Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29b).
This word is the Evangelist’s contribution toward the solution of the biggest problem in history—who is Jesus Christ? It is not enough to say. “Behold the Man,” “the Teacher,” “the Martyr.” We do not reach reality till we say, “Behold the Redeemer.” We do not see him clearly till we see him in relation to sin. It was sin that crucified Christ. The Lamb of God means sacrifice; it foreshadows the Cross. How then does the sacrifice of Christ take away sin?
I. The Cross Awakens Men to the Reality and the Consciousness of Sin. That is the first step toward taking it away. The lurid forms of sin are not the worst. Such sins as pride, jealousy, greed, hatred, and envy keep life from its power and peace, and at last may wreck the world. These things coming to a head crucified the Son of God. There was no other way of awakening the world but for him to die, to let sin take its full course and come to its tragic culmination in the cross of Calvary. “Behold the Lamb of God”!
II. The Crucified Christ Sets Us Free from Sin. Christ thus reveals the utter love and forgiveness of God, and enables us to make forgiveness ours. In the heart awakened to the fact of sin there is something that makes it terribly hard to realize and accept the forgiveness of God. But the vision of the One on the Cross brings home the amazing reality of God’s forgiveness. Before that vision of love sin cannot survive. Before that vision of love sin cannot endure.
Just here many people fall short of full salvation: the deliverance that would set them free from sin. “Take away” is the same verb that John uses about the stone that hid the Lord and held him in the grave. The taking away of sin is nothing if it be not the beginning of a new life and a recovered fellowship with God. On the faces of the early Christians there was “a wonderful sort of gladness, the look of men in whom some all-subduing experience had wrought heroically, men who still remembered a great deliverance.” Here is the dynamic of all great service. There is no life except through death, no Resurrection save through Calvary.—From The Victory of God, 1921.
When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you in to all the truth (John 16:13a, ARV).
Our Lord is drawing to the end of the wonderful outpouring of teaching and consolation with which he soothes the pain of parting. Here he contrasts his own teaching—partial and to an extent not yet intelligible—with the complete, universal teaching of the Holy Spirit, in all things pertaining to salvation.
I. The Promised Teacher. By our growing clearness of understanding of the truth wrapped up in Christ the Spirit imparts to believers the best strength of God, with power for service. Note here that the Spirit is a Person, not merely an influence.
II. The Spiritual Lesson. The whole subject matter of this teaching is the life and work, the Person and the death of Jesus Christ. In a sense he is our lesson book. The history of our Lord cannot be unfolded at once. He thus clearly anticipates that after his death there will be a development of Christian doctrine, never by getting beyond Christ, but by getting into him more fully.
III. The Christian Scholars. The text refers, first of all, to the apostles, and after them, to ministers, missionaries, and Bible teachers. But every believing soul also has the Holy Spirit for his Teacher. The humblest of us may learn of Him and be led by him into profounder knowledge of our Lord. Herein lies the secret of Christ-like power, joy, and hope.
Jesus is the Christ for every age and for every soul. So amid the babble of tongues and the surges of controversy rest assured that all change will but make more clear the inexhaustible meaning of the infinite Christ, and that the humble and obedient heart will ever have the promised Teacher, and never cry in vain: “Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God. Thy Spirit is good; lead me in the paths of uprightness.”—From The Holy of Holies, 1890.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
This great word of Scripture is the lens of the whole revelation. As the lens gathers up converging rays and blends them into a single stream of intense brightness, so this verse gathers up the prophecies and foregleams of the Gospel, and focuses them into a pure white beam of eternal light. If we take home to our hearts the truth of this text, no question will vex our minds and no sorrow will overwhelm our spirits. So let us look at this text through the eyes of Paul, with his daring imagination. He views the love of God in four dimensions. (Here quote Ephesians 3:18 f.: “[that ye] may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ.…”)
I. The Breadth: “God so loved the world,” the world of sinning, suffering, sorrowing men and women. To love the world of men and women with their mean and sordid natures, their foul and degraded thoughts—that is the breadth of love. Robert Moffatt’s quick and tender heart beat for South Africa with an undying passion, but he confesses that he was almost moved to loathing by the brutal and sunken minds of the heathen villagers among whom he labored. This low and sunken state, this shameless evil and rebellion, God sees and knows and feels, as we do not, and yet God loves the world. Such love “passeth knowledge.”
