Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany based on John 1:29-42
Dear recipients of the New Testament: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The last Old Testament prophet proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” These words must have reminded believing Jews of slavery and deliverance.
The Israelites had been in slavery in Egypt. God delivered them from slavery miraculously. God had already struck the Egyptians with nine plagues, and then the tenth and final plague was the Lord killing all the firstborn in Egypt as He passed through the land.
The people of Israel, however, were saved by a lamb. They ate the body of the lamb in the Passover meal and put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. As they ate the body of the lamb, the blood of the lamb on their doorposts saved them from death.
Moreover, as John proclaimed and pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, believing Jews would have known about the daily sacrifices in the Temple. A sacrificial lamb was offered as a burnt offering in the morning and at twilight every day (Ex. 29:38-46). Lambs could also be offered as sacrifices for other types of offerings, even though animals such as bulls and goats were also sacrificed.
All these Old Testament sacrifices showed that purification for sins was necessary in God’s sight. Hebrews tells us, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9:22)
However, these sacrifices were just a shadow of the good things to come. As Hebrews also explains to us, these Temple sacrifices continually offered could never make perfect those who drew near (Heb. 10:1). Those sacrifices could not cleanse or purify from sins. They could not take away the sins of the world. Otherwise they could have stopped performing the sacrifices. The worshipers would have been cleansed from their sins and there would have been no need to offer the same sacrifices again and again (Heb. 10:2). It is impossible for the blood of lambs or goats or bulls to take away sins (Heb. 10:4).
Then comes the final Old Testament prophet saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Behold, here is the Lamb who can take away sin.
There is only one way to take away the sin of the world. As we heard, there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood. That’s exactly what Jesus did. He shed His blood to take away our sins. His death was foreshadowed by the twice daily sacrifices of lambs in the Temple. It was foreshadowed by the Passover Lamb which saved from death. But only Christ’s death takes away the sins of the world. Only Christ’s death takes away your sins.
Don’t cling to your sins. Christ wants to take them away from you. Don’t hold Christ up to contempt by living like His death means nothing to you. Don’t walk away from the Divine Service today thinking that you are your own god and can live as you like.
We have the warning, also from Hebrews, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:22-31)
Jesus didn’t die for you so that you can return to your sins like a dog returning to its vomit or a sow returning to wallow in the mire (Prov. 26:11; 2 Pet. 2:22). Jesus died to take away your sins and to take away the power of sin over you, so that you don’t have to obey your sinful desires.
Jesus is so adamant about taking your sins away that He gives you His own body and blood to eat and drink. Jesus made a New Testament, or covenant, in His blood, and He gives you this blood to take away your sins.
The blood of animal sacrifices could never take away sins, but Jesus’ blood, given and shed for you does take away your sins, because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus has, by His single offering of Himself on the cross, perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14), and this perfection He gives to you in the Sacrament of the Altar. He gives you the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life.
As those who ate the body of the lamb were saved from death by the blood of the lamb in the Passover, so you are saved from eternal death by eating the body and drinking the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.
When you fall into temptation and sin, remember that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, so He is the Lamb of God who takes away your sins. He has paid the price of your sins by offering Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for all sin, and He gives you the forgiveness of all your sins in His body and blood, given and shed for you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.