“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
John the Baptizer is our preacher, pointing the way, the only way to the One who is the Way, the Truth, the Life. Don’t look to John. He’s not much to look at anyway. Follow his bony, pointing finger and look to where he is pointing. Look to Jesus. Behold. See for yourself. John would draw all attention away from himself. He must decrease; Jesus must increase. Jesus is the coming One, the one whom John said was greater than him because He was before him, even though Jesus was six months younger than John. John was the prophet; Jesus 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.
He 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. “No beauty that we should desire, or even notice Him.” Not a celebrity, not one of the beautiful A-list people you see on television or read about in the celebrity section of the newspaper. An ordinary carpenter 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 throats were slit, their blood poured out on the altar and sprinkled. 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 the lamb in the eye, and he looked back at you. Life for life. The souls that sins shall die. 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,” young Isaac wondered aloud. “The Lord will provide,” faithful Abraham said. Abraham believed that, even as he tied his boy to the altar and raised the knife to kill him as God had commanded him. And then a voice, the voice of Christ calling out to Abraham. “Abraham, Abraham. Do not lay a hand on the boy.” 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, it’s 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 the lamb.
It seems so crude, so primitive, so “uncivilized” by our reckoning. 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 who’s blood will it be? Your’s or the Lamb’s? We try to atone for our own sins. That’s the basis of all “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.” That’s the blood you need. Your blood cannot atone for sin; it cannot pay for your life. Nor can the blood of any other save 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 father Adam’s sin for God is His Father. An unblemished Lamb without fault, a perfect whole burnt offering. He was washed in the Jordan River in preparation for His sacrifice. He became one with you in your sin. He is without sin, but He became your sin, all the ways you sin against God and those around you.
He became the idolator, 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 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, 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, and He wants you to tell the world about it. You are like John, pointing and proclaiming. Look at Jesus. He’s the Lamb of God who was offered up for the world. The whole burnt offering that covers the world’s sins – all of its idolatries and adulteries, its homicides and genocides, its terrorism and fanaticism, its inhumanity and suffering. 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 is 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 is 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 life. Your Baptism tells you for certain that Jesus is God’s Lamb for you 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 the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
In the name of Jesus,