Friday, July 6, 2007

John 1:29-34 – This is Jesus: The Son of God (John the Baptist’s Testimony - Part 3)

© Eric M Schumacher – Preached July 1, 2007 at Northbrook Baptist Church, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

[For the study of John's Gospel, I would highly recommend the commentaries of Carson and Kostenberger.]

I have one point in this morning’s sermon. It is this: Jesus is the Spirit-anointed King, whose arrival inaugurates the new age of end-time salvation in which God’s Spirit is poured out upon his people.

To be honest, these types of sermons put an unspoken pressure on a pastor. Now and then, a survey will be published about what kind of ministry grows a church. And, invariably, “practical preaching” will be near the top of the list. I’ve made the assumption that “practical preaching” is preaching that sends you home with things to do. That, in itself, is not necessarily bad. We certainly do want to be living out the faith. But, that expectation puts a certain pressure on you when you’re writing a sermon. You’re always looking for something that you can tell people to do. The danger is that you begin to skip passages that are heavily ‘doctrinal’ in favor of those that are more ‘practical,’ because it is assumed that that is the kind of preaching people want. (And, under that lies the assumption that preaching should deliver what people want, even if it is not what they need.)

“Practical” sermons are easier for the preacher and the listener. In a sermon on prayer, you can tell people to go home and pray. In a sermon on evangelism, you can tell them to go to Africa and share the gospel. In a sermon on the Bible, you can tell the church to read their Bibles. In a sermon on kindness, you can tell Christians to go home and be nice to each other.

In a sermon on Jesus being the Spirit Anointed King, whose arrival begins the new age of salvation in which God’s Spirit is poured out upon his people—you can tell people to go home and—what?

Doctrinal Preaching
I want to encourage you to understand that ‘doctrinal’ preaching is important to the state of our souls and the health of the church, even if it doesn’t send us home with three steps for application. I find encouragement to preach this message in three places:

First, this is the message that John the Baptist preached at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Second, believing this is the goal of John’s Gospel (John 20:30-31).

Third, this is the message that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, when about 3,000 repented, were baptized and were added to the church.

Fourth, I find encouragement from the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London in the later half of the 1800’s. In his June 28th entry in his daily devotional, Morning and Evening, Spurgeon wrote this:
We will never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to our souls.
So often, that is why we long for ‘practical preaching,’ because we hope to find our happiness in what we are doing. But, as Spurgeon rightly points out, “it is what Jesus is…that gives rest to our souls.” True happiness, true rest comes not from anything that we do, but from who Jesus is and what he has done.

So, perhaps the first question that we should be asking is not “what does this passage tell me to do?” but “how does this passage help me to find rest and happiness in who Jesus is?” I’m going to move now to explaining this passage, but at the end I’ll come back to this question and tell you how this passage helps me to find rest and happiness in knowing who Jesus is.

The Preeminence of Jesus
After last week’s examination of verse 29, we pick up in verse 30 where John says, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’” We looked at the significance of this statement several weeks ago in John 1:15.

This is the third time that the Baptist is quoted emphasizing the superiority of Jesus over himself. That superiority will be seen in this passage as the Baptist points to Jesus baptizing with the Spirit, which is superior to John’s baptism with water.

John’s Knowledge and John’s Purpose
In verse 31, John says a strange thing. He says, “I myself did not know him.” Evidently, John did not know who specifically the Messiah was going to be. He only knew that he had been sent to announce a man who would be greater than he was, but not who that man was.

Then John says that while he did not “know him,” he baptized with water for the purpose of revealing “him” to Israel. This is an interesting explanation for John ministry of baptism. John came baptizing with water, that Jesus might be revealed to Israel. The ultimate purpose of John’s baptism was not that Israel might repent, but that the Messiah would be revealed to Israel.

