Second Reformed Church

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"The Lamb of God" Sermon: John 1:29-34

“The Lamb of God”

[John 1:29-34]

February 8, 2015 Second Reformed Church

            The Pharisees had sent a delegation to find out who John the Baptist was and where he got the authority to baptize Jews.  John the Baptist explained to them that God gave him the authority to baptize Jews – and that this was a baptism to show that all people are sinners and cannot be right with God unless Someone takes on the punishment for our sin and gives us the merit of His righteousness.  This One is the Savior Who was among them, though they did not recognize Him.

            “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.”’”

            Here we see, first this morning, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the sacrifice for sin.

            “Behold, the Lamb of God”

            Why did John the Baptist identify Jesus as the “lamb” of God?

            It’s not because Jesus was fuzzy and cute; he identified Jesus as the “lamb” to say that He is the fulfillment of the sacrifice for sin.  Jesus fulfills the Temple sacrifices for sin – not in the temporary way that occurred in the Temple, but fully and finally and completely.

            We see this imagery used throughout the Bible:

            In the instructions for the Passover we read:

            “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

            “’Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt’” (Exodus 12:1-13, ESV).

            On the night that God delivered Israel from captivity in Egypt, the final plague was going to occur:  God sent the Angel of Death to kill the firstborn of every family of the humans and the animals – all those who did not receive the blood of the lamb as a covering for their sin by painting the blood over the entrance to their homes and participating in the flesh of the sacrificed lamb by eating his flesh.

            This was fulfilled in God sending His Son to shed His Blood on the wood of the cross as a covering for all those who will believe, and we participate in the sacrifice as we drink His Blood and eat His Flesh in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – symbolically and spiritually, of course, the bread and the cup are not the physical flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth.

            Again, we have similar symbolism in the feast of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – which was celebrated yearly at the Temple in Jerusalem:

            “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

            “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:15-22, ESV).

            On the Day of Atonement, we have the sacrifice of two lambs or goats – the one would be slaughtered and his blood spattered all around as a covering for sin, and the other would have the sins of Israel symbolically placed on him, and then he would be sent out into the wilderness to die.

            And so, the sins of all those who would believe were placed on Jesus and He was crucified and His blood was shed as a sacrifice, paying the debt for the sins of all those who will believe, while His blood flowed as a covering for all those who will believe.

            Jesus fulfills both the Passover and Yom Kippur by taking the sin of His people upon Himself, taking the punishment for sin upon Himself – God’s Wrath, the shedding of His Blood, and death, so all of the sins of those who will believe has been paid for and the punishment for them has been taken away from us and placed on Him – the One Holy Lamb of God.

            He is the Lamb of God, because He is the Only Eternal Sacrifice Who makes all those who believe right with Him forever – there is no need for another sacrifice.  Jesus has earned us and bought us through His life and death and resurrection.

            When John – the writer of the book of Revelation – was taken up into Heaven, he was shown a scroll that only One Who is perfect and sinless could open, and John began to weep, because he understood that all humans are sinners – no mere human was worthy to open the scroll – humans brought with them condemnation and failure.

            “And one of the elders said to [John], ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

            “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang 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’”
(Revelation 5:5-10, ESV).

            The Lion of Judah, Who is the Root of Jesse, Who is the Lamb of God, Who is Jesus, the Only Savior, is the One and Only human, Who is also at the same time God, the One Who was slain for all those He would save, He is worthy – He opened the scroll – He brings completion to the Will of the Father.

            As the elders and the living creatures sang:  Jesus bled and ransomed a people for Himself from every people on earth.  He has paid the debt for our sins and credited us with His Righteousness, so we are right with God, and we shall inherit the earth and reign over it, as Jesus promised in the Beatitudes.

            This image of Jesus being the Lamb of God would have had immediate meaning and profound significance for the believers in Jesus’ day, because they were engaged in the sacrifices that required lambs to be slaughtered, and they knew from their history of the slaughter of lambs which lead to God’s deliverance of them from slavery in Egypt.  So, now we see that Jesus, the Lamb of God delivers all those who believe from slavery to sin, He pays the debt for our sin, He credits us with His righteous life, and thus, makes us right with God for all of eternity.

            As John the Baptist proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

            Let us see two other things in this statement:

            “who takes away the sin” – the expression that is used here means that all of the sins of all of those who will ever believe – past, present, and future – have be paid for by Jesus on the cross – they are taken away from us – paid for – but that does not negate the fact that we sin day by day and need to continue to come to God in repentance for our sin – and we will be forgiven, because our debt has been paid by Jesus.

            “of the world!” – we are tempted to understand this to mean that Jesus died for the sins of every person who ever lived and will ever live.  But there is a problem with that:  if Jesus died for the sins of everyone who ever lived, then the debt to God for every person’s sins has been forgiven, and everyone is saved and made right with God, and no one will go to Hell.

            It would be wonderful if no one ever went to Hell, but the Scripture is clear that people do go to Hell.  We need to understand that the word “world” does not always mean every single person who has ever lived and will ever live. 

Consider, for example, “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him’” (John 12:19, ESV).

Did the Pharisees mean that every single person in the world believed that Jesus is the Savior?  Of course not.

Similar, when John the Baptist said that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  He is saying something more radical – the Lamb of God takes away the sins, not merely of the Jews, but of every type of person in the world – the Gentiles as well.  Many had understood that the Savior was only for biological Israel, but John the Baptist is proclaiming that the Lamb of God has come to save people from every nation and tribe and tongue – Jew and Gentile.