II. The Length: “He gave his only begotten Son.” The test of love: to what length will it go? When God loves, he loves the world. When he gives, he gives his son. There is nothing more that even God can do to show his love. Before you can comprehend the length of his love, come and stand beneath the cross of Christ, and accept him as your Lord.
III. The Depth: “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish.” Whether the breadth or the length be the greater we do not know, but the depth most fills me with adoring wonder. God bestows his love on those whose wickedness he abhors. Such depths of love we can begin to understand only in the light of the Cross. “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
IV. The Height: “But have everlasting life.” What is everlasting life? Not merely length of days. Christian life is energy, blessedness, love, begun here and to be perfected hereafter. In glory we shall have our powers exalted and enlarged, with a service noble and full of delight, while we enter into a fellowship that shall raise us from glory to glory. As Paul says, “We shall be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Are these mighty certainties and immortal hopes anything to you? In our text a single word lifts the truth out of the sphere of things heard into the realm of things accepted by the heart. That word is “believeth.” Let each of you now give himself up to an adoring sense of God’s love. It is trust in God that makes a man a Christian. With all your burdens and sorrows, all your needs and sins, cast yourself on the love of him who knows them all, and yet loves you with an everlasting love, in the cross of Christ.—From The Cross in Christian Experience, 1909.
These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31a).
The greatest book in the Bible was written mainly to present Christ’s Deity. Deity here means in part that we worship him as we worship no one but God. The same truth we gladly believe about the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity.
One year in Columbus, Ohio, many pastors engaged in verbal battles about such beliefs. Our own congregation took no part in these battles. But we began reciting the Apostles’ Creed after the hymn preceding the sermon. During the period between mid-December and Easter all the morning sermons came from John. After a message about the Deity of our Lord we began to witness more professions of faith, often with adult baptism, than at any other stage of my pastoral experience. A good sermon on a great theme! A good sermon here means one that does good.
The next day after that simple message, it appeared word for word in the city morning newspaper. For the only time in its history the Ohio State Journal ran the first part of a Protestant message in the right-hand column on the front page, and the remainder elsewhere. While on a different text, and with another framework, that message, like this one, was simple enough for a boy or girl of ten or twelve to follow in the main, and thoughtful enough to hold the attention of many students and some professors from the Ohio State University nearby. What then are some such facts about Christ’s Deity as the doctrine appears in the Fourth Gospel? (In this sermon and the next, one purpose, revealed near the end, is to guide the hearer in reading at home the Gospel, both as a whole and by paragraphs.) The Fourth Gospel teaches the Deity of our Lord in at least three ways:
I. By Direct Statements: A Sevenfold Testimony. I should deal only with the first text, and ask the lay reader to single out at home six others, and then commit the seven to memory. “In the beginning was the Word” (1:1). In part the Word here means God’s way of making himself known in Christ. In him we have today the heart of the spoken Word, the written Word, and the Living Word. (The other six, not in the sermon: 1:14, 1:29; 3:16; 14:9; 20:28, 20:31.) Each might call later for a sermon.
II. By Indirect Statements: The Sevenfold I AM, all from the lips of our Lord. Here, indirectly, our Lord claims to be, to say, and to do what God alone can say, and be, and do. Here refer to I AM as a name of God (Ex: 3:14).
“I am the bread of life” (6:35): “The Gospel in Terms of Bread.” He alone can satisfy the heart-hunger of humanity, and he does so, here and now, for every person who becomes a believer. Note the practical stress on one person, one of an untold multitude. (The other six, not in the sermon: 8:12; 10:7, 10:14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1.) In each of the seven note the lack of anything abstract; Bread—Light—Door—Shepherd—Life—Way—Vine. What an opportunity for an evening series: “The Gospel of the Sevenfold I AM”!
