Saturday, January 15, 2005

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Jan. 16, 2004, John 1:29

Second Sunday after Epiphany
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As many of you know my daughter Hannah is in Kindergarten this year. There is one thing that she anticipated more than anything else when she knew she was going to be in kindergarten. There was one Kindergarten institution that she looked forward to more than any other. It was Show and Tell. She couldn’t wait to go to school with something, anything, to use for Show and Tell. It has become a little ritual as she places the prize she is going to Show her classmates into her book bag. The joy of anticipation is on her face. This week it was a tooth she had to have pulled, but she’s also taken pictures of her family, stuffed animals that she was given, and even a game she got for Christmas. I can just imagine her standing in front of the class holding up, what-ever-it-is and saying, “Look! Here is something I want to tell you about!”

That’s John the Baptizer. He has something he knows about and wants Show and Tell. It is a prize, a gift, something wonderful, to Show and Tell. There is a sense of excitement in John’s words. It’s an excitement that bursts off of the page in the words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Now, maybe you don’t quite see the excitement in John’s language. Maybe the world “Behold” doesn’t quite convey it to you. Maybe a good modern translation would be “Give this guy the once over!” “Eyeball this!” or “Looky here!” How ever you translate it John is excited about what he is pointing to. His excitement comes from who it is that he is pointing to. “Look! Behold! The Lamb of God!” he says, “who takes away the sin of the world.”

John sums up everything he knows about Jesus in that short and meaningful sentence. He calls Jesus, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” At first it might not mean much to us, but for the people who had their feet in the water around John, it was full of meaning. Saying something was the Lamb of God automatically carried with it some very important ideas.

Every year, families would gather together for a celebration. The main course for the meal was a lamb. But it was a very special lamb. Three days before, the man of the house would go to select the perfect lamb for the meal. And not just perfect “for their family,” like we try to pick the perfect Christmas tree for the living room, but perfect without any marks or blemishes, spots or sores. It was to be a perfect little lamb. Once selected, this lamb would become one of the family, for the next three days. It would sleep and play with the children, move about the living spaces of the house, and eat at the table. It was to be loved and cared for as any other person who lived there. In fact, the family was expected to become attached to it because on the fourth day, in the afternoon, the lamb was taken to the temple, to be killed as a sacrifice for the family. I’m sure there were many tears shed, but the lamb it had to be done. In the temple, its blood was spilled into a bowl and splattered on the altar by a priest. The lamb was a substitute death, a member of the family, given in place of the firstborn of the family.

It was all done to remember how God had delivered them from slavery to Egypt. After nine other plagues, the King of Egypt still refused to allow the Hebrews to leave. God’s next step would be devastating. The first-born male of every family in Egypt would forfeit his life. God’s angel of death would cover the whole country and kill them all. But, a way was provided for God’s faithful people to be spared, a way for the angel of death to pass-over their houses. The blood of a perfect lamb spread on the doorposts of the house told the angel a death had already occurred. A substitute lamb was killed for the sake of the household. The bloody plague convinced Egypt that the slaves should be released. And God commanded that His people observe the sacrifice of the lambs every year. They were to keep the Passover in mind. God would do it again.

That day on the banks of the Jordan when John did his Show and Tell he may not have completely understood how it would all come about, but he did know that Jesus would take away the sin of the world. He knew that Jesus was God’s servant sent for that very purpose (In Isaiah 53, the prophet Isaiah makes a connection between the Suffering Servant of God and a sacrificial lamb). His excitement about Jesus was in knowing that the days of human slavery to sin were coming to an end.

John’s Show and Tell, tells us a lot about that, too. Look at how John talks about sin. He says the Lamb takes away the “sin” of the world, not the “sins” of the world. He’s not just talking about the bad things that you and I do. He’s talking about the root cause of those things we do. If we think about St. Paul’s words, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ESV) It’s not the “all have sinned” part; it’s the; falling “short of the glory of God.” This is what John knew very well. The whole human race is in a state of rebellion toward God, a condition of separation from God called spiritual death. But we would rather talk about our sins, because no matter how often we have done bad things there is always someone who has done worse. And much of the time we think that we are in control of the bad things we’d like to do. We think them, we want to do them, but we manage somehow to avoid them. Our sins are something we live with, but we believe we keep them mostly in check. We like to see ourselves as mostly good. Once in awhile we fall of the wagon and sin. And we always have excuses. “I was overworked or overtired. I need the money. I have to think about myself once in a while.” We rarely ever blame ourselves for even the smallest act of sin. If there had been a camera in the Garden of Eden, the picture of Adam blaming Eve for his act of sin, would have look just like us.

Our real problem is sin. That is the corruption of the good human nature that God created us to be. We see the results of it all around us. Many through the ages have commented on the evil nature of humans. Cicero a Roman politician and philosopher wrote, “Even if you drive nature away with a pitchfork, still it continually returns” (Epist. I, 10, 24)[1] But it is only in God’s Word that we get the real picture of how bad the condition really is. Ephesians 2:1-2 says that following the course of the world, people are dead in their trespasses and sins. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Ps 51:5, ESV); … for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. (Ge 8:21, ESV); For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Ro 8:7, ESV) In fact, Jesus tells us that we are salves to sin. (John 8:34) That’s where those things we do, the sins that we excuse really come from. Even if we could stop them completely, we’d still have a problem. We are slaves to our sinful nature. Bad trees bear bad fruit. (Matt 7:17)

Now you can see why John’s Show and Tell made him so excited. He was looking at God’s way of taking care of our slavery to sin. He was looking at the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus, The Lamb of God, has much in common with that Passover lamb that would have been on John hearers minds. He was perfect with out blemish. Not a slave to sin like we are. He was perfect and holy. He didn’t do sins. His nature was completely good. He is everything God wants a person to be, what God wants us to be, that we never can live up to. And He came and lived among us, right where we live. He lived to die. There is really only one way to end slavery, particularly our slavery to sin. Our sin requires that we forfeit our lives. We have to die. It took death to release the slaves in Egypt, too. God’s angel of death stalks the world to take us. But God provides a way of escape. He provides a substitute Lamb. The blood of a perfect, spotless, sinless Lamb is spilled and sprinkled on the beams of a cross. Jesus Christ died for the sake of God’s people and they are freed from their slavery to sin.

That’s really what John’s Show and Tell is all about. That’s why there’s an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. So what is it that makes it an exclamation point for us? You and I are freed from the slavery of that sinful nature that pushes us to sin. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Co 5:17, ESV) That’s God’s Word again telling us what is ours through faith in Jesus substitute death for us. And again, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24, ESV) It is St. Paul again who tells us exactly how that happens for you and me. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Ga 3:27, ESV)

Ever since you were baptized the perfect, spotless, sinless Lamb of God is the controlling factor in your life, not your sinful nature. It may be in there still poking up and trying drag you back into sin, but you have put on Jesus. He takes away the sin of the world. He takes away your sin.
Isn’t that a Show and Tell that’s worth getting excited about? I think so. And that’s the other thing about this Show and Tell. You can do it, too. All John did was point to Jesus and say what he knew to be true about Him. “Hey look! That’s the Lamb of God, who God has sent to take away the sin of the world!” John didn’t worry about what people would say about him. He didn’t worry about how many people around him already knew about Jesus. It didn’t matter to him that he was knee deep in muddy water. John just pointed to Jesus. That’s our job. We are to Show and Tell about Jesus wherever we live and work and play. Because wherever we are, there are people who are salves to sin. And Jesus is the only one who takes it away. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1]Pieper, F. (1999, c1950, c1951, c1953). Christian Dogmatics (electronic ed.). St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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