Behold! The Lamb of God…

I was invited by our church session to deliver the Good Friday message last month.  Here is the text of the sermon:

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Scripture Reading – (John 1:1-9, 29)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world…

…The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  

Sermon

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God

When we hear these words from the opening stanza of the Gospel, we ought to be reminded of the opening stanza of all of creation.  What I mean is, when we hear these words we ought to also hear “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

When we hear “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” we ought to also hear “God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”  We ought to hear “God said, ‘Let us make man in our Image, according to our likeness.”  And, we need to hear, “God saw everything that He had made and, indeed, it was very good.”

But, we have a problem, you see.  The world is not very good.  I don’t have to work to prove this because the truth is all around us.  There are children all over the world that die of hunger, even though there is more than enough food to go around.  War has been a constant reality in the world for as long as history has been recorded.

This great country is not very good.  We wage war, but, as a nation, have almost no concept of just war.  We have legalized the murder of nearly 60 million unborn children.

We have made a mockery of the holy institution of marriage.  I don’t just mean that we have legalized so-called gay marriage – that is a symptom.  As a nation, we glorify extra-marital… anything.  And before that, we made marital commitment passé and divorce the new, shiny, easy thing. And, by and large, the American church winks at it!

This beautiful state is not very good. We have, here, a homeless epidemic that spreads from Seattle to Olympia and an epidemic of drug addiction that spreads from Olympia to Seattle.  And how do we treat these epidemics?  We create homeless encampments that perpetuate the problem and we create safe havens for drug use that never treat the problem.  And the Church?  Mostly silent.  Mostly a side note to issues that affect real people.

We are not very good.  You… are not very good.  I… am not very good.  Look, I’m 36 years old.  I have been married for almost 17 years to the most wonderful woman I know.  I love her like you wouldn’t believe unless you love your wife like I love Evelyn.  And I still struggle with lust.  And I am angry too quickly, and too often at her. In my heart of hearts I know that I am the worst sinner I know, because I know my heart.

If you are honest, you are the worst sinner you know, because you know your heart.  Behind what you do in the light lies what is in the dark recesses of your mind, your flesh, your heart.  And I can name your sin.  You are a liar.  You are a cheat.  You disobey your parents.  You fail to trust God to save your children.  You are quick to anger.  You are abusive.  You hate your husband and you despise your wife.  You skip church for a hundred different reasons and neglect the worship of your God.  You are a drunkard.  You desire the death of your neighbor, your friend, your boss, your employees, or that person that just ruins your life.  You are a murderer at heart.  You are an adulterer at heart.  You are a hater of God and of His people.  You have sinned and you sin against God.

This isn’t a new problem.  This is an old, old problem.  It is a problem nearly as old as time.

The Lord God created the heavens and earth – that was the beginning of time.  In the span of six days, He finished creating this world and all that is in it.  God created man, and when He had finished, He called all of this work of His power “very good.

And, indeed it was very good – even mankind.  Adam and Eve were not common.  They were, at the start, full of knowledge for the feared and walked with the Lord.  They were, being without sin, righteous, and their righteousness was their own and it was pure.  They were totally different than the rest of creation because they were made in God’s image.  They were totally different than the generations that followed – that image of God not corrupted in them yet.  They were set apart from creation by God, they were holy.

But then – the deception.  But then the temptation that welled up in Adam and Eve and spewed forth the inordinate desire to be gods themselves, just like their Lord – impossible though it was.  Yes, then the fall from glory, the fall from God’s good grace, the fall into sin and corruption.

