Behold, the Lamb!
Behold, the Lamb of God!
St. John 1:29
by William Klock
This morning we’ll continue our look at John the Baptist and how he declared Christ to the world, but remember some of what we’ve already seen from John’s example. Last week he showed us that when we face opposition and objections in our evangelism, instead of defending ourselves, we need to share more of Jesus. People object to him because they don’t know him. The more we share of him and about him, the more we’ll be sharing with them the very things that will overcome their objections. They think of Jesus as a goody-two-shoes or a celestial kill-joy or some kind of super-wimp who let the world walk all over him. We need to show people like that the real Jesus—the Jesus who loves us so much that he came to provide a way out of the consequences of our sins, a man so powerful that he conquered sin and death—for us—and now graciously shares with us the benefits of his victory. Back on the first Sunday in Advent I said that we need to share with people the things that Creed teaches us about Jesus: that he is God-become-man, that he died for our sins, that he rose again and ascended to heaven, where he now rules his kingdom at his Father’s side. But this week I want to look at John 1:29. Here John goes deeper, not only into who Jesus is, but especially into what he did for our sake—or from John’s point of view, what he was going to do.
The things that the Apostle John describes here took place the day after the events we read about last Sunday, when John was confronted by the Levites and Pharisees. John the Baptist was out doing his work the next day—probably preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, that men and women needed to repent of their sins, and he was probably baptising many of the in the Jordan River. We told in verse 29:
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Think about what that meant to those people. John had been preaching about the coming of the Messiah; he had been calling people to repentance; his baptism was all about preparing the people to receive the Messiah when he came. And now here he comes. I can imagine John standing at the edge of the river. We don’t know how he baptised. The common picture we see is of him standing out in hip-deep water dunking people, but we also see John drawing on so much Old Testament imagery that I’m inclined to think that his baptism was more like the cleansing ceremony for the priests in which they were sprinkled. In that case he may had something like a hyssop branch that he dipped into the river and then shook over the people who were coming to hear him preach and receive his baptism. Whatever the case, here he was busy calling the people to repentance and pointing them to the Messiah, and through the crowd walks Jesus. And John looks up, and seeing him, he points excitedly and declares to the people: “You’ve been listening to me talking about the coming Messiah and about the forgiveness of sins—here he is. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”
You and I have heard those words so many times that we’re prone to taking them for granted. Imagine what they meant to those people gathered around John that day. They were Jews; people steeped in the law and the prophets; people steeped in the Old Testament story. As we are people who look to the cross for forgiveness of sins, they were people who looked to the sacrificial lamb.
The identity of the Israelites was forged in the Exodus, when God rescued them from slavery in Egypt and saved them from the Egyptian army by taking them through the Red Sea. Every year they commemorated those events when they celebrated the Passover. And the focus of the Passover was on the lamb. The book of Exodus tells us how, on the night before they left Egypt, God delivered the Israelites by sending the angel of death to kill the firstborn sons of Egypt. But before the angel came, through Moses, God provided an escape for the Israelites. Each family was to sacrifice a spotless lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts of their home. The angel of death would pass over the homes covered by the blood of the lamb. Everyone knew this story. Everyone knew that the wages of sin is death, but that through the shedding of the blood of an innocent, God would pass over sins. Now on this day, John pointed to Jesus as the one whose blood causes God’s wrath to pass over all those who put their trust in it.
The people went on to commemorate and celebrate the Passover every year—each year sacrificing another lamb. But those weren’t the only sacrificial lambs. Every day of every year a lamb was sacrificed each morning and again each evening in the tabernacle and then in the temple as a reminder to the people of their sins and their need for forgiveness. The very morning of that day when John pointed to Jesus and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God” a lamb was sacrificed and another one that same evening.
In Isaiah 53:6 the prophet reminded the people—and reminds us too—saying, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Bishop Ryle wrote, “Christ was the great Sacrifice for sin, who was come to make atonement for transgression by His own death upon the cross.”
And finally, think back to Genesis and to Abraham and his son, Isaac. Genesis 22 gives us the first reference to a sacrificial lamb. In obedience to God, Abraham had taken Isaac, his beloved son, up the mountain. Isaac saw the wood for the fire, but they had brought nothing to sacrifice, and so he asked his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb.” Brothers and sisters, Isaac’s question—“Where is the lamb for the offering?”—resounds through the Old Testament. Every one of us who is honest knows that we have a sin problem—a sin problem that separates us from God. And we know that some offering must be made to take away our sin. But where is the lamb? Even as God commanded the Old Testament saints to offer lambs as sacrifices for their sins, they knew that no dumb animal could take the place of a human in suffering the just wrath of God on our sins. And so throughout the history of the Jews, even as those lambs were sacrificed day in and day out, the people asked, “Where is the true Lamb? Where is the Lamb who is truly worthy to take away our sins and to take them away for good?” And throughout the Old Testament we have the promise: “God will provide the Lamb.”
