The Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany
St Paul Lutheran Church, Manito, IL
Rev. James T. Batchelor
There is a basic formula in physics that draws all the disciplines of that science into one sentence and that formula is F=ma. F stands for force, m stands for mass, and a stands for acceleration. Force equals the product of mass and acceleration. It is said that if you can learn everything about force, mass, and acceleration, and their relationship in this formula, you will know all of physics.
There is a sentence like that in today’s Gospel. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) If you could understand everything there is to know about this sentence, you would be worthy of the title Doctor of Theology many times over. This sentence from John the Baptizer is one of the most powerful expressions of the Gospel in the Bible. Within the full meaning of these words are all the sentences of all the Creeds of the Church.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The word Behold is an epiphany word. It means look here; I want to show you something. John uses this word so that he can show Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to his listeners and to us. He had already received an epiphany from God. Last week we learned that after John baptized Jesus, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice declared that this Jesus was God’s beloved Son. Now John is proclaiming this epiphany to his listeners. He is doing the work of a prophet and pointing to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and savior of the world.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Now, although some sacrifices required bulls, goats, or birds, the lamb more than any other animal was the animal required by most of the sacrificial regulations of the ceremonial law. The word Lamb as it is used in this sentence brings to mind the continuous flow of blood from the altar in Jerusalem. Consider the multitude of regular sacrifices: the morning and evening sacrifices, the purifications, the sin and guilt offerings, and so forth. Then there are the many festival sacrifices: the Feast of Booths, the Pentecost, the First Fruits, and let’s not forget the Passover. When John says the word Lamb the image of all these sacrifices comes to mind.
All devout Jews knew that they were the ones who should be sacrificed. They knew that they had earned God’s eternal wrath with their sins. Just as they knew that sheep are amazingly stupid regarding the things of this world, so they also knew that they themselves were equally stupid regarding the things of God. This image was so strong that God often referred to the people as his sheep with Himself as their shepherd. They understood that the sacrificial lamb was taking their place. Now John was saying that this man who was the shepherd had become a lamb in order to become the sacrifice for them. The word Lamb reminds us of the sacrifice that was made in our place.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This Lamb is God’s Lamb. The sacrificial Lamb of Old Testament ceremony must not have any blemishes or spots. It was to be as close to perfect as is possible on this sin filled earth. Its sacrifice was to remind the people that one day God would send His perfect lamb to make the sacrifice pointed to by all the sacrifices described in the Scriptures.
John is saying that this man is God’s Lamb. He is not just close to perfect. He is perfect. He is the culmination of all the sacrifices of all time. He is the sacrifice that fulfills the first sacrifice that God made when he killed some animals to provide the skins that covered Adam and Eve after they sinned. He fulfills the sacrifice that Abel offered and He fulfills the sacrifices that Noah offered after he landed safely in the ark. He fulfills the sacrifices of Abraham including the sacrifice he made after he nearly sacrificed his own son, Isaac. He is the one time for all sacrifice that makes all the other sacrifices meaningful.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The words the sin gather the stench of sin into one disgusting mass of evil. It includes all the wars and murders and rapes and thefts. It includes all the sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that anyone at any time has ever had. It includes the sinful nature that we were born with. It includes all our gossip, complaints, grumbling and worry. It includes every lie we have ever told to our parents, our teachers, our spouses, our children, our pastors, ourselves, yes, even the lies we have told to God. It includes the thoughts we had as our eyes lingered a little too long on that member of the opposite sex. It includes everything putrid and vile that you, I, or anyone else has ever thought, done, or said that flew in the face of God’s holy law and earns us eternal damnation.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The words of the world mean that the work of God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ is good for the whole world, not just those who believe. The word for world in this sentence is the root for the word cosmos. This word means everything that God has created, everything that God has brought into being by the command of his word. God’s gifts are not German or Roman or Greek or Jewish. They transcend all nations and people groups. They are not restricted to the rich or the poor or the young or the old. They are for all people in all times and in all places. There is no sin anywhere by anyone that this Lamb of God does not take away.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The words takes away are just one word in the original Greek. That word means to lift up and carry to another place. This means that the Lamb takes the load, the curse, the damnation of the total massive amount of sin onto himself. He lifts the awful burden from us and carries it to the cross. There our sin is crucified with the Lamb. There our sin is put to death. This one act of lifting and carrying away our sin is good for all time.
The path that Jesus took when he carried the sin of the world began when he was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. There He put on humanity and humbled that humanity under the authority of the law. John’s words tell us that it is Jesus’ vocation to carry away the sin of the world. John’s words tell us that Jesus was already carrying the sins of the world when he made his declaration, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
When John said these words, he considered the taking away to already be a done deal. The forgiveness of sins that comes as a result of the Lamb’s sacrifice was already available to all. All the saints of the Old Testament received salvation because this Lamb’s sacrifice is good for all time and all places and all people. God’s promise is as if John had already heard Jesus declare his victory from the cross with the words, “It is finished.”
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The word the before the word Lamb tells us that there is only one Lamb. This Lamb that John points out is the one and only savior. There is no other. All the other faiths of the world tell us that we must earn our own salvation, but, as soon as we are honest, it is easy to see that no one can earn his own place in heaven. No one is good enough. People can lead lives of desperation in their sin, they can wear their conscience down to a pulp so they do not feel their sin, but they can’t save themselves. Only the Lamb of God can do that.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! We respond to John’s declaration in the Divine Service. God reveals the presence of the Lamb in the sacrament and we ask for mercy as we approach this altar and sing O Christ Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the World, have mercy upon us. Here we will eat the flesh of the Lamb and drink his true blood. Here we will join with angels, archangels, and the armies of heaven to glorify God with the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory; Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, Blessed is He, Blessed is the Lamb that cometh in the name of the LORD.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This sentence will stand forever. Long after this world is gone – long after that physics formula of F=ma is no longer valid because God has created a new heaven and anew earth – we will gather in eternity and say, Revelation 5:12 “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Revelation 5:9-10 and we shall sing a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! When John the Baptizer saw Jesus, pointed at him, and said this short sentence, he said more than I can possibly explain this morning. When God inspired John the Evangelist to quote John the Baptizer, God gave us something to think about and to comfort us for the rest of our lives and on into eternity.
When John baptized Jesus he witnessed an epiphany of the Triune God. Jesus, the Son of God, was stepping up from the water, the Spirit of God that descended like a dove, and the Divine Voice that spoke from heaven. (Matthew 3:16–17) John to this marvelous epiphany by sharing it with his disciples as he urged them to follow Jesus with the words we heard today: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”Many of John’s disciples followed Jesus. We heard about two of them in today’s reading. These two ended up spending the rest of the day with Jesus.
One of the disciples was Andrew. How did he respond to his time with Jesus? He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus. (John 1:41–42) John shared his epiphany with his disciples and brought them to Jesus. Andrew shared that epiphany with his brother, Simon Peter, and brought him to Jesus.
Down through the centuries, Christians have been sharing this same epiphany with friends and family and bringing people to Jesus. Today, I have shared that epiphany with you. You, in turn, can share this epiphany with your friends and family. You might even think about the words of John the Baptist when you share: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Amen