“John answered them, saying, I baptize 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. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a Man which is preferred before me: for He was before me. And I knew Him not: but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon Him. And I knew Him not: but He that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:26-34).
I fear that many Christians fail to realize how much God, by the Holy Spirit, committed to His servant John the Baptist. Many of us think of him as one who had very little gospel light or understanding of the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he recognized in the Lord Jesus the pre-existent One. He says in verse 15, and again in verse 30, “He was before me.” John recognized in our Lord Jesus One who did not begin to live when He was born here on earth, but One who had life with the Father before He deigned in grace to come down to this world and link His Deity with our humanity, apart from its sin, and be born as Mary’s Child.
In verse 29 we find John giving utterance to one of the greatest truths of the gospel. He sees Jesus coming toward him and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” Have you ever thought what must have been involved in that? All down through the centuries Israel had known of the sacrificed lamb. They knew that long years ago when Abraham and Isaac were going up the mountain, Isaac turned to his father and said, “Father … behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb?” (Genesis 22:7). And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.”
And then they knew that when Israel was about to come out of Egypt God told them to take a lamb and kill it and sprinkle the blood. The death angel went through Egypt at midnight, but when he saw the blood he passed over the Israelites’ homes” (Exodus 12). And they knew that in the temple service, every morning and every evening a lamb was placed upon the altar for a burnt offering (Exodus 29:38-46). Isaiah had prophesied of the One who would be led as a lamb to the slaughter in order to become the sacrifice for sins (Isaiah 53:7).
Now, at last, He of whom the prophets spoke had come, and John exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!” He recognized in Jesus the object of all prophetic testimony and the fulfillment of all the types in the law. Notice how he dwells on the vicarious atonement, the suffering of one for the sin of another. He knew that in Isaiah it was written of the Lamb of God, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). At last He had come in accordance with the word of God!
Notice he does not say merely “sins.” It is sin, in the singular. I think you will find that when people attempt to quote this verse they generally say sins. Sins are only the effect of a cause, and the Lamb of God came, not only to take away the individual’s sins, but to take away or deal with, the sin-problem as a whole. The Apostle Paul said, God “hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin”
(2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus is not only the bearer of our transgressions, He not only atoned for all our acts of sin, but He died for what we are as sinners by nature.
I have been guilty of many sins which I have had to go to God and confess, and I know those sins have all been forgiven. But I am a worse man than anything I have ever done! Within this heart of mine there are tendencies to sin which are worse than any act of sin I have ever committed. This is true of us all. We are sinners by nature. Sin dwelleth in us.
Christ died to put away sin—not merely sins—by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:26). God took all of that into account when Christ hung on the cross. He died because of what we were. He took our place. He was made sin for us, and sin—as a barrier—was taken away, and now the vilest sinner can come into the presence of God and find forgiveness.
Do you know this Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world? Have you trusted Him to take away your sin? Won’t you come to Jesus Christ now in this day of salvation? Agree with God that you are a lost sinner, and accept His offer of forgiveness by placing your faith in the Saviour who died for you and rose again.
—Condensed from Addresses on the Gospel of John by H.A. Ironside.