Thy Kingdom Come: A Man Who Ranks Before Me

Text: John 1:29-42a
Date: Epiphany II + 1/22/17

Thy Kingdom Come. The coming of the kingdom means and requires the coming of the King. But whereas “the kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer” the King Himself comes with the help and assistance of others. He comes in the flesh as the Son of Mary. He comes to you by means of others preaching the Word of God. So now at the beginning of His earthly ministry He comes by means of the one sent to prepare His way, by the revelation given to John the Baptist. John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that THIS IS THE SON OF GOD!”

In the beginning of John’s Gospel have you ever noticed what is missing? The other Gospels (called “synoptic” since they all are written in a more or less similar content or order) relate the actual event of Jesus’ baptism. John doesn’t. Also we might add the interesting observation that the other Gospels tell of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness immediately after His baptism. John doesn’t. Rather we are to conclude that those things happened but John is more interested in telling us the significance of Jesus’ Baptism for us and of our baptism in Him. That significance is that in Jesus God, who created the world in six days, is here bringing about His new creation in the six days John mentions. The important part of Jesus’ baptism is the Holy Spirit. And the important part of your baptism is the faith created in you by the Holy Spirit.

You are to be a new creation of God as the apostle Paul said in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). So today, before we move on from commemorating and celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord we pause to ask about our own baptism into Christ. The question for you today is, “Do you feel like a new creation?” That question needs to be asked because, though St. Paul is quite clear about the issue, we don’t feel so new, our experience seems to contradict his words. What does it mean to be a new creation of God, especially as I daily feel older and cannot seem to free myself totally from the oppression of my deadly sin? Again, we’re in good company with St. Paul who also described this aspect of the Christian life when he said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:15, 18-19, 24). St. Paul didn’t feel like a new creation. That’s the conundrum we too feel and experience.

So listen today to him who prepares the Way of the King and the kingdom. When he sees and points to Jesus coming toward him, he exclaims emphatically, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” “See,” “take notice.” This man, Jesus, is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

When John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God” he is saying that Jesus is not “a” lamb of God like so many which have been repeatedly sacrificed through the ages only as a promise of God, a sacrifice as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “which can never take away sins” (Heb 10:11). Those sacrifices pointed to and predicted this One, the only one that can take away sins, “THE lamb of God,” the one and only who “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9:26).

So how does this make me a new creation? How does Jesus take away my sins, and when?

John saw in the baptism of Jesus the end of his baptism with water being replaced now with the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus is the Lamb, that is, the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world.

It is important to know that the Evangelist is saying that the triumph of the Son is the taking away of sin by his sacrifice of blood on the cross. All of this, John is saying, is wrapped up in the water of Jesus’ baptism, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross and the Holy Spirit Who is given to Him and to you in baptism. This emphasis of water, blood and Spirit John mentions again in his First Epistle, saying, “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:6-7).

It is clear in John’s Gospel that “sin” is not defined by its deeds or actions but by the lack of faith, the refusal to believe. Sin is primarily spiritual blindness and unbelief. When spiritual blindness and unbelief is taken away and replaced with faith, sin has been taken away. Look at it this way. Sin is not defined by its deeds but by the lack of faith, the refusal to believe. So we ask the baptismal questions.

Do you renounce the devil?
Do you renounce all his works?
Do you renounce all his ways?

To renounce the devil is not to cease being troubled by him but to be enabled by God to refuse to follow, obey or recognize him. That’s the work of faith.

Then, do you believe in God, the Father, in Jesus Christ our Lord, and the Holy Spirit? It is none other than the Holy Spirit who enables you to say, “Yes, I believe.” In such faith the Lamb of God takes away your sin. You are cleansed, your sin taken away every time you confess and believe. “Jesus as the Lamb of God removes such ‘sin’ (Jn 1:29). He removes it by his death, at which time he also bestows the Holy Spirit (Jn 19:30), through whom a new being is born, a child of God (Jn 1:12; 3:5). That one is a child of God is demonstrated” not by a sinless, perfect life but “by a posture of faith made concrete in the discipleship of following Jesus”[1]

So you are a new creation, even if at times you don’t see it or feel much like it. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). In Christ you really are a new creation by the gift of faith created by the Holy Spirit, given through Holy Baptism and won for you by the blood of the Lamb. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph 5:8). That is, simply believe. That faith has been given to you. You are a new creation.

[1] Weinrich, John 1:1—7:1, CPH ©2015, 247.