The Testimony of John the Baptist to the Lord Jesus

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light. He was a burning and shining light, but he was not the Light. The moon which shines in the night bears its witness to its lord, the sun. It has no light in itself, but as it catches the light of the sun it sheds it upon the earth. So it was with John, his soul was enlightened by the glory of the One who was coming after him, and of Him he spoke. His was a great mission. He came from God: that was the source of his mission. He spoke of Christ that was the object of his mission. His disciples who heard him speak followed Jesus: that was the result of his mission. Thus it is recorded of him in this first chapter of John's Gospel, and right happy might any servant of God be to have such a record.

Matthew and Luke tell us what he said about the people. He was filled with the Holy Ghost and had a keen and sure discernment of those that came to him. Some of these were real men, a repentant remnant, the excellent of the earth who felt the burden of their sins and confessed them. But there were others, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, proud religionists, who had no sense of anything but their own importance, and these came under his scathing denunciations. He feared God and had no fear of any man, and cried against them. "O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" But in John's Gospel nothing is recorded of this sort. His whole testimony there is about the Light of men, and this is beautiful and fitting, for John's Gospel is the Gospel of the Only-begotten with the Father, who dwelt amongst men full of grace and truth. It is John's testimony as to Jesus in this Gospel that we are to consider.

From the beginning of his mission he had spoken of Him, but when the time arrived and the Lord was about to enter on His public ministry in the world we read "John bare witness of Him and cried, saying, This is He of whom I spake, He that comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me." There would have been neither sense nor reason in John's testimony if Jesus had not been more than man, for John entered the world before He did. But John began his existence at his birth, the goings forth of the One of whom he spoke were from Eternity, and John being full of the Holy Ghost knew that the lowly Nazarene was his Lord. He was before John, before Abraham, before the beginning, the great I AM.

It is interesting to see that this witness to the glory of the Lord did not begin with John, it dwelt in his parents. His mother was the first of the family to give voice to it. When Mary visited her in the hill country before the birth of John, "it came to pass when she heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb: and being filled with the Holy Ghost, she spake out with a loud voice and said, Blessed art thou among women! and blessed be the fruit of thy womb … and whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" And Zacharias, the father of John, spake also at the circumcision of his son, and said, "And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways" (Luke 2). And yet he did not derive his mission from his parents: he was sent from God, and equipped for all he had to do by the filling of the Holy Ghost.

The preaching of John caused a great stir in the land, insomuch that the priests and Levites came from Jerusalem to enquire as to who he was. But he was a faithful witness and would not be diverted from his mission by the patronage and curiosity of these great and influential men. He had come to speak of Christ, to prepare the people for their Lord and he refused to talk of himself. Notice his negative answers to their enquiries "I am not," said be, and again, "I am not." Blessed and faithful servant was he who could so keep himself out of his discourse, that his Lord might be everything in it.

But these religionists from Jerusalem could not understand this self-effacement, it was so different from every principle and motive in their scheme of things, and with evident impatience they make a further demand of him. Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. We want you to talk about yourself. What sayest thou of thyself? Being thus urged, he answered, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD, as said the prophet Esaias."

What a startling declaration was that! How it ought to have thrilled those Jews who heard it, for John was quoting from Isaiah 40, and in that chapter the glory of Jehovah is unfolded for the comfort of His people Israel. It is a wonderful chapter. In it the tenderness of the Lord is disclosed He is the good Shepherd of His sheep, and He declares that He would "gather the lambs with His arms and carry His lambs in His bosom." And His greatness is told out, for "He has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out the heavens with a span." Let us consider Him well. His hand is stretched forth in power in creation, but His lambs are the objects of His love, and His bosom was to be their safe resting place. It is Jehovah who is speaking in this chapter. But John announces that he was the forerunner of the Lord, the Voice that foretold His coming, as said the prophet.

With what eagerness these priestly delegates from the Pharisees in Jerusalem ought to have returned to those who sent them, for what a message was given them to carry! The man about whom they had enquired was none other than the forerunner of the Lord. His Master's footsteps were already sounding behind him, the day had come of which so many of their prophets had spoken; Jehovah, their God, their Deliverer, their Shepherd, was on the threshold! What would they do? Alas, the announcement moved them not at all. They were a generation without faith. They could not even see behind John's message, and they continued to ask him concerning himself. They were ritualists, greatly concerned about the outward form of baptism, and the authority for its performance, but they had neither ears nor hearts for the word of God which John voiced in their, midst.

