Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Lamb of God Takes Away the Sin of the World

Sermon on John 1:29-42
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
January 19, 2013 (Second Sunday after Epiphany)

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Sitting here almost 2,000 years later, this confession on the part of John the Baptizer may sound very ordinary.  Of course Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  We sing that every Sunday during the Communion liturgy.  We’ve known that since we were little.  Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.  Jesus is the one who will take all our sins to the cross and die for them so that we can be forgiven.  There’s nothing new here.  We know this.

Well, at the time, it was a very bold statement.  Israel’s entire history, going back not just to Moses, not just to Abraham, but all the way back to Adam and Eve, had been for the purpose of bringing forth the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one, the Seed of the Woman who would crush the serpent’s head.  And so for John to point to this man, coming toward him, and say that he is the Seed of the Woman promised all the way back in Genesis 3, is an extremely bold and controversial thing to say.  But John does know whereof he speaks.  The Hebrew word messiah and the Greek word christ both mean the same thing: anointed one.  And, as we mentioned last week, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit testified that this guy really is the promised one.  God the Father calls Him His Son, and the Holy Spirit remains on him, the way anointing oil in those days would normally remain on someone who had taken a bath.  And so John has no doubt that his outlandish and controversial statement is true.  Jesus is the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah.  He’s the Lamb of God.

Another thing I suspect we don’t always think about here is that Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world.  Very often our focus is on the specific sins we have committed, and the fact that Christ’s death on the cross covers those specific thoughts, words, and deeds, especially the ones we happen to remember and feel bad about that particular week.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is a bigger picture here.  Firstly, it’s not just specific sins that the Lamb of God takes away.  He takes away sin, singular, rather than sins, plural.  Yes, that means that each of our specific sinful thoughts, words, and deeds is covered by His righteousness, and yes, that’s a great comfort to us as we feel the weight of God’s Law pressing down upon us who have failed to follow it.  But the specific sins of which we are ashamed are not the issue.  They are mere symptoms, not the disease itself.  Sin is the disease, and it sets us up as enemies of God and allies of nobody but our own selves even before we are capable of thinking, speaking, or doing any sinful things.  It is the disease that rots us to our very core, so that even when we try our best not to do sinful stuff, our focus is still on ourselves and how righteous we think we’ve been, which is itself a sin of pride and a violation of the First Commandment.  It is that sin, singular, rather than mere sins, plural, that the Lamb of God takes away.

But there’s an even bigger picture here.  The Lamb of God takes away not just my sin, or even our sin, but the sin of the world.  That means everybody.  It means your neighbor.  It means the guy that cut you off in traffic, the student who refused to pay attention in class, the joker who only pretends to work while he’s on the clock, the neighbor who plays his music too loud, the boss who is too hard on you, the policeman who pulls you over and not that maniac who just sped past you like you were standing still, and so on.  The Lamb of God died for their sin, too.  He died for everybody’s sin.

But let’s pull the camera back still further.  The Greek word that’s translated “world” here is cosmos.  With our telescopes and other instruments, we can see how big and how wonderful a creation this is.  We look around us with our own eyes and see the beauty of the flowers, the trees, the glorious singing of the birds, the vastness of the ocean, the huge variety of different animals that live on both land and sea.  But even here, there is death.  While animals don’t bear the moral responsibility for sin that we humans do, they, too, have been affected by sin.  The wages of sin is death, says St. Paul.  And there is plenty of that, not only among men, but also among the animals.  Animals hunt and kill each other.  Some sting, some bite, and some, like snakes, wrap their coils around and crush.  Animals were given to man for food after the flood, but it wasn’t always so.  And sometimes, due to the fallen nature of our whole world, mistakes happen.  Dogs and cats run out into the street in front of cars, as do deer.  The whole world, not just the humans, has become damaged because of man’s sin.

But it is precisely the sin of the world, not merely the occasional sins of human beings, that the Lamb of God takes away.  It is precisely the new cosmos, the new creation, that already exists in the Lamb’s resurrected body.  It is precisely the new creation which is born in us when the Holy Spirit descends on us in the water and the Father declares us His beloved Son.  It is precisely the new creation which we eat and drink, literally, every Sunday.  It’s a new world He won for us.  It is precisely a resurrected, restored, perfect creation which we will inhabit once we are resurrected from the dead.  The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

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