The Text: John 1:29-42
‘God’s lamb who takes away our sin’
There were two different people on a particular week who came to talk to their pastor about some issues with in their families. In both cases the situation was a big fight with one of their grown up children.
The first person was a lady who was struggling with guilt about the whole thing, because she had lost her temper, things had gotten out of hand, and she had said some things she should’ve have.
The second visitor was a man, and his situation was the reverse in that he wasn’t struggling with the guilt of having lost his temper, but with the anger at his daughter over how she could’ve said the things she did to him.
In both cases the things that had happened ate away at these people whether it was sin they had committed, or sin that been committed against them. In both cases their question was, how can I get rid of this sin in our relationship and the effects of it?
And in both cases the pastor be a little John the Baptist and point to the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’.
Sin is like rubbish that clings to our souls.
And the problem with rubbish and waste, is that the longer it hangs around, the worse it gets and the more problems it brings. Rubbish and waste not properly dealt with can make people sick, it can spread disease, if you leave too much of it in the backyard it will even attracts nasty creatures like rats.
Do you remember the pictures from England during the strikes of Margaret Thatcher’s time when she had stand-offs with the unions? Piles of rotting rubbish on the streets of London. Rubbish needs to removed for us to be healthy and live in a functioning society.
Now sin is spiritual rubbish. It needs to be taken away or it is unhealthy, and it even attracts nasty visitors. The spiritual rats are the devil and his demons. Have you noticed how they’re sometimes called ‘unclean spirits’ in the Bible?
Sin is the devil’s raw material, it’s all he’s got to work with. The devil’s strategy is to use our sin against us. So when we sin, he tries to bring it to our minds and accuse us with it, He says, ‘And you call yourself a Christian, how could you do that?’
That’s the accusation of the devil in our conscience, where he uses our sin to bring us guilt and shame, which are spiritually unhealthy, as well as in every other way. But he also uses the sin that has been committed against us, by making us angry about it and not being able to let it go.
He does this by bringing the sins of others against us to our minds so that we think, ‘how could that person do that to me?’
And so he gets in there and rummages around in the garbage of our lives, stirring it all up and making an even bigger mess.
So how do you get rid of rats?
You can set rat traps and such things, but then eventually if there’s still rubbish and waster laying around, more rats will come. If you really don’t want them around, you’ve got to get rid of the rubbish.
Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work, but in the first place he does it in a way we wouldn’t necessarily expect. He deals with the devil by removing the garbage of sin. God gets rid of the rats by removing the rubbish from our souls.
‘Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’
Now let’s think for a few minutes about this this picture of the lamb.
What is John the baptizer trying to bring to mind when he calls Jesus the ‘Lamb of God’?
Well the short answer is that it’s to do with sacrifice.
But the longer answer is that this picks up on a very rich series of images from the Old Testament which all roll into Jesus being the Lamb of God.
So first we might think of Abraham and Isaac. Where Abraham is tested by being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Remember Isaac’s question to Abraham? Dear little Isaac says, ‘Dad, look here’s the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ And Abraham’s wonderful faithful response was, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering…”
Which God did! Abraham is stopped by an angel from sacrificing Isaac and all of a sudden there’s a ram nearby caught up in a bush which was their sacrifice.
Then we might think of the Passover in Egypt.
When all the Israelite families were to take a lamb without blemish, to sacrifice this lamb and to put some of the blood on the doorposts.
The blood was a sign that God would pass over their houses so that the plague coming on the Egyptians would not touch them.
We might think of the lambs sacrificed at the Temple later on, making atonement for the people.
Then there was the scapegoat. Where once a year on the great Day of Atonement, Aaron the priest was to confess the sins of the people over the scapegoat, and it this goat would bear the sins of the people and carry them away out into the wilderness.
And then finally we remember the prophecy of Isaiah that we hear every Good Friday about the suffering servant of the Lord who was promised to come,
‘Surely he has born our griefs, carried our sorrows…
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before it’s shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth…’
All of this is in the background and flows into the loaded statement John makes when says about Jesus, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’. Jesus is the once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world, he is our substitute, he gave his life for ours.
The story is told of a tourist who visited a church in Germany and was surprised to see the carved figure of a lamb near the top of the church’s tower. He asked why it was there and was told that when the church was being built, a workman fell from a high scaffold. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured. How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top of a lamb. The lamb broke his fall and was crushed to death, but the man was saved.
So the figure of the carved lamb stood atop the church in memory of this miraculous escape, but even more to remember that in Jesus just such a life-saving event has taken place.
Now let’s just point out a few of the specific words in this sentence that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
First notice Jesus is the lamb… of God
In other words it’s just as Abraham had said, God will provide the sacrifice.
‘For God so loved the world that he sent his Son.’ John 3:16
Amazingly, the sacrifice for our sins is not provided by us, but by God himself.
Next, notice again what this lamb does with sin?
He takes it away.
This word is different than the one for forgive. It includes forgiveness but it’s bigger than that. This word is to do with taking something away, getting rid of it, removing it, even carrying it and bearing it. Now if that is what the Lamb does, then it means we don’t do it. Which is what we tend to think.
That to deal with the sin in our life we must just be better, try harder, pray harder, believe harder, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
But it doesn’t work and we don’t need to be the ones to deal with sin because that what Jesus the Lamb has come for.
And notice what this Lamb takes away, it’s not sins plural but sin singular. In other words it’s not just the symptoms of bad behaviour here and there – ‘sins’ – but this is the much deeper disease of ‘sin’ singular.
And it’s not just for one group of people or one type of person, but for the whole world.
This is the once for all sacrifice.
If this Jesus can remove the sin and garbage of the whole world, how surely can he take away the sin in our life? And he does, he removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west.
Sin happens by us and to us, and the rubbish accumulates, and we hide it away, we try to forget about it. But it doesn’t go away, the symptoms of guilt and shame or anger and bitterness keep arising, reminding us there is a deeper problem. We need to bring these things to the Lamb of God for them to be taken away.
Where do we go to have our spiritual rubbish removed by the Lamb of God? If all this still sounds a bit theoretical or spiritual to you and not terribly practical, I want to show you just how relevant and practical it is for our lives today.
Where do we go to have our spiritual rubbish removed by the Lamb of God? Well you get a hint by thinking about where we use those words.
We use them here in worship don’t we?
‘Jesus Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.’
Specifically we sing that or pray those words right before we receive Holy Communion.
Why do we do that? Why do we in worship pick up on these words of John Baptist and pray them right before we receive the body and blood of Jesus? It’s because it is here in worship, culminating in Holy Communion, where Jesus the Lamb of God invites us to come to him to have the rubbish removed from our souls.
And again that goes for the rubbish we are responsible for creating, and for that which has been dumped on us. When we say ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us’, what we’re praying is that just as he has taken away the sin of the whole world by his death on the cross, so now as we receive his body and blood given and shed on the cross, would he take away the sin in our lives, the rubbish clinging to our souls.
Let’s consider: is there any rubbish hanging around the recesses of our heart, scrunched up and stuffed away? Are we reminded it’s there every now and then by some wave of guilt or outburst of anger? What is the rubbish in our life that we need the Lamb to take away?
What’s so amazing is that not only does Jesus take away the rubbish, but he gives you immeasurably more valuable stuff in return. Imagine a council who paid you to take away your rubbish. He takes the ‘yuck’ stuff, and in return he gives you his purity, his holiness, his freedom and his peace.
‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’
Let us pray…
Jesus Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, so take away our sin and destroy its power in our lives, in our families, in the church. Amen.