Summary: Not once but twice, John the Baptist said: "I did not recognize Him"

Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)

Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ

Sunday, October 27, 2013

by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter

IN CHRIST ALONE: “I Did Not Recognize Him” [Part Three]

John 1:29-34

Previously in part one of this sermon series entitled, “In Christ Alone”, the apostle John spoke of Jesus being the “eternal logos”. He went on to say that the Word was “with God” and that the Word “was God”. In part two, we learned that John the Baptist was a ‘credible witness’ as “a voice of one crying in the wilderness” [Isaiah 40:3].

In this morning’s passage, the Baptist continues his testimony about Jesus being the Christ, the Long-awaited Messiah, and God’s eternal Son! But then the Baptist makes a peculiar remark; where not once, but twice, he says: “I did not recognize Him…” and yet we know from Scripture that they were cousins [Luke 1:36].

I also find it ironic that John’s gospel does not specifically mention Jesus’ baptism, but only what occurs before and after He was immersed; whereas the three Synoptic Gospels speak about Jesus' baptism [Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22]. Perhaps this is because John wrote his narrative much later than the other three. And so it’s conceivable that John purposely tried to avoid being redundant.

In Matthew’s account when Jesus came forward to be baptized, He said to the Baptist: “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” [Matthew 3:15]. Thus, baptism became a holy sacrament by Christ’s own example and command. Our Lord’s baptism also came to symbolize His birth, death and resurrection.

Jesus’ baptism also served as His inauguration ceremony for the commencement of His earthly ministry. On this auspicious occasion the Baptist made the following declarations:


This took place the day after a delegation arrived from Jerusalem comprised of both priests and Levites who subsequently interrogated the Baptist. This delegation asked John if he was claiming to be the Christ, and if not, then was he Elijah, or Moses.

And the Baptist said “No” to each of their inquiries. He did, however, explain that he was the forerunner to the Messiah. In this capacity he was preaching a message of repentance and baptizing believers (both Jew and Gentile) with water. And this took place on the other side of the Jordan River near the town of Bethany.

This remarkable phrase, “the Lamb of God” appears only twice in the Bible; both in verse 29 and again in verse 36. However, the meaning and significance of this phrase was not lost to the Jews of that day. To them it meant, “sacrifice”! Every morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the temple for the sins of the people [Exodus 29:38-42]. Then, too, in Isaiah 53:7, the prophet spoke of the Jewish Messiah as One who would be led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb…an unblemished Lamb; One who was without sin!

In his book, In Christ Alone, Sinclair Ferguson writes: “In order for a Person to be an all-sufficient sacrifice, He would have to meet the following criteria: 1) He would have to be free from the need to die for His own sin, 2) He would have to be willing to die in order to overcome ‘the sting’ of death, 3) and He would have to possess the power to retrieve His life again.” And this is precisely what the Baptist meant when he proclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” [verse 29]. Thus, the meaning becomes readily apparent! The Baptist was speaking about ‘self-sacrifice’!

There’s a story told about Cyrus, the first emperor of the Mede-Persian Empire, who once captured a prince and his family. When they were brought before his majesty, the monarch asked the prince, “What will you give me if I release you?” “The half of all my wealth,” was his reply. “And if I was to release your children?” “Everything that I possess” the prince said. “And what if I released your wife, what then?” “Your Majesty,” the prince said, “I would offer myself in her stead.”

King Cyrus was so moved by this man’s devotion to his wife and children that the king immediately released them all! As the prince and his family were returning to their homeland, he turned to his wife and said, “Wasn’t Cyrus a man of great stature?” With a look of deep affection, the wife replied, “I did not take notice. I could not help but to keep my eyes on you…the one who was willing to die in my place!”

The Baptist draws a further distinction between himself and the Christ where he said: JESUS BAPTIZES IN THE HOLY SPIRIT (repeat).

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E L Zacharias

commented on Jan 13, 2017

Cooper's best point is that, as Christians, we are never alone; a Christian is saved with Christ alone. Cooper's worst point is that he believes Baptism is being like John the Baptist. A pointer. Pointing brings salvation. It brings salvation, by his logic, because Baptism is confessing. This flows from the thinking that "If you confess with your mouth, ... and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." However, Cooper is confusing the Baptism of John with the Baptism of Jesus. John's was of water and Jesus' is of the Holy Spirit. John pointed the people to the Christ. Christ did not bring salvation at the River Jordan but at the cross. The Baptism that saves is the Baptism that is done in and for the sake of Christ. Jesus commanded Baptism for a reason. Not because he wanted a bunch of pointers, but because he wanted people to benefit from his death and resurrection. Paul points that our Baptism IS dying with Christ and being raised by him. God points us to his Son and gives us salvation. Praise God for this work of salvation, which ties plain water with the Word of God and brings the gift of salvation. As Cooper put it, we do not live alone; with live with Christ alone. That is the message: Living with Christ Alone.

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