Look, the Lamb of God!
A sermon based on John 1:29
Sunday, December 14, 2014 – Advent 3B/Children's Program
What a weirdo! He dressed in wacky clothes. He ate funny foods. He was such an odd duck. Yet, strangely instead of pushing people away, his unusual behavior drew the crowds to him. They wanted to see this weirdo with the powerful message.
So John, dressed in his camel's hair cloak and eating his locust and honey, preached to the people who came to him east of the Jordan River. He preached a message a repentance, he preached a message of hope, of forgiveness, of Christ.
Our text for consideration this morning is just one short verse. A declaration of John with a powerful truth. Our text is John 1:29 : "John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'"
Jesus certainly had a lot of titles, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews, the Ancient of Days. But now John gave him another: The Lamb of God.
What did John mean when he called Jesus a lamb? Well, reference was well known to any first century Jew because they were familiar with the Passover celebration which was only a week away.
The Passover, of course, pointed back to God's spectacular rescue of the Israelites from Egypt. Specifically, it pointed back to the last of the 10 plagues. Every firstborn male in all of Egypt would be mercilessly slaughtered in a single night, unless… a lamb was killed in its place—a perfect lamb without blemish or defect, a lamb that was roasted whole without any bones being broken.
And this lamb was really the prototype of all of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Every day animals would be offered to God on the altar just outside the tabernacle and, later, outside the temple. But why? Why did God demand a worship service that more closely resembled a butcher shop to a modern church? Well, he was teaching his people with a very vivid, multi-sensory object lesson.
First, he was teaching his people about sin. Sin is not just a mistake. It's not just a "oops." It is rebellion against God. Even if it is accidental it is an offense to him—an offense so great that something must die. It is so offensive to God that it must be punished by death.
And let's face it friends, we have all sinned. Whether intentionally or accidentally we have all broken God's sacred commandments time and time again. He summed them all up with a single word: Love. But can anyone here honestly claim that they've been perfectly loving—that is always seeking the good of others ahead of yourself—to everyone all of the time?! That's what God demands. Yet we've all been selfish, which is just another word for sinful. And the penalty for such selfishness which so often shows itself in what we think, in what we say, in what we do, is death. Any sin is a capital crime against God which deserves his eternal death penalty which we call hell.
But God was teaching his people more by the sacrificial system and by the lamb that was slaughtered. You see, it's also a vivid object lesson of God's rich grace. While sin is so offensive to God that it must be punished by death, by hell, God was also teaching his people something wonderful! He would allow a substitute to die instead of the rebellious sinner.
So he commanded a lamb to be slaughtered in place of the first-born son. He commanded the blood to be painted on the doorframe of the house in faith. He commanded a ram or goat or sheep or bull to be killed in place of the guilty sinner. And the people saw that God would permit a substitute to die instead of them. What a wonderful grace of God!
But of course, "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:4) The sacrificial system that God had prescribed could never really do what the people needed it to. But it was never meant to. It was only meant to point ahead to Jesus.
When the Jews heard John talk about the Lamb of God, perhaps they thought of Isaiah 53:7 which spoke of the coming Savior: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth."
This is the one John revealed, not just any lamb, but THE Lamb. The one Lamb to fulfill the picture that every other lamb (and sheep and bull and ram and goat) ever sacrificed on that alar pointed to. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for son.
The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews wrote, "Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself." (Hebrews 7:27)
Jesus' sacrifice on the cross could pay for the sins of every person of all time because he was, because he is, God—God in the flesh to live a perfect life for you, to die an innocent death for you, that you might be forgiven and forever spared from God's righteous wrath.
This is the Lamb that's John revealed to you: "The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" And remember: John didn't say "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the problems of the world" or "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the pain and suffering of the world." But much better! "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
And because the Lamb of God is the Son of God we know his sacrifice was sufficient payment for the sins of the world. Because he paid for the sins of the world, we, who live in the world, can be certain that he's paid for our sins. He lifted our sins on himself, carried them to the cross, and took away our guilt and shame, our punishment and our fear for ever!
A tourist once visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church's tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he had not only survived, but was barely injured. How did he survive? It just so happened that a flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time he fell, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved. So, to commemorate that miraculous escape, they carved a lamb on the tower at the exact height from which the man fell.
The Lamb of God has done more than just save us from falling to our deaths. He's saved us from our sins. And as we continue to look to the Lamb of God and to his great sacrifice for us, we can't help but be a little weird and sacrifice our selfishness to him to live for him in thanks by serving others in love. In his name, dear friends, amen.
O Jesus, Lamb of God, you are My comfort and my guiding star;
I come, a sinner, trustingly And bring my many sins with me.
O Lord, my sin indeed is great; I groan beneath the dreadful weight.
Be merciful to me, I pray; Take guilt and punishment away.
Saint John the Baptist points to you And bids me cast my sin on you,
For you have left your throne on high To suffer for the world and die.
Help me to change my ways, O Lord, And gladly to obey your Word.
While here I live, abide with me, Then take me home eternally. CW #27