John 1:29 - Who is Jesus? He's the Lamb of God.

December 23, 2012 Speaker: Series: Advent 2012

Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: John 1:29–1:34

[Text: John 1:29-34] “Who is Jesus? He is the Lamb of God.”

If you had to choose an animal to describe the most powerful man you’d ever met, what would it be?

[Read and Pray – Father, in the name of Jesus our Savior, we ask you to continue working faith in us by your Spirit, that we might hear and believe the Gospel from your Word. Amen.]

John the Baptizer looked and saw man coming toward him. To human eyes, Jesus was just a man, but God helped John recognize Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” In v. 31, John admits that he didn’t know Jesus but he knew the very reason John existed was so that Jesus might be revealed to the people of God. In v. 33, John admits that he didn’t know who Jesus was but the one who sent John told him and so now John was witnessing, testifying to his audience the truth about Jesus. But what does that truth mean? What does it mean for Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world?”

There’s some question regarding just how much John the Baptizer understood about Jesus and his work as the Lamb of God. In the grammar there are some ambiguities: in v. 29, “takes away” could be sacrificial, atonement language but there are other words for that concept. It could also simply mean John thought that Jesus had come to carry away the sin of the world by an act of judgment from God (think “Noah’s flood” kind of action, which is actually what many of Jesus’ followers expected him to do – a rescue of the people of God through judgment, not through suffering). Some commentators point out that many times in the Gospels a pre-death and resurrection confession by a follower about who they believed Jesus to be was true and yet revealed a deep misunderstanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do. Later in the story, from the other Gospels, we know that John had some doubts about Jesus. He asked if Jesus really was the Christ because things apparently weren’t going as John expected.

But an incomplete understanding by John the Baptizer doesn’t need to make us worry. People in the Scriptures, when the Holy Spirit was at work, sometimes spoke better than they knew. Like later in John’s Gospel when Caiaphas, the High Priest, wanted Jesus put to death so that the Romans would not take away their place. It says in chapter 11,

“… Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to [the people worried about everyone believing in Jesus], “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (John 11:49-52 ESV)

Whatever John the Baptizer thought, for whatever was lacking in his understanding of what it meant for Jesus to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” we know that this Gospel was written by John the Evangelist, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who was a witness to the death – and resurrection – of the Lamb of God. As John the Evangelist wrote on this side of the cross and ascension of the risen Christ, he understood more about what Jesus had come to be and to do, he stood in a later place in the Story than John the Baptizer had. And so he lets John the Baptizer’s grammatically ambiguous statement stand because he wants people to believe (as he writes at the end of the Gospel) that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” And understanding that Jesus is the Lamb of God is an important aspect of understanding Jesus as our Rescuer and Lord. Your belief in Jesus needs to include an embracing of – and resting in – Jesus as the Lamb.

But how does that image reveal to us who Jesus really is? What is beneath it? In what way is Jesus the Lamb of God?

John’s Gospel connects two prominent themes from the Old Testament that, when held together in the person of Jesus, powerfully demonstrate to us what Jesus came to be for us and do for us. As the Lamb of God, Jesus is the final lamb of the sacrificial system who died to atone for the sins of the people of God. And as the Lamb of God, Jesus is also the true Passover lamb who died to protect the people of God from the judgment of God. He is both the atonement for our sins and our covering that protects us forever.

Jesus is our sacrifice and our protection…because we need both. As we offer our lives to things that are not God, trusting in anything other than God to make life the way it is supposed to be, we rob God of what He is due. When we only love him with 50% of our hearts, with 1/3 of our souls, 13% of our minds or strength, then we keep back for ourselves what God deserves and we become debtors to God! But our worship of self or other, of comfort or reputation, of affluence or relationships leaves us spiritually bankrupt and so we can’t pay what we owe. A ransom, an atoning payment – a sacrifice – is the only way for our debt to God to be satisfied.

But there’s more. Our debt to God leaves us naked and exposed to His righteous wrath. The Scriptures say that what our pursuit of life on our own terms, in opposition to God, has earned for us is death. Spiritual and physical death is the sentence passed against rebels who have disobeyed His Word! It’s what His perfect justice demands. As the all-seeing eye of God uncovers our sin and nakedness, we find that we have put ourselves in great danger. We need a covering to protect us.

So if you know yourself as a debtor to God, if you feel the need for a covering, for protection from the wrath to come, then listen to how God has loved and provided for rebels like us by giving us two kinds of lambs, and joined forever in the person of Jesus the fullness of what they symbolize for the people of God.