Eve sinned and Adam sinned.  Adam’s sin brought evil and death to the world.  As it is written:

Cursed is the ground for your sake;
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you

For dust you are
And to dust you shall return

As the Apostle Paul tells it, “In Adam, all die…”

And the horrible effects of Adam’s sin carry forth, even to today.  Yes, the Apostle Paul explains in no uncertain terms, speaking of Adam “…by man came death” and “by one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners….” and “by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one…” and “through one man’s offense judgment came to all men…

Now, you might be tempted to think, “how can that be fair?  I didn’t commit Adam’s sin.  I didn’t eat of the forbidden fruit, so how can I be guilty of it?”  Well, you are.  I am not lying.  As our head, Adam represented us all.  As our first parent, we were all in Adam – and remain in him apart from the grace of God.  That may bother you and you might object.  I’m not going to spend time defending the truth of it right now.  Instead, I will cut through any objections and say this:

We are all sinners.  This much cannot be denied.  I sin and you sin.  And in our sin, we perpetuate the effects of Adam’s sin.  If Adam’s sin brought toil and destruction, how much more does our continued sinning perpetuate that toil and destruction?  If Adam’s sin brought death – and it did – how much more does our continued sinning keep death a constant reality?  If Adam’s sin brought judgment to all men, how much more does our continued sinning prove that we deserve that judgment?  Yes, the world is not very good, and yes that is an old problem… and yes, we renew the problem day by day.

Have you ever reflected on your sin?  Have you ever thought about how heinous your sin really might be?  And have you ever tried to comfort yourself with the thought that your sin – whatever it may be – is really “not that bad?”

For example, you might ask, “What harm is one, little, white lie?”

Well, you see, there is a problem with that way of thinking – and I hope this makes you uncomfortable if you think that way – and if you ever think that way, I hope you remember this.  The problem with your sin is NOT what you think of it.  Ultimately, the problem with your sin is WHO you are sinning against.

You may sin against your brother, your sister, your child, your mother, your father, your wife, your husband, your friend, or even your enemy — and these sins deserve some sort of recourse, here and now.   For example, children, if you disobey your parents you may deserve a grounding or a swat on the behind.  Husbands, if you are caught committing adultery with your eyes, you may deserve the dog house or discipline from the church or divorce.

And why do those sins deserve punishment?  Because you are sinning against people that have value.  Your parents have value as authorities and because they bear the image of God.  Your wife has value as your wife and by virtue of bearing the image of God.

And every offense deserves punishment relative to the value of the one offended.

You agree with this!  Consider – if you had mice in your home and you set out to kill the pests by mixing poison with peanut butter, what should be the legal recourse?  According to the state of Washington – there would be none.  And this is right and good.  If the mice have any value it is outweighed by the harm they cause and you should rid yourself of this – on balance – valueless creature.

But, perhaps your neighbor’s dog barks too much and you set out to rid the neighborhood of this pest by stuffing poison into a hotdog to end the incessant barking.  What should be the legal recourse for killing your neighbors pet?  According to the state of Washington, this would be a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and $5000 in fines.  And this is right and good, for you have robbed your neighbor of the value he places in that animal.

Now, what if your neighbor is the pest and you set out to end him with arsenic in his morning coffee?  Murder in the first degree, punishable by life in prison.  Perhaps this punishment is not severe enough, but it is many degrees more severe than the premediated killing of a dog. Why?  Because your neighbor is a man and his value is many degrees greater than the value of any animal.

What if your neighbor was your town’s mayor, and the reason you killed him was because he was pestering you with higher levy taxes?  That, murderer, is aggravated murder in the first degree, punishable in the state of Washington, by death.  Why? Because the state recognizes that authority carries with it greater value.

The mice – no value.  The dog – some value.  The man – great value.  The authority, the ruler – greater value, indeed.

And so we come to the case of sin against God.

If you lie to your parents, you earn a spanking.  If you lie to a judge, you earn prison.  If you lie to God…

Every sin is a sin against God.  Every sin a violation of His holy law.  This is why David, when caught having committed adultery and murder could cry out to God – in terror – “Against you and only you have I sinned!

God is of immeasurable value.  He is holy… without limit.  He is glorious… without limit.  He is lovely… without limit.  He rules… without limit.  He. Is. Just… without limit.  Every violation of His law… every sin against Him… every SIN deserves punishment… without limit.

