John 1:29-42

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany – 1/15/2023

There was a time in our country when quality, dependability, and truthful claims, actually mattered to the sellers as well as the buying public. The sale of a product was completely dependent upon it. 

No one would buy your product if the claims made about it did not bear out. If the claim was made that the product would last 10 years, leave your floor spotless, or outperform the competition, then by thunder it better do so, or your sales would drop like the thermometer on a January night in Montana! 

I'm afraid things have changed dramatically today. Now it's all about image and the latest trends. Truth is sacrificed on the altar of results. Now to sell a product branding is crucial. Quality and value are secondary. Make your product have a sleek, cool, and dazzling design. Your marketing goal is to create a feeling in the potential buyer that he/she just has to have your product if he/she wants to be cool... a person everyone admires. Then your product will fly off the shelves even if it is subpar and useless. 

Unfortunately, many Christians today have bought into the same kind of slick advertising and branding techniques when it comes to attracting people to their churches. Here is the thought: Make your building sparkle with innovation and excitement. Poll the public and give people what they want. Create a worshipping environment that is fun, exciting, and engenders good vibes in your worshippers. Preach a Jesus that is personable, hip, and fun-loving so that contemporary people would love to hang out with Him! After all, the true Jesus and His true teachings might clash with the free-thinking, fun-loving, wokism of our hipster age and few will buy into it. The prevailing notion then is that if you want your church community to grow, you must be careful to hide the truth.

Such an approach is not only disingenuous and deceitful, but it is also sinful. But I suppose the presentation of a muddled picture of the real Jesus, even by those who claim to be Christians, ought not to surprise us. After all, the world has always been confused about Jesus. 

Even some of the people we come across in the pages of the Bible itself did not fully comprehend Jesus. Some saw Jesus as merely a great teacher. Indeed, He was and is a master teacher. The wisdom contained in even one of his parables is enough to confound the wisest among men. Others imagined Jesus as our friend.

And, certainly, who could disagree? 

You and I could do no better than to have such a friend who is willing to give up His life for us. Jesus was held up by some to be the King of Heaven and Earth. So He is. Even the children of Jerusalem knew that, extending to Him the accolade: "Hosanna to the Son of David!" Jesus is also esteemed and praised as the Great Miracle Worker. Who can argue? He made blind men see, sent demons packing, calmed the stormy winds and clouds, and even raised dead men to life. 

But as wonderful as all these images of Jesus are, Jesus often painted for us a whole different picture of Himself. 

He acknowledged that He was a King, but also emphasized that His kingdom was not of this world. He said His reign looks nothing like that of the kings of this world. He said that He came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for others.

Jesus accepted the title, of Rabbi, or teacher, but forewarned His pupils, "They will reject my word. And you will be hated on account of me." He called Himself the Good Shepherd but explained that His shepherding would mean laying down His own life for His sheep. Do you see a common thread here? 

This morning we hear God's appointed prophet, John, place before us a whole different image of Jesus than the one that our world wants to perceive. John does not preach about Jesus as the King... or the Miracle Worker ... or the teacher ... or a Shepherd… or even one who loves everyone. 

John did not even proclaim, "Behold, the Christ!" He left his hearers to draw that conclusion for themselves. So we see in the case of Andrew, who went and found His brother Simon and enthusiastically said, "We have found the Messiah (Christ)!" 

No, John pointed his hearers to Jesus and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world... I have seen and I have borne witness that this is the Son of God." To say that Jesus is the Lamb of God is to say that Jesus is the sacrifice for sinners. 

John the Baptizer is not alone in projecting this rather stark image of Jesus as a sacrificial lamb. He is joined by the apostle John in His Book of Revelation. Of all the images of Jesus that the apostle John could have left us within this final book of the New Testament, he points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God having been slain (Rev. 5:6)

He further describes for us a vision that he was shown of the end time, the day of final victory, and judgment. 

He writes, "Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city of life...No longer will there be any curse... The throne of God and the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him..." (Rev. 22:1,2a,3). 

This tells us that the most necessary image of Jesus to be portrayed to every generation, including our own, is that of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world." No other image of Jesus, nor any of His teachings, can truly be understood and appreciated apart from this witness that Jesus is the Lamb of God.

Under the Old Covenant, Israel was steeped in the Lamb of God imagery. It was a perfect, male, lamb that each household was to kill, smear its blood over the doorposts of their home, and then eat roasted as part of God's Passover. By the blood of this lamb, the angel of death passed over and did not harm. 

Yet, perhaps the real background for Jesus' being the Lamb of God has its grounding in the festival of the Day of Atonement that God instituted for Israel under the Mosaic covenant as described in Leviticus 16. On this day, the Priest would select two male lambs or kids (goats), without blemish. Laying his hand on the head of one, the priest would confess the sins of the people over it. That lamb, or scapegoat, would then be led out into the wilderness never to return. The other lamb would be sacrificed. Its blood would be taken by the priest into the Most Holy Place of the temple and sprinkled before the face of God on the Mercy Seat, the lid covering the Ark of the Covenant. The priest would also then take some of that blood and sprinkle it on the people to signify that their sins had been atoned for and taken away to bring them forgiveness. The blood of the sacrificed lamb enabled them to escape God's righteous wrath.

