Monday, January 24, 2011

Sermon - John 1:29-42 - Epiphany 2

John 1:29-42
Epiphany 2
January 16th, 2011
“Behold the Lamb”

We're two Sundays in to the season of Epiphany. And as I say every year, the big question for the Epiphany season is, “who exactly is this Jesus?”

We hear at his baptism – the voice from heaven declares it – he is God's own Son. That same voice will echo in a few weeks at his Transfiguration.

But in-between, we have a number of these Gospel readings which unfold and unpack different aspects of who Jesus is. Through his speech and actions, we get a clearer picture of this one who was born in Bethlehem, of whom angels sang. What is his identity? And if he is the savior, what kind of savior would he be?

Today, John the Baptist chimes in. He declares Jesus to be the “Lamb of God”. The text also calls him Rabbi, the Son of God, and the Messiah, that is, the Christ. All these names or titles tell us something about who Jesus is.

But Lamb of God is perhaps the most unusual name of these. It's a technical term in the Old Testament, having to do with the Passover. There a lamb, a perfect unblemished male lamb was slaughtered, and its blood was used on the doorposts to mark the homes of God's people. When the Angel of Death came for the final plague – to kill all the firstborn of Egypt, he would see the blood of the lamb and pass over that house. The Lamb was also roasted and consumed that night by God's people – a feast which was established then and carried over every year as remembrance of God's mercy to them – how God saved them from slavery in Egypt.

It's easy for us Christians to see how Jesus fits the bill of “Lamb of God”. He was the one, perfect sacrifice without spot or blemish. He is the one who saves by his blood – saves us from death. He is the one who is consumed in the wrath of God over sin, as he suffers its punishments for us. And we even continue to remember this blessed sacrifice in our holy sacrament – which he established, and we feast on him – body and blood, for the forgiveness of our sins.

Did John understand all this when he pointed out Jesus as the “Lamb of God?” Who knows. But he was right to direct our attention to Jesus.

He says, “Behold!” And that little word is important, too. “Take note!” “Look here!” “This is important!” We do well to “behold” Jesus. It might not seem so at first. For a bloody lamb slaughtered and roasted guts-and-all isn't a pretty sight. Nor is the sight of a man beaten and bloodied, shamed and humiliated, hung up on a cross with nails and thorns and sweat and agony.... no, Jesus isn't a pretty picture either. But John says, “Behold!”

The truth is, when we “Behold the Lamb”, and it's not pretty – it's not pretty because of sin. Sin is what's ugly. Sin's consequences – suffering, pain, death – are uglier still. And there on the cross Jesus becomes sin for us, “God made him, who had no sin, to become sin for us.' Oh yes, all well and good, pastor, sin is ugly.

But that's our sin we're talking about. Mine. Yours. When you behold the lamb who was slain, and see the bloody mess that sin makes, that's your mess! Are we accustomed to thinking of our sins in such terms? Are we used to thinking that every time we gossip or fudge the truth or slack off when we should be working – it means blood and death? Do we consider our sins that ugly, or have we become so accustomed to sinning that it's not a big deal anymore?

Sure, we are repulsed by CERTAIN sins – other people's sins, mostly. The child abusers and the drunk drivers. The people who cheat on their husbands or beat their wives. But what about the people whose love is cold? Who are too selfish? Who neglect to do the good that a child of God is called to do? What about people who just think evil thoughts and hold lust in their hearts? Jesus condemns such things too. We're not off the hook. We're just good at beholding other things besides our own sins.

Maybe the Old Testament people had better reminders than we do of this reality. As day after day bulls and lambs and doves were slain and butchered and burned in sacrifice for sin. An endless stream of blood poured out for the endless stream of sin and its wake of death.
And yet, it wasn't, ultimately enough. One hymn puts it well, “Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.”

But once you've truly beheld the bloody mess that is your sin, then once again “Behold the Lamb of God...who takes away the sin of the world.” And yes, that includes your sin, too.

Jesus is that lamb. Jesus takes that mess. He suffers for you, and for all people. And he dies. And there is nothing more important for us to behold, to look at, to pay attention to. For there in the Lamb of God, we see God's love for us sinners, and we are forgiven.

And that lamb is slain, only to rise again! We can behold him on the cross, and in the tomb, but we will see him, behold him, face to face one day – for he lives forever, and we will live with him forever. The Lamb is victorious, and he gives us a share in his victory.

Behold him again, today, as he comes in the sacrament. Though we don't see him with our eyes, we behold him by faith – according to his promise. This is his body and blood. Given and shed for you. This, here, is the lamb of God. Behold the lamb. Take eat, take drink, for your forgiveness.

And believe it for Jesus' sake. Amen.

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