And God is just. He will make all things right and, by God, justice will be done.  Justice will be done to right every wrong that has been committed against you.  Justice will be done to right every wrong that has been committed against others.  And, yes, justice will be done to right every wrong that has been committed against God.

“But, why” you might ask, “if God is love, why doesn’t He love me – and everyone – in such a way that He simply looks past the wrongs we have done to Him and invite us freely to heaven?”

Yes, God is love (and we will talk about that more) – but His love is not the kind of love that overlooks justice.  In fact, His love is the kind of love that demands justice!

Proverbs 17:15 reads

He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.

He who justifies the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.  Look, you agree with this.  If a man were to come in here this evening with a gun, cut down everyone in the back two rows before he was subdued, and then arrested – how would you react if the judge in court said, “I am the kind of judge that loves, therefore, you are free to go.  You are innocent on the eyes of the law?”  How would you react?!  You would be angry!  Do you believe the judge is actually loving?  No! Because, what sort of love did he show the victims and their families?  By withholding justice, he showed hatred to the victims.  You would react by demanding justice.  Not only against the murderer, but against the wicked judge.  For any judge that would wink at murder and treat the wicked man as if he were innocent is more wicked himself.

But, you would ask God to act as a wicked judge on your behalf?  He cannot.  He who justifies the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, and the Lord will not be an abomination to Himself.

You are a sinner and your sins must be dealt with justly.

Justice demands that you are punished without end.   You cannot save yourself from it.  Whatever good you think you may do, it cannot make up for crimes you have committed.  No amount of charity done by a murderer can bring his victims back to life – his victims’ blood is on his hands – he deserves to die.  In the same way, no amount of good work, no amount of charity, no amount of niceness, no amount of demonstrated love for others can make up for your eternally offensive crimes against the eternal God.  Your blood is on your hands.  You deserve to die an everlasting death.  And you cannot bear it.

That is bad news for us, and it would remain bad news, if God were not also merciful.

God is just AND at the same time God is love and He demonstrates His love towards His people.  This has been the case from the beginning.  After cursing Adam and Eve, God did not leave them to wallow in their sin and shame.  No, our God is a merciful God, patient and caring.  He removed them from the Tree of Life, lest they live forever in their sinful estate.  It is better that they die, perhaps reconciled to the God they betrayed, than to live wallowing in sin and shame.  Furthermore, God covered their nakedness and their shame with animal skins.  It was kindness they did not deserve and, at the same time, a bloody picture of what our salvation requires – someone has to die to cover our sin and our shame.

Many times and in many ways throughout the Old Testament we read of how God was working to redeem an utterly undeserving people.  And, in this story of redemption, we can see that one theme over and over again – someone has to die to cover our sin and to bear the wrath of God.

We see it pictured in the story of Abraham, who, by faith was prepared to kill his own son as a burnt offering – a sacrifice to cover sin and bear the wrath of God.  God, being merciful, provided a ram – a ram whose blood was spilt as an offering and whose body was consumed in fire.

We see it picture in the Exodus, when all of Israel killed a lamb for each household and spread its blood around their doors.  On that evening, God visited Egypt with righteous indignation – but He, being merciful, passed over the households being covered by the blood of the Passover Lamb.

We see it pictured in the various sacrifices of Israel.  It is most evident in Leviticus 16 when the Lord described to Moses the rituals for the Day of Atonement.  In these rituals, many animals died. The first is a bull, whose blood is an atonement for the priest.  The next to die was a goat, whose blood was an atonement for the people.  And, as if the goat’s death could not fully accomplish atonement, a third animal – another goat – had to die.  But, this goat was different from the other.  On this goat, the priest laid hands.  In doing so, he placed the sin of the people on the goat – in other words, the goat became the sins of the people.  This scapegoat was then led out in to the wilderness and let go to wander alone, bearing the sins of the people, to take those sin far away… and to die as an atonement.  God, being merciful, provided a relief from sin for His people.  Even if it was a temporary relief that had to be repeated often.

