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Sermon for January 16, 2011

John 1:29-42a (2nd Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 16, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Gospel Lesson for today recorded in John 1:

The next day he 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 ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

 

What would happen if you were at the mall and you suddenly saw someone famous?  Would you be the one to shout, “Look, there’s so-and-so!” or would you be one of the crowd turning to look when someone else called out, “Look, there’s so-and-so”?    Today in our Gospel lesson me meet both people—the one pointing out the “famous” person and those in the crowd looking to see who exactly is being pointed out.  By the end of our time together this morning, which person will you imitate?

The person identifying the “famous” person in our text is John the Baptist.  John said, “Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  And the crowd turned and said, “Who?”  Not such a famous person, huh?  There are some people in the music world or in movies or TV that, if they were at the mall and someone shouted, “Hey, look, it’s so-and-so,” that would mean absolutely nothing to me.  While they might be famous to some, to others they are still unknown.  It takes someone to not only point out the individual, but also to tell us why we should pay attention to the person being pointed out.  So back to John and his identification of none other than Jesus: “Look, 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 ranks before me, because he was before me.’”

So the crowd looked at Jesus, trying to figure out exactly what John was saying about Him.  John knew Jesus.  Jesus was John’s cousin.  But Jesus is more than just a relative of John.  Jesus is the One who was sent by God to be the once-for-all sacrificial lamb that would forever cleanse the people from their sins.  “Behold, the lamb of God!”  John reminds the crowd that Jesus, the lamb of God, is the one John has been talking about and getting them ready for by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Jesus is the one to come after John, whose sandals John is not worthy to stoop down and untie.  Jesus’ ministry comes after John’s, to be sure, but Jesus’ rank comes before John because Jesus existed before John, existed eternally because He is God the Son.

“Look, 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 ranks before me, because he was before me.’”  And the crowd probably responded with a, “Who?  What? and How do you know?”  So John continued to testify about Jesus.  “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Remember, John knew Jesus.  Jesus was John’s cousin.  But, as with all of God’s prophets, God gave John special revelation of Jesus’ identity.  Jesus is not just a man.  He is the Son of God.  How would John know who exactly the Messiah would be—the one on whom the Holy Spirit would descend and remain—He would be the Messiah, the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.  God confirmed Jesus’ identity to John at Jesus’ baptism as we heard last Sunday.  “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Today John identifies Jesus to a larger audience.  And if you notice, it takes some work.  John just doesn’t say, “Look, there is the Messiah, the Son of God,” without offering any proof to support his words.  He paints a picture of Jesus’ work as the Messiah, the Son of God, as the lamb of God, the One who would take away the sins of the world.  John supported His words with personal testimony about his firsthand knowledge of Jesus.  John never left things opened-end, “Oh, this is the Son of God, the Savior, I think.  Maybe he’s the guy.”  No, John gave his witness and testimony, “Behold, the lamb of God.  This is the One.  He is the Son of God.”

Then look what the Holy Spirit does with the proclaimed message about Jesus.  “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”  To follow, here, does not mean to track or stalk someone.  It doesn’t mean follow as in, “I followed the truck to the store.”  The two disciples followed Jesus, right then and there, as disciples.  They turned their loyalty to Him as a result of hearing God’s Word about Jesus told them by John.

So was John’s effort as the one pointing out, “Look, there’s the lamb of God,” a worthwhile venture?  Was all the work John put into explaining and identifying Jesus as the lamb of God worth the time and effort?  You bet!  The Holy Spirit used that message from John’s mouth, God’s message about Jesus, to turn the hearts of two people toward following the Lamb of God as His disciples.  That’s immediate payoff for a job well done by John in identifying Jesus to the crowd around him.

And Jesus proved that John’s witness and identification were absolutely right.  We read in 1 Peter 1:19 that you and I “were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)  St Paul straightforwardly told the Corinthian Christians, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor. 5:7)  The Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candice, queen of the Ethiopians, was reading the prophet Isaiah, “Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth.  In his humiliation justice was denied him.  Who can describe his generation?  For his life is taken away from the earth.’  And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:32-35)  Finally, we read in Revelation 5, “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:6)

For 2000 years the Christian Church has echoed the preaching of John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  At each celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the first Communion hymn that we sing is the Agnus Dei, Lamb of God.  In this hymn we are reminded that Jesus alone is the One who was our sacrifice for sin on the cross.  Through Jesus alone do we have access to God’s mercy and peace.  In this Scriptural song, we identify, we adore and worship, Him who comes to us as the Lamb slain for sinners.  “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.  Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the word; grant us peace.”

In our life together as corporate Church, we identify Jesus as the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins.  We publically confess that it is Jesus Christ Himself who personally comes among us with His true Body and Blood, in, with, and under bread and wine to grant us forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.  But how do you and I present and identify Jesus individually?

We want to be the one shouting to the crowd, “Look, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” rather than being a member of the crowd.  We want to be imitators of John the Baptist, proclaiming Jesus’ identity as Savior to a community lost in sin that doesn’t realize their lostness.  But it takes work.  Pointing out Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Savior of sinners, takes effort.  It takes time in developing relationships with those to whom we would share the message.  It takes patient endurance of ridicule and mockery.  It takes effort to explain God’s truth about Jesus in the Bible to those who are, for the most part, Biblically illiterate.  But it is a work that we must do because God Himself has given us that task, just as He gave it to John.

We hear the words of God’s Risen Lamb, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”  (Matthew 28:18-20)  This is our great commission.  This is our work as the body of Christ, both as Church together and as Christians individually.  Our special responsibility is to make disciples by telling people about Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who suffered, died for the sins of the world, and rose again forevermore defeating death and the grave.  As we do so, we have the assurance that Jesus is with us through His Holy Spirit, working ,just as He did in the days of John, to take the Good News message of Christ we share and change the hearts of people to faith in the Savior.

What would happen if you and I more often announced to our friends, coworkers, and even perfect strangers, “Look, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Let me tell you about Him and what He has done for me”?  What would happen if we all spent more effort and time pointing out Jesus to a hurting community?  The Holy Spirit would work to change hearts so that many people who today don’t know Jesus will one day stand with us and sing with hearts of faith, “Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us and grant us peace.”  So be imitators of John and point out Jesus as often as you can.  Amen.


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