In the first chapter of John a theme begins which John will carry throughout his entire testimony. We read, “The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and he said, ‘Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'” What John is saying here and will say again and again is “Look! Look at Jesus.” In fact, he goes on to use this word fifteen times in his gospel. In the King James Version, it is translated emphatically, “Behold!” Interwoven throughout his stories of the life of Jesus, John repeatedly seems to stop and point his finger to make sure we hearers are getting it: “Look at this. Look at Jesus. This is astonishing. This is amazing. This is mind-blowing. Will you behold?” It is an appropriate question to hold before us as we take in the events of Easter: What are you looking at?
In one of my favorite hymns, Charles Wesley writes in his final verse, “Happy, if with my latest breath I might but gasp his name, preach him to all and cry in death, ‘Behold, behold the lamb.'” An account of Charles Wesley’s death tells us that that is exactly what happened. As he lay dying, he said those words, ‘Behold the lamb,’ and then went to be with the Lord. What is it that you are beholding? John wants to make sure we heed the call to look at Jesus.
In his gospel, John then goes on to give us several signs that tell us something of who and what this Jesus really is. Out of the many miracles that Jesus performed in his ministry, John deliberately chooses seven in order to give us a very particular perspective. The first miracle he recounts is the miracle at the wedding in Cana where Jesus takes ceremonial washing jars filled with water and astonishingly turns the water the red. Choosing this miracle, John shows us a sign of what Jesus has come to do. He has come to wash us, to give his red blood as a gift that we might be purified. John wants us to behold Jesus as the one who comes to bring atonement.
In the second and third miracles John offers are the signs of miraculous healing. In chapter 4, Jesus heals the son of a man in the royal household of Herod. As this man’s son lay dying miles away at home, he begs Jesus to heal him. And right there, Jesus pronounces the words, “Your son will live.” In chapter 5, Jesus heals the man at the pool of Bethesda, literally “the house of mercy,” where the man had come for years hoping for healing but could never attain it on his own. Into this man’s despair Jesus comes and simply tells him, “Pick up your mat and walk.” In both of these miracles, we find the healing Jesus offers reaching far beyond the private corners of faith and into the very public realms of reality.
In the fourth miracle John chooses, we are shown a picture of the abundance in the very person of Christ. In John chapter 6, Jesus feeds a crowd of five thousand by dramatically multiplying the loaves and fish. We are left with a picture of mind-blowing abundance, the Son of God demonstrating the fullness of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Also in chapter 6, the fifth miracle shows Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm. The disciples are terrified, but Jesus gives them an extraordinary look at his authority, not only over the elements, but over all that would cause fear. Here, he says to them, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
In the sixth and seventh miracles John offers, we are given even further reason to thoroughly behold the person of Christ. In chapter 9, Jesus heals a man born blind and we literally see darkness illuminated by the Son of God. Here, John gives us another sign of what Jesus has come to do. Christ has come into a dark and broken and needy world, and he is the light of the world who shines in the darkness. Finally, in the seventh miracle, John gives us a picture of all that is to come in Christ. In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus demonstrates his authority over death itself. It is a sign of his impending resurrection, a sign of the resurrection to come.
Thus the question remains: Will you behold the lamb of God? John wants to make sure we see clearly the one who brings atonement, who shows mercy, who brings healing, who has authority, the one who tells us not to fear, the one who is abundant, the one who illuminates a darkened world and literally opens the eyes of the blind, the one who has power even over death itself. It is Christ. It is this Jesus who we do well to be looking at. Will you behold?
Amy Orr-Ewing is director of programmes for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and UK director for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Oxford, England.