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“Behold, the Lamb of God”
John 1:29-42a
Post-Epiphany II
January 19, 2014
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
John 1:29: The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and
said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the
Dear friends in Christ,
I could argue that never have more important words been
uttered from the mouth of a sinful man. And, I’m not simply speaking
of famous secular quotes, like, “Four score and seven years ago”… or
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”… or “I have a
dream.” I’m talking about even more important words… words like,
“As a called and ordained servant of Christ, I forgive you all of your
sins,” or like “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit,” or words like, “The body of Christ, given for
Those words are eternally important to you (I don’t mean to
diminish their eternal significance in the least!), and yet – without
the words uttered by John – or, more specifically, without the great
Truth to whom those words point, any word of baptism, absolution,
of the Supper could never be yours.
So, let us consider these words: “Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!”
To properly consider them, we ought also consider their
context. John is on the banks of the Jordan, and he is calling people
to repentance with the exhortation that they not miss out on the day
of God’s favor.
You have the same call to repentance regularly proclaimed to
you. We might think that John had an especially captive audience,
because the crowds were coming to see him; yet, you also come out
from your homes and your neighborhoods to this place, and – still –
you know how dull and dreary your hearts can be when the call to
repentance is heralded. You know how much your hearts yawn in the
face of the call to repentance, how much they excuse themselves of
the need to repent, how much they justify themselves – comparing
their ‘little trivial’ sins to those ‘big, bad’ sins of others… sins that you
don’t commit!
But, John’s call rings out: “Repent! Do not miss out on the
day of grace.” How horrible for those who will miss out! Repent!”
And, into that context, into that setting and backdrop of repentance,
into that ‘sermon’… Jesus comes. Jesus comes and abruptly the call
to repentance stops. Jesus comes and there is no more exhortation,
no more admonition upon listless hearts. There is only one final
word that causes hearts to tremble – tremble in fear or tremble in
“Behold!” In the Greek, it’s a word of sudden surprise –
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
John calls out. It’s as if he said, “Suddenly, there he is. He is here!
Have you repented, or have you not heeded the call to repentance?
Either way, the time for preparation is over! For the day of grace is at
hand, but how sad for those who were unwilling to repent! For Christ
is now here, and they cannot benefit from his presence.”
And so, “Behold!”, friends… Christ is here. Is your house in
order? Have your sins ruled the roost? Has your Old Adam lorded
over and tied up the New? Then, repent, for Christ is here!
And yet, is it really for us a sudden surprise? No, He promised
it and has kept his promises. In fact, think liturgically of where we
use this call of John. Where in our liturgy does John point us to
Christ? – it’s in the Agnus Dei, right before the distribution of
communion (I’ll get to why that is in a minute)… right before
communion, we sing the phrase; but notice what word is missing: “O
Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” What
word is missing? Behold.
It’s no surprise that Christ is coming to serve us, for it’s what
He promised. His grace is so abundant and profound that He makes
himself predictable to serve us each week. And yet, do we use that
as excuse for laziness and lawlessness and ingratitude? God forbid!
And so, repent. For if you do not… if you resent His call to
repentance and deny you have any use for His forgiveness, he will
oblige… and he will let you have your way. You will stand in your sin
and be judged accordingly. Or, if you refuse to repent and say, “I
need not God’s grace; I can have it some other time,” He may decide
to return again in glory that day or conclude your numbered days
before next Sunday rolls around.
All this is to be considered in the word, “Behold.” But then,
the next word of great importance comes: the. Jesus is not a lamb of
God. The Jews knew the sight of thousands of lambs being carried
into Jerusalem; thousands upon thousands who would be slain and
bled out… but all of them were merely preparatory. None of them
could actually do what they symbolized. But, here now, John says,
this is the Lamb, given by God Himself. None other is needed… the
blood-letting ends with this One.
Friends, if you think you can please God in some other way,
with some other sacrifice or good work or spiritual thought, you have
rendered Jesus merely a lamb and have thus offended the Holy God
who offered Him up. Nothing – no other lamb – can be offered. Jesus
is the Lamb, the substitute for which there is no substitute.
Contrarily, if you worry whether your works are numerous
enough, whether your faith is strong enough, whether your heart is
pure enough, be comforted by this word: the. Your heart is not the
sacrifice, your faith is not the sacrifice; your good works are no lamb.
These need not burden you, for your substitute has already been
slain: behold, the Lamb of God.
