How would someone describe you? You might be described as a father or mother, a son or daughter. You might be described as a husband or wife, a doctor or teacher. Those words describe the role you serve. They define who you are to an extent. As we see in our Gospel for today, John describes who Jesus is and the role He performs with just a single verse: “The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!””
Is there any better description in all of Scripture that defines who Jesus Christ and what His purpose and function is than this verse? If you could understand everything there is to know about this sentence, you would be worthy of the title Doctor of Theology many times over. This sentence from John the Baptist is one of the most powerful expressions of the Gospel in the Bible. John is able to capture all of Jesus with this verse. Within the full meaning of these words are all the sentences of all the Creeds of the Church.
Let’s dissect what John says here. “Behold” The word Behold is an epiphany word. It means look here; I want to show you something. John uses this word so that he can show Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, to his listeners and to us. He had already received an epiphany from God. Last week we learned that after John baptized Jesus, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended like a dove, and the voice declared that this Jesus was God’s beloved Son. Now John is proclaiming this epiphany to his listeners. He is doing the work of a prophet and pointing to Jesus Christ, the Son of God and savior of the world.
“The Lamb of God” Now, although some sacrifices required bulls, goats, or birds, the lamb more than any other animal was the animal required by most of the sacrificial regulations of the ceremonial law. The word Lamb as it is used in this sentence brings to mind the continuous flow of blood from the altar in Jerusalem. This image was so strong that God often referred to the people as His sheep with Himself as their Shepherd. They understood that the sacrificial lamb was taking their place. Now John was saying that this man who was the Shepherd had become a Lamb in order to become the sacrifice for them. The word Lamb reminds us of the sacrifice that was made in our place.
John is saying that this man is God’s Lamb. He is not just close to perfect. He is perfect. He is the culmination of all the sacrifices of all time. He is the sacrifice that fulfills the first sacrifice that God made when He killed some animals to provide the skins that covered Adam and Eve after they sinned. He fulfills the sacrifice that Abel offered and He fulfills the sacrifices that Noah offered after he landed safely in the ark. He fulfills the sacrifices of Abraham including the sacrifice he made after he nearly sacrificed his own son, Isaac. He is the one time for all sacrifice that makes all the other sacrifices meaningful.
“The sin of the world” These words gather the stench of sin into one disgusting mass of evil. It includes all the sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that anyone at any time has ever had. It includes the sinful nature that we were born with. These words mean that the work of God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ is good for the whole world, not just those who believe. The word here for world in this sentence is the root for the word cosmos. This word means everything that God has created, everything that God has brought into being by the command of His Word.
And so Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus lived in the flesh without sin, “a lamb without blemish or spot,” thus fulfilling God’s Law in our stead. How does He do this? He does this through His bloody sacrifice on the cross. There, the Lamb of God, who came from God and who was God, satisfied God’s wrath against the sin of the world, against your sin. This is done to fulfill all righteousness, to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for the sinner.
What insight John had! However, the Pharisees of the day did not have that insight. Many people of the day did not have that insight, comparing Jesus to Moses, Elijah or a prophet. And still many today do not have that insight that John had, looking to Christ as nothing more than a moral example to follow, but definitely not the Son of God.
John goes on to further state whom Jesus is, by recounting what He saw at Jesus’ Baptism. He says, “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” Up until now, no one has made that claim except one person: God the Father at Jesus’ Baptism. Not even Jesus Himself has made that claim. So how is John able to make such a claim? John can make such a claim because he was in the presence of the Trinity at Jesus’ Baptism. He saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. He heard the voice of the Father declare that Jesus is His beloved Son.
Let us stop and think about what it means that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This means that the Lamb takes the load, the curse, the damnation of the total massive amount of sin onto himself. He lifts the awful burden from us and carries it to the cross. There our sin is crucified with the Lamb. There our sin is put to death. This one act of lifting and carrying away our sin is good for all time.
When John said these words, he considered the taking away to already be a done deal. The forgiveness of sins that comes as a result of the Lamb’s sacrifice was already available to all. All the saints of the Old Testament received salvation because this Lamb’s sacrifice is good for all time and all places and all people. God’s promise is as if John had already heard Jesus declare his victory from the cross with the words, “It is finished.”
Jesus is the Savior, and the Savior is the Lamb of God. The Lamb is destined to suffer and die. Who’s going to follow a Savior like that? By faith, John’s disciples do. Trusting in the Word of the Lord proclaimed by John, they are willing to abandon all and follow Him. They don’t keep it to themselves, either: right away, Andrew is telling Peter. It doesn’t seem to make sense: They follow a Savior who will never amount to much in worldly terms, a King who will never gather an army to fight and conquer. They’ll put their trust in the Son of God who will allow Himself to be arrested, beaten, spat upon and killed. And after He is risen, what will happen to His disciples? They’ll tell others of Jesus, and they too will be arrested, beaten, spat upon and killed. Not real attractive to the world.
But that is how Jesus saves. He doesn’t save through worldly means, but with His shed blood on the cross. The only way to make peace between God and man is for Jesus to sacrifice Himself. And so He does what is required of you and I. He does what is necessary and He goes to do what only He can – He gives Himself as a sacrifice. He is the perfect Lamb who goes to slaughter.
All of this was done for you, with you in mind. We are able to echo the words of Andrew, “We have found the Messiah.” We have found Him doing what he John says He will: taking away the sins of the world. The Son of God is with us to give us life, both now and forever. Behold. The Lamb of God declares to you that you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.