Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: John 1:29
John saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Lamb of God

Most Australians have little affection for sheep.  Maybe if your only contact with sheep is the cuddly lamb that you pat at the Ekka or an animal park, then you might think differently, but for those who have had to deal with large mobs of sheep and have, it takes a lot of whooping and shouting and barking dogs to get them through a gate into the paddock you want them to go into.  It's easy to draw the conclusion that sheep would have to be the stupidest animals that God has placed on this planet.

When driving along a country road and you suddenly find yourself with a mob of sheep on the side of the road, it’s wise to proceed extra carefully.  Although the whole flock is on one side of the road, it only needs one idiot sheep to decide, for no particular reason, to cross in front of your car and suddenly the whole lot will cross at a trot regardless of the danger and without any thought that this large metal thing called an automobile can wipe them out.  They cross as if they have a right to cross at any time, totally oblivious of any danger. 

Without a doubt, sheep appear to be over-endowed with the herd instinct, and it would seem are “intellectually challenged”.  Sheep blindly follow a leader.  I recall a farmer telling others after church one Sunday how much time he had wasted pulling sheep out of his near empty and muddy dam.  One had walked in and the others followed the leader into the sticky mud. Turkish shepherds lost 400 sheep in 2005 as a flock followed the leader over a cliff – a significant loss to those poor shepherds.

So what are we to make of John saying when he saw Jesus pointed toward him, “Look!  There is the Lamb of God”.  How does calling Jesus a lamb, a sheep, fit with Jesus.  Was John being insulting like calling someone a goat in our culture?
I think we’re okay with thinking of Jesus as a shepherd – the one who cares for us and protects us and provides for us in every possible way in the same way as a shepherd does these things for his sheep, but to actually call Jesus a sheep, that’s something quite different.
I think we are okay with the Bible talking about us as sheep, because we recognise in ourselves the same kind of stupidity and thoughtlessness that sheep have.  Plus we are comfortable with the idea of being Jesus’ sheep.  Doesn’t matter how stupid we are and how much trouble we get into we will always be his sheep.

But what about calling Jesus ‘a sheep’?
Does calling Jesus a lamb mean that he blindly followed others, or blindly followed his Father’s will without ever thinking of the consequences?
Does calling Jesus a lamb mean he was simplistic, unable to think for himself and just bumbled along accepting whatever happened to him?  Like a sheep driven into a pen to be shorn – is Jesus passive, unaware, oblivious to what is about to happen, naïve, and unconcerned?
Does it mean he is helplessly driven along by others?

We know all too well that isn’t the case.
Jesus of Nazareth defied the pressure from the “herd” and its leaders. He broke new ground, opened up new paths, and when necessary went on ahead all alone.

What is more, he certainly wasn’t simplistic or bumbling.  He was well aware that the path he chose to take wouldn’t be an easy one.  He wasn’t simply carried along by events or people; he chose to give up his life for others. 

Calling him a lamb doesn’t refer to his intellectual ability one bit because he was a genius, creating a new way of understanding God, talking about faith, guiding people in God’s ways of living and cleverly answering the trickly questions his enemies presented, revealing the Old Testament scriptures as no one had done before.

So, I come back to the question, why does John the Baptist point to Jesus and say, “Look! There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”? John reemphasises this the next day when he says these same words to two disciples, “Look, there is the Lamb of God”. When those disciples heard John say this and when the readers of John’s gospel read the desert preacher’s words what do you think they made of this name that he had given Jesus – “the Lamb of God”.  What did they think of?  What insight did they get into who Jesus was through this title?  I guess it’s important for us to know what this title means because it’s passed down into our Christian vocabulary and we use it in the centuries old liturgies when we sing those words in the Communion service, “Jesus, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, grant us your peace”.

Besides we’re in the Epiphany season and this reading has been selected for today because this title for Jesus is supposed to tell us something about who Jesus is.  So where did John get this name and did people get what he was talking about?

When people heard John’s title for Jesus did they connect Jesus to the lambs that were killed at the temple in Jerusalem every day?  The lambs were sacrificed as a way of thanking God for the good harvest, for the increase in their herds and flocks, and as a thank offering for the birth of a child.  But there was no connection with this lamb’s death and the forgiveness of sin.

Maybe the Passover lamb came to mind.  Every Passover a lamb was killed and eaten, the Jews remembered how their ancestors were saved from slavery in Egypt and the lamb’s blood painted on the door posts saved them from death.  But again this has nothing to do with cleansing people from sin.  Besides the Passover lamb was never considered a sacrifice by the Jews.

Guilt offerings were made and sometimes lambs were used but at other times a bull, a goat, a ram, pigeons or even flour were sacrificed (depending on what you could afford).

There is the well-known passage of Isaiah 53,
“He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (53:7).
This is known as the Servant Song and foretells the coming of a person who will give his life for the sins of others.  Whether Isaiah 53 popped into the heads of John the Baptist’s listeners when he called Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is anyone’s guess, and whether that link was only made in some later reflection, we will never know, but I can be sure of this – through Jesus, our crucified and risen Saviour, the burden of sin is lifted away and we experience liberation.

At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry John the Baptist is pointing to what will happen at the end when Jesus will go to Jerusalem for the last time.  He is foretelling the day when Jesus will take on his shoulders, like the servant in Isaiah 53, all the sin of all humanity, and be punished cruelly to the point of death and he will not open his mouth to defend himself or to object.  He will willingly give up his life as Isaiah said, “He endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne.  All the while we thought that his suffering was punishment sent by God. But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

The Lamb of God is the one who frees us from the sentence of death.  He gives us life, eternal life, because all our sin has been wiped away and we are able to inherit a place in heaven.  Because of the blood of the Lamb we are made clean and white.  We are forgiven; we have been given the robe of righteousness.  In Revelation 7 we are given a vision of heaven where all the saints are gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb, all are dressed in white robes and holding celebratory palm branches in their hands, shouting, “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!”

It’s all very nice to know all this but what are we to do with this knowledge that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world”? 

When Andrew and most likely the Gospel writer heard John the Baptist point out Jesus as the Lamb of God, they followed Jesus and then went and told Peter, “We have found the Messiah”. 

The next day Philip did the same and invited Nathanael to “Come and see”.  Like the Baptist they were excited; this was extremely good news – God had sent a saviour to rescue them.  Here was the one whom God had promised and this was something they couldn’t keep to themselves and in the end they travelled the world telling one and all that God had broken into our world and brought salvation, and peace, and forgiveness, and hope, and eternal life for all people.  God had sent his only Son into the world so that everyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life.  That’s worth shouting about.

In whatever way we can this year, let others know how important the Lamb of God is to you, what impact he has on your life, and what he can do for them.  Their peace in this life and their hope for eternity rests on the Lamb of God.  Be to them a John the Baptist and say to them either with words, or deeds of kindness,
“Look, come and see, Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away your sin, and gives you peace and hope and fills you with love and joy. 
He is the one and only Lamb who can give you a future. 
He is the one and only Lamb who has sacrificed everything for you in the past, and will continue to love and care for you to the day you die. 
He is the Lamb who sits on the throne of heaven where everything will be more than okay forever and ever. 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th January 2014

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