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Behold The Lamb

Jan 19, 2020

Passage: John 1:29-36

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Sunday, Epiphany

Detail:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Truth be told, it seems as though consciences are decaying. Trends make it obvious. What was once taboo is now accepted as ordinary. We don’t shame like we used to. Words that would either be completely avoided or reserved for only the most private of circumstances are now broadcast boldly. Sin is embraced, encouraged, and laughed about. We’re in trouble, because all of this most certainly means that consciences are dying. Evil is considered good; and what is good is considered outdated. The loss of morality, however, has come at a cost: we’re losing the sense of defilement, or the sense that we are unclean.

But the LORD gave us our consciences for a reason. The ability to feel unclean is extremely important. As an analogy, think of your sense of touch: your amazing ability to detect hot and cold. What if you lost that? What if you could no longer feel what could burn you or freeze you? That would be disastrous! This is what it is like to lose the conscience. It informs us that something is wrong or simply that we are wrong. If you feel dirty in a physical way – perhaps after having been outside in the rain and the mud, or after working in the yard all day – then you know you need to get cleaned up physically. But our consciences inform us that we are “dirty” on the inside. And if we’re honest and if our conscience is still functional, then we know that we also need to get cleaned up spiritually.

We are unclean and that’s a problem.

But why is it a problem?

It is a problem because this is not the way we were created. This is not our design. Think of what is dirty entering into other systems: dirty fluids in an engine; dirty contaminants in a lab; and dirty food in the digestive system. What happens when things get really dirty? They break down.

We need this basic background to understand why one of the most important proclamations about Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world to you, me and all people! The proclamation that Jesus our Savior is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

The Hebrews understood what was at issue. Defilement or uncleanness was a major problem. They got it. God is holy and is completely clean, without defilement. But we are not clean. So how can we stand in the presence of God? How can we live if we can’t even be near Him? If He is the source of life itself – and He is since He is Life – but we cannot be near Him due to our uncleanness, then how can we live? And how can we not end up with the sense that we are stuck in death? And if such a condition persists, how do we even live with ourselves today? With no hope and with a front-row seat to a “life” that is only breaking down? These things were very clear to the Old Testament people of God in the sense that it was a big deal to be unclean and it was a major priority to get clean.

The Old Testament records the history of what God did in Egypt when Pharaoh’s rebellion against God was being punished. God had arrangements to save His people. It was a way of making His people clean even though they were around a very evil and dirty king and culture. God’s plan is summarized in Exodus 12 while addressing the people of Israel in Egypt: “…every man shall take a lamb…Your lamb shall be without blemish…kill [the] lambs at twilight [before the coming plague of death upon the first born]…take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses…The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you…”.

That saving blood came from lambs. Lambs were to be used because they were representative of what is clean. To be marked by their blood was to be designated as being counted as clean like the lamb! And lambs really were clean! They have a coat that makes them look clean. They were not violent animals, so they did not eat the flesh and blood of other animals. They had hooves keeping them from the natural defilement of the ground. This theme of what is clean is highlighted further by the fact that these particular lambs had to be without blemish. Their symbolism is clear. This animal’s blood was used to put on the doorposts, so that instead of God seeing defilement and uncleanness, God saw cleanness. His people were counted as clean.

Again the people of God in the first century when John the Baptist made his proclamation about Jesus got it. “During the early first century, worshipers crowded into the temple in Jerusalem, each bringing a lamb. The gates were shut, a ram’s horn sounded, and participants began slaughtering their lambs. Priests stood in rows, holding basins to catch the blood. When a basin was filled, it was passed along a row of priests and finally thrown against the base of the altar” (Koester, Craig R., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003. 220).”     

This is a bizarre scene for us to try to imagine, but we can begin to understand by simply recognizing that the people knew that God had given them a way of being counted as clean in the eyes of God. That’s why the lambs were so important. The cleanness of the lambs took the place of the uncleanness of the people. Furthermore, the people of God in the Old Testament were also aware of some other words that John the Baptist most certainly connected to his proclamation.

Isaiah the prophet had revealed something very important about a coming Suffering Servant who would save Israel: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed…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 is silent before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth…(Is 53:5 & 7).” [emphasis mine]

And when the fullness of time had come, this Lamb of God, THE Lamb of God; God’s Lamb, came to fulfill this prophecy to “heal” and to “clean” people who were at the end of the day—like you and me – quite dirty, people who needed to be clean.

