Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 19, 2014)

Wordle: Untitled

“Following the Lamb” (John 1:29-42a)

            A few years ago, Julie and I vacationed on Orcas Island.  We stayed at a quaint old farmhouse that had been turned into a bed and breakfast.  The owners of the inn also raised sheep to supply wool for some of the weavers who plied their trade on the island.

On the front porch of the inn was an array of rubber boots of various sizes and colors.  We were informed that we could use them to go exploring around the farm.  So, one afternoon, I decided to do just that.  I pulled on a pair of boots that looked like they might fit and headed out to the pasture.

About 15 sheep were contently grazing on the far side of the pasture.  I wanted to see how close they would let me get to them without running away.  They looked like they were pretty tame, although I had been warned to beware of the big ram.  He had been known to guard his territory with a swift butt of his head.

Softly and slowly, I stepped across the damp grass.  When I approached the tiny flock, they actually let me get to within about eight feet of them.  They kept munching on grass, but kept a wary eye on me.   They would take a bite of grass and quickly raise their head and look suspiciously at me.  But eight feet seemed to be their comfort zone.  As soon as I took one more step, they would skitter away in tandem to another section of the pasture.

It kind of became a little game for me.  I wanted to see if they would get comfortable with me out there, realizing I didn’t mean them any harm.  So for about a half an hour, I followed them around the pasture in a similar fashion.  I would step inside their eight foot comfort zone, they would scoot off a bit beyond me, and I would follow them, stepping through the grass, over rocks, and around assorted aromatic obstacles.

Our little journey around the pasture would have continued indefinitely.  And what a pointless journey it would have been.  Around and around the pasture.  No end in sight.  No destination.  And eventually I would have stepped into something unpleasant, or finally raised the ire of the big ram and landed on my backside … bruised, battered, and embarrassed.

Does it seem at times as if you are on a pointless journey through life?  Are you following after people and possessions or fads and philosophies which lead you nowhere?  Does there seem to be no end in sight to your problems?  Have you “stepped into something unpleasant” – some sinful behavior or situation – which has filled your life with the stench of guilt and shame?  Has something come up against you so that you have been left bruised and battered?

Listen to John the Baptist’s words this morning.  He points us to another sheep to follow … a Lamb.  This Lamb leads us on a meaningful journey.  Don’t let this Lamb pass you by without paying any attention to him.

John saw Jesus approaching and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  This Lamb is not just any lamb.  This is THE Lamb.  This is the Lamb of God.

There were many lambs before his day.  There was the lamb that God provided for Abraham in place of his son Isaac, whom God had told Abraham to sacrifice (Gen. 22).  There were the unblemished lambs that each Israelite household in Egypt was to kill and eat and whose blood was to be placed on the doorposts of their homes so that death would pass over them (Ex. 12).  After the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, there were the lambs that were to be killed in place of every one of their firstborn sons.  Every firstborn son was to be dedicated to the Lord, but the family was to redeem them … or “buy them back” … from the Lord with the blood of a lamb (Ex. 13).  There were the lambs that were offered every morning and every evening at the tabernacle as an offering to the Lord (Ex. 29).  There were the lambs that were offered for the various burnt offerings proscribed in the book of Leviticus (Lev. 3, 4).  The person who brought the lamb was to lay his hands on its head, symbolically transferring his sin to the lamb, whose blood was then poured out at the altar and whose body was completely incinerated on the hot coals of the altar.

Yes, there were a lot of lambs used under the old covenant.  But THE Lamb of God takes the place of all those lambs which pointed to him.  He is the fulfillment of all those lambs.  The death of THE Lamb of God means there is no longer any need for the death of any more lambs (Heb. 10).

The blood of the Lamb of God was poured out at the cross.  Like the Passover Lambs, this final Passover Lamb was also unblemished.  He was without sin so that he could be our perfect substitute.  His blood was placed – not on the wood of doorposts – but on the wood of the cross, and God’s anger over sin passes over us.  Like Isaac, you and I get to live and the Lamb takes our place in death.  Like the lambs offered in the tabernacle, who bore the sins of those who offered them and whose blood was poured out at the base of the altar, Jesus bore our sin and his blood was poured out at the foot of the cross … and now into our chalice for us to drink from this altar.  And just as the lambs offered were completely burned up on the altar at the tabernacle, through the death of Jesus the guilt and shame of our sin is completely removed once and for all.

