January 15th, 2023 – Pastor Elizabeth

2 Epiphany Year A / January 15, 2023 / St. Paul’s Random Lake / John 1:29-51

Lamb of God

Let us pray. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world. Have mercy on us. AMEN.

When Jesus arrives on the scene in John’s gospel, John the Baptist proclaims to the world: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Lamb of God? What would the crowds gathered at the river think about that? Did the phrase have a meaning that would have resonated with people and drawn them to Jesus? What was John trying to say about him?

Outside of church we mostly think of a lamb as an animal, a baby sheep, a supplier of wool and meat. But to ancient Jewish ears, a young lamb without blemish was to be offered up as a burnt offering for sin or well-being.

As it says in the book of Leviticus: “If your gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, your offering shall be a male without blemish. It shall be slaughtered on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. It shall be cut up into its parts, with its head and its suet, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar;but the entrails and the legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall offer the whole and turn it into smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.”

This was a common practice of the ancient Hebrew faith so that would be the immediate connection they would make to John the Baptist declaring that Jesus was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” How would the Baptist’s listeners have heard the claim that Jesus was a human sacrifice supplied by God? Would the thought of a human Lamb be offensive or distasteful? Or would they simply be grateful? Possibly the Old Testament account of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac would come to mind. Abraham was reluctantly willing to do as God commanded right up to the point where he raised the knife when “the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”

We sing the words “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” on occasions when we take communion. But do we truly understand what these words mean and what Jesus gave up for us?

In his commentary on the Gospel of John, Father Raymond Brown analyzes how John the Baptist may have seen Jesus as Lamb of God.

  1. Lamb as the apocalyptic Lamb of God. Apocalyptic refers to the mysteries of God related to the end times. In Jewish apocalyptic literature there is a conquering Lamb who will destroy evil in this world. We find this conquering view of the Lamb in the book of Revelation who overcomes evil beasts and crushes them underfoot. John the Baptist could certainly be lifting up Jesus as the one who would fulfill this expectation.
  2. The Lamb as the Suffering Servant who is the subject of four songs in the book of Isaiah. This servant “takes on, bears” the sins of many. This is expressed in Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 53: “Surely he has borne our infirmities
        and carried our diseases;
    yet we accounted him stricken,
        struck down by God, and afflicted.
    But he was wounded for our transgressions,
        crushed for our iniquities;
    upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
        and by his bruises we are healed.
    All we like sheep have gone
        we have all turned to our own way,
    and the Lord has laid on him
        the iniquity of us all.

 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.”

When the crowds at the River Jordan heard John the Baptist “Lamb of God” did the God’s suffering servant come to mind?

  • The Lamb of God as the Paschal or Passover Lamb. Certainly every Hebrew know the story of their peoples’ Exodus from Egypt under Moses. While the suffering servant was representative of the whole nation of Israel, the Passover Lamb was a real, sacrificial animal who was given each year.

“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household…The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect…the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast… This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord.The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”

John is fond of using Passover imagery in his gospel. Raymond Brown writes: “Jesus was condemned to death at noon on the day before Passover and this was the very time when the priests began to slay the paschal lambs in the temple.” When Jesus shares a Passover meal in the Upper Room with his disciples they eat the unleavened bread and drink the wine, but Jesus himself became the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus promised that forgiveness to us as well when we share that communion meal with one another!

John the Baptist’s followers on the river bank would not have seen or known how John’s words would play out, but we have the blessing and honor of hearing and knowing the whole story of Jesus, Lamb of God, again and again. We are reminded again and again that Jesus takes away and bears our sin on the cross.  

We no longer need to take our best animal from the herd to the temple to see burnt up before our eyes to be reassured of our freedom from sin, Jesus gave his life once as a true sacrifice for all of us.

Pay careful attention to the lyrics as we sing this hymn by Christian artist, Twila Paris: “Your only Son no sin to hide
But You have sent Him from Your side
To walk upon this guilty sod
And to become the Lamb of God.
Your gift of love they crucified
They laughed and scorned Him as He died
The humble King they named a fraud
And sacrificed the Lamb of God.
Oh Lamb of God, Sweet Lamb of God
I love the Holy Lamb of God
Oh wash me in His precious Blood
My Jesus Christ the Lamb of God”


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