But, let us further consider what John means by the phrase
“Lamb of God.” It is not merely a phrase to be interpreted, “Behold,
your savior comes.” Sometimes, we western, English speaking folk
(for whom mere metaphors are so common) get lazy in our
considerations of the exact words of Scripture, and we imagine that
John was simply being creative in how he describes Jesus.
But, the Jews on the banks of the Jordan understood this
much better than we do. Here, John had called them to repentance.
Here, John had admonished them to understand their sins and their
need to be reconciled to God. Here, John had convicted them of
their need for a sacrifice that would atone for sins… and yet they
knew they had no pleasing sacrifice.
And, suddenly, John proclaims: “Behold, the Sacrifice. The
one to be slain on an altar… to take away the sins of the world.”
Remember, friends, that in the tabernacle and temple of the Old
Testament, the lamb would be placed on the altar as a substitute for
the people, and they would lay their hand on the lamb’s head and
thereby symbolize transferring their sins to it. And the lamb would
be slain, and the blood would pour forth… and such shedding of
blood would mark their forgiveness in the Lamb who would one day
And now, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin
of the world.” Behold, this One you may trust to accomplish what all
those previous lambs symbolized. Upon this One you may confess
and heap your sins… on Him you may lay your hands and transfer to
him your transgressions.”
Friends, here is the proper understanding of the hymnody.
We will - during communion – sing “I lay my sins on Jesus, the
spotless Lamb of God.” There is a correct way to sing that, and an
incorrect way to sing it. The hymn does not mean, “Look at what I
am doing; God should be so pleased with me that I have chosen
Jesus to be my savior and have honored him by giving him the
attention that comes with laying on sins.” Rather, we are to sing and
confess that upon this Jesus, this spotless Lamb of God, my sins are
laid. We are to understand that this Jesus carries them, this Jesus is
the scapegoat, the substitute, upon which all the sins of Jews of the
old testament, and all the sins of Gentiles in the new… all of them,
“including mine” (you can say), they are all laid on his head, for He is
God’s Lamb, God’s fulfillment of those promisory symbols of old. And
thus, I lay my sins on Him… the spotless lamb of God.
And, what does He do with them? By taking them upon
himself, He takes them “away from me” you can say. Behold, the
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Notice, John
doesn’t say, “Behold the Lamb of God who does away with the sins
of the world.” Rather, he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes
away.” If you take from someone else, that means you now have it. If
Jesus takes away your sins, don’t think that they’re just magically
gone in a big poof of smoke. They need to be paid for. They need the
cross. They need to have blood split – “for there is no forgiveness of
sins without the shedding of blood.” Behold the Lamb of God who
takes away – who makes His own, who carries to the cross –the sins
of the world… meaning that the sins no longer belong to you. As far
as the East is from the West, so far removed are your sins from you.
Thus, lay your sins on Jesus.
There is one more thought (I hinted at it earlier) we must
convey when considering this eternally significant proclamation: The
Jews understood what happened to the lamb that was sacrificed.
Not only was it slain; not only was its blood sprinkled on the people
to purify them by such washing… but also, the lamb’s flesh was
eaten. The Lamb’s flesh was consumed in a feast of forgiveness that
heralded peace and unity between God and man. Thus, as the body
and blood of Christ is lifted high, “O Christ, Thou Lamb of God.”
Implicit in John’s words are everything from the cross to
baptism to absolution to the Supper. For, this is what the fulfillment
of the Lamb is all about… this is what the Lamb of God is all about.
And, it’s into that peace and unity, that forgiveness, that cross-won
reconciliation that Jesus calls sinners.
Did you notice, that’s the very first thing Jesus does after he
is pointed to by John – He calls sinners into his fold. “What are you
seeking?” are his words… and the two respond, “Rabbi.” They were
seeking to be taught; “Rabbi, where are you staying?” – seeking to
dwell with Christ and He with them… to be taught God’s truth, to be
taught God’s promises fulfilled, to be taught exactly what God’s
Messiah is all about… and to receive from that Messiah nothing less
and nothing other than what God has promised.
Friends, if you want to be taught God’s truth, if you want to
be taught God’s promises fulfilled, if you want to be taught what the
Messiah is all about… to dwell with him and he with you… and to
receive from that Messiah nothing less and nothing other than what
God has promised, then hear the words of John as He points you to
Christ in His Word and Sacrament – for your benefit and for the
benefit of all you can bring to hear arguably the most important
words ever uttered from the mouth of a sinful man: “Behold, the
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
In the Name of the Father
And of the Son
And of the Holy Spirit.
+ AMEN +
Rev. Mark C. Bestul
Calvary Lutheran Church
January 19, 2014