Did John call people to repent and be baptized? Absolutely! But repentance was not the end goal of his ministry. Just like building a highway in the wilderness was not the main purpose of Isaiah’s prophecy. The highway was to be built and the way was to be made straight so that the Lord could come. The point of repentance (and a baptism of repentance from sins) is not repentance in and of itself, but repentance to prepare for the revelation of the Messiah.

“Moral living” is not an end in itself. Our ultimate purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever—to know God in a covenant relationship. Repentance from sin is part of the removal of an obstacle to that relationship. Removing sin is not the goal. Knowing Christ is.

I Saw the Spirit…Therefore, This is God’s Son
In verse 32, John bears witness that he “saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” The descent of the Spirit was a sign to John. He says that “the one 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 borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

When God sent John to baptize with water, he told him that he would recognize the one he was sent to announce by seeing the Spirit descend and remain on him. John saw this sign, and so he can bear witness that this is the “Son of God.”

What does that mean? “Son of God” was a Messianic title. In Psalm 2, the Lord refers to his “Anointed” as “my Son.” So, John is designating Jesus as the “King,” which is a theme in this section. Andrew will tell Simon, “We have found the Messiah” (v 41). Nathanael will exclaim (v 49), “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” John the Baptist is declaring Jesus to be the Messiah promised by the Old Testament prophets.

What does this have to do with the Spirit descending and remaining, and baptizing with the Holy Spirit? John seems to be making a connection that the Spirit descending and remaining on Jesus—and that Jesus is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit—with Jesus being the King. What is this connection?
We have three things present here: First, Jesus is the King. Second, Jesus is the King on whom the Spirit descends and remains. Third, Jesus is the King who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. What is the significance of this picture? To answer this question, we’ll head back to the prophets of the Old Testament, to get a look at what Israel was (or should have been) expecting.

Who Was Israel to be Expecting?
The prophets spoke of at least two things relevant to our passage. They spoke of (1) a Spirit-anointed Messiah, a Davidic King on whom God’s Spirit rested. And, (2) of an age to come in which God’s people would be regathered and renewed through the pouring out of God’s Spirit. And, these are related, as it is the arrival of this coming ruler that would begin the new age of salvation.[1]

A Spirit-anointed Messiah
Jim Hamilton, who spoke at our church last fall on the indwelling of the Spirit, points out that there are three common elements in Isaiah’s prophecies.

First, Isaiah speaks of a coming ruler. God’s people had always been looking for a ruler to come and deliver them. God promised in Genesis 3 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. As the saving promises of God developed, the people began to look specifically for a descendant of David—a Davidic King—who would reign in righteousness and peace forever (2 Sam 7:13).

Second, more specifically, Isaiah speaks of a coming ruler who is anointed by the Spirit of God. When David was anointed by Samuel, the Spirit of God rushed upon him. This caused many to expect that David’s greater son would also be anointed by the Spirit of God.

Third, Isaiah spoke of a Spirit-anointed ruler whose arrival would inaugurate (or, formally begin) a new age of salvation in which the curse would be reversed. Some examples of this:
Isaiah 4:2-4 looks for a day in which “the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious.” The “Branch of the Lord” is a messianic title. Through the Branch, the filth and bloodstains of God’s people will be washed away and cleansed “by the Spirit of judgment and by the Spirit of burning.” (Compare this with John the Baptist’s message that the Messiah would baptize “with the Spirit and with fire.”) The Messiah would bring a day in which God’s people would be purified through the work of the Spirit.

Isaiah 11:1-5 speaks of “the Branch” from Jesse—a Davidic ruler—who is anointed with the Spirit. This ruler rules with perfect righteousness (v. 4), which results in perfect peace—“hunters and hunted resting together, and the seed of woman and serpent at peace with one another (11:6-9; see Gen 3:15).” God promised to pour out his Spirit on a coming Davidic king, which would result in the curse reversed.