How John must have marvelled at their stupidity! His astonishment seems to break out in his answer to them. "I baptize you with water: BUT THERE STANDETH ONE AMONG YOU, WHOM YE KNOW NOT. He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose."

Did they look about them to see who He could be who was even then amongst them who was so much greater than John, of whom they were enquiring? Probably not, but we rejoice in John's witness to our Lord and Saviour. How wonderful it is to read of Him in this same Gospel washing the feet of His disciples. Yes, the One whose shoe's latchet John, than whom none greater was born of women, was not worthy to unloose, girded Himself with a towel and washed the feet of His disciples. But John's witness to the living Messiah among them was unavailing. The next day opens with another testimony.

John had borne witness to the pre-existence of the Lord (v. 15); and to the fact that He was Jehovah, ready to fulfil all His words to Israel according to Isaiah 40 (v. 23). But this witness was in vain as far as the nation was concerned, and a new testimony is introduced, more marvellous, if that were possible, than any that had gone before. "The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and says, BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD WHICH TAKETH AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD." The outlook is no longer Israel, it is worldwide.

We shall do well to mark the fact that in this Gospel in which God is revealed in the fullness of His love, the Lamb of God appears in the beginning of it. The first public witness that John gives to the Lord as he sees Him coming to him is that He is the Lamb of God. It surely teaches us that if God was to be known in blessing to men, and if the world was to be put in right relations with Him, the Lamb for a Sacrifice was a necessity; this lies at the basis of everything. And here now was that sacrifice, the Lamb of God's own providing; He is the taker-away of the sin of the world. It is not sins that are in question here — though every sinner may find in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God his sins removed for ever — but it is sin, the terrible principle of opposition to the will of God that has brought in all the confusion and ruin, and from which all sins break forth. This is to be taken away completely and for ever, and in its place everlasting righteousness is to be established and the universe filled with the love and the glory of God.

The One who will do this thing is the Subject here. How great He must be! If a man claimed to be able to take away the sin of a town, or the sin of a street in that town, or the sin of one house in that street, or even the sin of one person in that house, we should say, He is mad, it cannot be done. But here is One who is to take away the sin of the world. We cannot have any doubt as to who He must be: He is the Word, the Creator, the only-begotten Son; He alone could be the Lamb of God.

It is only in this Gospel in which the glory of the Son of God is so fully revealed that John the Baptist's testimony to Him as the Lamb of God is given. This is noteworthy, and from it we should learn at least that in considering the sacrifice that He made upon the cross we must not lose sight of who He was that made it. It was the greatness of the Person that gave efficacy and perfection to His work. He is the Passover Lamb. The Passover is prominent in this Gospel. It was at the Passover that He cleansed the Temple (chap. 2:13). It was when the Passover was nigh that He fed the multitude (chap. 6:4). At the third Passover in the Gospel the people sought for Him in the Temple (chap. 11:55). And at the preparation for the fourth Passover the last solemn scenes which had their culmination in the cross were enacted. And it is in this Gospel only that the words are quoted from the Scriptures, "Not a bone of Him shall be broken." We find that this instruction was given in regard to the Passover lamb in Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12.

We remember that in Exodus 12, the Israelites had to take a lamb on the tenth day of the month and slay it on the fourteenth day. For four days it lived with them in the house that was to be sheltered from the judgment by its blood. It was before their very eyes during that period. They might consider it and talk of it and say, "This is the lamb that is to suffer for us." It is in this way that the Lamb of God is before us in this Gospel. The work of the Baptist was to call attention to Him, and we behold Him from the tenth day to the fourteenth, dwelling among us. We can trace His footsteps from one passover to another until the fourth is reached, and we can say, "This is the true Passover Lamb." We behold Him as He walks, without spot or blemish. He could in this Gospel challenge His enemies, "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?" (chap. 8:46), and even the heartless pagan judge had to own three times over that he could find no fault in Him (chap. 18:38; 19:4, 6). As we behold Him we shall surely be moved to follow Him until we reach the place of sacrifice, and there wonder and worship in the presence of the love that led Him to die for such as we are.

