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The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ “I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ “And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)

John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets according to Jesus’ own words. John was set aside before his birth for a special purpose, “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in  the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. “He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:14-17). And yet when it came time for John to reveal Jesus as the Son of God and the promised Messiah, he stated twice, “I did not know Him.”

John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. He knew who Jesus was. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah. So did John’s mother Elizabeth, who said to the Virgin Mary, “Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” John’s father, Zechariah, prophesied of his son, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” Who can doubt that John discussed these things with his parents many times over the years? And John certainly recognized Jesus when Jesus came to him to be baptized. John tried to deter Jesus, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Yet, twice in this text, John the Baptist says of Jesus, “I did not know him.”

What is he telling us? That he did not recognize his own cousin? No. He’s telling us that based on outward appearances he would not have recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus was poor. Jesus was ordinary-looking. By his own admission, Jesus had no place to call home.

On his own, John the Baptist would have never recognized Jesus as the Messiah. He did not point others to Christ; he did not witness about Christ; he did not specifically say “Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” UNTIL God the Father revealed this to him by means of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a
dove. Through the Holy Spirit John was able to testify to others, “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34).

This Epiphany we celebrate the fact God has revealed to us that this Jesus is the Son of God and the Lamb of God that carries away our sins. It is not that we, as professional clergy, do not know about Jesus. We know the facts about Jesus. But we also, like John the Baptist, do not know (recognize) Jesus. We, by nature, do not understand the miracle of Son of God also being God’s Lamb. The cross of Christ remains a stumbling block and foolishness to us and to those to whom we preach Christ crucified.

Each of us would not known Jesus (believed in Him as our Redeemer) except for the fact that the Father has revealed Him to us through the Holy Spirit. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). God has revealed His saving glory to us through the Word so that like John we might be “witnesses for Christ.” God has called us in our ministries to decrease so that Christ might increase. It is our privilege to point others to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin the world.” We know Jesus, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13).

This is the miracle of Epiphany. God has revealed Jesus to us so that we might reveal Him to others. What a wonderful privilege! We have been called as witnesses for Christ. Witnessing is not a professional process. It is a personal process of knowing Jesus. It does not start with our witness to others but God’s witness to us.

May God continue to reveal Jesus to you this Epiphany season.

Thanks to Mark Weis who in his “AfterWord” provided the thoughts and impetus for this letter.