Isaiah 61:1 speaks of the Lord’s “anointed,” his Messiah. He has the Spirit upon him because he has been anointed by the Lord—“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me…”

This Spirit-anointed one comes to “bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor.” His arrival announces the day in which the Lord will give comfort, beauty, gladness and praise to his people. He will makes an everlasting covenant with them (v. 8) and they will be his priests and ministers (v 6). Through all this, “righteousness and praise” will “sprout up.” The Lord’s people will be renewed in garden language reminiscent of Eden. Through this Spirit-anointed one, the curse will be reversed and a new age will begin for the Lord’s people.

Renewal through the Holy Spirit
The prophet Isaiah also spoke of a day of renewal for the Lord’s people, which would come through the presence of the Spirit. This “new day” that the Spirit-anointed Messiah would usher in, would be characterized by the outpouring of the Spirit.

We read of this in Isaiah 44:3, “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”

In Isaiah 32, we find an example that connects the Messiah with the coming of this day. This chapter begins with the announcement of a coming king, who will reign in righteousness. The chapter ends with the promise of justice, righteousness, fruitfulness, and eternal, peaceful habitation and quiet rest. The turning point that brings this day of renewal is in verse 15, “…the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.”

The King’s reign is accompanied by the outpouring of the Spirit, which results in the curse being reversed and God’s people living in a state of blessedness in which all things are transformed and made new. The age of the Messiah would bring a renewal of God’s people through the outpouring of the Spirit.
This “new day” was also the future hope preached by Ezekiel. Ezekiel spoke of a day of renewal through the outpouring of God’s Spirit. In Ezekiel 36:24-28, we read:
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

The following chapter famously illustrates this point as Ezekiel is told to prophesy over a valley of dry bones.
Ezekiel 37:11-14 Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.' 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14 And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD."
The Lord is going to gather together his people from throughout the earth and give them life, when he puts his Spirit within them. The Lord promises this again in Ezekiel 39:29, when he says, “And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.

So, a day of renewal and restoration is coming for the Lord’s people (who are those who—regardless of ethnic birth—believe in him; see John 1:11-13) when he pours out his Spirit upon them. And, what do we read in the midst of all this, but in Ezekiel 37:24-25:
My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.
A day is promised when the Lord’s people will be regathered and the Spirit will be poured out upon them, transforming them into a people who love and obey the Lord. And, the Lord’s “Davidic King” will reign over them in that day.

Each of these prophecies speaks a coming day of salvation—something future. And, this “new day” is significantly linked with the presence of the Messiah and the outpouring of God’s Spirit.

The sign of the Spirit

What is the significance of the Spirit descending on Jesus?
Jesus is the Spirit-anointed Messiah spoken of by the prophets..

What is the significance of the Spirit remaining on Jesus?
Two things:

1) The remaining of the Spirit indicates that the Father is pleased with Jesus.
The Spirit rushed upon Saul, but was removed when he displeased the Lord. A King upon whom the Spirit remains would be a King who is always pleasing to the Lord.

Jesus says in John 8:29, “He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” And, this is why, in the other Gospels, the anointing with the Spirit is accompanied by the Father proclaiming, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (cf Matt 3:17). A King that is pleasing to the Lord would bring the Lord’s blessing to his people.

2) The remaining of the Spirit indicates that Jesus is equipped to baptize with the Spirit.
What is the significance of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit?
Jesus is the Spirit-anointed King who inaugurates the age to come, spoken of by the prophets we just examined. Jesus is long-awaited one whose arrival marks the beginning of the age of renewal and restoration, wrought by the poured-out Spirit.

This marks a change in salvation history. In previous times, the Spirit came upon unique individuals, such as judges, Joshua (Num 27:18) or David at his anointing (1 Sam 16:13). But, the presence of the Spirit on these people is what set them apart from everyone else. Now, through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all God’s people (see Acts 2:38). Jesus gives the Spirit to those who believe (7:39).

The Son of God
John the Baptist is announcing the beginning of the Messianic age. John the Baptist sees the Spirit-anointing of Jesus and Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit connected with Jesus being the King. This is his Messianic anointing. As the Messiah anointed with the Spirit, he will baptize his people with the Spirit.

