Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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

+ 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – January 15th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

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

Ask most kids – or kids at heart – what one of their favorite parts of Christmas is and they’ll probably tell you something like this: giving and receiving gifts. But receiving it is only part of the joy. Look at it, shake it perhaps, and then open it in a flurry of paper, ribbons, and shredded tape. Whether it’s wearing those cozy pajamas, playing with the new Hot Wheels cars, or enjoying a game with family and friends - unwrapping a gift is also part of the joy.
In the Christian Church we experience something similar, but with greater joy. At Christmas God sends us his only begotten Son, the very Word of God, wrapped in human flesh born for you. Epiphany unwraps and reveals the meaning of this gift.

And who better to point us to Jesus than John the Baptist, the great forerunner of his birth who now heralds the beginning of his saving work for you.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

As John declares, in Epiphany, God reveals his gift to you, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. An incomparable, incomprehensible, and gracious gift exchange – Jesus takes our unrighteousness, sin, and death, and, in exchange, gives us his righteousness, perfection, and life.

And in the Scriptures, a Lamb means one thing: Sacrifice. Substitute. A life for a life. The innocent for the guilty.

All of the Old Testament sacrifices and prophecies find their fulfillment in John’s words: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 

After the fall, the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. How did God do this? The first sacrifice. A substitute. An animal gave its life to cover Adam and Eve’s shame and guilt. Some paintings in church history have even depicted a lamb as the animal whose life was given and blood was shed to clothe Adam and Eve.

And though Isaac was spared, there was a sacrifice. God said to Abraham: “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 the Lord provided.

Many years later the Lord gave his people the Passover Lamb. 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 the people ate the flesh of the Lamb who was slain for them. ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”

The prophet Isaiah also helps us unwrap John’s words. The prophet proclaims a coming servant of the Lord who will carry our griefs and bear our burdens. 

Who would be
 pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.

John unwraps all of this for us as he declares: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. If John the Baptist was a compass, his needle would always be pointing to Jesus Crucified for you. Behold, the Lamb of God whose sacrifice covers us from the guilt and shame of Adam. Behold, the Lamb of God, God’s Son, his only Son, the greater Isaac sacrificed for you. Behold the Passover Lamb of God whose blood sets you free. Behold, the Lamb of God who was pierced for our transgressions.

And just like John, this too must be revealed to us, for we are blind in sin, ignorance, and the darkness of death. That’s why John says, “I did not know him”. The Holy Spirit had to reveal who the Messiah was for John, just as he does for you. For without the Holy Spirit our only desire is for us to increase and Jesus to decrease; our every thought word and deed is selfish, self-centered, and self-serving, as if we were the Messiah that John points to. Behold the sin of the world – yours and mine - that takes away the Lamb of God.

This is the Lamb of God the Holy Spirit reveals to John. And the same Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to you. Behold,  the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.  And there’s only one way to take away sin. Blood. Jesus’ blood for your blood. Jesus’ life in place of your life under the Law of God. Jesus is judged in your place. He takes away sin by becoming Sin. He permits it to kill Him and He rises. And in His rising, He becomes the antidote, the medicine. His Blood, His life, for your blood and your life.

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is not simply the redeemer of the redeemable or the savior of the salvageable. He’s not the Lamb who takes away the sin of those who have the good sense to believe in Him. He takes away the sin of the world. No sin unaccounted for, no sinner left out.

In Epiphany, God reveals his gift to you, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.
In Epiphany we receive God’s gifts. And in Epiphany we also give God’s gifts to others.
The Holy Spirit’s work wasn’t done when John proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God. Jesus invited Andrew: “Come and see”. And Andrew told Peter, his brother: “We have found the Messiah!” and brought him to Jesus.

Jesus also invited Philip: “Follow me”. And Philip invited Nathanael to “Come and see”.
In Epiphany, we invite others to come and see Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away …
Like Andrew and Philip, we tell others we know, “Come and see” Jesus, here for you in his Word; Come and see Jesus who washes away your sin in Holy Baptism; Come and see Jesus present for your forgiveness in the Lord’s Supper.

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 the unborn and indefensible, outcast, or homeless; a wilderness that mocks Christianity; 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 who takes away your sin.” Each of you is like Andrew and Philip, called to tell your friends and neighbors, “Come and see Jesus”. Evangelism really is that easy.

That’s what our preschool does for children and families. That’s why this congregation supports Vicar Toma and the work he is doing in our community and congregation. That’s what goes on daily in our music academy and Sunday School. That’s why we sing, hold Bible studies, countless activities, and strive to be faithful to our Lord in all we say and do in this congregation.

In every other religion of the world, we offer sacrifices to God. Here, God offers His only Son. God provides the Lamb. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away your sin. In every other religion of the world, man must seek and find God. Here, God seeks and finds you. Here God reveals his gift for you. The Lamb of God who takes away your sin.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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