            And when you begin to think to yourself, this Lamb is not MY lamb … His death was not enough for what I have done … then listen one more time to John:  “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the WORLD.”  Listen to the Lord in today’s OT lesson, where he says to his servant, the Messiah, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is. 49:6).  And later on, in Isaiah 53, the prophet says of the Messiah, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us ALL” (Is. 53:6).  He takes away ALL sin … not SOME sin … not the sins of others … but ALL, the sin of the WORLD … from the sin of Adam to the last baby to ever be born before Jesus returns … and in between are you and me.

Here’s what Luther had to say in a sermon on this same text: “It is extremely important that we know where our sins have been disposed of.  The Law deposits them on our conscience and shoves them into our bosom.  But God takes them from us and places them on the shoulders of the Lamb.  If sin rested on me and on the world, we would be lost; for it is too strong and burdensome.  God says: ‘I know that your sin is unbearable for you; therefore behold, I will lay it upon My Lamb and relieve you of it. Believe this! If you do, you are delivered of sin.’  There are only two abodes for sin: it either resides with you, weighing you down; or it lies on Christ, the Lamb of God.  If it is loaded on your back, you are lost; but if it rests on Christ, you are free and saved.  Now make your choice! According to the Law, to be sure, sin should remain on you; but by grace sin was cast on Christ, the Lamb.” [1]

The Lamb of God has forgiven you.  And now he calls you to follow him.  And he starts you on a journey … or calls you to continue on a journey … a journey that is joyful, hopeful, and meaningful.

John the Baptist pointed two of his disciples to the Lamb of God.  One of them was Andrew, and when he and the other disciple encountered Christ, their lives were forever altered.  No longer would they be learning from John in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  They had met God’s Chosen One in person.  They would now hear and see things that they had never heard nor seen before.

But first, Jesus challenges their motives, and he challenges us, too, when he asks:  “What are you seeking?”  “What do you want?”  What do YOU expect to get out of Jesus?  Why have you come here today?  Ask yourself, “Am I following Jesus out of idle curiosity, just to see what he can do for me, to see if all these promises of ‘fullness of life’ is really true? Or do I have a real desire to know him, to worship him, and to receive from him all of his gifts of grace?”

            Andrew and the other disciples then ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?”  Jesus replies, “Come and you will see.” They did come, and they did see.  But they saw more than where Jesus was staying.  Among other miracles, they saw blind people receive their sight.  But for those whose eyes already worked, they “saw” because the eyes of their hearts were enlightened.  They came to know the true meaning of his Messiah-ship.  Jesus was not a political messiah, come to set up an earthly kingdom.  He made that clear when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  Jesus is a Savior, a redeemer, a lamb, THE Lamb.

When you and I were baptized, we were started on a journey of faith, and our lives were forever altered.  We have met the Savior in person through His Holy Word, and we eat and drink of his very own body and blood in his Holy Supper.  But when we hear readings such as our Gospel lesson today, we are reminded about the meaning of our journey.  It is not a pointless journey, around and around the pasture, following a lamb who never gets us anywhere.

The church in which I grew up had a motto which I will never forget.  It was: “Come, journey with God and friends towards fullness of life.”  That is the meaning of our journey of faith.  God sets us on this journey when he calls us to faith.  Then, he puts us in a community of friends, where we share each others joys and sorrows, where we lift one another up in prayer and help each other carry our own particular burdens.  Our destination is the “fullness of life.”  We share in that fullness now, as we experience Christ’s love and forgiveness in Word and Sacrament.  And we will one day experience that fullness in all its glory on the Day of Resurrection.

            The Lamb of God calls us through His Word and sets us on a joyful, hopeful, and meaningful journey of faith.  And then he uses people like you and me as vehicles through which His Word goes out to others and calls people to faith.  It’s as simple as what Andrew did.  He found his brother Simon Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah,” and as the last line of today’s text says, “He brought him to Jesus.”

            May the Holy Spirit, who was poured out on the Son of God when he was baptized … and who was poured out upon us when we were baptized, making us children of God … may He strengthen our faith and empower us to bring others to Jesus as we journey with God and friends towards fullness of life … the life of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.


[1]Luther, M. (1999, c1957). Vol. 22: Luther's works, vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Jn 1:30). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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