God Does the Unexpected
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
John 1:29-42
January 19, 2020

In our Gospel reading, John the Baptist says some important things about Jesus. He says, “This is the man who comes after me who ranks before me, because He was before Me” (John 1:30). This is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33). “I have seen and have borne witness,” John says, “that this is the Son of God.”

With these words, John testifies to the divine majesty of Jesus. He is true God. Only true God can baptize with the Spirit of God. He heard the testimony of the Father when Jesus was baptized, “This is My beloved Son.”

John confirms that he regards Jesus as true God when he says: “A man comes after me who ranks before me, because he was before me” (John 1:30). John says that Jesus comes after John in time. Jesus was born after John was. John was born first. John came before Jesus in ministry so that he could announce Jesus’s coming.

Yet, John says that Jesus existed before John did. He says that Jesus “ranks before me.” This means that Jesus is of a higher order and of greater importance than John. But this higher order and greater importance rests on what John says next: “because he was before me.” This statement refers to existence, not to order of birth or order of appearance for ministry. Jesus ranks before John because He existed before John, even though He was born after John. Jesus existed before John as Son of God. He speaks of Jesus’s majesty as God in the glory of the Father. Thus, He can be the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

But having said all of that, John says something of Jesus that might be unexpected. “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Son of God and lamb of God? Almighty in power, yet lamb of God. Purely holy Son, yet lamb of God. Originator of life, yet lamb of God. Eternal law giver, yet lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How can Son of God mean also lamb?

This word “lamb” directs us into the Old Testament. It directs us to the Passover lamb that was sacrificed. God instructed the Israelites to put the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of their houses. God promised that doing so would save them from the angel of death that came to the land of Egypt.

The lamb directs us to the various sacrifices of lambs in the Old Testament sacrificial system. It leads us to Isaiah 53:7 where the Servant of the Lord is compared to a lamb and a sheep. And in that passage, the prophet says that the Lord has laid on Him, the Servant-lamb, the iniquity of us all.

It is significant that in the Old Testament sacrificial system, the person offering the lamb as a sin offering would lay a hand on the head of the lamb before it was sacrificed (e.g., Lev. 4:33). The person’s sin was transferred to the lamb. With this procedure and ensuing sacrifice of the lamb, atonement was made for the sin that was committed (Lev. 4:35).

So, a lamb was to be killed as a sacrifice for sin. The lamb was without blemish. Yet with the procedure of laying the hand on the head of the lamb, the sin was transferred to the lamb. Son of God purely and holy, became lamb of God. God transferred all our sin to the lamb He provided. This happened because the Son took on our flesh and identified with sinners. The lamb becomes sin and God puts it to death. The sin of the world is atoned for, removed.

But is this unexpected? Shouldn’t Son of God live and conquer, not die. Shouldn’t Son of God as possessor of divine majesty be served, not serve by taking on the sin of others? Shouldn’t Son of God punish violation of His law, not be punished for the violation of His law committed by others? Shouldn’t Son of God keep Himself comfortably removed from the temptations, hardships and pain His human subjects experience?  

But there it is. This is what God has done. It is wonderful and marvelous. It is grace and mercy.

For Jesus to be Son of God, He is also Lamb of God. And as Son of God, He can be the Lamb of God that atones for all sin. As Son of God, His death as Lamb of God has eternal worth. As Son of God, He can take into Himself the sin of every human being of all times and places and accept and take God’s wrath against it, quenching God’s wrath.

Thus, the Son of God came to serve us by taking away our sin. The Son of God took upon Himself the punishment for violation of His law committed by others. He has entered into death this way, so that you and I may live before Him and the Father in eternal peace and joy. He did not remain comfortably in His divine majesty, insolated from the temptations, hardships, and pain we experience. He entered into these things with us and walks with us there as Son of God.

And this is the way He builds His church. We are told that John the Baptist had two disciples who were standing with John when he called Jesus “the lamb of God” (John 1:35-36). One of these disciples was Andrew, the brother of Simon. Jesus later changed Simon’s name to Peter. Andrew went to find Peter and told him that he had found the Messiah, the Christ. Andrew found Jesus as Christ when he heard John say lamb of God. When he heard John say this, he followed Jesus.

As Son of God, Jesus ranks before John; before all of us. He existed in His divine majesty before us. But we follow Him because He is lamb of God. Son of God as lamb of God can be our redeemer; He can be our hope and ever faithful friend. We follow Jesus because He is lamb, our God who atones for us; our God who gave Himself in love for us.

No other God does this. Gods can be gods of power and might and glory. They can be gods of terror and violence. They kill their enemies. They avenge God’s law. Accordingly, such gods are attractive to many. Such a god suits the flesh. Such a god does not require personal repentance and sorrow over sin and faith in God who redeems us as lamb of God. Such gods appeal to our inherit self-righteousness and tendency toward hate and vindictiveness.

But Jesus as Son of God is lamb of God. He wins us for God by atoning for sin in His own sacrificial death. The church is gathered around the forgiveness He won. It is the congregation of the penitent and the forgiven. It is not built on power, on wealth, on earthly glory, on violence. We do not see the church’s success by how it conquers the world and rids it of evil. It is not built on entertainment, but on the testimony and the sacrifice of the lamb. This may also be unexpected: unexpected by reason, by common sense, by sociology, and the expectations and demands of the world.

But for those seeking mercy and peace from God in recognition of sin, it is finding the Savior; it is finding God.

John testified that Jesus is lamb of God. Upon this testimony, Andrew and the one with him followed Jesus. We too follow Him because He is this lamb, who redeems us; He is the Lamb who makes the sacrifice for sin we cannot make. We sing about Him in the Hymn of Praise in the liturgy of the Word. We remind ourselves of Him when we sing the “Lamb of God” in the communion liturgy before we eat the meal He gives.

He made the sacrifice and now feeds us on this sacrifice here. We hear the testimony about Him: Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. We hear the Lamb’s words: take eat, this is my body given for you, the body upon which all sin was laid and taken away; take drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.

And we rejoice, because here we partake of the peace God has made with us in His Lamb. And in this peace, the body given and the blood shed for forgiveness, there is life and salvation. Praise be to God and the Lamb!

Amen.



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