statement that there was someone alive right there, nearby, perhaps even in the crowd that day as John was baptizing people by the Jordan River, someone of whom John is not worthy even to untie his sandals. Untie sandals…what’s that matter? In John’s culture, that was a very lowly job only a servant was supposed to do. John is saying that even though he, John, has a prophetic ministry that thousands of people were flocking to, John is inferior to this other person. Who is John talking about? You can imagine the people in the crowd looking around wondering who John is referring to. Had the king shown up? The Roman governor? The high priest? No. John allows his alarming comment to pass without explanation, and he continues baptizing people.
The next day, John sees him, this other person, and John cries out, “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The lamb of God? What is that? For the people in the crowd there by the Jordan River the Lamb of God that takes away sins is an image they were very familiar with. In the Mosaic Law the sacrificial system laid out clear instructions for how an animal could be sacrificed and atone for the sins of the people. But John puts a twist on it, saying that he, John, just saw the Lamb of God which will take away the sins of the world! Again, John is being a bit mysterious? The people, as they were the previous day, are wondering who John is talking about.
Thankfully, John tells them who the Lamb of God is, but he tells them in the darndest way.
John actually mentioned this in what we read last week, but last week we didn’t talk about it. Look at what John says in John 1, verse 15. Then notice how John repeats it in verse 30. The repeated phrase is a bit of a riddle, but it is important in establishing the identity of the Lamb of God. Here’s the riddle: “He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” Huh? What does John me?
John is preparing the way for someone who comes after him. But there’s more John says. This man surpasses John, is greater than John. Why? Because actually, the man was before John. How is the possible? A man who comes after John, surpasses John, because he is before John. Did the people get riddle? Did the people understand the connection between that person and the Lamb of God? Probably not. But you and I know, the Lamb of God is Jesus, who would go on to give his life as a sacrifice for sin.
Interestingly John says he did not know the Lamb of God. You might ask, “Wait, didn’t John know Jesus? Weren’t they relatives? Cousins, maybe?” Yes, there was a family connection, before they were born, which we read about in Luke. But that’s all we know. 30 years of in-between time goes by without any information about their relationship. Here along the Jordan River as John is baptizing, he is saying, “I did not know in advance who the Lamb of God was going be. I just fulfilled the prophetic duty God had given me.” That prophetic duty was to speak the truth to the people, that there was sin in their lives, that they needed to turn to God, because the promised Messiah was coming. So, then, how did John know that his relative was the promised one? John tells us.
In verses 32-34 John tells us that he saw the Spirit come down from heaven and remain on this person, and that was the sign that God said John should look for. God had previously spoken to John, telling John what to look for, and John was listening. John should look, God said, for the one on whom the Spirit remains, and that person is the Son of God. And what’s more, that person will baptize with the Holy Spirit.
The Gospel of John is filled with testimony about who Jesus is, and here in John 1:19-34, we have just heard John the Baptist serve as the first witness. John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is the son of God, because on Jesus the Spirit of God dwelt. John was a prophet who prepared the way for Jesus. John declared the truth about people’s lives so that they might be ready for Jesus.
That is why we need prophets. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:11-12, that God called some to be Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers to build up the church. Prophets are the people who speak the truth, in love, about the situation of God’s people. Prophets call us towards hope, to Jesus, towards change for goodness and justice. That means the prophetic task is often very difficult. People generally don’t want to hear the truth about their lives, unless it is totally good. But we humans are not often totally good, are we?
We need people with the prophetic gift to speak the truth about ourselves to us. A prophet is a gift from God, given to a group of people for a time. A prophet brings us another chance for change, growth and connecting to God. That’s why we need prophets in the church. Prophets are truth-tellers, pointing out the hypocrisy and sinfulness in our lives, not so that the prophets might get glory and honor and disciples, but so that Jesus might get glory and honor and disciples.
Invite prophets into your life. Invite people to speak truth to you, pushing you to greater faith in and faithfulness to Jesus. Invite them to push you in love and hope towards living more and more of the heart of God in your everyday life.