John 1:29-42a (Second Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
January 19, 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson from 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! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 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.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus.
Did the phrase just jump out at you this morning? Were you completely mystified by the use of the phrase? Shocked? Perplexed? More likely than not, the phrase, “Lamb of God,” made little impact on you because it is so common place for us. It’s found in 28 different hymns in our hymnal, not to mention in the liturgy and in prayers. “Behold, the Lamb of God,” just doesn’t have a lot of zing for us anymore. But for John the Baptist’s first hearers, this was a brand new phrase. It doesn’t occur in a single page of the Old Testament. It was never uttered by anyone before John! And what makes this phrase even more unusual is that John uses it of a person! “See, catch a sight of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Sin, however, was not an unusual concept for the people of John’s day nor is it for ours. Albeit in our day many people downplay or outright ignore sin, calling it mistakes that happen without much consequence. But sin is something that needs to be taken away. John had been in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin. That’s literally what forgiveness means, taking or sending away. The people coming to John knew the serious nature of sin. They knew what God had said through Moses about keeping His commandments, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. . . . But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. (Deut. 28:1-2, 15)
The people of Israel knew the serious nature of sin also because of the sacrifices God commanded that they offer in order to forgive sin. Every day sacrifices were offered in the temple by the priests for the sins of the people. Each year on the Day of Atonement ritual sacrifices involving the blood of bulls and a goat cleansed the sanctuary, altar, priests, and the entire people of Israel from their sins. And John didn’t soften things for the people either: “He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9 CSB)
What, then, does God think of sin today? Has he changed His mind about its seriousness? Is it just that people make mistakes because they are human, and God really doesn’t care? Hardly. If God softened His stance on sin and if sin really doesn’t matter, then people wouldn’t die. Death is the punishment for sin. We know that sin is still serious because people still die. The wage, the consequence, of sin is death. We don’t just make mistakes. We sin. We do, think, desire, and say things that go against God’s perfect word and command. Anyone who says otherwise is only fooling themselves, lying to themselves, to us, and to the Lord. 1 John 1:8 and 10, words from the Lord very familiar to us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. . . . If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” This poem puts sin in perspective for us:
What is sin?
Man call is an accident, God calls it abomination.
Man calls it a defect, God calls it a disease.
Man calls it an error, God calls it an enmity.
Man calls it a liberty, God calls it lawlessness.
Man calls it a trifle, God calls it a tragedy.
Man calls it a mistake, God calls it a madness.
Man calls it a weakness, God calls it willfulness.
And you can’t wish sin away. You can’t scrub it off. You can’t have it surgically removed or take a pill to cure you. There is only One who can take away the sin of the world—the Lamb of God.
And who is He? John the Baptist pointed and said to those around him when he saw Jesus coming toward him, “See, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And the people turned their heads and looked and probably said, “What? That guy?” And John said, “Yes, that guy! He’s the One I was talking about when I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for He was before me.’ I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven and it remained on Him, at that was the sign that God had given me when He sent me to baptize with water. That man is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. This One is the Son of God!” The next day, John identified Jesus yet again, “See, the Lamb of God.”
Such a strange new phrase to describe this person of whom John bears witness as the Son of God! What did John have in mind, when, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he pointed out Jesus with this unique identifier, “Lamb of God”? He had in mind Isaiah the prophet and His Holy Spirit-inspired words from his book. From chapter 53 we read, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7) The Lord’s prophet is describing the Suffering Servant of the Lord, the promised Messiah and Savior. How shocking it is to hear that the Servant of the Lord Himself would be as a slaughtered lamb and a shorn sheep. In the face of a death squad, the Servant didn’t even open His mouth and protest as He “was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.”
Jesus, who literally stood with sinners in the Jordan River at His baptism, is the Suffering Servant who would stand in the place of sinners in death to take away the sin of the world. “See, the Lamb of God.” A unique phrase for the unique, one-of-a-kind Savior! Sin was so serious that God the Father sent His only begotten Son to suffer the full, hellish punishment of death in our place. The once-for-all sacrifice of blood was shed to remove sin and its guilt from all people. It was the blood of the Son of God, the sinless, without blemish the Lamb of God, Jesus. (1 Peter 1:19) He took on Himself all our sins, all our imperfections, all our blemishes, and all our flaws. As Jesus hung on the cross and bore the sins of the world, God turned His face from His only Son. He turned in horror from His beloved One. He abandoned His Son on the cross because He was bearing the unholiness of all people. Jesus suffered, bled, and died for the unholiness of our sin on a cross, sending it away from us, setting us free. The sin and the guilt and the consequences are cancelled. The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, has taken away the sin of the world! He has made us perfect. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being made holy.” (Heb. 10:14)
Covered in the forgiving, cleansing blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, there is nothing about us that God’s doesn’t like, nothing that is less than perfect in His eyes. Christ has been our substitute, taking our sins on Himself and through faith giving us His forgiveness, His perfection, His fullness. What wonderful news! What great joy this gives! Jesus, the Lamb of God, has taken away our sins. We are forgiven.
Such wonderful, great news of joy should not be kept to ourselves. John didn’t keep it to Himself. He boldly witnessed to Jesus, the Son of God, by calling attention to and pointing out to other the Lamb of God! One of whom heard John’s testimony about Jesus was Andrew. And He couldn’t keep the Good News to himself either. He first went and found his own brother, Simon Peter, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah!” Andrew then brought Peter to Jesus.
We, too, like John and Andrew, have the wonderful, great news about Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world to share. It’s not a message that we can keep to ourselves. It’s news that people lost in sin and suffering from guilt need to hear. It’s Good News that is the power of God unto salvation, news that through the power of the Holy Spirit, brings people to saving faith in Jesus as their one-of-a kind Savior. We can also show others about Jesus by doing the things that Jesus taught us to do—things like loving one another and being helpful and kind. Then people will see that we know Jesus and that will give us a chance to tell them about Jesus, the Lamb of God who removes our sin from us. We can tell them about what He has done for us in winning our forgiveness and what He will do for them in giving them the very same forgiveness of sins. Yes, each day we should show and tell others about Jesus the Lamb of God!
Perhaps I was wrong earlier. The phrase, “Behold, the Lamb of God” still does have zing to it. It continues to point us in faith to Jesus, our Savior, who suffered and died and rose again in our place to make us right with God in the forgiveness of our sins as we receive eternal life. It continues to encourage us to point others to Jesus, sharing with them how Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away all their sins and guilt and gives life everlasting. “See, the Lamb of God!”—a unique phrase for our unique, one-of-a-kind Savior! Let’s share the Good News of Him every day. Amen.