Saturday, January 29, 2005
Sermon - Epiphany 2 - John 1:29
January 16th, 2005
“What Are YOU Looking At?”
I. Introduction –
John 1:29 is one of those little verses of scripture that expresses, in a short phrase, a profound mystery. It has been called "the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit." It is quoted at least five times in the Book of Concord. It is the basis for a chorus and an alto Aria in Bach's Mass in B Minor. It is found in the Catechism. The Lutheran Hymnal has 6 hymns based on this verse. Even our communion liturgy uses it, the “Agnus Dei”, Latin, for the Lamb of God.
Unpacking this phrase, this short soundbyte of John, will help us answer the Epiphany question, “just who is this Jesus, anyway?” – for behold, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
First, John bids us to “Look!”
The old translation, BEHOLD- a command to look, but not just gaze at for a moment. Look, see, study, and appreciate. Concentrate on.
What normally occupies our attention in this way?
What are you looking at?
Our attention is usually occupied with, simply, ourselves. We are turned inward. Our attention, our focus, is usually on me and my wants and my desires. How can I look good? What will make me feel good? Happy? Looking at ourselves, though, as if the world revolves around us – this is really, the original sin – selfishness. We want to be God. We want “the eyes of all to wait upon” ME.
Now, sin has many forms, but it all looks the same to God. It is all worthy of punishment. It all means death. God’s rules leave no wiggle room, there is no “pretty good” or “not as bad as” the next guy. His perfect law demands perfect holiness from us, an image we have long since shattered. What are we looking at? If we were left in our sins, we would be looking at an eternal sentence of God’s wrath and punishment. We would be looking at the hopelessness of getting what we deserve. We would be staring eternal death in the face.
We could look to our own devices, our own abilities for salvation, but we wouldn’t find it there. We could search forever within ourselves, but never find enough good to please God or balance out our sins. Instead:
John says, “Behold the Lamb of God!” and when John says, "Behold!" he means more that wondering or considering. "Looking" is used in Scripture for faith: "Look unto me, and saved."
Just as the ancient Hebrews looked to the bronze serpent lifted high on a pole, and their snake-bites were healed, we look to the sin-bearing Christ, lifted high on the cross, and that Old serpent the Devil and his venom are no longer of concern. John says, Behold! LOOK! ATTENTION, Your savior is here.
Take your eyes off everything else, turn away from yourself and your sin, and behold the Lamb of God! You need not see anything else, nothing else is worth seeing; but behold Him, Jesus Christ alone. OK. So we’re looking. You’ve got our attention, John. Now what, who do we see?
III. The Lamb of God
John says “Behold the Lamb of God” and that phrase, “Lamb of God” meant something for John’s hearers. We must understand.
After sin came into the world and men were alienated from God, it was God's will that men offer animal sacrifices to make amends for their sin. Abel offered a lamb to God and it was accepted. Noah, Abraham, Jacob – all offered sacrifices.
The Passover lamb was offered as a sacrifice to save the people of Israel from the Angel of death during the final plague on Egypt.. God then took them to Siani and gave them a system of sacrifice, by which his people could deal with their sins, better, by which he promised to deal with their sins. The high point of the sacrificial calendar year was Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.
The goat on the Day of Atonement that was slaughtered for the sins of the people, had come over time, to be known as “the Lamb of God”. It is with this, and all the other lambs that were slain over some 1500 years – after so much blood was shed, now comes Christ – to whom all sacrifices point. To him, THE Lamb of God. The once and for all greatest, best, most perfect and without blemish, holy Lamb of God. One of a kind. Born to die.
And it would be no accident. For the lamb is also he that “Takes away the sin of the world”. What do you mean by that, John? And here another Epiphany theme – the inclusion of the gentiles – not just the Jews, but all nations – our eyes are directed to the Lamb of God, our savior. He takes away the sin of THE WORLD!
IV. Who Takes Away the Sin of the World
What the blood of millions of animals had anticipated, the blood of Jesus secures. What the lamb of Passover pointed to, Jesus Christ fulfills. What the goat on the day of atonement foreshadowed, Jesus makes reality. When we look at Jesus, as John bids us, we see the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. This was always the plan – but see what else Scripture says about Him who takes away the sins of the world:
Genesis 22:7-8,13. Abraham is about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, when the young man asks, "where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham responds by saying, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And indeed, there is a substitution made at the last moment – the ram caught in the thicket – provided by God. Is it not significant that Jesus himself was provided as our substitute – “God will provide the lamb”.
The Passover lamb of Exodus, which we mentioned earlier, was to be slain on the 14th of the Jewish month of Nisan. Is it an accident that Christ, the Lamb of God, died on the cross, the evening of the 14th of Nisan?
The blood of the Passover lamb was to be shed and then applied to the door posts of the house, and by this means the household was delivered from death. We are spared through the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 1:18-19. The blood is applied to us when we are baptized into Christ, Hebrews 10:19-22.
Exodus 12:8. The Passover lamb was to be eaten. Christ himself instituted the Lord's supper during the Passover meal that He shared with His disciples. In the Lord's supper we partake of Christ, the Lamb of our deliverance, 1 Corinthians 10:16. In 1 Corinthians 5:7 Christ is called our Passover which has been sacrificed.
Isaiah 53:5-7. The prophet Isaiah foresaw the coming of the Servant of the Lord who would be the sacrificial lamb that would take away the sins of Israel. This man would go to His death without speaking a word in His own defense, as a lamb led to slaughter. It is this passage that is read by the Eunuch in Acts 8:32-35, and Philip applies the prophecy to Jesus Christ. Jesus was silent before His accusers, Matthew 26:62-63, Matthew 27:12-14, and this very behavior is referred to by Peter in 1 Peter 2:21-24 who also quotes from Isaiah 53.
In His death on the cross, Jesus fulfilled every facet of Isaiah's portrayal of God's sacrificial lamb.
It is through this, once and for all, central sacrifice that we are saved, like Issac, like the Israelites, but even better. For more than our life – our eternal life is saved. Because the sins are gone. The lamb was slain. In fact, more than just Issac, or the Israelites – but all nations are saved in his sacrifice. Including you and me.
But the story doesn’t end there! There is ANOTHER picture of the Lamb presented in Scripture... again by the Apostle John, but this time in Revelation 5.
Now, the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world, the lamb who had been slain – is alive again! For our paschal lamb is a victorious one, conquering that which would conquer us – sin, the devil, the grave.Behold, the triumphal lamb! Rev. 5In the symbolic imagery of Revelation an angel is holding scroll with writing on both sides– there’s seven seals and he asks, “Who is worthy to open sucha scroll?” The answer comes from one of the elders: The Lamb, looking as if it had been slain. And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." And vs. 12 "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
And finally look to Revelation 7:14 where we read about the saints in heaven. Of them it is said, "they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." That’s us. Made clean by the blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ.
Hear again the words of John today, and hear them well: BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD. Look not to yourself, but to Jesus, trust in Him alone, and live – forever. All eyes on Jesus. Amen.
John the Baptists directs our eyes to Jesus, the Lamb of God. Seeing Him, we see our sins taken away. So we, like John, would direct all eyes to Jesus.