Download or listen to The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29-42a)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is only one Christian sermon. Sermons may be about a lot of things, but there is only one Christian sermon; it’s the same one that John preaches again and again in the first few chapters of John’s Gospel: “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Look, the Lamb of God. He must increase; I must decrease. And so he does. Those are the last words we hear from John the Baptizer in John’s Gospel. And so it must be, not only for John, but for every Christian preacher. Jesus must increase, but I must decrease. Jesus must increase until He fills the whole field of vision. Every Christian sermon must point like John’s finger, to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Even if those words are never mentioned, even if that image of the Lamb is not used, if a sermon does not revolve around that Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, then it is not a Christian sermon. John said, “This is the reason I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed to Israel.” And when He is revealed, when John finally points to the greater One coming after him, then John’s job is done in this creation. When Jesus comes, John’s disciples are no longer his.
This is the only Christian sermon because in these words, even if they are not used, is everything belonging to our salvation. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Lamb of God. I wonder if we know what John means by those words. What does that really mean, “the Lamb of God”? And why is John the Evangelist the only one to record these words of John the Baptizer? The Lamb doesn’t show up in John’s Gospel after this, but John, more than any other Gospel writer, emphasizes the Passover feast, when a lamb was slaughtered. The other Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, mention the Passover. Matthew mentions it four times, Mark four times, and Luke seven times. But in all three of those Gospels, it is always Jesus’ last Passover meal with His disciples. But in John’s Gospel, the Passover is mentioned nine times, starting in Chapter 2, and running through to the crucifixion. The whole Gospel seems to revolve around the Passover, and the last time it is mentioned is when Jesus is standing at the place of judgment before Pilate. John says it was the day of preparation for the Passover. And Pilate says, “Look, your King!” The people say, “We have no king but Caesar.” And Pilate prepares the Passover Lamb by delivering Jesus to be crucified. The Passover lamb was to be slaughtered at twilight by all Israel, and then they were to take some of its blood and put it on the doorposts and the lintel, and Death would pass them over. Look, the Lamb of God.
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Who lifts it up on Himself. Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). Blessed be Yahweh; day by day He carries our burden; this God of our salvation (Psalm 68:19). We come in here week after week with our burdens, the various things that each of us carries, the burdens of our sin and the burdens of our idols. This is not the place to receive more burdens, to make life more burdensome, to give you a list of things to do so that you can be better people. This is the lifting-up place, the taking-away place, the burden-removing place. To Israel, in Isaiah 46, God says these idols cannot carry you. In fact, you know it’s an idol if you have to carry it! But your God is not an idol. He is the one who has carried you from birth, and even while you were still in the womb. And He is the one who will carry you to old age and gray hairs; from the womb to the grave, He carries you and bears you. He is not our burden; we are His! And He is not ashamed to carry us, nor is He ashamed to bear our sin on Himself to the cross. It is not like in the Footprints poem, where God only carries us some of the time, when things are particularly hard for us. We are always carried by Him. He says, “I made you, I carry you, I bear you, I will bring you to safety.” Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He has taken it away. It no longer belongs to you. He takes your burden, and He takes away the sin of the whole world. To all people Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30). Are you weary? Jesus is for you. Are you burdened with what you have done and left undone? Jesus is for you. Cast your burden on Yahweh and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved (Psalm 55:22). Not because we cannot be moved, but because He cannot. He has died, He has risen, He will come again.
Here, today, look again: O Christ, Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. O Christ, Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. O Christ, Thou Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us keep the feast! Here, above all, He exchanges your burden for His. Here, you have no more sin, and your burdens are lifted. But it is not just between you and Jesus here, at this altar. Let us keep the feast not with the leavened bread of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. We all eat the same body and the same blood. We are the one Body of Christ. The only burden you have when you leave this railing is the burden of your brother or sister. He grants us faith toward Him, to see the Lamb who takes away our sin; but He also grants us love toward one another. “Bear one another’s burdens,” Paul says, “and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). No more law to fulfill before God, but your neighbor needs your fulfillment of that law, for you to share in their afflictions and sorrows, to speak mercy to them, and to bring them back here week after week, and together with them, Christ exchanges His burden for yours. Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, now and forever. This is the one Christian sermon, and this Lamb’s gifts are the unique Christian sacraments. He must increase; we must decrease. For our own sake, and for the sake of the whole world.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/18/14