The First Sunday after Epiphany January 11, 2004
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
63, 652, 270, 344
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The next day John 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 is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ).
In Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, dear fellow-redeemed:
Advertising is all about “attention-getting.” Whether it is the splashy, full-color, glossy ad in a Sunday paper, or a catchy little tune on a TV/radio commercial that sticks with you the rest of the day, the goal of the advertiser is to grab your attention. The advertiser is saying, “Look!” and with any success you’ll look…then look a little longer and a little harder…then maybe look again…and if everything goes according to plan, purchase the item.
In order to enhance the allurement of advertising, famous people are hired to become spokesman for the product. The hope is that if the one who is advertising the product is someone people know, someone with whom they can identify, someone with credibility in their minds, then they will buy the product. Whenever someone famous says “Look!” more people are sure to look.
Throughout Scripture, especially in the New Testament, from time to time we read the words: “Behold!” or “Lo!” or “Look!” In each case, these words are there to grab our attention with something far more important than advertising. With these words God grabs our attention and points the direction of our hearts and minds to the truth of His Word that is about to be presented. The credibility behind these “attention-grabbing” words is beyond expression because it is God Himself who is saying: “Look! I have something to say to you.”
Today we hear John’s testimony: “BEHOLD! THE LAMB OF GOD!” It was a testimony for the people to whom John was speaking, but also to us. Through these words John says: I. Look! The means of forgiveness II. Look! The purpose of a ministry III. Look! The reason for following.
At the time Jesus came to the Jordan and John identified Him, John had already been preaching for about 6 months. John had been preaching the Word of God just as Jesus would also do. John, however, could only preach. John could not take away the sins of the people to whom he was speaking.
John spoke forcefully to the people who came him. His message was one of repentance. Hear how John preached to them: “He said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”” (Luke 3:7-9).
John spoke very strong words to prick the people’s hearts and the words did cut deeply in the hearts of many. The people heard John’s sharp rebuke, looked at themselves, and saw themselves as sinners. They knew that they did not keep God’s law perfectly, nor did they bear fruits of repentance each time they sinned. The people heard John preach and recognized their great need for the forgiveness of their sins. They saw themselves as the trees at whose roots the ax of judgment was about to fall. But John, himself, could not offer forgiveness. John was the preacher who pointed to Jesus who could give the forgiveness of sin to all the world.
For this group of people who heard and recognized their sins, John pointed to Jesus and said, Behold! There is the Lamb of God. Look! There is the one who will take all those sins away from you forever and bind all of your hurts!
When John referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God he was using an Old Testament picture. In the days when the Israelites were in Egypt and under the oppressive rule of Pharaoh, God saved lives through the blood of a lamb. In the tenth plague which God brought upon Egypt, all of the firstborn of people and of animals would be killed. God told Moses to tell the people that they should take a lamb without blemish or spot, set it aside, and then at the appointed time sacrifice the lamb, paint its blood on their door posts, roast it whole without breaking any bones, and eat it while also being ready to leave Egypt.
On the night of the tenth plague, God saw the blood of the lamb and “passed over” every household which heeded His Word and painted the lamb’s blood on its door. In houses which had not been “covered” by the blood, God killed all of the firstborn. We are told there was not one house in Egypt that did not lose at least one member, and a great wail went up from the land (cf: Exodus 11:1-12:30). But there was no death or crying in the homes that had been painted with the blood of the lamb.
The Children of Israel left Egypt that night and later Pharaoh and his army were destroyed in the Red Sea. God commanded that each year the people of Israel should remember the sparing of their first born and the deliverance from Egypt by celebrating the “Passover” meal. So, each year, faithful Israelites chose a lamb without blemish and without spot, roasted it whole, and ate it as part of the Passover remembrance. This annual festival was to remind the people of God’s past deliverance from Egypt, but also to point ahead to an even greater deliverance when the Lamb of God would come and rescue them (and all the world!) from the slavery of sin and eternal death in hell. Jesus is that Lamb of God. He came, sinless, without blemish, or spot. He sacrificed Himself for us and it is His blood which rescues us from death. Like the blood of the lamb, the blood of Jesus saves us. The blood of Jesus Christ has washed our sins away so that death and all the guilt of sin passes over us and effects us no more. “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Jesus, the Lamb of God is the means of forgiveness for our sins. He is the only means for forgiveness. This does not stop people from trying to find all sorts of other ways to deal with their sin. People will ignore their sin, thinking that if I don’t talk about it or think about it, maybe it will go away. People try drowning their sin’s guilt with alcohol and other drug abuse. They try to cover up their sin so that if they can convince someone that they really didn’t “do it” then they must truly be innocent. Sinners will try anything and everything to avoid a guilty conscience and it won’t work, but Look! There is the Lamb of God who came and died on the cross to wash away those sins. Look! There is forgiveness through Him!
