John 1:29; Leviticus 4:32-35
(sermon note: 03-08 sermon note)
The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’
If the offering you bring as a sin-offering is a sheep, you shall bring a female without blemish. You shall lay your hand on the head of the sin-offering; and it shall be slaughtered as a sin-offering at the spot where the burnt-offering is slaughtered. The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin-offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt-offering, and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. You shall remove all its fat, as the fat of the sheep is removed from the sacrifice of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, with the offerings by fire to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven.
This evening we begin our Lenten series on the idea that Jesus’ greatest gift to us was the sacrifice he made of himself. It wasn’t his profound lessons on God nor his miraculous healings that set him apart as the Son of God. No, it was his willingness to give up his life for our sake that fully reveals God’s love for us. It’s one thing to talk about God or on behalf of God. Priests and prophets have been doing that for millenia. It’s a whole different thing to give up your life so that others might experience firsthand the love of God. Jesus himself embodies God’s love. Everything he says and does comes from a place of love. He didn’t deserve to die. He deserved to live and continue teaching and healing and loving. But God the Father had different plans for him. He used Jesus as a sacrifice no different than the priests used animals as sacrifices so long ago. We’ll use this season to explore what this means that Jesus was used as a sacrifice and its subsequent ramifications.
Very early in Jesus’ ministry, we heard John the Baptist boldly reveal an interesting title for Jesus: “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It was a unique title never given to someone before. The people who initially heard it may have likened it to the traditional story of Abraham and Isaac. Recall the story of how God demanded that Abraham sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as a show of obedience and faithfulness. As Abraham and Isaac were climbing the mountain, Isaac noticed his father didn’t have an animal to offer as a sacrifice. “Where is the lamb, father?” he asked, to which Abraham responded, “The Lord will provide,” knowing full well that his son was the sacrificial lamb. God spared Abraham from having to make such a sacrifice but He didn’t spare himself from having to make it. No, God the Father offered up his only son as revealed in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
John the Baptist reveals Jesus’ identity as the Lamb of God, possibly alluding to the Abraham/Isaac tradition. The people who initially heard the title would have been familiar with the Levitical law concerning sacrifices. We heard in our reading that only an unblemished lamb would have sufficed to qualify as a legitimate sacrifice. Jesus, as the one without sin, certainly qualifies as an unblemished lamb. Nowhere in scripture do we hear of Jesus committing a sin. We ask ourselves, “Well, how can that be? If Jesus is fully human, how can he have lived without committing a sin? Don’t all humans sin? Isn’t sin an inherent part of being human?” Alas, Jesus isn’t only fully human. He is also fully divine and therefore without sin. God is without sin. I know, it’s a mysterious paradox. The church has been wrestling with this mystery for 2,000 years! Jesus can be without sin because of his divine nature which ultimately trumps his human nature. Jesus, as God, qualifies as unblemished and thus fulfills Levitical law.
In giving Jesus the title, “Lamb of God,” John taps into both Abraham/Isaac tradition and Levitical law. It is a unique title that distinguishes Jesus from anyone else. Let us give thanks for his role as a sacrificial lamb. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.