John 1:29-42a (Second Sunday after the Epiphany—Series A)
“Behold! The Lamb of God”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
January 15, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is Gospel Reading 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.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow developed what is known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is often depicted using a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid are the most critical needs, biological and physical needs such as air, food, water, shelter, and sleep. The next level of needs is safety needs like protection from the elements, security, order, and law. Next on the pyramid are the needs of love and belongingness which include friendship, trust, and being a part of a group like family. Esteem needs comes next such as self-respect and independence. At the top of the pyramid are what Maslow called self-actualization needs. A person realizes their individual potential. There is self-fulfillment as one seeks personal growth and peak experiences.
Sadly, in his original hierarchy Maslow does not have a place for what has to be humanity’s greatest need. This is the need that the Church acknowledges in the Divine Service with the words, “we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against [God] in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” Sin is a deadly condition that all people are conceived and born with, as Scripture tells us in Psalm 51. Sin has brought guilt and condemnation for all people. It has left everyone without true fear and love of God. People are by nature spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. Romans 8:7, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Sin kills us spiritually. Ephesians 2:1, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Sin’s wages for us is also physical and eternal death in hell, forever separated from God in an endless torment.
How can someone not address this need? Someone might go hungry for a while on this earth, or suffer pain and hardship for a time, but compare that to an endless life of suffering, discomfort, pain, and fear in a place where God is not, in a place where there is no blessing and no gift from Him. While Maslow did not address this need, God Himself did. And He addressed it right away. When the Lord confronted Adam and Eve and the Serpent in the Garden, He promised that one day He would send the Seed, a descendant, of the woman to crush the Serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). Then in His grace, God protected Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life so that they would not eat of it and live forever in sin, death, and hell.
Then, in the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son. He was born of a woman, the virgin Mary, a descendant of Eve. He was born under the authority of God’s Law, taking humanity’s place before God. According to God’s instruction, the Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among people was given the name “Jesus,” because “He will save His people from their sins.” “Jesus” means “The Lord saves.”
God was addressing and taking care of humanity’s greatest need in sending forth Jesus, His One-of-a-kind Son, to become fully human. As we heard last Sunday, Jesus stood where sinners stand. He lived a perfect life under God’s Law for us because we live sinful, unclean lives under God’s Law, failing to fear, love, and trust in God above all things and unable to love our neighbors as ourselves. Where we sin, Jesus did not. He perfectly kept all of God’s Commandments that we are supposed to keep. As a result, sinners are credited with His perfect righteousness and not their own sins! We read in Romans 5, “For as by [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by [Jesus’] obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19 ESV).
But what of the sins we have committed? What of the failures to love God and neighbor that we have done or not done in our speaking, thinking, and acting? What about the sinful nature that clings to us? Do we not still stand condemned to death and hell?
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Look at Jesus who wears a crown of thorns and a purple robe. Look at the Son of God who is nailed to a cross. He suffers the pain and agony of crucifixion, but also much more and much worse. On the cross, Jesus bears the sins of the world. He takes them upon Himself as if they were His own. On the cross, the sinless Son of God becomes the greatest sinner of all history as He bears the sins of all people of every time and every place in His own body on the tree. This Sin-Bearer is so repugnant to God the Father that the Father turns His back on His One-of-a-kind Son as He is covered in our hatred, our vulgar language, our lust, our greed, our unkindness, all of our sins. The Father removes Himself from Jesus so that He endures hell itself as He bleeds and suffers a God-forsaken death on the cross.
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! His blood was poured out on the cross to cleanse you from all your sins as He died your death and suffered your hell. Your greatest need has been taken care of completely by Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, your Lord. With His bloody death by which He purchased and won our forgiveness and with His glorious resurrection from the dead in which He left the bloody grave clothes behind in the tomb, Satan the ancient snake was crushed. Sin is forever forgiven. Death and hell have been defeated.