We cannot begin to overestimate how important this is: when a conscience is healthy and we know that we have a problem with being unclean, then something needs to be done. But the solution is not to live in crippling guilt; it is not live in oppressive shame. We are led by God to know that something has been done about our uncleanness; that we have a place that is not on us for our guilt and shame. We need this for our consciences to do the rest of what they’re designed to do: to have reason for confidence and hope, because we know that God Himself is for us!

But such confidence and hope comes from only one source and it is encapsulated and summarized beautifully and powerfully by John the Baptist as recorded by John the Apostle: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Sometimes when terrible, horrible things happen, a person will be led to get into their shower and try to clean themselves for hours, hoping that the cleaning water, soap, and scrubbing will somehow clean the pain of what we’ve been through. This doesn’t really work, but I will tell you what does.

Jesus came to love you. To love you so much that He stands in your place as a sacrifice, but here in the sense of the Gospel of John, not so much to bear sin for you (as in “take upon” Himself), but to clean your sin away (as in “take away” or “wash away” from you). He does this through His cleansing blood. God’s Lamb who is most clean, who is perfectly clean, gives His blood to wash away your sin; to clean your conscience and your soul.

John who wrote the Gospel of John elaborates on his teaching in his letters. Let’s read more on his teaching (we read together aloud):

1st John 1:7: “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

A little further at 1st John 2:2, John uses the Greek word ‘hilasmos…that is, Jesus is the atoning sacrifice or expiation or the CLEANSING AWAY for our sins, but not only for our sins, but for the sins of the world. This is remarkable. This is amazing. God is clear. Let me say a little more about the word “atonement.” It also means to be made one with or simply -- and notice the word-play -- AT-ONE-MENT. Think about it: the perfectly CLEAN LAMB OF GOD made Himself ONE with YOU (remember your baptism that joined you to Christ)! Now God sees you as He sees His LAMB: CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN!

The clean blood of the clean LAMB has made all clean, and there is no doubt, no one is excluded. His cleansing; His making clean has been done for all. “But you don’t understand pastor – and I can relate to standing in a shower for an hour feeling contaminated – because you don’t know what I’ve done; you don’t know what’s been done to me; you don’t know how bad it is.” I don’t have to know. God knows. And He knew and knows so well that when He sent His LAMB He made it so that the cleansing power of Christ’s blood would be stronger than ANY stain, ANY blemish, ANY sin!          

When I was a teenager, I went through a major relationship transition. After we broke up, I consoled myself by (stupidly) driving fast, (insanely) lifting weights and (carelessly) putting a lot of protein into my body. I was brought onto the Bakersfield College Renegade weight team and was good enough to make the traveling squad. I was putting the shot, slinging the discus, and throwing the javelin. They wanted me on the team as I was coming off being the East Yosemite League champion in high school in both shot and disc. And on the inside, I was an absolute mess. I remember during this time dealing with some acne both on my face and on my arms in such a way that was unhealthy. I ended up creating scars, one of which is still prominent on one of my arms. Why did I do this? Because of the way I felt on the inside. Yeah, I was a good candidate for professional counseling. But it was something else that helped me more than anything, and it is what I am sharing with you now.

We stand before God with more than acne or physical blemishes, but with the sense that we are unclean. And then God comes and in the greatest love says to you and me: “I give you my LAMB whose blood – in the eyes of your Creator God – will be counted as truly and actually making you clean. I will not count your sin against you; I will not hold your guilt against you; I will not accuse or condemn you because of your shame; I will not chastise you for your fear and dread…why? Because in my eyes, your sin is GONE. You’re clean! All on-account of my LAMB! His blood has cleansed you.”

So condemnation and cursing and punishment has passed over you people of God. It’s gone. That stuff doesn’t apply to you anymore. This is why we have this banner [point to/see the Lamb of God banner]; this is why our children’s message talked about “expiation” with a white board today; and this is why in just a moment you’re going to get ready for Holy Communion by once again singing the Agnus Dei (LAMB of GOD) and then you’re going to get the Lord’s blood again. And lo and behold, once again, there you will receive the 100% guarantee that YOU are CLEAN, because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!