Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
—John 1:29 +INPFSS+
The three points of this morning's sermon are simply the three phrases in this tremendous verse:
2) The Lamb of God.
3) Who takes away the sin of the world.
So, we begin with this imperative verb: Behold.
When John the Baptist first said this, he was of course meaning literally: “Look over there! There he is!”
But as with so much of Holy Scripture, God-breathed as it is, the significance of this word, of this command, doesn't end there.
No, in fact we, the hearers of the Bible, are commanded to do the same thing, even today.
To behold Jesus.
To look at him, with our minds. With faith. Or as Paul says in Ephesians, with the eyes of our hearts.
And John the Baptist isn't the only voice in Scripture telling us to look at Jesus, right?
If we study the Scriptures, we see that this language of vision of looking is everywhere!
Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34
They will look on him whom they have pierced. John 19, quoting Zechariah 12
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor3:18
Come and see the works of God Psalm 66
This ocular language of the bible is actually a very good way of summarizing what it should mean to live as a Christian: That as we go through our day, we look at Jesus, with our mind's eye. That we see him as he is, in the several places where has chosen to dwell: Sitting on his throne in heaven. Present in the Holy Eucharist, and Living in our own souls, through the Holy Spirit. These are the three places that we know Jesus is, and so it is there that we can “look”. And it is in the act of looking, that the Christian life begins.
When we look to Jesus, in our minds, we remember who he is. We remember that he is the Lord and Master of all. And that he is worthy to be obeyed. We remember that he is our merciful, loving savior, and we also recall that he will be the judge of our lives as well. And as we remember, so, with God's help, we can steer our lives toward him. Can make decisions that are in keeping with his will. Resisting temptation to sin, choosing to love and be patient.
Looking, leads to remembering, leads to right-living.
Because where we look determines where we go.
Think of it simply in terms of driving:
If you're looking at the road 10 feet in front of your car, you won't stay a straight course on the road, and won't see when to turn off or what have you.
If you're looking at your phone while you're driving – you're likely to end up crashing.
But if you're looking ahead, down the road, then you'll stay a straight course, you'll make your exit, and all will be well.
Where you look, determines where you go.
And even more than this: Where we go, determines who be become.
This is a truth recognized even by heathens, as the famous quote goes:
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
When we collapse this syllogism down, we see that our thoughts – that is, where we direct the eye of our mind – determines who we become.
So if our thoughts are set on earthly things, we become an earthly thing – a thing that perishes, a thing that in the end, goes the way of all things – becoming nothing. Or as our Lord reveals, being cast into outer darkness, where this is much suffering.
But if our thoughts are set on God. If we are constantly directing the eye of our mind to look at Jesus, then, through the work of the Spirit within us, we actually become like him. We become Godly.
This is the meaning of Psalm 34:5 Look upon him...and be radiant.
In the act of gazing upon our loving savior, we are made like him.
Where we look, determines who we become.
One final thought then on this Christian looking:
One of the desert fathers, Abba Bessarion, at the point of death, said, 'The Christian ought to be as the Cherubim and the Seraphim (who, you'll recall, in the Bible are often depicted as having many eyes): The Christian ought to be as the Cherubim and the Seraphim all eye.'
Behold, the Lamb of God.
This brings us to the second phrase in John's exclamation this morning:
Behold, the Lamb of God.
It's a curious way of addressing Jesus, who, you'll recall is John the Baptist's cousin, being born of his mother Elizabeth's sister, the Blessed Virgin Mary. John doesn't address him by name, nor does he address him by his role – he doesn't say, 'Behold, the Messiah'
He says, 'behold, the lamb of God' – intentionally highlighting a central aspect of who Jesus is, but, what is that? Well let's look:
In the first place, to call Jesus a lamb, is automatically to bring to mind to his Jewish listeners the lambs that were used in sacrifice. You'll recall that in the Old Testament sacrificial system, a lamb was offered every morning and every evening in the Temple, and this practice was still alive in Jesus' time. And of course, on top of this, the great, highest, holiest celebration of the Passover, had as its central feature, the killing and eating of a lamb, to recall how it was the blood of a lamb that was the means by which the Israelites in Egypt were spared by the destroying angel. Lambs, therefore, to a Jew, are not just cute and cuddly creatures, they are the pleasing offering to the Living God, because they are innocent. They are sacrifices, and in the case of the first-passover, never-forgotten, they are life-savers.