III. By Visible Teaching: The Sevenfold Demonstration. Here one might deal with seven miracles, but leave them for another evening series (2:1–11; 4:43–54; 5:1–9; 6:1–14, 6:15–21; 9:1–12; 11:1–44). In the sermon ask the home reader to look out for the beauty of Christ’s character—the perfection of his life—the wisdom of his teachings—the wonder of his miracles—the saving power of his death—the glory of his resurrection, with only enough comment in each item to increase the desire for reading at home.
Near the end, before a word of invitation to accept Christ now as Redeemer and King: “Starting today, and continuing until Easter, the morning sermons will all come from this Gospel, each time drawing nearer to the Day of the Cross. It will help me much in my study and help each of you far more in living if at home in private devotions and at the family altar you read this Gospel. Every week the bulletin will suggest which portions to read most often, ever in the spirit of prayer. Every Lord’s Day the suggested passages will include the one for the sermon the following Sunday morning.”
Pastor, if you spend months in making ready for this opening sermon, you will be more and more delighted with the number of laymen who do these home readings, and then come to church eager to learn more about Christ. Among Christians today what do we need more than a return to the reading of the Bible with understanding and joy?
These are written, that … ye may have life in his name (John 20:31b).
The Fourth Gospel was not written to prove the Deity of Christ. The Gospel provides us with the facts, but the proof, as with the early disciples, comes through personal experience; it may be after a person has been born again. So let us look at the latter half of the key verse in the Fourth Gospel. This part of the verse has to do with doctrine in the experience of us men and women, older boys and girls, one by one. When the apostle here says life, he means much the same as Paul means when he writes about salvation.
I. In the Day of His Flesh Our Lord Saved Men and Women Like You and Me. When Peter and John, Mary and Martha first knew the Lord, no one of them dreamed of his Deity. But little by little, each of them knew him better, loved him more, and grew more like him. At last every one of the apostolic band, except Judas, looked on him as we do today. If any one of us did not believe in Christ’s Deity, that one ought to read and pray over what the early believers wrote about Christ as the Son of God. In the Bible, to be God’s Son means that the latter belongs to the same divine family.
II. In the History of the Church Christ Has Continued to Save. In every age minority groups have refused to accept his Deity, perhaps because of the way the doctrine has been presented, harshly and belligerently, not with “sweet reasonableness.” Kindly but clearly let us note certain facts. For example, former President Eliot of Harvard, a Unitarian, used to deplore the absence of foreign missionary effectiveness among those who refused to worship Christ as God.
In the history of Christendom thus far every mighty soul-winning movement, such as that under John Wesley, has been among those who believed and sang and preached the Bible teaching about Christ’s Deity. So with every mighty people’s movement, as among our Baptist friends in the South, and every mighty movement for world missions, as among the Moravians or the Free Church of Scotland. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
III. Throughout the World Today the Lord Jesus Still Redeems and Transforms. In the South Pacific certain islands that a hundred years ago were peopled by cannibals have now been changed into most Christlike communities. So testifies one of our ministerial sons, who during World War II served out there as a chaplain among the Marines. In the most nearly “God-forsaken communities” here at home Christ has saved and transformed. In Kansas I knew a community that formerly had been no fit place to rear a growing boy. In ten years, because of a small home missions church, that community was transformed into a God-fearing, law-abiding district worthy of praise for its lofty ideals. Perhaps best of all, Christ now waits to redeem and transform the weakest and worst of men and women here at home, even one by one. How can this be so? Because He loves the sinner with the grace of Almighty God.
“Very well,” someone says, “but what practical difference does Christ’s Deity make to me?” Thank you, sir, for the question. Let the reply also be frank and kind. Because of Christ’s Deity he is able and ready to save and rule, to comfort and bless. And if not, then not! He will also be able some day to serve as our Judge, a colossal task that no created being ever would dare to undertake.
Never argue or quarrel about this holy truth. Never throw stones or slime at any one who does not yet believe. Rather pray for such a person, that the Lord will open his eyes and his heart. All the while hold fast to this Gospel truth until at last in the other world you behold the Redeemer face to face. Then you will join with the angelic throng while they sing praises to the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world. Hallelujah, Amen!
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