Forgiveness of sins and life everlasting are now gifted to you and to all people by God the Holy Spirit using the Means of Grace. The Word of the Gospel and the Sacraments of Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, deliver to us what Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection have won for us. The Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16 ESV). Through the Gospel Word, the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in a person so that he or she trusts in Jesus’ as their Lord and Savior. That saving faith receives from the Gospel the fruits of Jesus’ saving work—forgiveness and eternal life. As the apostle writes in Romans 10, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17 ESV).
Holy Baptism is “water included in God’s command and combined with [His Gospel] Word.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, Baptism “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (Small Catechism).
The Lord’s Supper is “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink” (Small Catechism). Again, the chief blessing of the Lord’s Supper is the forgiveness of sins which Christ’s body and blood have won for us on the cross. Together with forgiveness, in this Sacrament God gives all other blessings as well, that is, “life and salvation.”
The Word and the Sacraments of Christ are God’s means of transmitting salvation to us and to all people. It is the Word and the Sacrament’s of Christ that allow us to behold Jesus, the Lamb of God, with the eyes of saving faith, receiving from Him forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. And it is to Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that you and I are called to point others. We, like St. John the Baptist, are the human agents who bring the Good News of Jesus to others. John was witnessing to Jesus and baptizing people to point them to Jesus who would take away their sins, saving them from death and hell. John pointed out Jesus to two of his disciples. Andrew pointed out Jesus to Simon Peter. To whom will you point out Jesus, the Lamb of God?
While you think on that, let me share with you a story. Scripture nowhere says this story ever really happened. But it’s a good story and appropriate for today’s message. The story begins in the time immediately following the crucified and risen Savior’s return into heaven. The Lord Jesus was walking with the archangel, Gabriel. They were involved in an earnest, intent conversation. You can begin eavesdropping on the conversation as Gabriel asks, “Master, You died for the whole world down there, did You not?” “Yes,” Jesus replied. “I tasted death for every human being.” The angel with a solemn look into Jesus’ gracious face commented, “You must have suffered much.” “Yes” again was Jesus’ answer in a voice very quiet yet filled with the deepest of concern. “Master, allow me to ask, does everybody now know what You have done?” “Oh, no, Gabriel. Only a few individuals in Israel know about how I lived for them, fulfilled the law for them, carried their sins for them, died for them, and rose to show everything I had done for them had fulfilled the Father’s plan of salvation.”
“Master, I am concerned. You must have a plan to tell everyone. How is the world going to hear that God loved them enough to sacrifice His Son in their stead?” “Well,” the Lord Jesus replied, “I did ask Peter and James and John and Andrew and some others of My disciples down there to make it the business of their lives to tell others (Matthew 4:19). After they’re done, the next generation of believers will tell those who come after them. And that generation will tell the next. Eventually, every human being in their own personal Jerusalem will have heard the story that they can be saved, not by their own works, but by God’s grace and faith in Me as their suffering substitute. I told them repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in My name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.”
Gabriel now spoke with a hesitating reluctance. His words showed he could see problems with the plan’s promotion, progress, and completion. Nevertheless, he ventured: “Yes, Lord, but suppose Peter fails. Suppose after a while, John simply doesn’t tell anyone. Suppose their descendants, their spiritual children in 21st century, get so busy with things like, well, how the stock market is doing or whether they are going to lose their jobs or how their neighborhood is going downhill or even wars and rumors of wars—just anything really—that they don’t tell others. The whole thing is going to break down and You’re going to have died for nothing. What will happen then?”
Gabriel’s entire posture, if a spiritual being like an angel can have a posture, was tense for he was thinking of Jesus’ suffering and the numbers of souls lost if they were left untold about Jesus. “What will happen then?” With complete confidence came back a calm, caring, confident reply. Jesus said, “Gabriel, I have made no other plan. I know these few, by the power of the Holy Spirit, with the means of grace, beginning in Jerusalem, will tell the story of salvation. They and those who come after them will let everyone know that ‘God so loved the world He gave His One-of-a-kind Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have everlasting life’” (John 3:16).
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! To whom will you share His Good News story? Amen.
“Your Jerusalem” #70-34 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on May 4, 2003, By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour, accessed January 10, 2017, http://www.lutheranhour.org/sermon.asp?articleid=611