At the end of the book of Exodus, the people of God had been rescued from bondage in Egypt, brought out of slavery and into the very presence of God. It was a beautiful and terrifying time for the people of God; beautiful because they were enjoying the presence of the God who had made them and redeemed them, who had chosen them to be His people. But it was terrifying because they knew how sinful they were, how easily things other than God crept into their hearts and won their heart and their worship. So at the end of Exodus, as the tent where God would live with His people was finished and the glory and presence of God came down and filled it, the people realized they had a problem. A Holy God who could not stand sin was now living in the neighborhood. How were they going to survive?

Well, God knew that His people couldn’t stop being sinners, so He gave something amazing to them. He gave…the book of Leviticus. You know…that book that has often thwarted your read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan? But think about what those words from God would have meant to an Israelite wandering around in the wilderness with God next door! The Word God gave to His people showed that God had provided a way for sinners to live with Him.

He told them, that when He sees the blood of the animals and smells the sacrifice they offer from a repentant heart, then He will forgive them and take their sin away and they will continue to live in His presence without fear. The bulls and sheep and goats and lambs offered as a sacrifice would die so that the people didn’t have to.

Later in the Story, though, the LORD would tell His people through the prophet Isaiah that there was going to come one who was like a lamb. And when this Servant of the LORD came, he would come and take upon his shoulders the iniquity of all of God’s people and through his death in their place, the people of God would stand before their God and be counted righteous. Isaiah said (in 53:10-11),

“…when his soul makes an offering for guilt,

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;

the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.”

God was sending another Lamb to die so that his people didn’t have to.

The sacrifices – predating the Exodus and yet instituted after the Exodus – enabled sinners to be forgiven and live in the presence of God, counted righteous by him by faith and the blood of the sacrifice. So, as John the Evangelist recognizes Jesus as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” he recognizes that the death of Jesus fulfilled everything that the old sacrificial system had symbolized. Jesus had, finally, “(taken) away the sin of the world.” And he took it away by taking it upon himself as the Lamb of God, sacrificed for all the sin of his people so that forgiveness would be theirs. And not only forgiveness but a righteous standing before God was possible again.

A long-time missionary in Japan taught me that the Kanji letter for righteousness is made up of two different words: “lamb” over “me.” In other words, the lamb over me is my righteousness. That is the Gospel that we believe.

Remember John’s purpose in writing? He said he wants people to believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” And as he ties together Jesus as the Lamb of God and Jesus as the Christ, he encourages us that by faith in Jesus, the sacrificed Lamb of God, our sins have been once and for all taken away and the very righteousness of Jesus is counted as ours because his blood is over us.

The sin of Adam that twists our old hearts? Forgiven. The lust of the eyes? Forgiven. Finding our identity in work or family or theology instead of Jesus? Forgiven. Sexual immorality – both heterosexual and homosexual? Forgiven. Greed? Forgiven Laziness? Forgiven. Control-issues? Forgiven. Lust for power or food or a body-type? Forgiven.

Forgiveness for all these things – for every sin we have ever done or will do – forgiveness and righteousness is already won for us when we turn away them and believe in Jesus our Sacrificed Lamb. And when we sin again, we repent and believe again. And again. And again. For although repentance is necessary on our part, we never need to do more than believe in Jesus the Lamb. Direct your faith toward Him and the justice of God is satisfied because all the wrath and anger of God was poured out on Jesus the sacrifice on the cross. There is none left for the believer in Jesus…

…which is why Jesus is also the fullness of what another lamb did for the people of God in the Old Testament. Jesus is both the lamb sacrificed for the forgiveness of sin and the Passover Lamb whose blood protects the people of God from the judgment of God.

When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, the LORD sent Moses to tell the King of Egypt, “Let my people go.” But Pharaoh wouldn’t and so the LORD sent 9 plagues on the Egyptians; blood replacing water, frogs in the bed (and everywhere else), gnats their eyes (and everywhere else), flies, death of livestock, painful boils, hail large enough to break trees, hungry locusts and darkness.

But when the last plague was coming, the LORD told Moses to warn the people of Israel, too. He was sending judgment against disobedience, but His people would need to listen to Him if they wanted to escape the judgment.

“…Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.”  (Exodus 12:21-28 ESV)

That night, the LORD passed over His people who had covered their doorposts with the blood of the lamb. By believing the LORD at His word and by covering themselves with the blood of the lamb, they were protected. God promised no harm would come to them that night. And God kept His word. The sons of Egypt died, but the sons of His people lived.

The LORD said that the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb was a statute and a rite for the people of God forever. It was to be a reminder of the mercy of God toward His people and a reminder that He had rescued them from death through death. They were protected by the blood of the lamb from the judgment of God. The people could rest under that protection.

