Lamb of God, Pure and Holy
Midweek 5 Sermon:
The Lamb of God Who Bears Our Sins Away
(Genesis 22:7–8, 13–14; John 1:29)
And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.
And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
“Lamb of God, pure and holy,” it’s been our continuing refrain in these weekly Lenten meditations. Now as we approach the zenith of the yearly remembrance of our Savior’s suffering and death, just before we enter Holy Week, we come to the very center of His sacrifice: the Lamb of God who bears our sins away. This topic reflects the next-to-last line of our theme hymn: “All sins thou borest for us, Else had despair reigned o’er us” (LSB 434). It sounds poetic in Old English, but it is far more than some nice-sounding words. It means we have a Lamb who bears our sins away, acquitting us from guilt and releasing us from our sin. Without that acquittal and release, we would be doomed to unending despair.
It would be safe to say that people of the twenty-first century know a lot more about despair than they do about sin and guilt. Clinical depression has become epidemic. The Yellow Pages are full of counselors and therapists just waiting for a call. It’s always a serious struggle to live with depression. Isn’t it interesting that we don’t seem to have a problem living with sin, but personal emotional issues and stress that’s quite a different issue!
Despite the supposedly ethical “values” of our nation, as a people we seem to be sinking deeper and deeper into a moral quagmire, bogged down in greed and selfishness, trudging through a swamp of pride and self-indulgence, swimming in a rising cesspool of sexual immorality, pornography, and perversion. And strangely enough, Christians seem to have come to terms with this. At least on some level, they’ve embraced the permissive lifestyle of our time while supposedly upholding classic Christian truth. I say “supposedly,” because if you listen carefully to the message of the Christian establishment in our time, you’ll hear precious little about the Jesus who bled and died to remove sin, while you hear a whole lot about Jesus as the example, the mentor, and the life coach.
One thing about Lent—it sets you straight on the real Jesus. No one who sits through forty days of pondering the details of the Savior’s bitter suffering and sacrificial death could really believe that Jesus came just to make you happy and guide you to earthly success.
There was nothing about the event that unfolded that first Good Friday that smacked of personal motivation and success. Jesus looked to the world like a real loser. He was mocked by His enemies, deserted by His friends and died a horrible and miserable death. Hidden under that apparent defeat was God’s victory. He was, to quote John the Baptizer in our text, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John means what he says and says what he means. Jesus doesn’t just cover up sin, but does away with it.
To grasp the full impact of John’s words, we must contemplate a scenario that unfolded centuries before on a mountaintop called Moriah. There an old man leads his son to the mountaintop to perform a burnt offering to the Lord their God. In his hand, the old man holds a knife and some fire. The kindling wood is carried up the mountain by the boy. As they approach their destination, the child speaks up, “Where is the lamb, dad?”
You know these two: they’re Abraham and Isaac. Abraham means the “Father of many nations” in Hebrew. But for many long years he had no children. Then God paid a visit to this old man and his barren wife. After years of waiting and despite being well past the age of childbearing, these old people become parents!
It was beyond belief, and if God were not God, Abraham and Sarah could never have believed it. As it was, Sarah laughed out loud at the prospect. But this was no joke. In about a year they would have their baby. And the child would be named, Isaac which means “laughter.” He was their pride and joy, to say the least. All their hopes for the future were riding on him. Everything they had was wrapped up in him, their child of laughter.
Then one day some years later the roof caved in on Abraham’s life. God tested his great faith almost to the breaking point. God called to him and said: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2). Can you imagine the devastation of Abraham’s heart?
But Abraham went. He packed up and left for the land of Moriah. It was on the third day, that Abraham “looked up and saw the place in the distance” (Genesis 22:4). We can only imagine the dread with which he looked on the place of sacrifice. Yet Abraham believed the promise. He believed God, he trusted God, he trusted God to keep His promise that, through Isaac, Abraham would be the father of many descendants. So Abraham pressed on despite his dread.
As Abraham and Isaac left behind their entourage and made their way together to the designated spot, young Isaac voiced the unspeakable question pressing on both their hearts: “We have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Where is the lamb? Indeed a question for the ages. Especially in our own troubled times. With so many fears, so many disasters, so many threats on every side, and the terrors that surround us. Where is the lamb? In other words, where is our deliverance? How can we escape the onslaught of temptation, the rising tide of immorality that threatens to engulf even Christ’s holy Bride, the Church? How can we be preserved against such despair, such unbelief, and our great shame and vices? Where is the lamb?
In that question, everything collides—both God’s judgment and His grace, His mercy and His love. Each of us in our own way, at some time, needs to come to terms with the same question young Isaac raised: Where is the lamb?
“Abraham answered, ‘God Himself will provide” (Genesis 22:8). And He did—in a most dramatic way. With the wood arranged upon the altar and Abraham’s son bound like an animal, lying there helpless; Abraham’s hand ready to plunge the knife into his son’s chest, the Angel of the Lord intervened. “Do not lay a hand on the boy. . . . Do not harm him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:12). Then, miraculously, Abraham looked up to see a ram caught by his horns in a thicket. There was the lamb for the burnt offering, the substitute for his son! God did provide the lamb after all.
No wonder Abraham gave that place a new name, “The Lord Will Provide.” And from that day on it has been called the same. (Genesis 22:14).
The Lord will provide for you as well. And not merely food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all you have. He provides for you at a far more basic level. He saves you, just like He saved young Isaac on that holy mountain.
But God doesn’t save you with a woolly creature. Instead, He saves you with His own beloved Son, whom He Himself slays as the atoning sacrifice. It turns out that the dramatic scene at Mount Moriah was a dress rehearsal for a far more gripping saga at a place called Calvary. There God the Father slaughtered His Son, His only Son, whom He loved, as the cosmic sacrifice. He Himself was the Lamb, the real thing. Jesus didn’t come to make you happy and successful but to set you free from sure and certain death. Jesus died there in your place as the substitute for your sin. No wonder John called Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
And we repeat those words in every Divine Service as the Church approaches the altar to receive the flesh and blood that was once sacrificed for the forgiveness of our sins. John’s words are upon our lips: “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us; grant us peace.”
Here is the Lamb. Jesus comes into our midst in His Word and blessed Sacrament to release and rescue sin-ravaged hearts and lives. Here is comfort for all our fears, rest from our harried lives, respite for our souls, and solace in our despair. We need not slog through the swampland of this world, hoping for the best yet fearing the worst. For there is with us in our struggle the One who has Himself faced the bitter onslaught of the worst this world can offer and emerged victorious.
Jesus fights for us against all that would fill us with despair. Jesus cleanses us from the filth that has polluted us in body, mind, and soul. Jesus frees us from the sin that we ourselves have done and from the fallout of the sins others have done to us. Jesus is the ransom price. Jesus given into death, all our sins were heaped on Jesus and He took them all away with Him into His death and grave. There He left them behind forever when He emerged on the third day, He had triumphant over sin, death and hell.
Why settle for a Jesus who is only half a Jesus, a mere shadow of Himself? Why settle for an example, a mentor, or a coach when He instead your Savior is your substitute, the one who bled and died to set you free? Jesus is the Lamb of God, who bears our sins. But here’s the best part: He bears them all away! Despair may threaten, depression may assault you, but nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Know without a doubt that all your sins have been paid in full with Christ’s own blood!
Therefore go with Jesus into life—with all its uncertainties—in unshakable confidence. Knowing He will keep you safe and sound until that day when you will join the heavenly throng gathered before the throne of God and of the Lamb to sing eternal alleluias to your King. In Jesus name, Amen and amen!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus, Amen.