John 01:29-42 / 2 Epiphany A / 16 January 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” In one, simple sentence, John the Baptizer completely summarizes the whole work of Jesus Christ and the entire Christian faith. Everything else you can say about Jesus or about the faith that confesses Him is really just an expansion of this one sentence. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Behold. Look. Fix your eyes on Jesus. There in the water of the Jordan baptized for you. There on the cross. There in the water of your Baptism. There in the Supper. Behold. He is “beholdable.” The Word has become Flesh and dwells among us. Men saw Him, touched Him, heard Him, ate with Him. You cannot behold mythical figures or concepts. But John could extend his hand and point his finger at a person and say, “Look at Him.”
It seems obvious, I know, but today, 2000 years later, we can easily forget that this Jesus whom we trust for our salvation, this Jesus who reveals God to us, is a real, historic figure. A man who walked on this earth, who left his footprints in the dust of history, whose death and resurrection are the pivot point of human history. When John says “Behold,” he is pointing at something, someone. God in the Flesh. God with a human face. God bearing the material of our humanity. Christianity is not a disembodied faith because God is not disembodied. He is someone that could be seen.
Behold. John turns the attention away from himself to Jesus. Jesus must increase; John must decrease. John had disciples who followed him. But he pointed them to Jesus. Andrew had been a disciple of John, but he followed John’s pointing finger to behold the Lamb of God for himself. He found his brother, Simon (later called Peter) and brought him to Jesus that he might behold for himself.
That’s who the Christian faith grew and spread. People pointing others to Jesus and saying, “Behold the Lamb.” You might even think of the church as a John the Baptist, pointing people to Jesus. This is the church’s “witness,” her “testimony.” It’s not about what God has done for me lately, or rules to follow, or programs to get your life back on track again. Just tune in to contemporary Christianity and you’ll find all sorts of programs labeled “Christian” from dieting to exercise to improving your sex life. But none of this has anything to do with Christ, and if it points anywhere but to Jesus it’s not Christian.
It’s a good litmus test. Can you what you are going to say and in the same breath point to Jesus and say “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” If it doesn’t sound right or doesn’t seem to fit, maybe what you are saying has nothing to do with Christ or with Christianity.
Behold the Lamb of God. God’s Lamb. John could not have been clearer concerning why the Son of God became Flesh to dwell among us. He is the Lamb of God, which can mean only one thing in biblical terms: Sacrifice. Every lamb, ram, bull and goat in the OT pointed to this Lamb. This is the lamb the shepherds of Bethlehem came to see on that night they were tending their lambs in the field. He is the ram who saved Isaac. He is the Passover lamb whose blood meant freedom and life for the Israelites. He is the whole burnt offering and sin offering. He is the atoning sacrifice of the Day of Atonement whose blood makes atonement for sin.
Lamb of God means substitute, stand-in, His life’s blood exchanged for yours. We heard it last week at the Baptism of Jesus. Standing in solidarity with sinners Jesus was baptized as a sinner though He knew no sin. He trades places with us. He becomes Sin so that we might become His righteousness.
The idea of blood sacrifice seems almost barbaric to our ears. The notion that an animal had to be bled to death for a person to be right with God is offensive to many. You certainly couldn’t say that not animals were harmed in the making of the old testament. The history of Israel and the temple is soaked in sacrificial blood. And the only reason it doesn’t continue, the only reason the church offers no bloody sacrifice is this Lamb of God whose blood cleanses us from all sin.
C.S. Lewis, the Christian apologist, once described religions as either “clear” or “thick.” Clear religions were religions of the mind and the spirit. They were etherial, theoretical, intellectual, individual. They involved prayer and meditation. Thick religions, on the other hand, were religions of the body. They involved ritual and sacrifice. They were earthy and bloody. He noted that Christianity is rather uniquely both. It can be as cerebral and meditative as Buddhism and at the same time it is as earthy and physical as a tribesman offering the blood of a goat on an altar.
This is why Christians rally around a crucifix rather than a plain cross. The symbol of a cross is not a uniquely Christian symbol. Medical aid comes with a “red cross.” We put crosses on the side of the road when there is an accident, or we use crosses to mark graves even when the person buried there isn’t Christian. Entertainers wear crosses as part of their bling. But put a corpus on the cross and it immediately and unmistakably becomes a symbol of Christianity. The highest symbol. Behold the Lamb of God. See Him on the cross and contemplate His wounds that are your healing. We glory in a death and a blood because this death brings life and this blood brings healing and forgiveness. This Lamb comes with a cross because that’s what lambs are for – they die for the sins of others.
This Lamb dies for the sin of the world. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” First notice that it is “sin” in the singular, not “sins” in the plural. We tend to be preoccupied with our sins, the things we think, do, and say that are contrary to God’s Law. We agonize, at least sometimes, on whether this action or that action is a sin, usually when we are trying to justify ourselves or get away with something.
