John the Baptist

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here on staff and it’s a privilege to speak with you today.  We are in our second week of looking at the book of John, which is a book in the New Testament – if you were to open your bible to the table of contents you’d see that the Bible is divided into two sections.  Old Testament – which is basically God’s interaction with mankind before Jesus:  And the New Testament – which picks up the story with the birth of Jesus that occurred about 2000 years ago in Israel.

Four different writers wrote reliable records of the life and times of Jesus.  Their names are Matthew Mark Luke and John.  And John was the last of the four to be written.  John was Jesus’ best friend, and he set about at the end of his life to write this book with the intention, he tells us in the last verse, that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

We started Journey Church almost 9 years ago with the intention of helping people who are just starting out in their faith journey, or perhaps restarting their faith journey, come to see just how beautiful God is, and how loving and trustworthy he is.  And we want – like John – to be able to think highly enough of God to trust him with your life.

Today we are going to talk about a large part of the bible that often leaves people scratching their heads a bit – we’re going to talk about the sacrificial system.  Why would God set up a system in the Old Testament that required the killing of animals.  Perhaps it seems barbaric and cruel to you.  I am hoping that by the end of our talk we will see it, in fact, as another sign of God’s tremendous love for us.

I’ll begin with a story.  One day – maybe 15 years ago,  I heard that there was a child from our church that was desperately ill.  I knew the family and they are just wonderful people and I was really hurting for them.  I stopped by the hospital room and I was shocked by what I saw.  This little guy – he must have been 10 or so, and he was in real trouble.  It was desperate times.  And there were tubes and beeps – and – I’ve done a few visits to hospitals over the years and as I visited with the boys mom I just felt like, I didn’t think he was going to make it.  And the doctors weren’t so sure either.  He has a diseased liver and well, I prayed for the boy and as I left I continued to pray that the family would be able to handle the boys death if indeed he were to pass, which I felt was almost a certainty.

I’ll come back to and finish the story at the end.

Let’s read now – from John chapter 1, beginning in verse 19.  And we’re going to read about a guy named John – not the same John who wrote this account of Jesus’ life.  This was John the Baptist.

Who is John the Baptizer?

Well, John appears on the scene as this wild haired prophet like character – living outside of the walls of the city, and he just – I can’t help but imagine a guy that looks like he wrestles on WWE – In this corner – The Prophet!  He’s wearing Camel hair costume and he’s got locusts in his teeth and he’s got some honey dripping from his beard….  he’s just this wild man kind of guy.  And he is out there preaching this message and people are hearing about him and going out to the wilderness to hear him preach.  And they are lining up to be baptized by the guy, which then as now is a external symbol of an internal change of heart.

So John’s out there in the desert and he’s drawing a crowd and this makes the religious authorities nervous.  Every once in a while some character would declare that he’s the Messiah and draw a crowd, and the Romans would then crack down on the religious leaders…  so they wanted to try to get a handle on this John guy, so they ask him

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

John’s message is simply – get ready.  God’ up to something.  And he sent me to soften up the crowd so they would be ready to receive what’s coming next. And here’s the interesting thing – John didn’t know what was coming next.

He was just doing his job.  He was doing what God led him to do.  He knows that someone is coming – he knows that God is sending his messiah, but even John has a limited understanding of it. I mean, these religious leaders ask John – are you the Elijah – the one who gets sent ahead of the Messiah – John’s like, No, man.  I’m John the Baptist – I’m not Elijah.  Later on though Jesus says – Yeah, he was.  He just didn’t know it.

So John is out there doing what God tells him to do, and God rewards him, in my opinion, by allowing John to catch a glimpse – in fact – John becomes the first person to announce God’s spectacular plan to rescue the world.

He sees it – the Spirit of God reveals to John just how he plans to rescue the world.  One day John the Baptist looks up and sees Jesus walking toward him.  And the Spirit of God reveals something that leads John to say these incredible words…

Well, first, let me preface his words with a story to help us understand the significance of his declaration.

See, every year, once a year, the head of the family was required by Old Testament law to appear in Jerusalem and make an offering before the Lord.  And so the man would go to his field and find a perfect lamb and he would take that lamb with him on a journey to Israel.  And upon arrival at the temple he would take the lamb into the temple in order to sacrifice the lamb as a sin offering before the Lord.

In fact, every day, twice a day, the priests would sacrifice a lamb on the altar, once in the morning and once at night on behalf of the nation, but individuals were required as well to make an offering for their sin.

