Lamb of God Pure and Holy
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Steven D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, OR
The next day John 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. 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?” 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. So far the text.
Grace, peace and mercy from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
John the Baptizer is the preacher; he points the way to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Don’t look to John. Instead follow his bony, pointing finger and look to where it points. Look to Jesus. John would draw all attention away from himself. He must decrease; Jesus must increase. Jesus is the coming One. John was the prophet; Jesus is the Lord. John came baptizing with water in preparation, so that Jesus might be revealed to Israel. We heard about that last week at Jesus’ baptism - the heavens opened, the Spirit descended, the voice of the Father testified. Now John testifies - Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus isn’t much to look at. We don’t even know what Jesus looked like. We have no pictures, not even a description. He probably looked like any other Israelite. Isaiah said: “No beauty that we should desire, or even notice Him.” Jesus is an ordinary looking blue collar worker from Nazareth. Behold Him. Look at Him. He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
“Lamb” speaks of sacrifice. That’s what lambs were good for. Their blood was poured out on the altar and sprinkled on the mercy seat. Their bodies roasted on the fire, sometimes consumed entirely, sometimes shared in communion. The lamb was your substitute, your vicarious victim. You brought your lamb to the temple, perhaps purchased from one of the shepherd’s who worked in the Bethlehem’s fields. You laid your hands on the animal’s head while confessing your sins to the priest. You looked into the eyes of the lamb, and he looked back at you. A great exchange life for life. The lamb died in your place.
Remember Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of the promise, walking up the mountain of Moriah with his father, carrying the wood, and the knife, and the fire. “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering,” asked young Isaac. “The Lord will provide,” proclaims faithful Abraham. Abraham believed that, even as he tied his boy to the altar and raised the knife to kill him. And then a voice, the voice of Christ calling out to Abraham. “Abraham, Abraham. Do not lay a hand on the boy.” And behold the lamb, a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. A substitute sacrifice. Life for life.
Remember Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when Israel’s sins were atoned with blood. There were two goats. One let loose in the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people. The other sacrificed, its blood poured out on the cover of the ark in the most holy place. Through the blood God dealt with His people. “For the live of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev 17:11).
Every day in Israel a lamb was killed - one in the morning, one in the evening, the morning and evening sacrifice for the sins of Israel. Behold (T) the lamb.
It seems so crude, so primitive, so “uncivilized” by our unholy western principles. All this blood shed, this “cruelty” to innocent animals, this unwarranted, horrible death, the smoke and fire of the holocaust (burnt offering). How crude and awful! We shudder even at the thought as we sit in comfortably padded pews in neat little rows in clean, odorless churches. How good it is that we live in the New Testament and don’t have to deal with all this blood! Right? Wrong! So wrong!
Behold the Lamb of God. His blood is the cleansing of your sin. The Scriptures are painfully clear, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. So whose blood will it be? Yours or the Lamb’s? We try to atone for our own sins. That’s the basis of all other “religion.” God must be appeased. We need to make a sacrifice. We’ll offer up our guilt, hoping that God will see how bad we feel and be nice to us. We’ll sacrifice ourselves, our children, those around us, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally. We offer up our marriages, our sobriety, our sanity. We may cut ourselves until we bleed, but that blood of ours brings no peace. We offer up the unborn on the altar of abortion, but the stain of sin cannot be removed.
There must be blood. Without blood, there is no forgiveness. Real blood! Not spiritual blood or virtual blood or make-believe blood. But real blood! A real life for a real sinner! “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). That’s the blood you need. Your blood can not atone for sin; it can not pay for your life. Nor can any other blood of save. Except one - the Lamb, God’s Lamb, the One who takes away the sin of the world.
This is the heart of our faith as baptized believers. This is the core of Christianity. Here we find in a single sentence the mystery of our faith - Jesus is God’s Lamb, uniquely, the only One there is and the only One we need. He is spotless and sinless, without Adam’s sin for God is His Father. Jesus is an unblemished Lamb without fault, a perfect offering for sin. He was washed in the Jordan River in preparation for His sacrifice. He became one with you in your sin. He who was without sin took your sin upon Himself, all of them. You know all the ways you sin against God and those around you.
In God’s eyes He became the idolater, though He feared, loved, and trusted God the Father above all things. He became the blasphemer, though He lived and spoke the Name of God in purity. He became the Sabbath breaker, though He kept the Sabbath perfectly, honoring God’s Word. He became the disobedient Son, though He was obedient to His parents and rendered to Caesar that which was Caesar’s. He became the murderer, though He never laid hands on another human being except in blessing and healing. He became the adulterer, though He was chaste and pure in thought, word, and deed. He became the thief, though He never took a penny from another. He became the liar, though He spoke the truth with every breath. He became the restless coveter, though He was content to live by every word that proceeded from the mouth of God.
He became the bearer of your sin, bearing it like a Lamb, bleeding and dying with it for you as your Substitute. Only Jesus did that, and no one else. There have been brilliant men, and great religious leaders, and people of great moral and ethical persuasion. But there is no man on the face of this earth in all of human history who is God’s Lamb, except His perfect sinless Son who takes away your sin by His death, and makes that forgiveness your own in your Baptism and in His Supper. Behold the Lamb of God.
He takes away the sin of the world. This too is a marvelous thing. He is not just for us, but for the world. Not just for those who love Him and believe in Him and desire to serve Him, but for those who don’t. He is God’s Lamb for the world. The world doesn’t know this, and it may not want to know. But it is true nonetheless. John pointed to Jesus, and his own followers went to Jesus. Andrew had to get his brother and tell him the news. “We have found the Messiah,” or more accurately, “The Messiah has found us.” He brought his brother to Jesus.
You can’t keep Him to yourself. He’s God’s Lamb for the world, and God wants the world to know about Him, and He wants you to tell the world. You are like John, pointing and proclaiming. Look at Jesus. He’s the Lamb of God who was offered up for the sins of the world. He is the offering that covers all the world’s sins, all of its idolatries and adulteries, its homicides and genocides, its terrorism and fanaticism, its inhumanities and sufferings. There are those in the world today who believe they must die to advance the kingdom of God and take others along with them. There are those who believe that we are to fight a holy war for God. Here’s the truth - God’s Son has already died to save the world. God Himself has waged His own holy war against our sin, our death, the devil and won by dying on a cross and rising from the dead.
It is true that you cannot live unless you die. But it’s also true that you cannot live in death unless you die in Jesus. His alone is the death that conquers Death once for all. His is the life that raises life out of death. Baptized into Jesus, trusting in Him and all His promises to you, you are joined to Jesus in His death and His life. Your Baptism tells you for certain that Jesus is God’s Lamb who takes away your sin. What He does for you, He does for the world. Point and proclaim it to the world, as Andrew did for Simon, as Philip did for Nathaniel, as John did for his disciples. The world needs to hear it; the world is literally dying to hear it; the world cannot live without it.
Behold (T) the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. And He has taken away all yours sins too, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen and amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.