And now here on this day by the Jordan River John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and joyfully shouted out to the people, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Do you understand what John’s declaration means? Brothers and sisters, can you see how Jesus’ being the Lamb of God points us to who he is and why he came into the world? One of the things that discourages us from evangelism is the fact that so many people object to what we’ve got to say. As I said last week, the problem is that people don’t know Jesus and they don’t know why he came. And so they object or they become hostile. In John’s day the Jews were looking for the Messiah, but they were looking for someone like Elijah who would reform the religious hierarchy and call the people back to the law. Many of them were looking for a Moses who would lead them out of Rome’s slavery or looking for a David who would raise up an army and drive the Romans out. People today still look for “messiahs”. They want someone to show them how to be better in the hopes that they can start doing good deeds and earn their way back into God’s favour. Or they look for someone to fix their interpersonal problems or to fix all that’s wrong with the world. The problem is that none of those things deals with humanity’s most fundamental problem. We need to be cleansed from our sin. John’s declaration—his witness to Jesus—tells us why Jesus came: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
This is what the world needs: to have its sins taken away and to be reconciled to God. This is your great need. This is my great need. This is the need of every man and woman with whom you and I have any point of contact. We all stand condemned before a just God. We are his enemies. He lovingly created us, he continues to sustain us, and yet we rebel against him. And yet in his love for us and because of his desire to reconcile us to himself, he sent his own Son to be the once-for-all sacrificial Lamb—to once-and-for-all take away our sins. To quote Bishop Ryle again, “Christ…did not come on earth to be a conqueror, or a philosopher, or a mere teacher of morality. He came to save sinners. He came to do that which man could never do for himself—to do that which money and learning can never obtain—to do that which is essential to man’s real happiness: he came to ‘take away sin.’”
How did he do it? He took our punishment on himself when he allowed himself to be nailed to the cross. St. Peter tells us, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
But whose sins did Jesus take away? John says that he came to take away the sins of the world? Some people have confused that to mean that somehow Jesus died and now every man, woman, and child is right with God. And yet we know that’s not what John meant. All we have to do is read the rest of his Gospel and we see that he makes it very clear that Jesus has made it possible for us to be reconciled to God. For our part, we have to trust in him as our Saviour. Think of those familiar words from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.”
That’s why our evangelism is so important. To avail ourselves of the benefits of the Lamb’s sacrifice we have to believe—we have to trust that Jesus is the Son of God who became man, who lived a sinless life, thus becoming the perfect and spotless Lamb. And we must believe that he died for our sins and then stop trusting in anything we can do to save ourselves and, instead, trust wholly in him and his offering of himself at the cross. We must believe. That’s why evangelism is so important. Each of us believes because someone once shared the Gospel with us—showed us Jesus, showed us who he is and explained to us what it was he came to do and how he did it. We believed. Now it’s our turn to do the same for someone else—hopefully lots of them!
This past week I got an email from one of my colleagues. He has a friend who is struggling with the idea that God will punish her friends and family member who have never heard the Gospel. She could understand that God is just in punishing those who have heard about Jesus and have rejected him, but she asked, “How can a loving God condemn someone to hell who has never heard the Gospel message in the first place?” My friend wasn’t sure how to answer her. My answer was this: “We need to remember that we are God’s enemies, that the wages of sin is death, and that every one of us has willingly and knowingly chosen to sin. We need to remember that God’s justice requires punishment, but that in his love, God has chosen to send his own Son to die on our behalf—to satisfy the just requirement of the law—so that we can be reconciled to him. If we’re tempted to doubt the love of God, we need to remember the person and work of Jesus. We need to remember: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). The real question in this instance is where the love of this woman is. God loves her friends and family members so much that he laid down his life for them. If she loves them so much, how is it that they haven’t yet heard the Gospel? How is it that she hasn’t shared Jesus with them?” Brothers and sisters, God has shown us his love. If his love is truly in us, how can we not share it with others? How can we who carry Jesus in our own hearts not point the world to him and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God who take away the sin of the world”?
Let us pray: Gracious Father, thank you for the gift of your Son. Thank you that while we were yet sinners, he died for us that we might be reconciled to you. Father we ask today that the love of Christ so richly fill us that we can do nothing but share it with the people around us. Let them see Christ in us, but let us also love them enough to share the Good News of his death and resurrection with them that they might know him too. We ask this in his name. Amen.