But, God’s love for His people is greater than that.  He intended the sacrifices of animals to be pictures – mere shadows – of what He intended to accomplish.  He intended the sacrifices to be a temporary solution, in part, to convince His people of the need for a permanent solution…  a sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

That sacrifice to end all sacrifices could not be an animal – it had to be a man.  Why?  Because, justice demands it.  Our sins are not the sins of animals, our sins are the sins of people bearing the image of God.

But, what man?  Who can bear it? The sacrifice to end all sacrifices could not be just any man.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  There is no one that can meet the requirement to be a substitute for the world.  God’s standard is perfection, and an imperfect sacrifice is no solution at all.  Furthermore, the problem before us is that each sin is eternally significant, committed against an eternally worthy God of immeasurable value and carries with it the eternally terrible consequence of the wrath of God.  No mere man – no created being can bear even the consequence for one, much less the consequences for all.

The sacrifice to end all sacrifices must be a substitute that is at once like the offender – a man – and like the offended – God.

In our Scripture reading this evening, in verse 29, when John the Baptist sees Jesus coming and declares, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” he – whether he knew he was doing it or not – prophesied that sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

And so, brothers and sisters, we have come to the good news of this Good Friday.

By calling Jesus “the Lamb” John was pointing backwards to that evening when God executed judgment on Egypt but passed over the households of Israel.  By calling Jesus “the Lamb of God” John was pointing backwards to that day on Mount Moriah when Abraham prophesied “the Lord will provide” and was stopped from killing Isaac when God provided a substitute.  By declaring Jesus to be “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” John was pointing to the scapegoat who took the sins of the people far away.  John was saying that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, provided by God, the scapegoat that will take the sins of the world away from the world.  Yes, John was saying, Jesus must die.

And so, we return to the beginning – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God

I want us to understand this well – when we read in verse 14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,we must understand that John is talking about is God the Son – the only begotten Son of the Father – Light of Light, very God of very God – and it was God the Son who stepped into time and into the world.  It was God the Son who stepped down, so to speak, from His throne of glory and lived with us.  When John the Baptist saw Jesus and said “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” he was declaring the glory of God through whom all things that were made were made.

This man, Jesus Christ, is God and this Son of God is the man Jesus Christ.  It was He, with the Father and the Spirit, who created all things.  He, with the Father and the Spirit, made man in the image of God.  It was He, with the Father and the Spirit, who saw that all that He created was very good.

And it was He, Jesus Christ, the God-man, who died for you.  He is your perfect Passover Lamb, whose blood covers all of the sins of his people perfectly.  As the prophet Isaiah foretold

But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

He is the perfect substitute – like us in every way but without sin – and, being God, eternally valuable and immeasurably worthy.  Again, from Isaiah

He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 

And

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

He is the perfect scapegoat – as the prophet Isaiah foretold,

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;

Christian, hear this – it pleased the Lord to crush Jesus for your sake.  Because His blood, shed on the cross, is applied to you – you have been given life.  You deserve the full wrath of God, but Jesus – on the cross – took the cup of God’s wrath and drank it – all of it – for you.

On the cross, God laid His hands on Christ, placing all of the sins – past, present, and future – all of the sins of all of His people on the head of His Son and then crushed Him.  Jesus carried in His body all of your sins, and He bore with His body the terrible penalty of your sin.  On that bloody cross, Jesus Christ became sin for you and then carried your sin as far away from you as the east is from the west.

God demonstrated His love for us in this way – at just the right time, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  God demonstrated His righteousness to us in this way – by the hands of sinful men, He raised Jesus up on a cross for the whole world to see and killed Him publicly as a substitute for us – satisfying the penalty that His justice required of us!  And, because of this, God is both JUST AND the JUSTIFIER of the wicked.