He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and shame to the uttermost was heaped upon Him; but we do not begin with that, but with the dignity, the glory of His Person, He is the LAMB OF GOD. God's Lamb provided by God and for God, and coming forth from Him. And here John breaks out for the third time: "THIS IS HE of whom I said, After me comes a Man which is preferred before me," but why should He be preferred before or take precedence of John? "for He was before me." At each step in his testimony he maintains the truth as to the One of whom he speaks; He was before John, the Word in the beginning, the Son in the bosom of the Father, and yet "a man." None other than He could be the Lamb of God.

John had had no previous acquaintance with the Lord, and though he was according to nature His cousin, yet this did not help him to recognize Him when He appeared. He knew Him not, except by divine revelation. It was God who sent him to baptize, who told John how he would know Him: "Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on Him, the same is He that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." And John bare record as to this. He saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode on Him. The dove is an emblem of purity and peace. The Spirit could rest upon the Lord as a man upon earth with peace and complacency, because He was altogether pure and spotless. Thus was He distinguished from all other men, and though as truly a man as any other, yet how different from all others! The Man without sin! The second Man! The Lord from heaven! and He who through the eternal Spirit that had come upon Him, would offer Himself without spot to God (Heb. 9:14).

And He is the One who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. In the three synoptic Gospels John contrasts himself with the Lord in this respect. He says, "I baptize you with water," I can bring you down into the place of death, the only right place for you because of your sinful state, "but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." He alone can bring you into life, and impart the Holy Spirit to be the power of the life that He gives. This He has done from the right hand of God in heaven, and thus has the faith of Christ been established on the earth in divine and heavenly power. But the cross had to precede this First; He is the Lamb of God on the cross to meet all our liabilities and for our redemption, and then raised up from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God, He baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. He brings those who have redemption through His blood into vital relationship with Himself and His Father by the gift of the Holy Ghost. But this is a divine prerogative, hence John exclaims, "And I saw and bare record that THIS IS THE SON OF GOD."

JOHN STOOD. His testimony to Christ could continue no longer; a burning and shining light he had been, but he must pass out of sight in the presence of the Light of the world. He had faithfully led his disciples to this point, to Christ, and this was the winding up of his ministry. Jesus had come and John stood as JESUS WALKED. The God-appointed Leader of the flock of God had come, and John, faithful servant that he was, retires. But before doing so, he looks upon Jesus as He walked, and his whole soul becomes absorbed with Him. What could he say other than what he did say, "BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD!"? Was this word intended for the ears of his disciples, or was it simply the outburst of adoration from a heart wholly absorbed. I think it was both, and thus he introduced his followers to their Lord, and they left John and followed Jesus. Happy John!

The two disciples followed Jesus without being told to, and it seemed the most natural thing for them to do. We see in them the way the constraining love of Christ works, the true motive in the Christian's life. There was no stern law laying on them a heavy obligation, they followed Jesus because they could not help it. They had, indeed, come under a law, but it was the law of attraction; the Lord had taken possession of their hearts, and where the heart is, there the feet will be if by any means they can be.

It is instructive that these disciples followed Jesus immediately after the mention of the Holy Ghost. Let us keep the great things of this section of the chapter in their order before us. (1) The great sacrifice (v. 29); here is the foundation of Christianity. (2) The gift of the Holy Ghost (v. 33); here is the power in Christianity. (3) Two disciples follow Jesus (v. 35); here is the centre of Christianity, Christ the great object and attraction. Later, when Andrew sought for Simon and brought him to Jesus, we have (4) the activities of Christianity (v. 41). They have Christ as their end. The Holy Ghost has but one object and that is to make Christ glorious in our eyes, and to enable us to follow Him. This, I believe, is what the sequence of things here would teach us. Sincere souls are often troubled as to whether they are walking in the Spirit or not; here is a simple test: when the heart is set on Christ and the feet are following Him, we are walking in the Spirit.

Once more John speaks in this Gospel. He calls those that heard him to bear witness that he had said I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before Him. And to Christ belonged the bride, for He is the Bridegroom. Whatever sufferings might intervene, John's faith for the moment glimpsed the glory that would follow, when his Lord would see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. And when that day came he would be the friend of the Bridegroom and his joy would be full. He beheld the rising of the Sun of righteousness and rejoiced to pass out of sight that Christ might be all and in all. His mission closes with the words, "He must increase, I must decrease" words that shall be bound upon his brow as a crown of glory in the day of glory.