Monday, January 24, 2011

Epiphany 2 of Series A (John 1:29-42a)

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, have you confessed anything lately? Now I know that this is a loaded question. When we think of the word ‘confession’ we usually think about the confession of sin. No doubt some of you have confessed sin this past week, asking for forgiveness from the one you have hurt and from God. The confession of sin is an important, indeed vital, part of the Christian’s life, but that isn’t specifically the confession I’m talking about this morning. Instead, today we want to focus on the primary meaning of the word confession: speaking back to God what He has said to us. That is what confession is; saying the same thing that God has said, taking His revelation in through the ears and speaking that word with our mouths. The confession of sin is an important example of this; God in His Word has declared that all people are sinners, and when we confess our sins at the beginning of the service, we are speaking back to God that declaration. ‘Yes, Lord, as you have said, I am a sinner.’ But confession also means speaking back to God and the world not just our sin but also our Savior. We cannot confess unless God has first spoken to us, and He does this primarily in His Word. He reveals who He is and what He has done for us, and we confess that truth to the world.

John the Baptist uttered one of the great confessions of the New Testament in our text for today. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” But even the forerunner of Christ did not come up with that confession by himself, but instead he speaks to the world what God had revealed to him. “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 on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” We too saw the Baptism of Jesus last week, we heard from God’s holy Word that the Spirit descended upon Jesus, anointing Him for the task to come. It was that event that brought forth the confession of John; it confirmed for Him who Jesus was and what He had come to do. John can’t keep that confession in, and so it must go out, declaring before the world that this One, walking beside the river, has come in salvation. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

John confesses that this man, seemingly as normal as you and me, was indeed the very Lamb of God. This Lamb takes away the sin of the world, not just the sins of the disciples, not just John’s sin, but the sin of the entire world. That means you, it means me, it means every single person on this planet. Jesus, the true Lamb of God, has come to take away sin, to remove it from us, to eliminate its penalty, to get rid of it and cast it away forever. He has come that sin will be no more! Though John doesn’t go into how this Jesus will remove the sin of the world, the title ‘Lamb of God,’ does give us some clues. You may think about the ram sacrificed in the place of Isaac, or the declaration in Isaiah 53 that the suffering Servant will stand before His oppressors like a lamb before the slaughter. We should probably also turn to the Passover, where the blood of a slaughtered lamb is the sign for the angel of death to pass over the homes of the Israelites and spare their firstborn. The true Lamb of God will be slaughtered, sacrificed in the place of His people, in the place of you and me, in order to take away our sin. He will remove sin by being sacrificed for it; He will remove God’s wrath over our transgressions and the penalty of death we deserved. His blood will be placed upon us as a sign that death no longer has a hold on us; the seal of our baptism will protect us from the angel of death. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

But John’s confession is not the only confession we find in our text. Andrew also declares who this Jesus is. “He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah (which means Christ).’” This is a confession of salvation: the one promised throughout the Old Testament, the messiah who was to save God’s people, has come. Listen to his joy: “We have found the Messiah!” This is the anointed one, the one anointed to bring salvation to all the people, the one anointed to bring salvation to you and to me. He is the promised one! The story of the Old Testament has come to culmination in Jesus Christ, the one appointed to save by His death for our sins and His victorious resurrection from the dead.

Andrew couldn’t keep this confession in any more than John could. He had to get it out, he had to proclaim it to others. John tells us that the first thing he did after encountering Jesus was to make the good confession before his brother Peter. Once again, Andrew’s confession did not come from himself, but from the Lord. He heard the confession of John and then saw and heard Jesus Himself. In faith he then confessed, bringing that proclamation to another person, Peter. That is what the confession of Christ does; it leads others to confess, creating disciples along the way. You can see the pattern clearly in our text: first John received the revelation from God. He believed, becoming a disciple of Jesus, and then he confessed. His confession worked faith in Jesus in two other men, who became disciples of Jesus. “The two disciples heard him say this and they followed Jesus.” Then they confessed, bringing others into contact with Jesus. That pattern has been repeated through thousands of years, amongst countless millions of people, until a pastor, parent, or friend confessed the person and work of Jesus to you, and God worked through His Word on the lips of His people, creating faith within you.

Unfortunately, that is so often where the confession ends, because we are often unwilling to confess Christ before others. We have heard the revelation of Jesus in His Holy Word. His flesh and blood has touched our lips, we have been washed in the baptism He instituted. Through those means, the Lord has created faith, the same faith of John the Baptist and of Andrew. Throughout the centuries that faith has brought forth confession from the lips of Christians, confession that eventually delivered to you the salvation accomplished by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. But how often does that confession which delivered to you the very salvation of Jesus never make it beyond you? Do we go first to our family, friends, and neighbors to confess to them the work of Christ on their behalf? You can see the enthusiasm, the joy in Andrew after He comes to faith, and the first thing he wants to do is confess that God-given faith to his brother. Do we have that same enthusiasm? Do we seek out every opportunity to confess, or do we keep our mouths shut? The reasons are many: don’t want to offend, no opportunity, I don’t know how, but so often these are simply excuses for doing nothing. So often we keep the confession of Jesus private, treating it either like our own personal property, or something not important enough to share with others.

That is unfortunate, for our Lord Jesus Christ, in His great grace, is pleased to use you and me as His instruments to bring others to faith. We have the wonderful privilege and responsibility to confess His person and work to those around us, and He has promised to be active in that Word on the lips of His people. Think about it: Jesus uses you and me, sinful and weak people, to proclaim His salvation to others. And He doesn’t make us responsible for the results; the outcomes are His, because the Word is His. We are simply His instruments, proclaiming to others, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” As Martin Luther once said, we are beggars telling other beggars where to find bread. The key phrase is: “Come and you will see.” That is what Jesus said to the inquiring disciples, and that same phrase is on the lips of Philip just a few verses after our text. We invite people to come and see Jesus, to encounter their risen Lord as He comes to them in Word and Sacrament, bearing forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

When we invite others to come and see Jesus, we are inviting them to join us in the relationship Christ established, we are inviting them to abide in Jesus. “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?” And they said to Him, ‘Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?’” The word translated here as ‘staying’ actually means ‘abiding.’ They want to abide in Jesus, to be with Him, in intimate communion with Him. The response of Jesus? “Come and you will see.” John tells us the wonderful result of this invitation. “So they came and saw where He was staying [or abiding], and they stayed [or abided] with Him that day.” Jesus broke into this world to abide with you and me, as John the evangelist wrote earlier in chapter one: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Through His sacrifice on Calvary’s cross, God now abides with man as man. Through faith we abide with Jesus and He abides with us. We participate in the very relationship of the Trinity, we abide in and with the God who has delivered us. Because we abide in Jesus, we have forgiveness for all of our sins, even for failing to confess Him before others, and through that forgiveness we know that we will abide with the Trinity for all eternity.

God has always been pleased to work through the weakness of men to spread His Gospel of salvation. He works despite and even through our weakness and sin to take that confession throughout the world. He gives us great and wonderful gifts, and then He sends us in joy to proclaim the mercies of the God who broke into this world in order to forgive, redeem, and abide with His rebellious creation. The confession you take to others is the confession that sustains you all your days: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In the name of the Lamb, whose confession we proclaim, Amen.

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