Since this was prophesied to occur when the “end-time” salvation would arrive, this marks the beginning of the end. This marks the arrival of a “new day” in salvation history. This is why Jesus can later say to the Samaritan woman at the well (4:23), “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” And that is the day in which we live.

Are we making the right connections?
This is central to the Gospel preached by the Apostles. In Acts 2, Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost ends with this summary statement: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom have crucified.” In this sermon, Peter begins by declaring that the “last days” have begun, in fulfillment of the prophesy of Joel that the Lord would pour out his Spirit. He continues to argue that Jesus is the Davidic Messiah based not only on his resurrection, but on the fact that Jesus was “exalted at the right hand of God,” from were “he has poured out” the Holy Spirit. So, Peter argues that the “last days” have begun because Jesus is the Lord’s anointed King who pours out the Spirit on his people.

Likewise, when Peter preached the Gospel to the Gentiles in Acts 10, he spoke of Jesus Christ (anointed) as the one whom “God anointed with the Holy Spirit and power” (36-37). And, they went on to proclaim that “the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Peter saw the Spirit’s descent upon Jesus as God’s anointing of Jesus. And this marks him as the one who brings forgiveness—which brings salvation.

The Apostles, like John the Baptist, see this event at Jesus’ baptism as demonstrating that Jesus is the Spirit Anointed King, whose arrival begins the new age of salvation in which God’s Spirit is poured out upon his people.

Jesus is King, which means we have a choice to make.
Peter preached this same message on the day of Pentecost, in Acts 2. Following Peter’s sermon, those who heard him were “cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’”

As we told the VBS kids this week—Jesus is King, and that means there are only two ways to live: You can say ‘No’ to him as king. Or, you can say ‘Yes’ to him as King.

Happiness and Rest
I promised you at the beginning of the sermon that I would return to and answer the question: “How does this passage—about who Jesus is—give us happiness and give rest to our souls?”

These past weeks have seen a number of serious afflictions in our church. We’ve had a member’s loved one die unexpectedly. We’ve had people undergoing serious tests. We’ve had surgeries. We’ve had homebound members injured. We’ve had those who weren’t homebound become temporarily homebound through injury. We’ve had a member immobilized through viral meningitis. Another’s husband was hospitalized with a major heart-attack; and we spent four days wondering if he would live or die.

And that is just the start of the list. I could go on and on with things that I know about. And, each of you could go on and on with things that are weighing on your shoulders.

We live in a world that is full of sickness and death, brokenness and sin, sorrow and suffering. Does this message— Jesus is the Spirit Anointed King, whose arrival begins the new age of salvation in which God’s Spirit is poured out upon his people—apply to our lives today? You bet it does!

When I drove my car home from the hospital after visiting Madilyn, each time not knowing whether David would live or die, I didn’t find comfort in the prospect of needing to work harder. The last thing I wanted was to sit down and study a passage that told me I needed to do more.

I found comfort in this—God promised that his Spirit-anointed King would come and bring about a day in which God’s Spirit would be poured out upon His people and the curse of sin would be reversed so that they would dwell in happiness and gladness for eternity.

And, Jesus is that King. John the Baptist tells us that that day has arrived. Jesus has come. Jesus has poured out his Spirit upon his church. And, one day Jesus is going to return to bring that work to completion, on the day in which the redemption that is already accomplished will be fully and finally realized.

So, we can rest and rejoice! We can rest knowing that the King has come and is coming again! We can rejoice to know that though the weeping may last for the night, joy comes in the morning!

If you are facing death or cancer or a major heart attack, you can rest knowing that Jesus has begun and will bring to completion a new age in which these things will be wiped away.

If you are weighed down with you own sin or the sin of another, you can rejoice knowing that you have a king who pours out the Holy Spirit on his people, to produce repentance and regeneration and renewal and restoration.

[1] I am indebted to Jim Hamilton and his dissertation God’s Indwelling Presence for these insights.