But your sins are only symptoms of your sin. Sin is the condition; sins are the symptoms. And we completely miss the diagnosis when we concentrate on sins as though they were the problem. Two examples. The person who believes that he can get rid of his sins by working harder, praying harder, and believing harder is not engaging the disease but is in the business of symptom management. You can have a disease and not have any symptoms. Or you can do things to mask the symptoms. If you have cancer but are “symptom-free” do you still have cancer? The answer of course is “yes, of course.” And it would be silly to say, “Since I don’t have any symptoms, I don’t have any diseases.” Some of the most deadly of our diseases are “silent,” you don’t show symptoms until it’s too late. That’s why when people ask me how I am, I like to say “symptom-free today” which usually gets a very funny look.
A second example. When it comes to sin, a baby is essentially symptom free, and whatever symptoms they might show, we can pretty much right off or ignore under the umbrella of cuteness. But just because they can’t speak slanders, lies, and blasphemies, and just because they can do much lying on their backs with the feet kicking the air, doesn’t mean they don’t have the inherited disease of Adam’s sin. In fact, it doesn’t take terribly long for the symptoms to show up with the first cry to test to see if I’m the center of the universe and everyone will run to attend to my every need to the first willful “no.” And things don’t stop with the terrible two. We tend not to improve with age. By our adolescence, Sin has pretty much taken over our thoughts, words, and deeds. And the more control we have over our own lives, the more sin shows itself.
We aren’t sinners because we commit sins. If that were the case, it would be easy to stop being sinners. Stop sinning. Exercise some self-restraint, suck it up, and knock off the sinning. But you and I know it doesn’t work that way. How are those New Year’s resolutions working out for you? With the apostle Paul we have to admit that the good we want to do we don’t do, the evil we don’t want is what we do, whenever we try to do good evil lies close by, the greasy fingerprints are all over even the best of our good works.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Not sins. Sin. He deals with the condition. He goes for the source. He doesn’t simply take up our sins, He becomes the Sinner. Jesus becomes Sin for us – the blasphemer, the murderer, the adulterer, the thief, the liar, the cheat, the gossip. He becomes Sin in order to put Sin to death in our flesh, in His flesh. This innocent, spotless, sinless Lamb of God takes up our sin. He is the cure, the medicine, the antidote. The sting of Death is Sin. He took the sting, He absorbed its venom – the Law that kills us. He died with it. It killed Him and in dying, He conquered Sin.
At the Long Beach aquarium they have a tank full of these water snakes that are among the most poisonous in the world. As is true in the snake world, they are quite beautiful and quite deadly. They keep a supply of anti-venom at the Long Beach hospital for the workers who tend these snakes. Anti-venom is made by exposing another animal, a substitute, to the poison and then harvesting the antibodies that provide immunity. We children of Adam are snake-bitten, poisoned by the lie of the serpent who deceived Eve and brought sin and death to Adam. Christ, our Lamb, willfully exposed Himself to the sting of Death and lived. He’s immune. And He gives that immunity to us in the fruits of His sacrifice – His Body and HIs Blood, which went through Death and conquered Sin. That’s why Ignatius and other fathers of the early church called the Lord’s Supper the “medicine of immortality.” This is why the church from her earliest centuries of worship has sung the hymn “Lamb of God” during the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper. The Lamb’s body and blood are the anti-venom to the deadly sting of Death and poison of the Law that kills the sinner.
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Not only for our sin but for the sin of the world. Not potentially, but actually. Not just for some but for all. This is an often misunderstood or even denied point. Christ didn’t comes as God’s Lamb to save the religious few but to save the world. He is not simply Israel’s Lamb or the Church’s Lamb or your Lamb if you choose to believe in Him. He is God’s Lamb for the whole world.
That means every sinner is included in this Lamb. Every sin is atoned for. Every person you meet has been died for by Jesus. There is no room for talk of Christ died for you if you do something. Repent, believe in Him, invite Him, submit to Him, etc. No. Christ died for you. Period. It is finished. Believe it. Receive it.
Would the world beat a path to the Church if it knew that we have the medicine of immortality, the true fountain of life that everyone searches for? They don’t know. And they live in denial of their condition. The symptoms don’t seem so bad at times. They dull the symptoms by indulging their pleasures and pursuing all sorts of things that promise life but in the end only mask the symptoms.
Andrew went and told Peter about Jesus. He brought his brother to Jesus. That’s how it works. We know where the cure for Sin is. We know who the Lamb is. We know where He can be sought and found, in the Word and the Sacrament. If you had a cancer and you went to a clinic and against all odds you were healed, would you keep it a secret? If you knew someone else with the same condition, would you not tell them, urge them, bring them?
Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. There no sweeter sentence to hear or to say. And as God’s baptized people, as those living under the Lamb in His kingdom, you and I have the privilege of hearing and speaking it. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
In the name of Jesus,