Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (A)

January 19, 2014
Text: John 1:29-42a

            “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29; ESV).  It is the culmination of John’s ministry, the pinnacle, the goal of all his preaching and teaching and baptizing in his prophetic ministry.  It is revealed to him by God: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (v. 33), the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God.  And in our Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River, that is precisely what happened, as we heard last week.  The heavens were opened, the Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father spoke: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).  Jesus is it, the One promised by God, the One prophesied in all the Scriptures.  The Old Testament has come to an end.  The New Testament has come in the flesh to make His dwelling among us (John 1:14).  He has come to be the sacrifice for our sin.  John points his bony finger at Jesus and preaches: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
            What does John mean when he calls Jesus the “Lamb of God”?  This is to say that Jesus is the culmination and fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices.  Jesus is the once for all sacrifice for sin.  Whereas those Old Testament sacrifices of bulls and goats and pigeons and sheep had to be offered again and again, the once for all sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross has made atonement for all our sins.  The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Heb. 10:11-13).  All the other sacrifices pointed to this once for all sacrifice of Jesus.  It was not the sacrifice of animals that actually made atonement to God for sin.  Rather, in those sacrifices, the people of God received the once for all sacrifice of Christ sacramentally.  That is to say, the blood of those sacrifices on the altar connected God’s people to the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the altar of the cross.
            There were many types of sacrifice in the Old Testament.  There were the peace offerings: thank offerings, votive offerings, free-will offerings.  There were atonement offerings, called guilt offerings and sin offerings.  There was the scapegoat, over which the sins of the people were confessed on the Day of Atonement, and the goat was sent away from the camp bearing those sins, out into the wilderness.  And, of course, there was the Passover Lamb.  You remember how it happened.  The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, but God sent His servant Moses to preach to Pharaoh: “Let my people go” (Ex. 5:1)!  But Pharaoh hardened his heart.  God sent ten plagues, the tenth the most terrifying, the death of every first born of man and beast in all Egypt, from the firstborn slave to the firstborn of Pharaoh.  But Israel was commanded that each family take a sheep and slaughter it and paint its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their dwellings.  And as they were safe in their blood-spattered dwellings, eating the lamb with unleavened bread and wine and bitter herbs, the angel of death passed over.  Covered by the blood of the lamb, the children of Israel did not die, but lived.  And the next day they marched out of Egypt, out of slavery, on their way to the Promised Land.
            John proclaims that Jesus is our Passover Lamb and our Scapegoat.  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  The people came to John in the Jordan, confessing their sins, and receiving a Baptism of repentance and forgiveness.  So you are baptized, and you confess your sins.  Jesus, as our Scapegoat, takes all of that sin into Himself in His Baptism and bears it.  He takes it away.  And where does He take it?  Outside the city, outside Jerusalem, to Calvary, to the cross, where, on the day the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed, He was sacrificed on the cross to make atonement.  For you.  For me.  For the whole world (yes, this is the universal atonement!).  For the forgiveness of sins.  And now His blood marks the doorposts and lintels of our hearts.  Safe inside the blood spattered Church, we eat the Lamb of God, His true Body and Blood, under unleavened bread and wine, and yes, the bitter herbs of the suffering our Lord lays upon us in this life.  This meal strengthens us to endure that bitterness.  And the angel of death passes over.  Covered by the Blood of the Lamb, the new Israel, the children of God here in the holy Church, do not die, but live.  And we march out of our slavery to sin, death, and the devil, through the wilderness earthly life in this fallen flesh and this fallen world, on into the Promised Land of heaven and the resurrection on the Last Day.
            “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  The Blood of Jesus brings about the covenant, the New Testament in His Blood, the forgiveness of sins.  The Blood of Jesus cleanses us.  The Blood of Jesus purifies.  The Blood of Jesus is the payment price to purchase us for God.  The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).  St. Peter writes: “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).  And St. Paul writes that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,” a baptismal bath in His blood, “so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). 
            But why is it necessary, this bloody sacrifice of the Lamb of God to make all of this our reality?  Sin is not just some minor offense, a little bump in the road of our relationship to God, an insignificant impediment on our way to living a good life.  Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).  The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).  Sin is not just the bad things you do or the good things you fail to do, what we call in theology “actual sins.”  It is a corruption buried deep in your very nature, what we call in theology “original sin.”  It is a condition, the cause of all actual sins, a terminal disease, separating you from God, separating you from one another, leading to death and finally to hell.  So you can’t just commit yourself to a reformation of life.  You can’t just try really hard not to sin and make it all better.  You don’t just have a headache, you have a brain tumor, and you can’t cure it with Tylenol.  Something radical must take place.  Sin demands a death.  Sin demands blood.  And so the Son of God takes on flesh and blood that He might give it up into death for you.  Nothing less than the Blood of God is required to save you from sin and its wages.  And that is what your Lord Jesus gives for you on the cross, and to you here in His Word and Sacrament.
            St. John points his disciples and us to the only One who can save us, to Christ, to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And now that is the whole duty of the Church and of every Christian preacher, of every Christian, in fact, to point people to the Lamb of God who takes away their sin.  John points Andrew and another disciples, probably John the Evangelist, our author, to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36).  Andrew finds his brother Simon Peter, and what does he do?  He points Simon to Jesus.  “We have found the Messiah” (v. 41).  And so these who have been pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away their sins become Jesus’ disciples.  Here we have our whole evangelism program.  We don’t need slick campaigns, clever gimmicks, or special effects.  Our solemn duty is to point to Jesus and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away your sin.  The results are up to God.  We have one message.  There is really only one sermon.  It is Christ crucified for sinners.  It is Christ crucified for you.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.                  



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