Summary: Following Jesus wherever He leads us.
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
January 16, 2005
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.
"Finding the Lamb of God"
In 1961, one of the abiding symbols of the Cold War and Communism went up between East and West Germany. On November 9, 1989, that symbol came down.
When I was in Dallas a year ago last October, I saw two sections from the Berlin Wall. It was a somber and moving moment to stand before such witnesses to history. Large, concrete segments of the Berlin Wall have been sold and transported to a number of different sites around the world. These sections stand as silent witnesses to a tragic period of oppression for millions of the world’s peoples.
Eddie Fox, the general secretary of World Methodist Evangelism was in Prague, Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist governments of Eastern Europe. There he observed a sign that went up the very first day after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It read: The Lamb Wins!
Fox notes: Not the bear, not the lion, not the tiger. But the Lamb -- the lamb wins!
[As quoted by Dr. Hal Brady, Dallas, 21 May 1995.]
The lamb is usually a sign of gentleness and timidity, prone to disaster from many hazards. But for Christians, the lamb is a sign of victory. In today’s lesson, John the Baptist attaches the title “Lamb of God” to Jesus. While all of the gospels record the baptism of Jesus by John, each does so in a different way. As we might expect, John’s version is the most different of the four gospels. John writes,
vv. 29-31 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ’After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be reveal to Israel."
On the day after Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist saw Jesus walking toward him and exclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God. While the expression Lamb of God has passed into regular Christian usage, as New Testament scholar Leon Morris points out, it is not at all clear what it means exactly. This phrase only appears in this chapter of the Gospel of John. We see it in verse 29, verse 36 and no where else.
The great scholar St. Jerome one day toward the end of his life was encountered by Jesus. He gazed at Jesus for a moment and then asked, “Lord, what do you want from me?” Jesus said nothing, and continued to look lovingly upon his faithful servant. The silence disturbed Jerome greatly.
“Lord,” Jerome insisted, “what do you want of me? My writings are all yours, my mind and my gift for languages are all yours, my piety and prayer life – they are all yours.”
“Jerome,” Jesus said, “I have all these things already. I want what you have kept from me. Give me your sin.”
Giving God our sin can be the hardest part of the Christian faith. It means that we have to admit that even our best efforts fall short of God’s righteousness. John the Baptist understood at some level that the Lamb of God would be sacrificed for the sin of the world. Perhaps John the Baptist is referring to the lamb of the Jewish sin offering. The Passover lamb is not a sin offering, but this is another possibility for interpretation. Possibly the Lamb of God of John the Baptist should be understood by the Church that lives after Christ’s resurrection as the conquering lamb of the Book of Revelation. Or is He the gentle lamb led off to slaughter in the prophecies of Jeremiah (11:19)? There are so many possibilities.
There is one certainty at least in our gospel reading. John the Baptist himself admits that Jesus ranks ahead of him, and while John had been looking for the Messiah, he did not know who he was until God revealed it to him. The sign that indicated to John the identity of Jesus is mentioned in the next verse.
vv. 32-34 And John bore witness: "I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ’he of whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."
John the Baptist testifies that he saw the Spirit of God descend from heaven like a dove and come to rest on Jesus. John reiterates that before this happened he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Now he understands that it is Jesus that he has been preparing the world to receive.