And absolutely John is signifying these things when he calls Jesus a lamb, as he makes explicit, in the final phrase of his exclamation: “who takes away the sin of the world.” John sees that Jesus is here to make a sacrifice. But not any sacrifice. He doesn't say, 'Behold the priest', he says, 'behold the lamb', meaning – Jesus is going to offer his own self as a sacrifice. HE is himself the lamb! And notice, not just any lamb. Not a lamb. But the lamb. All the actual lambs that had been sacrificed by Israel, for the 1500 years since they had been led out of Egypt, until that day, they had all been foreshadows, prophetic figures, for the one true sacrifice that would take care of sins for real, and would be once and for all. THE sacrifice. Which could only be made by THE lamb. The lamb that was promised to Abraham, but was not there on Mount Moriah. The lamb that is led to the slaughter in Isa 53, being pierced for our transgressions. The Lamb of God.
Meaning, the Lamb that comes from God. AND the Lamb who was God. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was the Lamb. And the Lamb was with God, and the Lamb WAS God.
This sacrificial offering would be sent by God himself, and would be God the son himself.
As St. Peter reveals in his first letter: That the Son of God would sacrifice himself was the plan all along. Chap. 1 vs. 19 and 20: the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.
Behold, The Lamb of God.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Not just the sins of Israel, not just the sins of some select few, but the sins of the whole world! He takes away the sin of the whole world, because it is his will that the whole world would be saved in him. (1 Timothy 2:4). But, really, not just “sins” in their concrete particulars – but all SIN.
Sin, in the singular, meaning the one thing that since Adam's disobedience has been spreading and corrupting the entire cosmos. He is going to take it away. Or rather, paying attention to the details of the text: He's not going to take it away, he takes it away, present tense. And this tense tells us something. It tells us that, not only did Jesus once and for all make the needed sacrifice for sins, sacrificing himself on the cross, but he is still, now, as then, taking away the sins of the world.
Little by little. Each and every time a man or woman comes to him in prayer, with repentance in their heart, asking for forgiveness, the Lord takes that sin away. Each time someone comes to confession, and the Absolution is proclaimed, the Lord takes that sin away. Each and every day, every hour, and every minute, there are Christians bringing their sins to God, and he is granting them forgiveness.
The Lamb of God is still taking away the sins of the world.
His storehouse of mercy is infinite. But it only pays the debts that are brought to it.
So, I wish to leave you with two challenges this week, in light of all that has been said about this one, beautiful verse.
The first is this: Are you asking God to take away your sins? Your specific, actual sins, that you have committed? The ones you have committed today? As well as the ones you committed long ago? Or are you sweeping them under the rug, hoping that they will just disappear on their own, and that God will take no notice of them?
Be advised: with God there is no rug.
If you stole from a shop-keeper in broad daylight, would there be a rug? Of course not!
No, we must come to the one we have offended, and plead for forgiveness.
And in his infinite mercy, he promises us that he will grant it.
So I encourage you, as I also remind myself, we must always be concrete and real in our bringing our sins to God, if we want him to be concrete and real in taking them away.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
And the second challenge is this:
Remember the imperative I spoke about at first. The charge of John the Baptist: BEHOLD!
As you go about your day and the days of this upcoming week, try and throw the eye of your mind on to the Lord Jesus as frequently as you can. LOOK at him. Fix your heart on him. Behold him. Behold him in his mercy, in his dealing with your sins, as the Lamb of God. Behold him in his glory, as the Lamb that stands on the throne.
The more you look to Jesus, in your mind – but heck, use your eyes if you need to! Icons, crosses, crucifixes, anything can help – the more you look to him, the more he will bring our lives into conformity with his.
Let me pray for us, to this end: