A Teaching Message for EPIPHANY 2018: Behold The Lamb Of God!


John The Baptist pointed to the Savior as the Lamb Of God. This is the same lamb from Revelation who not only bears the marks of slaughter, but also opens the door to salvation for the world. Follow in John’s footsteps. Bear witness to the world in word and deed that Jesus is the Lamb.

Sherlock Holmes is probably more real to some folks than are many famous people from history who actually lived. And the most familiar shorthand way to portray Holmes is his famous deerstalker hat. You know what I’m talking about: the one with the bill in the front and the back, with flaps for the ears carefully tied up at the top of the hat. Really, just draw the hat and people know you’re talking about Sherlock Holmes.   <!–split–>

Only, the hat isn’t directly mentioned in the original Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was Sidney Paget, the illustrator, who used the deerstalker in a picture he drew for the short story “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” published in the Strand Magazine in 1891.

That illustration became so iconic that every decent actor playing Holmes almost has to wear that rustic country hat, even when the character is in the city – something the real Holmes (if there had been one) would never do.

The Lamb Of God

In the same way, how many of us think of Jesus as the Lamb of God? It’s the way he is addressed in worship in churches all around the world, in the litany phrase “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” The phrase is an integral part of Handel’s masterpiece, The Messiah, Jesus is the Lamb of God!

But Jesus never calls himself the Lamb of God. He calls himself the Good Shepherd. He refers to himself as the Gate for the Sheep. But it is John the Baptist who paints the picture we are all familiar with when he proclaims to al who will listen that Jesus is the Lamb of God. Actually, he only does this twice: once in John 1:29 in our reading – “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” – and the other in John 1:36 – “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

John the Baptist is, in effect, the illustrator of Jesus. What does he mean by drawing us this image, and what does it mean for us as followers of Christ?

The obvious thing is to point to Jesus as a sacrificial lamb, and that certainly seems to be the intent in John’s gospel. In the evangelist’s description of the crucifixion, John makes the point that Jesus died before his legs could be broken, as was sometimes done to speed along crucifixion deaths. He is clearly pointing toward the rules for the Passover lamb as given in Exodus and Numbers. But there’s a problem with this neat identification. John says Jesus came to take away the sin of the world. The Old Testament sin offering required a goat or a bull or a sheep, but not a lamp. So perhaps the words from Isaiah were meant as well, where the prophet describes the suffering servant as one “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.”

The Power To Change History

So what picture was John the Baptist trying to create, and how have we as the church interpreted that picture? There are some ancient books outside the Bible that point to the Messiah as the lamb, the clearest description comes from the pages of scripture itself.

In the 5th chapter of Revelation, John of Patmos has been taken up into heaven and sees the glorious throne room of God. He sees the 24 elders, 4 magnificent living creatures, and a living, rainbow-like presence of light too dazzling to focus on coming from the great throne.

But there is trouble in Paradise! There is a scroll that, when opened, will reveal the course of human history, yet there is no one powerful enough to break open the 7 seals that bind it shut. John weeps until he is told that the Lion of Judah can do this thing!

All prepare for the entrance of the lion – a powerful beast with great, rending jaws – to appear! Instead, the lion is revealed to be a lamb, bearing the marks of slaughter. The lamb has 7 horns and 7 eyes, representing the 7 spirits of the 7 churches of Asia, so it is a little odd-looking, but the key features are the marks of slaughter. This is Jesus, at his most vulnerable.

And yet, here is the power to change history, to direct the course of events, to change the way we look at the world and each other. The ancient Roman world accepted slavery as the norm. It considered brutal, even horrific punishments to be acceptable and discounted the value of most human beings.

More significant was the belief that people didn’t change. Ancient historians worked on the assumption that those who were great had always been great. Those who were insignificant would always be insignificant. The evil stayed evil. The good stayed good.

Greek tragedy was based on the assumption that you could not change people or fate. Life was like a train, and  you were standing on the tracks. There was nothing to be done to stop the train wreck – just stand back and gasp at the gore.

It’s as the proverb says: The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

But Jesus changed the proverb: The fruit can now sprout legs and run! Or wings and fly!

Jesus changed the way we look at the world. Slavery still exists, but we do not consider it acceptable. Horrors occur, but we are now horrified. The ancient world thought Alexander the Great, bloodthirsty and cruel, was the pinnacle of creation. We would consider him a war criminal.

Most of all, the Good News of Jesus the Messiah means you have a choice.  Your life can be changed. Your destiny can be altered. You do not have to end up in destruction and despair. Your story can end in glory.

This is apparent in the first chapter of John’s gospel. The Baptist points to the Lamb of God, and individuals make choices to follow Jesus. After that, more people are presented with the chance to recognize Jesus and choose to follow him.

Nicodemus is given a choice, and eventually, after the crucifixion, he chooses to follow Jesus. The Samaritan woman at the well encounters Jesus and makes a choice to change her life. This happens and again in the gospel.

Our Response

We have a choice to make as well.

Perhaps the biggest clue to the Lamb’s ability to change history comes from the words John the Baptist uses to proclaim his presence: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The word for sin is singular. John is referring not just to our sins as individuals, and they are many, but to the condition of sin that infuses the whole world. John is referring to the web of sin that makes it impossible for us to act without harming someone.

Even today we find ourselves encompassed by sin. When we purchase clothes, do we always know how they were made and if the people who made them were fairly treated? When we drive somewhere, perhaps to take food to shut-ins, to share scripture within someone or to deliver a shipment of needed goods to those whom Jesus described as “the least of these” we can’t help but have an impact on God’s creation. Even when we win, there is the likelihood that someone else will lose.

This is the sin we share and bear. It is sometimes called institutional sin. This is the sin of history, the sin of existence, the condition of life that makes it impossible sometimes to live, to move, even to breathe, without harming someone.

But the Lamp of God gives us a choice. What choice do we have when all choices can lead to unintentional, as well as intentional, sin? What is our response to John the Baptist’s command to “behold the Lamb of God?”

First, simply to behold! Watch Jesus. Hear his words! Hear his invitation! And remember that Pilate also said, “Behold the man!” See the Lamb bearing the marks of slaughter. Worship and adore.

Next, we might follow the example of the Baptist. Testify to the Lamb. Point to the Lamb. As we have been offered a choice, the chance to change, the opportunity for glory, let us invite others to share in Jesus.

And finally, live like the Lamb. It’s not always easy to bear our wounds, the marks of slaughter. But for Jesus, that was part of what gave him the strength, as the Lamb of God, as the Lion of Judah, to break open the seals and direct the course of history. We can make choices, not in spite of, but because of our wounds, to heal others, and to print to the Lamb and to glory.

We have the opportunity to change the course of our history as well as individuals, as a congregation, as the Body of Christ the world over. We can live authentically, boldly, knowing that the web of sin that poisons everything in this world no longer rules us, or guides us, or hems us in.

The Lamb has changed everything.

Behold the Lamb of God. Let the Lamb change you. Let us together bear the sins of the world, the pain of our sisters and brothers, and share in the world’s healing.