Sadly, people do go to Hell.  Wonderfully, there is not a type of person – no heritage – no race – no gender – outside of the saving power and purpose of God.  The Sacrificed Lamb of God is for all those who will believe – anyone who will believe.

John the Baptist continues:  “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

We are likely struck by John the Baptist saying that he didn’t know Jesus – weren’t they cousins?  It is possible that they never met each other in the flesh, because Jesus was living in Nazareth, learning to be a carpenter, while John the Baptist was living in the wilderness, preparing to be the prophet who prepared the way of the Savior.

But, if John didn’t know him, then how could he see Him and proclaim that Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world?

What he is saying, second, is that there was no plot between John the Baptist and Jesus to announce Him to be the Lamb of God.

John the Baptist may have heard of Jesus of Nazareth and known that He was regarded as a prophet and a rabbi, but he did not know, prior to Jesus’ appearance at the Jordan, that He was the Lamb of God.

John did not know Who he was preparing the way for before Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized.  John was acting as a herald of the Gospel – preparing the way for the coming of the Savior and preparing people to receive Him as the Savior by baptizing.  John was baptizing to call Jews – in particular – to recognize that the sacrificial system was not enough – they were still sinners – they were still at odds with God – they were still under that Wrath of God.

And, we see, John was baptizing to reveal Who the Lamb of God – the Savior – is.  God told John that he was to baptize because God was going to use it as an epiphany – and unveiling – and enlightenment – for all those who will believe – of Who the Savior is.

So, we see again, here, that John’s baptism was from God – to convict Jews of their sins – and to reveal the Savior to Israel – that is, to all those who would believe.

We don’t have it recorded in the Gospel of John, but Jesus came the day that John the Baptist announced that Jesus is the Lamb of God to be baptized by John – and John recognizing that Jesus was more than your average “Joe” – at least a prophet – and he asked Jesus to baptize him, but Jesus explained that He had to go through all the rites of humanity to be the Sacrificial Lamb, so John baptized Him.

Do you remember what happened?

Matthew records:  “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17, ESV).

After Jesus was baptized by John the heavens opened, God the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and empowered Him for His work – symbolically appearing as a dove – and God the Father audibly spoke from Heaven affirming the Jesus is God the Son Incarnate and that the Father was pleased with Jesus and the work He was going to accomplish.

Here’s one reason that is so important:

“And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’”

We see, third, this morning, that God revealed to John that Jesus is God the Savior, the Lamb of God.

God called John the Baptist and gave him the authority to baptize to convict Jews of their sins and to prepare the way for the Savior and to reveal Who the Savior is to John and all those in attendance at the Jordan.

John was baptizing, waiting to see the sign that God had given him that He would know Who the Savior was.  He was ashamed to baptize the prophet Jesus, but when He did, it was revealed that Jesus is the Savior – the Christ – the Messiah – the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

John the Baptist – sent and authorized by God to baptize – saw the sign that God promised – heard the voice of God the Father – and proclaim from that day forward that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior.

            What can we say about these things?

            As we considered Jesus as the Lamb – the fulfillment of the sacrifice for sin – we can point out to our Jewish friends that the sacrifices cannot possibly be enough to save a person from the Wrath of God for sin.

            We can talk with anyone about God being Holy, and how we are not holy, and how that makes an awful problem between us and God.  If we can help people to understand that they are sinners – that they are at odds with God – then the question we can ask them is how, then, can a person become right with God?  How can we escape the judgment of God for our sins, if it is not possible for us to pay the debt for them and appear righteous before God?  What are we to do?

            We can point to John the Baptist and show that the Scripture self-consciously tells us that John – and others – did not know Who Jesus was – that He is the Lamb of God.  They had to receive a divine revelation – God had to intervene and show them Who Jesus is

            Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44, ESV).

            What that means is that no one can believe unless God intercedes to make them believe.  Our salvation is completely a work of God – we cannot save ourselves – and we cannot save anyone else.

            So, when we talk with people about Jesus and their spiritual state before God, let us pray for them – pray before you go out each day that if God is so pleased as to put someone in your way that needs to hear about salvation through Jesus Alone – that God would give you the words to speak and that God would have mercy on the people we speak to and change their hearts that they would believe.  Let us pray for those we talk to after we have talked to them, asking God that He would change their hearts and cause them to receive Jesus as their Savior.

            We have been called to go out and tell others the Gospel – this history of salvation through Jesus.  And we rely upon God to change people and cause them to believe.  But let us be prepared – read to tell them – and let us be in constant prayer for those we talk to that God will cause them to believe.

            If people will admit that they sin, then the door is opened to ask them how they will be made right with God.  If they say they are good enough, then remind them that God is Holy and can only receive holy people into His Kingdom.  Ask them how they will be right with God?

            The only answer that can work is that God came to earth in the person of Jesus, lived a holy life, died for the sins of everyone who will ever believe, physically rose from the dead, and ascended back to His throne.  Everything else leaves us to face God naked and ashamed.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we thank You for sending the Son to be the Savior for all those who will ever believe.  We thank You that You have shown us that the work of salvation is Yours.  And we thank You that You have chosen to use us to spread the Gospel.  Open our mouths like John the Baptist, now that You have caused us to believe, and help us through the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit, to speak words that You will use to draw many people to Yourself.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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