When we look to this Lamb we see the purpose of John’s ministry but also of any Christian ministry. John said, “This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” [v.30] John knew his role in the course of salvation. He knew what purpose he would serve. Even when he was just a week old baby, his father, Zacharias, proclaimed, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77). John had a very important role to fulfill, but it was always to go before one with an even greater role—the Messiah. John’s role was always one that would serve the Lamb of God. The ministry was not John’s ministry. John’s purpose was always to prepare the people for Jesus’ work and ministry.
Later, some of John’s disciples became jealous because so many people were following Jesus instead of John. “They came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!’ John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, “I am not the Christ,” but, “I have been sent before Him.” He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.’” (John 3:26-30).
The whole purpose of John’s ministry was to proclaim Christ. As Jesus began to minister to the people, John began to fade into the background, was eventually imprisoned, and then martyred (cf: Gospel reading) and gone. Christ was the purpose of John’s ministry and John understood that. There was no professional jealousy on John’s part, no competition in “who can get the most disciples,” and “I have to keep up with Jesus.” There were no late nights spent awake while tossing and turning and wondering “Why is He so popular and I am not?” John’s ministry was not one for himself. His was not a ministry for numbers. His was a ministry to say, “Look! Here is the Lamb of God who forgives your sins. That is the purpose for which I speak.”
The apostle Paul had the same sense of purpose in his ministry for he said, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Both John’s and Paul’s ministries were characterized by a single-mindedness, a focus of purpose, the goal of sharing the Lamb of God with sinners in need of forgiveness.
This Christ centeredness is not found in every ministry. The apostle Paul warned against those who have a different focus. “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18); and in Philippians Paul speaks of those who “…preach Christ from selfish ambition” (Philippians 1:15). Such is not a true Christian ministry. Such is not the purpose for which John came, not the purpose for which Paul came, not the purpose for which we are here working in the world.
What is the purpose of our existence as a Christian congregation. It is not to be the number one church in town in helping the needy and those who are financially disadvantaged—though, when we can help, we should. Our purpose is not to be the number one congregation in town as far as size or fame. Our purpose is not to become the best known church in the state, in the town, in our church body, or anywhere else. It is not our purpose to have such a large program that every night is filled with something to do. Our purpose is not even to have the most possibilities for fellowship opportunities—though these are blessings, profitable, and something to cherish. Our purpose is the same as John’s: that Christ might increase and we, as it pertains to ourselves, might decrease.
On one occasion, some people came to the disciples and said, “we would see Jesus” (John 12:21). That is our purpose! Our purpose is that people see Jesus through us, that they learn of Jesus from us, that they hear about Jesus through our words and in our conversations. In our voters’ meetings and in all of our discussions throughout a year, we need to take stock in what we are doing and ask: “What are our goals and purposes? What can we do so that we might proclaim our Savior and say, ‘Look! Here is the Lamb of God who forgives you all your sins?’”
The Statue of Liberty welcomes people to our country offering rest to the tired and homeless and giving hope to the forsaken through the freedom our land enjoys. We have the same opportunity to invite those who are spiritually tired and weighed down and show them the Savior who says, “Come to me and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Look! The purpose of a ministry!
On the second day, after John told two of his disciples, “Behold! The Lamb of God!” [v.36] they followed Jesus. They followed Jesus because of who He was. They knew Him, as identified by John, to be the Lamb of God to wash away their sins and that was reason enough to follow!
“Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), ‘where are You staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day” [vv.38-39]
Jesus gave the invitation to “come and see and I will tell you about who I am and what I will do.” As the disciples stayed with Jesus that day, they became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Lamb of God. They knew and believed that He was their Savior so they went out and found their brothers and said, “We have found the Messiah!” [v.41]
When we sit and hear God’s Word, when we look to see what God’s Word teaches us, we find out who Jesus is and what He has done. Who Jesus is and what He has done are the reasons to follow Him.
WHO is Jesus? True Son of God and Son of Man. He is the almighty and holy Son of God who also became a human being like us (except without sin) to redeem us.
WHAT has Jesus done? As true God and true man He sacrificed Himself on the cross to wash away our sins.
Knowing who Jesus is and what great love He has shown to you is reason to follow Him throughout all of this life—through every tumult, every storm, every trial, every high mountain, and every low valley. In all of this, the reason to follow is because Jesus is the Lamb of God!
He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.