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Exegesis and Sermon Notes for the Second Sunday after Epiphany
(Year A)

Gospel Lesson: John 1:19-42

This pericope was prepared by The Rev. Dr. Erwin Buck, President, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon and is neatly organized into three sections.

John's testimony about himself (1:19-28)

John baptized (1:28), but the Fourth Gospel never calls him "the Baptist." The Prolog identifies him as a man sent from God to bear witness to the light so that people might come to faith (1:6-8). John's baptizing ministry is important to the Fourth Gospel only in so far as it provides the occasion for the revelation of Jesus. In this Gospel John is pre-eminently one who bears testimony. By doing precisely that, John had begun to arouse the suspicion of the governing authorities, who sent a delegation to investigate.

The Jews (V. 19): In the Fourth Gospel, this term is not a reference to Jews in general, but to a specific Jewish body, the Sanhedrin or governing council in Jerusalem, the chief adversary of Jesus. In this Gospel the term Pharisees (1:24) seems to refer to that same group.

The delegation consisted of Priests and Levites, the two grades of temple staff at the time of Jesus (mentioned in the Fourth Gospel only here).

Emphatically (note the triple assertion in 1:20), John rejects the designations of himself as Messiah (cf. 1:8 he is not the light), Elijah (the expected messianic forerunner; cf. Mal. 4,5f.), and the prophet (note the definite article) promised by Moses (Deut. 18:15) and likewise expected as a messianic forerunner.

When pressed, John only claims to be "a voice crying in the wilderness" (1:23; cf. Mk. 1:3), recalling the words of Isa. (40:3) who had called on Israel in Exile to prepare for their repatriation. The Baptist interprets his own mission as a fulfilment of those words of Isaiah, now understood as an exhortation to the people of a later day to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. John considers himself to be a herald, no more, but also no less.

John underscores his own inadequacy (1: 25-27). He knows that he himself can only baptize with water. By contrast, the one who comes after him will baptize with the Spirit.

In the presence of this greater one, John feels unfit even to do the work of a slave (1:27).

John's testimony regarding his own qualifications ends by identifying the geographical location where the revelation took place (1:18).

John's testimony about Jesus (1:29-34)

The next day Jesus himself makes his initial appearance in this Gospel. Whereas in the other gospels a narrator relates what happened between John and Jesus, in the Fourth Gospel John is himself the narrator. He describes his own personal experience, and there is no mention of a baptism of Jesus at the hands of John.

This gospel is not interested in the baptism itself, but in the revelatory event (related in the form of a flash-back in 1:32-34).

John is the first person to bear witness to Jesus in this Gospel.

He acknowledges that he, too, did not "know" Jesus until the divine revelation (1:26; 1:31) came to him. He may well have been acquainted with Jesus before this, but Jesus' true identity had been kept hidden from him, too.

Israel (in the Fourth Gospel only at 1:31, 47, 47; 3:10; 12:13) stands for the true people of God, as distinct from "the Jews" (see above).

Twice John identifies Jesus as "the Lamb (amnos) of God (1:29, 36). The expression is elusive. Even when it is expounded in terms of "who carries (airwn) the sin of the world" (1:29), it does not specify in what way Jesus deals with that sin. The primary source for the expression appears to be the description of the Servant of God (Isa. 53:7) who, like a lamb (LXX: amnos) "shall bear their iniquity" (Isa. 53:11).

Only with difficulty can one explain the expression Lamb of God in terms of the Passover Lamb (Ex. 12), which is not associated with the bearing of sin, but with the celebration of liberation from captivity. The fact that in the Fourth Gospel Jesus dies on the cross at the time as the Passover Lambs are slaughtered is suggestive, but hardly determinative for the understanding of the expression. Still less likely is the association with the morning and evening lamb offerings at the Temple (Num. 28:3f.)

It seems most convincing to argue that John sees Isa. 53:7 fulfilled in Jesus, the suffering Servant of the Lord who brings justice and liberation by suffering in his own body the consequences of human sin.

John testifies that he himself saw the Spirit descending as a dove, and he emphasizes that the Spirit remained there (1:32,33). Whereas the Spirit from time to time came to the prophets, the Spirit always rests on Jesus (cf. Isa. 11:2f.).

John's final affirmation "This one is the Son of God" (1:34) harks back to Ps. 2:7, the messianic title of the king as adopted son (cf. Mk. 1:9; 9:7 and parallels).

Consequences of John's testimony (1:35-42)

The next day (1:35) John repeats his simple indicative statement "see, the Lamb of God" in the hearing of two of his disciples.

The words amount to an invitation to follow him, and John's disciples promptly do just that (1:37). Jesus welcomes John's former followers into his personal company and the ministry of John is accomplished. John's function is completed and he disappears from view. John is not one who anxiously builds his own support group. He invites his followers to find greener pastures under the care of the Lamb of God.

According to the Fourth Gospel, the first followers of Jesus join him not in response to a call from Jesus (as they do in the Synoptic Gospels), but as a direct result of the witnessing of John. Is there a lesson for the church in this?

And the story of witnessing is not finished. Andrew was one of the two disciples of John who became followers of Jesus. Who was the other one? The "beloved disciple," perhaps? The author of the Fourth Gospel, possibly?

Now Andrew himself, following the example of John, points others to Jesus. He first of all "finds" (1:41) his own brother Simon and testifies: "we have seen the Messiah" (a variant of "behold, the Lamb of God?"). And this simple indicative statement results in discipleship, in ministry. Jesus welcomes Peter into his company and gives him a new name, a new identity, a new mission.

And so the story continues. The testimony of a witness leads another person to follow Jesus. This other person, in turn, becomes a witness to others, and so leads others to follow Jesus…and so on…and so on.


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