The blood of an animal could hardly atone for the sins of human beings. But these Old Covenant lambs were efficacious to redeem sinners only in so far as they pointed to The Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. In Hebrews, we read: "For the blood of bulls and goats can't take away sins... By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:4,10). "...through His blood, he entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption... for if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (9:12-14). 

The word John uses in our text, translated as "takes away", might more literally be translated as "taking up." As our Lamb, Jesus takes up our sins and puts them on Himself so that He might be "pierced through for our transgressions ... crushed for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53). Even though Jesus is the Son of God, He willingly submitted in all the weakness of a little lamb so that He might atone for your sins and mine. 

The holy apostle writes: "He who knew no sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God." The blood of this Lamb that purchases us is the blood of God! (Acts 20:28)

As John himself testifies, with his own eyes he witnessed the appointing of Jesus as this sacrificial Lamb. 

He saw the Spirit of God descend on Him, anointing Him to be the Sin Bearer. He heard the Father's voice boom from heaven signaling that this Jesus was the One upon whom the sins of the whole world were being placed.

Neither is this image of Jesus simply an afterthought. God determined even before the creation of the world that the Savior of Sinful humanity would need to suffer and die in its stead. Already when the first man sinned, God proclaimed that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the servant by being smitten on his heel (Gen. 3:15). And, yes, as we see from Isaiah, this morning, God appointed the person of Jesus already in the womb to be His suffering servant Who would atone for the sins of all sinners (49:1). 

Unfortunately, many today are offended by this image of Jesus as The Lamb of God. They abhor what they term "savagery and the blood." They consider reprehensible such a justice that demands the innocent to pay for the guilty. Such disdain certainly revealed itself a few decades back in the violent reactions to Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ." The very idea that the Savior of the world is a bloodied and battered corpse offends many. 

So what is it about this image that so ruffles the feathers of many in our world? I believe it is seen in this: the very fact that there needs to be a sacrificial Lamb proclaims that we are all sinners whose sins need to be atoned for. That, however, strikes at the very core of our pride… our self-esteem, if you will. Who wants to think that through his failures, disobedience, unholy thoughts, and actions, he has put himself under the wrath of God? 

We would much rather believe that there is some inherent good in us and that we can somehow earn God's good graces through our own merits. Then there is no need for a sacrifice!

The image of the sacrificial lamb is also offensive to some because it implies weakness. Our human nature can not comprehend that victories can be won through weakness. 

Accordingly, people would much rather picture Jesus as the Lion, who in His power, not His weakness, defeats His enemies. The image of a lamb turns them off!

But, dear fellow sinners, we need Jesus as the Lamb of God! As Martin Luther is quoted as saying, "Sin has but two places where it may be; either it may be with you so that it lies upon your neck, or Christ, the Lamb of God. If now it lies upon your neck, you are lost; if, however, it lies upon Christ, you are free and will be saved. Take now whatever you prefer" (Lenski, p. 130, 131).

It's no wonder then, that v. 29 of our text, which contains this beautiful testimony about Jesus being the Lamb of God, has always been revered so highly by Christians. It has been called "The Masterpiece of the Holy Ghost" (Reiger). It is quoted at least 5 times in the Book of Concord, our Lutheran Confessions, especially about the universal atonement of all sinners (Solid Dec. Art. XI). It is the basis for a chorus and alto Aria in Bach's "Mass in B Minor." It finds a central place in Handel's Messiah. It has found its way into the communion liturgy of the Church. We sing after the consecration of the bread and wine, that now have become the vehicles through which Christ brings us His body and blood: 

"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us...O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace." (LSB p. 198)

Having Jesus as our Lamb of God is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian and is the very essence of our comfort and joy. Other religions have their gods… their kings... their holy men… their teachers. They even have those who claim to be miracle workers and saviors. But none of them have the God-appointed sacrifice for sins. 

Accordingly, none of them have or can dispense to you the forgiveness of your sins and eternal salvation such a sacrifice brings.

When the two disciples of John caught up with Jesus, He questioned them, "What do you seek?" This a good question for us all to be asked. What do we seek by being in church today? What do we seek in our faith? What do we seek from Jesus? 

Do we simply seek a word of wisdom to guide us on our way... or someone to take away all our daily struggles... or someone who can heal all our hurts ... or someone to be our friend to listen to us, hold us, console us, and tell us how wonderful we are? Or do we seek that Savior who can set us free to live with the forgiveness of our sins?

On the banks of the Jordan River John shows you the real and saving Jesus. "Behold, The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" No greater King, Shepherd, Teacher, Friend, or Savior could ever be yours. See, He is the sacrifice appointed by God just for you. 

In Him, your sins have been atoned for and you have been granted forgiveness and eternal life! Go with the image of the Lamb and you will go in peace! 

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