And the idea was simply this, the man would bring the lamb before the priests and pray that God would transfer the sins of himself and his family, from them to the innocent lamb.  Please take our sins from us and let them fall on this lamb, and then the priests would kill the lamb and the blood would flow and the man walked out with a restored relationship with God.

And day after day, priests would offer sacrifices from morning to night, one offering after another, one another after another.  Being a temple priest was a bloody messy job.  Listen to how the writer of Hebrews – and nobody knows who the writer is but I can’t help but think it was a priest who came to faith in Jesus, because listen to how well the exasperating job of being a priest – the monotony of the sacrificial system is recalled in Hebrews 10:

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices…

Day after day, again and again.  Day after day, again and again.  Sacrificing lambs.  Sheep.  Doves.  Bulls.  The innocent dying on behalf of the guilty.  The innocent dying that the guilty might go free.  Day after day.  Again and Again.

Year after year, decade after decade.  Century after century.  For hundreds and hundreds of years,

Until one day!  When everything changes.  And John sees the impending end of the sacrificial system.  When John the Baptist looks up and God reveals to him the reason why God became flesh.

 “29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

So let’s talk a bit about this whole Sacrificial system thing.  What good was it?  What was it’s purpose?

Maybe you are an animal lover and you feel that this entire ordeal was just cruel and it just makes you feel very uncomfortable.  And so I want to address it because it really gets down to the question of why did Jesus have to die on the cross?  Wasn’t it barbaric?  Was it human sacrifice?  What’s going on with the sacrificial system?  Why did God require blood to be spilled in order for forgiveness to be made?  Wasn’t there an easier way?  Why did God require a sacrifice?

First, as a way of introducing the answer –  let me start me saying that God is not bloodthirsty.  He’s not into killing things.  He didn’t set up the sacrificial system because he enjoys killing animals.  In fact, in the Old Testament on more than one occasion God himself reveals that what God is really after is a transformed heart – renovated from the inside out – a heart that reflects the kind of heart were created to have in the first place.  A heart uncorrupted by sin.

Check out these verses…

Psalm 50

13 Do I eat the meat of bulls?
Do I drink the blood of goats?  
(Of course not!) 
14 Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,
and keep the vows you made to the Most High.

What is God really pleased with?  A heart that is thankful towards God.  Character full of integrity – we keep our word.  A relationship with God where we trust him in times of trouble to walk with us.  Where we reach out to him in times of trouble.  A heart that thinks highly enough of him to trust him with our lives.

Hosea 6:6 is a verse that Jesus quotes in Matthew 9

I want you to show love,
not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me
more than I want burnt offerings.

What is God really after?  A renovated heart overflowing with love, not an altar overflowing with animals.

Psalm 51

17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

What does God want?  Not a sacrifice, but a right heart.  A heart overflowing with godly things.   Did you know that God wants good for us? He wants us to be people who naturally and easily love others.  We were created for that.

But here’s the deal.  We can’t become that – it’s unnatural for us now.  It’s unnatural for us to be selfless, loving, humble.  Some are more humble more loving than others.  And we find solace in that – At least I’m not as bad as that guy…

But here’s the deal.  We’re all broken.  No one is operating the way God originally created us to operate in our own strength or power.  Sin has done a number on us.  And some are better than others at hiding the darkness the stuff deep inside our heart that we hope never finds the light of day.

And this brings us to the sacrificial system.  Why does God establish a sacrificial system?  The sacrificial system of the Old Testament served as a pointer.  It points to three things…

First – the sacrificial system points to the nature of sin.  Sin is a killer.  It’s a destroyer.  It’s been killing since the first day it infected humanity.  Sin is a deadly pathogen that kills all it touches.

If you read the story of he day Adam and Eve rebelled against God, in Genesis 3 – we see a story of God giving Adam and Eve free rein.  He made us free agents.  He has always been the kind of God who will not go where he is not wanted.

So God tells Adam and Eve – there’s one tree you may not eat the fruit from.  The day you eat that fruit you will surely die.

Now why would they die?  Isn’t that a little draconian of God to slay mankind for eating a piece of fruit?  Is that what’s happened?  Is God so cross with us for eating that fruit that he just crossed his arms and said, “Fine – off with their heads!”

No!  Though it would be within God’s right to do that, when Adam and Eve choose to sin, they infected all of mankind with a deadly pathogen that kills all it touches.

