The Lamb of God Identified

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

John 1:29-37

March 18, 2018

 

 

We’ve been looking at Old Testament passages which provide a background for our understanding of “The Lamb of God” over the past month. We saw in Genesis how, at the near sacrifice of Isaac, God provided a sacrifice. It was a ram caught in a thicket. We also witnessed how God provided a way out of bondage in Egypt through the Passover, a meal in which a lamb was on the menu. Although I didn’t cover all the texts, I alluded to other passages, especially from Leviticus, where God speaks of the need for a sacrifice to remove the stain of sin.[1] The Bible is a gradual revelation leading up to a complete revelation with God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. Last week, in Isaiah 53, we saw for the first time in Scripture, the link between a vicarious sacrifice and a person who offers himself up. Today, we’ll see that person is identified as Jesus. This is where the rubber meets the road.  John the Baptist prepares to hand over his ministry to the one coming. And just how does John identify Jesus?  We’ll see in a few minutes.

        In the verses before this passage, a group of religious leaders from Jerusalem meet John the Baptist in Bethany for the purpose of checking him out. They wonder if he’s the Messiah. This he denies. “Are you Elijah?” Again, he denies it. “Who are you, then?” they press on. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” he replies, drawing on the words of Isaiah. “Well then, why are you baptizing?” At this point, John confesses that there’s one coming to whom he’s not even worthy to tie his shoes.[2] This one is Jesus Christ, whom in our reading this morning is identified as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Let’s look at the passage.  Read John 1:29-37.

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        I think we all need to be more like John.  Now that doesn’t mean we need to dress like a wild man, hanging out in a waist deep muddy river, and eating a disgusting diet of bugs slathered in honey.[3] But there are two things John does that we should also do. First of all, we should admit that on our own, there is a limit to what we can do to help someone. John’s fierce preaching encouraged people to examine themselves and to confess their sins. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates supposedly said and John would agree. We should examine our lives and, according to John, we won’t like what we see. Because of sin, we fall short of the glory God intention for us.[4] If we want to get better, we have to understand the problem.  John’s kind of like the “dental monitor” in the Lifelock® commercial, he points out the problem, but he can’t fix it. (Not even Lifelock® can do that).[5]

          John is a prophet, not a savior. He could symbolically wash away the problem in baptism, but he wasn’t able to wipe the slate clean. The same is true for us. We can’t wipe away our own sin. And if we can’t do that for ourselves, we certainly can’t wipe away the sin of another. So like John, we have to be humble and admit our limitations. Dealing with sin is God’s work.

But there is something we can do. While we can’t wipe the slate clean, Jesus can. John, in our opening verse, points to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Here is the answer for whom we and others desire. Like John, we can also point others to Jesus.

         In our passage, we see that John has some unique insights into Jesus. Although Jesus comes after John, he was there before. As we learn in the beginning of John’s gospel, Jesus is equated with the word of God and was present with God from the very beginning of creation.[6] Throughout this entire chapter, John the author (we’re dealing with two different John’s here) wants us to understand that John the Baptizer is not the main character.  That’s Jesus. John is just the guy who might run across the stage in a high school play, holding a cue card so the audience will know what’s next. The guy or gal, dressed in black and holding the prop isn’t the star, just one to point out what’s getting ready to happen. Likewise, John lets us know what coming.

          John goes on to explain that he knew Jesus was the one when he saw the Spirit of God descend like a dove and land upon him. Although John’s gospel doesn’t mention Jesus’ baptism, this statement parallels what all the other gospels say about Jesus at his baptism, that the “Spirit descended like a dove.”[7] John is here to testify that Jesus is God’s son.

 

        Referring to Jesus as the Lamb of God, John informs us as to the identity of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, the one who was afflicted with our sin and willing to offer his life as a way to pay for our sin.[8] It’s important to notice that the word sin is singular, not plural.  Jesus is coming to take away not just the effects of our disobedience (our sins) but to cut away the root of the problem, (sin). It’s not just our bad deeds, but the gulf that our rebellion against God has cause to separate us from the Almighty. Our sin has been purged—the chasm between the creature and creator that has existed since the Garden of Eden, has been removed.[9]  Jesus Christ is the bridge that reconnects us to God the Father.

         Another interesting choice of words here is how John implies that Jesus is and will continue to take away the sin of the world. This ongoing action is not just limited to the cross (which is three years away from the time John proclaimed Jesus as the Lamb of God). Anytime someone comes into an experience with Jesus and feel their guilt and sin removed, they experience this ongoing work of our Savior and Lord.[10]

Twice in our reading John points out to those around him that Jesus is the Lamb of God. In verse 35, John again makes this claim. While pointing out Jesus as the Lamb of God, we’re told that two of John’s disciples leave to follow Jesus.  Like John, we’re not on the earth to make disciples for ourselves.  We’re here to do God’s work which involves making disciples for Jesus.

John’s message is simple. He points to Jesus, the Lamb of God. The Apostle Paul will later take a similar tack when he says that he preaches that he knows nothing but Christ and him crucified.[11] That’s my message, that’s our message, the church’s message. For answers, we can only point to Christ as God’s hope for the world. He is the one who can lead us from bondage and offer us life, eternal life.

         There are two things we should learn and emulate from John. Like him, we are to be humble. We are not here to be Saviors. We’re to be willing to point others to the Savior of the world, to Jesus Christ, and give him all the credit. But you know, that’s hard to do. We want to be given credit for that which we do. We want to be paid our fair share.[12] But that’s not what being a follower of Jesus is about. We’re to point to the one who is willing to offer his life for ours. He is to be given credit for all our blessings; for he, the one who was there at the very beginning,[13] is the source of our blessings.

So let’s be willing to go out into the world and do good.  When someone praises us, let’s not let it go to our head.  Instead, point to Jesus and give him the credit. And when someone asks why our values are different that the world, why we insist on being honest, being fair, or standing up for those oppressed. Point to Jesus and give him the credit. We do it for him. And when someone questions our commitment to gather week after week for worship. There’s no need for excuses. Instead, we tell them what Jesus means for us. There’s no need to brag. As a theologian once said, “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another where to find bread. Like John, we’re point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Amen.

©2018

[1] See especially Leviticus 16.

[2] John 1:19-28.

[3] While the Gospel of John doesn’t provide this insight, two of the synoptic gospels make a big deal out of John’s dress (animal skins with a leather belt) and his food (locust and wild honey). Matthew 3:4 and Mark 1:6

[4] Romans 3:23.

[5] https://www.ispot.tv/ad/wgXM/lifelock-dentist

[6] John 1:3.

[7] Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10 and Luke 3:22.

[8] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2012), 83-84.

[9] Bruner, 81.

[10] See Bruner, 82.

[11] 1 Corinthians 2:2.  See also Bruner, 100-101.

[12] See Matthew 20:1-16.

[13] John 1:2-4.


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