When John the Evangelist wrote his Gospel, he wrote with the Passover as bookends to the story. As John the Baptizer announced Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” he likely announced it to the priests and Levites – men steeped in the sacrificial system who would have known what it meant for a lamb to take away sin. But he also announced it just days before the feast of the Passover. The people who listened to him were waiting for that feast to begin, longing to celebrate the protective love of God shown so many years before. The people were preparing, moving toward Jerusalem – perhaps even acquiring the lambs they would soon slaughter at the Passover sunset. How might their minds have wandered as they heard John’s declaration of Jesus as the Lamb of God? What they thought then, we don’t know. But we know what John the Evangelist understood as he closes his Gospel with another Passover just a couple years later.

It was at that Passover that Jesus himself did as he had said (in John 10) and “[laid] down his life for [his] sheep.” But through his death he does not give momentary protection; he gives “eternal life” and says that his sheep, those who believe in him, “will never perish, and no one with snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Jesus our Passover Lamb – like those first lambs slaughtered that dark night in Egypt – our Lamb of God protects us from the wrath and judgment of God. After making atonement for our sins on the cross, the blood of Jesus that now covers us protects us and keeps us from the judgment that is still to come. It’s important to realize that we’re not talking about protection from suffering and trials. In this world we will experience both just as Jesus and every one of his followers experienced. But for the believer, there is no judgment, no condemnation left for us because our Lamb suffered and died in our place. Is God so unjust as to twice punish our sin? No, He punished it fully in Jesus. In Jesus you are forgiven. In Jesus, you are safe.

By faith in Jesus, our Passover Lamb, we can rest under the protection his blood gives.

In his body and in his death, Jesus holds both of these two Old Testament images together and fills them up so fully that there never needs to be another sacrifice, no more lambs need to be slain to cover and protect us. That is the surpassing value of the blood of Jesus. Nothing to be added to it – not better obedience to the law, not burning tears of repentance on your face, not the right words when you pray, not more quiet times or money put in the box in the back. None of these things can save you.

You are saved when you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Look to him as the Lamb sacrificed for you sins and know that God forgives and accepts you as righteous for Jesus’ sake. Look to him as your Passover Lamb and feel the protective love of your Father surrounding you for Jesus’ sake.

And as your heart knows the forgiveness and right standing before God won for you by Jesus, as you rest in the security and protection the blood of Christ covering you gives, then let the works loved by God flow out of the gratitude that fills a forgiven and protected heart. Let obedience to Christ flow out. And when obedience becomes disobedience, let repentance flow knowing that forgiveness is already yours by grace. Let your heart and mind search the Word to know your Lamb and Savior and God better, believing that you are already known and loved by him as you do it. Let yourself be freed from the love of money by knowing the greater love of Jesus who came to free you from the tyranny of cash. He didn’t come to manipulate your giving, but to free it and let it be used in love and gratitude and for the building of his better kingdom! Let prayers for yourself and for others and for this town and for this world flow knowing that Jesus’ work was about more than just your soul; as John the Baptizer said, “the Lamb of God…takes away the sin of the world.” There is no part of this broken blue sphere that the Good News of Jesus does not touch – in part now and perfectly in the age to come.

John the Evangelist had the longest life of any of the apostles. And late in life he again saw the Lamb of God. But he didn’t see him by the Jordan River. He saw him before the throne of God in heaven. It was there that he saw the Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. And the Lamb had the power to bring the purposes of God into reality – power that no one else possessed. The Lamb had the power to restore the fallen creation and when he did it, the citizens of heaven sang a new song. They called this bloody, sacrificed Lamb who yet lived “worthy.” And they celebrated his power and his work saying,

“…you were slain, and by your blood

you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language

and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom

and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

John said,

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.” (Revelation 5:9-14 ESV)

To know Jesus as the Living Lamb of God is to know him intimately as the God of the universe who suffered and was sacrificed to atone for the sins of rebels like us. And to know him now as the living Passover Lamb is to know the protection he gives to us forever as he leads us as his own flock of lambs into his kingdom.

[Pray – Father, we praise you that in Jesus you did what we, in our sin, could never hope to do. In Jesus you made atonement for our rebellion. You freely give us the forgiveness and righteousness we need to live in your presence through the blood of Your Lamb. In him our helplessness and weakness is covered and protected. May we live in line with the truth of what we already are because of Jesus – may we live as your flock, purchased by the precious blood of your Beloved Son, in all gratitude, obedience, faith, hope and love for You, Triune God, and may we live out that hope and love with one another in the place where you have called us to live and serve. In the name of Jesus our Lamb we pray. Amen.]

Varina Sized

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