When Adam and Eve ate that fruit, they were already dead – they just didn’t know it yet.  They hadn’t felt the full effects of their disease yet, but it wouldn’t take long.

In fact one generation later one of their sons Cain, kills another one of their sons, Abel.  And that’s what sin does.  It kills.  It always kills.  Sin never adds life.

It’s the nature of sin to kill.  And here’s the deal – you were born with it coursing through your body.  You were born riddled with sin.  And unless you do something about it, it will kill you too.

That’s the second thing that the sacrificial system points to – the seriousness of our condition.

Apart from God’s intervention, we are in deep trouble.  We cannot shake this thing ourselves.  And that’s bad because unless we are cured we cannot see God.  We can’t.

Well why not, someone asks?  Why can’t God just pretend that nothing happened?  Well, okay – first you don’t want that God.  You don’t want a God that doesn’t care about justice.  And you don’t want to live forever in a world riddled with sin.

If God just looks the other way, then congratulations – this is heaven.  Enjoy the roads paved with misery.  Forever separated from a Holy God for our protection.  Forever feeble.  Forever fallen.

See God did us a favor when he kicked us out of the Garden of Eden – because there was another tree in the garden called the tree of life – and God didn’t want us eating from that tree in our jacked up condition.  So he boots us out of the garden and sets into motion a plan to deal with our sin.

Why?  because he loves us and wants us to be healthy and whole.

And that’s where the sacrificial system comes into play.  God in his mercy declared that He would allow for a substitution.

And so bring in the innocent lamb.  The innocent lamb absorbs the person’s deadly killer – he absorbs and carries the sin that should have rested on the person.  And there is a swapping – a trading of places – a transplantation where we swap our guilt for it’s innocence.  It’s purity for our impurity.  It’s life for our death.  It dies so that we might live.  And when it dies our sin dies with it.

Of course, there was a problem with the entire deal.  The lamb – as innocent as it was – was not an equal to a human being.  It wasn’t an equivalent swap.  And the result was that the blood of the lamb couldn’t actually accomplish what we hoped it would.

Hebrews 10:11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins.

So what was the point of the sacrificial system?

Hebrews 10:1 The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come. 

10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.

Behold the Lamb of God.  Who takes away the sins of the entire world.

The innocent one trading places with the guilty ones.  The clean for the dirty.  His purity for our impurity.  He took on the death that was due us – the sin that was on us – and traded it all – giving us his life for our death.  His rightness for our wrongness.

It was a lopsided trade by all accounts.  By all accounts it had to have been the worst trade ever made.  He takes our sin, our death, our penalty, our disease, and gives us his life and his love and his joy and the list goes in. Worst trade in history!  By all accounts except God’s account.  To him it was totally worth it.  Know why?  Because he deeply loves you and wants you to be restored in a right relationship through faith in Jesus.

And this is the third truth that the sacrificial system points to.  It points to the love of God.

Jesus, the willing lamb of God – out of love, lays down his life and offers us an exchange.  We bring him our sin.  He gives us his kind of life.

A life that naturally flows with goodness and love, all generated from a renovated heart that seeks the good of others.

But God so loved the world that he sent his son that whosoever believeth in him shall not die.  But have a life that is eternal and abundant – a life that can stand up to anything.  It comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

So back to my story about the boy who was by all accounts on deaths door in that hospital room.  Fast forward a few months and here comes this kid running by me in the halls of church – laughing, big smile.

What in the world happened?  His father underwent surgery.  The doctors cut out a part of the father’s liver and transplanted it into the boy.  And it took.  the father went under the knife, as any father would – why?  Because he deeply loved his child.

And so it is with God.  Who knew that a piece wasn’t enough to cure us.  It would take his whole life.  Yes Jesus willingly paid the price in order to restore us.

And yes, we still struggle at times with sin, don’t we.  We will not be fully cured until we go see Jesus when we shut our eyes for the last time here.  But we are on the road to recovery.

Through faith in Jesus – a fresh, abundant life – a life of forgiveness and compassion and love – awaits all whosoever want it.

We turn our attention now to the communion table which is, of course, a symbol – a reminder of this sacrifice Jesus made in order to provide healing and wholeness to us.

The bread represents the body of Jesus.  The juice represents the blood.  His life for ours.

And we’d like to offer this morning, that if you find yourself in need of prayer – we are going to have people waiting in each corner to pray for you.  Do you need to be healed today?  We will anoint you with oil – which is another symbol of the Holy Spirit – and we will pray for you.

Post a comment