Text: John 1:29-34
Date: Wednesday of Epiphany I + 1/10/07
The beginning of blessed St. John’s Gospel is mystically arranged as a week of seven days in which is announced all the main themes of our Lord’s earthly ministry. After the majestic prologue announcing the Eternal Word becoming flesh and the brief introduction of John the Baptist, today’s Gospel begins with the words, “The next day.” If the first day of the week, Sunday, is St. John’s “Christmas,” celebrating the incarnation of the Son of God, “the next day,” Monday, marks the inauguration or ordination (if you will) of our Lord’s active earthly ministry at His baptism when He was about 30 years old. The account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River is recorded in the synoptic Gospels, Matthew [3:16], Mark [1:10], and Luke [3:22]. Presuming that you are already familiar with those accounts, the Apostle and Evangelist John does not narrate the act of the baptism for you again but emphasizes the divine sign of revelation given to the Baptist by which he was to know that Jesus is the promised, one-and-only Messiah, namely, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” [John 1:33 (ESV)]. The Evangelist says the Baptist “saw” Jesus, “saw” the Spirit descending and remaining on Jesus, and bore witness, saying, “I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” Our faith is firmly founded on the eye-witness testimony of the Baptist, the Apostles and the elders or pastors of the Church at Ephesus who had John include their words at the end of his Gospel, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” [John 21:24].
Interestingly, it is not until “the next day,” actually the next two days (John’s homiletic Tuesday and Wednesday), that we are told of men becoming disciples of Jesus, namely, Andrew, John himself, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael. More interestingly still, we would not know from John’s Gospel that there were twelve apostles, for he never lists them, as do the other Evangelists [Mt. 10:2-4; Mk. 3:16-19; Lk. 6:14-16], except that he indicates their number when he quotes Jesus calling them “the Twelve” [John 6:70]. Again and again it is apparent that a disciple or catechumen must first read and be well versed in the synoptic Gospels before you are ready to be instructed by St. John.
Taking John’s hypothetical week literally, then, this “day” by itself stands to preach, to announce to the world as a herald, that Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” “the Son of God” as objective fact, before and even regardless of your response of faith or unbelief. For, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world does not depend upon your acknowledgement, faith or even awareness of the objective fact. Your salvation, on the other hand, does depend on personal faith. Yet even then such faith is the gift and creation of God and not of your own volition, the working of God Himself through His Word and Sacraments, as we say in our Lutheran Confessions, “faith does not make people righteous because it is such a good work or such a fine virtue, but because it lays hold of and accepts the merit of Christ in the promise of the holy gospel” [Formula III:13, p. 564 KW].
True, saving faith in Jesus is created in the heart at John’s announcement of Jesus, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That was and is His mission—the taking away of all sin by means of offering Himself as the one-and-only perfect sacrificial Lamb to Whom all the sacrificial lambs and animals of the Old Covenant pointed, from Whom we now receive the benefits of his sacrifice by Holy Baptism, through the sacrament of his body and blood, and by abiding in His Word, namely, the forgiveness of our sins, eternal life and salvation.
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
Yet faith alone doth justify,
Works serve they neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living. [TLH 377:9]