You can listen or read an abridged version of my latest sermon, “The Greatest Words Ever Spoken.”
The Greatest Words Ever Spoken
Many of us might have rather different opinions as to the content of the greatest words ever spoken. For some of us they might be, “Colorado Rockies are the 2009 national champions.” For others they might be, “honey, we just won the lottery.” Even if we were to confine our answers to words spoken in the Bible, there would still be a wide variety of responses as to what makes up the greatest. Keeping all of this in mind, I want to share with you this morning what I believe are the greatest words ever spoken. If these aren’t the all time greatest, they are at least in the top 3! So, let’s see what makes these words so special.
The life and ministry of John the Baptist was something special. We all remember the spectacular announcement of his birth in Luke 1 where Zechariah was stricken by Gabriel for his unbelief. There John is prophesied to be “great before the Lord.” John was man who lived a life marked by humility; yet he was bold and confident. John had a legion of followers and disciples and his popularity was on the rise; yet he refused to seek his own advancement. Yes, there is much in the life of John the Baptist from which we can learn; qualities that caused even Jesus to call him the “greatest born among women” (Luke 7:28). It is from the lips of this uniquely qualified man of God that the greatest words ever spoken were uttered. They can be found in verse 29 of John 1. There, John says, “Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Notice the context of these words at the beginning of verse 29. It says, “the next day.” The next day after what? Well, when we go back to verses 19-28, we see the priests, the Levites, and the Pharisees all asking questions to John. They wanted to know if he was the one who had been prophesied by the prophets of old. This sets up the appearance of Jesus perfectly. The encounter of John with the Jews the previous day was still fresh in the people’s minds; they remember vividly John rejecting the notion that he was the Messiah. Now, the next day, the true Messiah shows up. This once again demonstrates the great sovereignty of God. This is God just doing what God does, putting things right in their place, preparing the day’s events to serve his own purposes and glory. Did you know that God is doing the very same thing in your life right now? With your family and with our church. You see, our God does not slumber, he never rests or sleeps. Isaiah 40:28. What that means is that right now, at this very moment, God is at work in your life. Setting things up, placing them in motion, because the next day is coming.
So God has provided the perfect man in John the Baptist to speak the greatest words ever spoken. He has provided the perfect context. Now we take a look at the words themselves.
First, these words point to the mission of Jesus. This is best seen by the depiction of Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” By using the word, “Lamb”, John alludes to the ancient sacrifices of the law. This includes the sacrifice of the Passover lamb along with all the other OT sacrifices. At the end of the day, all of these have one thing in common. There must be a blood sacrifice to atone for sin, that is, to have our sins forgiven. We think back to Abraham and Isaac and maybe even to Cain and Abel, but this realty goes all the way back to Genesis 3:21. The sin of Adam and Eve brought about shame and death. In order to cover their shamefulness, God spilled the blood of animals to make clothes out of skin. So it is with the mission of Jesus. The hopeless and lost state of our lives before we place faith in Christ is only redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Once again God is providing a way, through the shedding of blood, to cover our sinfulness and shame. Only this time it is not a couple of animals. It is his precious son Jesus Christ.
The phrase, “Lamb of God” also points to the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross. There is some confusion these days as to the nature of Christ’s atonement, that is to say, what did the cross accomplish? Some will say it is simply for us to be inspired by his love and goodness. Others will say that it is a ransom to Satan. Although there may be kernels of truth in those ideas, we must never forget that the cross is primarily concerned with the wrath of God being diverted from us and place upon his Son – that is why we call it a substitution, just like the Lambs of the sacrificial era.
Finally, the mission of Jesus as depicted in the phrase, “Lamb of God” describes his future mission as well. Although we correctly identify the Lamb as the one who is covered with blood and willingly laid down his life, we dare not think of the Lamb as weak and vulnerable. Notice the beautiful parallelism in Revelation 5. One of the elders comforts John by announcing that a great warrior, a conqueror, even a Lion is worthy to open the scroll and the seven seals. When John turns to see this great warrior and conqueror, what is he looking at? A slaughtered lamb. The two are one and the same. Notice again in Revelation 6:16-17, the sixth seal is opened and foreshadows the complete destruction to come. Who is responsible for this destruction? The one seated on the throne, and the “wrath of the Lamb.” The wrath of the Lamb. What an amazing oxymoron!
Second, these words point to the Divinity of Jesus. John describes Jesus as the Lamb who “takes away the sin of the world.” In Mark 2 Jesus performs one of this most famous healings. This is the story of the paralytic who is let down through the roof of a house. However, instead of healing the man, Jesus remarkably says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” One can only imagine the confusion that ensued. The scribes who were watching intently asked a legitimate question: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They already knew the answer. Psalm 103 describes only God being the one who can cast sin away, as far as the east is from the west. By Jesus pronouncing the man as forgiven, and likewise by John announcing Jesus as the one who takes away the sin of the world, they are in fact saying, this man is God. This is the very reason why the Pharisees seek to kill Jesus. Not just because he apparently violated the law and worked on the Sabbath, but the pressing issue what that he claimed to forgive sins, which very clearly meant, he was claiming to be God.
Consider with me another aspect of John’s declaration that Jesus “takes away the sin of the world.” John lays down one method only by which sins are forgiven. They are “taken away” by Jesus. John was living during a time when too great of an emphasis was placed upon the ritual of the sacrifice itself. Instead of pointing to God and his grace, the act of doing the ritual was more important. Today, we struggle with similar notions. We struggle with thinking that somehow we are capable of saving ourselves. We think we must “get things right” before we can approach God for salvation. We over emphasize a method or a plan. John reminds us that only Christ Jesus can take away sin, we are helpless and hopeless on our own. VBS teachers, take heart. You never have and you never will save a child. You be prepared and do your very best, but remember that Jesus is the one who takes away the sin.
Third and last, John shows that the entire world is in need of salvation. All of us are hopelessly lost and undone. The whole world is guilty of the same condemnation. John offers these words to the Jews who might think that salvation is for their chosen race alone. No, it is offered for the world so that all who believe and repent will be saved! John’s words explain to us our own misery and at the same time offers the remedy; our duty is to embrace the benefit of salvation that is needed by all.
As I close I should say this: These are only the greatest words ever spoken if we pay attention to John’s first word. Behold. Have you accepted the forgiveness of sins by placing your faith in Jesus Christ? If so, are you yielding to his sovereign and majestic purposes? Today, let the greatest words ever spoken become your words.