It has been accomplished.  It is finished.  Jesus died once for all.  He IS the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  You, Christian, are declared righteous.  In Christ, you stand before God as one without sin.  On that last day, when all things are made right, you will be found in Christ and your struggle with sin will end.

But, today – you struggle.  Today, you continue to sin.  Today, you suffer because of sins committed against you.  Today, because of sin, you rage and you fight and you cry and you feel as if you are being crushed, daily.

Christian, if you are struggling with sin; if you know that you continue to do the things that you should not; if you lie, cheat, steal, slander, lust, commit adultery, hate your neighbor, despise your children, dishonor your parents – whatever evil you do – and you don’t want to, but you just can’t seem to shake that urge…

Look to the cross.  Look at your Savior bloodied on that tree.  Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  He has washed you in His blood.  By His wounds, you ARE healed!  You are no longer identified as wicked, you are a saint!  Christ Jesus has accomplished it for you.  Your sins, even the present ones with which you struggle, is as far from you as the east is from the west.

You know the end from the beginning.  Wretched though you are, you will be saved from this body of death – thanks be to God in Christ! Amen.

So be bold!  Fight your sin as one who has already won the fight because the fight HAS been won.  Fight your sin and kill it.  Christ died so that you might die to sin, therefore, die to sin.

Christian, if the sins of your children wound you; if the unfaithful thoughts and looks of your husband or wife breaks your heart; if your unbelieving family, friends, and this world taunt you every day; if you feel the pressure of the sin around you crushing against you from every side and you fear you might not be able to bear it….

Look to the cross! Look to your Savior on that tree.  Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  In your suffering, you are identified with the dying of Christ on that cross – and He has carried in His body all of the suffering of the wrath of God for you.  You are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; you are perplexed, but not in despair; you are persecuted, but not forsaken; you may be struck down, but never destroyed.

You know the end from the beginning.  All of the wrongs will be made right.  All of the suffering will be turned to joy.  All of your tears will be dried.  The suffering of the here and now cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.  On that cross we can see that God did not spare His Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, with Christ, graciously give us all things – even an end to suffering?

Finally, if you are not a Christian.  If you are here today and you have not believed in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and for life, I beg you –

Look to the cross!  Look at that bloodied figure on that tree and for the first time, look to Him NOT as the people of His day did – as a man… mocked and despised, weak and unable to save Himself.  No!  Look closer.  Look, for the first time, with eyes of faith and see the Son of God who COULD have called down the armies of heaven to save His life and destroy His enemies – but. He. DIDN’T!  Instead, He emptied Himself of the glory that He deserves and, willingly took upon Himself the sins of His people and the shame of hanging naked and bloodied on a cross – because He loves His people that much!  Greater love has no man than this, Christ laid down His life for His friends.

Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Believe in Him and your sins will be taken away.  Believe in Him and you will be washed as white as snow.  If you do not, the Bible says that the wrath of God is upon you – right now – and you cannot bear it!  Now is the time of your salvation.  Beg God to save you in Christ and He is faithful to save!

….

Today is a Friday nearly two thousand years after that horrible and glorious Friday when our Savior was placed on the cross.  We call it “Good Friday” – not because it was good that Christ had to die; not because it was good that our King was made a curse and took on the sins of His people.  We call it “good” because we know what happens next.

Yes, it’s Friday and the crowds are cheering as Jesus is beaten and his clothes are torn.  It’s Friday, and Mary is weeping as her child is raised up on the cross.  It’s Friday and a crown of twisted thorns digs into the flesh of our King.  The wrath of God is poured out on Christ, His bloodied body gasps for air, he cries out to God and finds no relief. Jesus gives up His spirit and dies.  Death, it seems, has conquered.  Sin, it seems, has won.  But, we know the end from the beginning.  Today is only Friday – Sunday is coming!  Death and sin ARE defeated and Our. Lord.  Reigns!  Amen?

END

 

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