Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Second Sunday of Epiphany
January 15, 2017
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Who is Jesus?
This is probably not a question that you were anticipating to hear in church, but we’re two Sundays into the season of Epiphany and this is a question that we are going to have put before us over and over in the coming weeks. Who exactly is Jesus?
In last week’s Gospel we received an answer at his baptism – the voice from heaven declared it – he is God’s own Son. That very same voice will echo the same answer in a few weeks at his Transfiguration.
But in-between, for the next five weeks or so during this longer than usual season of Epiphany, we have a number of these Gospel readings which unfold and unpack different aspects of who Jesus is. Through his speech and actions, we get a clearer picture of this one who was born in Bethlehem. What is his identity? And if he is the savior, what kind of savior would he be?
And today, John the Baptist chimes in. He declares Jesus to be the “Lamb of God”. The text also calls him Rabbi, the Son of God, and the Messiah, that is, the Christ. All these names or titles tell us something about who Jesus is.
But Lamb of God is perhaps the most unusual name of these. It’s a technical term in the Old Testament, having to do with the Passover. There a lamb, a perfect unblemished male lamb was slaughtered, and its blood was used on the doorposts to mark the homes of God’s people. When the Angel of Death came for the final plague – to kill all the firstborn of Egypt, he would see the blood of the lamb and pass over that house. That same Lamb was then also roasted and consumed that night by God’s people – a feast which was established then and carried over every year as remembrance of God’s mercy to them – how God saved them from slavery in Egypt.
So with that background knowledge, it’s easy for us Christians to see how Jesus might fit this bill of being called the “Lamb of God”. He was the one, perfect sacrifice without spot or blemish. He is the one who saves by his blood – saves us from death. He is the one who is consumed in the wrath of God over sin, as he suffers sin’s punishments for us.
And we even continue to remember this blessed sacrifice in our holy sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Communion, which he established. And in this sacrament we feast on him, body and blood, for the forgiveness of our sins.
But I think a fair question is, did John the Baptist know and understand all of this when he pointed out Jesus as the “Lamb of God?” Who knows? But, nonetheless, he was right to direct our attention to Jesus.
He says, “Behold!” And that little word is important, too. “Behold!” “Take note!” “Look here!” “This is important!” We do well to “behold” Jesus, though it might not seem so at first. For a bloody lamb slaughtered and roasted guts- and-all isn’t a pretty sight. Nor is the sight of a man beaten and bloodied, shamed and humiliated, hung up on a cross with nails and thorns and sweat and agony…. no, Jesus isn’t a pretty picture either. But John says, “Behold!”
Look upon Him. The truth is, when we “Behold the Lamb” and do look upon Him, it’s not a pretty sight, and the reason that it’s not a pretty sight is because of sin. Sin is what’s ugly. Sin’s consequences – suffering, pain, death – are uglier still. And there on the cross Jesus becomes sin for us, “God made him, who had no sin, to become sin for us.’ Oh yes, all well and good, pastor, sin is ugly. We know that well. You remind us of that fact constantly!
But that’s our sin we’re talking about, not some far away entity from another place and time. That’s my sin we’re talking about. That’s your sin that we’re talking about. When you behold the lamb who was slain, when you look upon Him, and see the bloody mess that sin makes, that’s your mess! You own that mess. Now, are we accustomed to thinking of our sins in such terms? Are we used to thinking that every time we gossip or fudge the truth or slack off when we should be working – it means blood and death? No, we probably do not.
Do we consider our misgivings to be that ugly; or have we become so accustomed to sinning that it’s not a big deal anymore? It’s not that bad, right? Nobody else is really getting hurt by these petty things, are they?
Sure, we are repulsed by CERTAIN sins – other people’s sins, mostly. The child abusers and the drunk drivers. The people who cheat on their husbands or beat their wives. Those are the “obvious sinners,” the people who lie and cheat and kill and steal. But what about the people whose love is cold? What about people who are too selfish? What about people who neglect to do the things that are good and right that a child of God is called to do? What about people who just think evil thoughts and hold lust in their hearts and nobody ever sees or knows it?
Well, Jesus knows it, and Jesus condemns such things too. And because of that, we’re not off the hook. The thing is we’ve convinced ourselves to be really good at beholding other things besides our own sins because we’re really good at finding the faults and weaknesses of the other who thinks differently than I.
Maybe the Old Testament people had better reminders than we do of this reality. As day after day bulls and lambs and doves were slain and butchered and burned in sacrifice for sin, an endless stream of blood poured out for the endless stream of sin and its wake of death. Yet, it wasn’t enough. More was required, and once you’ve truly beheld the bloody mess that is your sin, you realize that there is nowhere to turn other than to the Lamb of God…who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus is that lamb. Jesus takes that mess and Jesus is the name of that mess that we create. He suffers for you, and for all people. And he dies. And there is nothing more important for us to behold, to look at, to pay attention to. For there, in the Lamb of God, we see God’s love for us sinners, and we are forgiven.
And that lamb is slain, only to rise again! We can behold him on the cross, and in the tomb, but we will see him, behold him, face to face one day – for he lives forever, and we will live with him forever. The Lamb is victorious, and he gives us a share in his victory.
Behold him again, today, as he comes to us in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Though our eyes may play a trick on us and the lens of sin views this meal as nothing more than a tasteless flat wafer and a swallow of wine, Jesus is undoubtedly there. Maybe we don’t see him with our eyes, but we behold him by faith – faith according to his promise. This is his body and blood. Given and shed for you. This, here, is the lamb of God. Behold the lamb. Take eat, take drink; and do so for your forgiveness, for the mess that you have made. And believe that it is made right, in Jesus’ name. Amen.