Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sermon for Epiphany 2: "Behold, the Lamb of God"

+ 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – January 19th, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Cor. 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 In a simple, one-sentence sermon, John tells us everything we need to know about Jesus….everything we need to know about our life in Christ as his church, as his children. Everything else you can say about Jesus or about the Christian faith is really just an expansion of John’s confession: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

This is what separates Christianity from all the world’s religions. God is “beholdable.” He is not mythical or unapproachable. He is not distant or absent. In Jesus, God is approachable, knowable, tangible. Men saw Jesus, heard him, touched him, ate with him. Jesus is no mythical figure; he didn’t live in “never-land or” “once upon a time” or “in a galaxy far, far away.” He was born in the days of Caesar Augustus. Crucified Under Pontius Pilate. The Christian faith – just like Jesus – is historical.

And this makes John’s confession all the more remarkable. When John stands in the wilderness and points to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb!” he’s pointing to God in human flesh. God with a human face. God who is truly bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh.

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And in the Scriptures, a Lamb means one thing: Sacrifice. Sacrifice is God’s way of covering our sin and guilt. Sacrifice is God’s way of taking our death and giving us life in exchange.

The Lamb meant sacrifice. Substitute. A life for a life. The innocent for the guilty.

As John cries out, “Behold, the Lamb!” three OT events come to mind.

After the fall, God clothed Adam and Eve’s nakedness and shame. And God did this with animal skins. Seems ordinary enough, but where did those skins come from? That’s right…sacrifice. A substitute. A life for a life. The innocent for the guilty. There are even some reformation paintings depicting a lamb as the animal whose life was given and blood was shed to clothe Adam and Eve. 

Then there’s Abraham and Isaac. Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” And as they’re heading up the mountain of sacrifice, Isaac says to Abraham, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

And he did. The Lord provided.

Finally, we can’t forget the Passover lamb came. There the guilty sinner would place his hands – and his sin - on the Lamb. And the Lamb would die. Sacrifice. Substitute. A life for a life. The innocent for the guilty. Guilt covered. Sins forgiven and atoned for. Blood covered the doorpost. And Israel ate the flesh of the Lamb who was slain for them.

All of Old Testament history – the tabernacle and temple – all of it is soaked in sacrificial blood. All of those OT rams and lambs and sacrifices find their fulfillment in John’s words. Jesus is the Lamb of God whose blood cleanses us from all sin.

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

John points us to Jesus.  Some of the best artwork of John the Baptizer displays his bony, weathered elongated index finger extended, pointing to Christ Crucified. John must decrease. Jesus, the Lamb of God must increase.

John’s finger points us to the cross and to our Savior.

But where do our fingers point?

Behold, the sins of…well, anyone else but me. That’s how we prefer it. It’s easier to behold the sin in the lives of our family members, friends, and fellow members than it is to admit that we’re sinful and unclean. It’s easier to drag up the sins of others like crab off the HB pier and show them off to the world than it is to admit that we like sheep have gone astray. It’s easier to point our finger at others’ sin than to admit that we are poor miserable sinners.

But God’s Law doesn’t let us point fingers at others or their sin. The finger of God’s Law, the same finger that engraved his commands in stone, points us to the mirror. Behold, the sin of the world that take away the Lamb of God. Our boasting and pride led to his suffering and humility. Our loveless hearts led to his betrayal and abandonment. Our guilt and sin, led to his judgment and death.

But don’t you see? This is why Jesus came, to be your sacrificial Lamb. To be your substitute. To give his life for your life. Jesus, the innocent one, for you, the guilty. This is why John’s words still ring out today, for us…

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Notice that John says “sin” not just sins. Jesus goes to for the jugular of our condition. Not only does he die for our sins, Jesus becomes Sin for us. Jesus becomes 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.

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And if Jesus has taken away your sin. You can’t have it back. It’s not yours any more. It belongs to him. For a Lamb means sacrifice. A substitute, a stand-in. Jesus’ life for your life. His life’s blood in exchanged for yours.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Looking back upon Redeemer’s 50th anniversary, this is what it was all about. Remembering 50 years of pointing our members, preschool families, and community to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is what Pastor Harmelink has been doing here in this congregation for the past 17 years, week in and week out, proclaiming “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.” This is what he’ll continue to be doing in St. Louis: Behold the Lamb of God who’s been taking away the sins of the world throughout all our church’s history. And what a blessed history it is.

You see, John’s words are also the church’s words. John’s confession is our confession. Today, Redeemer stands like John in a wilderness: a wilderness that devalues and dehumanizes life from womb to tomb; a wilderness full of creature comforts with little care for God’s unborn indefensible, outcast, homeless creatures; a wilderness that mocks Christianity and martyrs Christians in unfathomable numbers; a wilderness that revels in man’s increase and Jesus’ decrease.

And so each of us a little “John the Baptizer”, pointing to Jesus and declaring to Huntington Beach, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, and everyone in need: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Evangelism really is that easy. Caring for our neighbor is that easy.

That’s what our preschool does for children and families. That’s why this congregation wants to support Hispanic ministry in our community. That’s what goes on daily in our music academy. That’s what our Lord calls you to do in your vocation as you serve others.

And just like John, we find an oasis and a haven in the wilderness in the waters of Baptism, in Jesus. Because Jesus isn’t just beholdable in your confession of faith and life outside this church. John’s words are true inside the church as well. In fact, in many ways you have it better than John. For Jesus is still heard and touched, and seen throughout the holy Christian church. Jesus still eats and drinks with sinners.

Behold, the Lamb of God truly present in, with, and for His church. Behold, the Lamb of God who shepherds you by His Word. Behold, the Lamb of God in the water of your Baptism. Behold the Lamb of God in your sins forgiven and absolved. Behold, the Lamb of God who was slain and gives you his flesh to eat in the Supper. Here, in the Supper, John’s words are constantly fulfilled…take and eat; take and drink…

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes the sin of the world...for you.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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