Last week I was preaching on John’s gospel account of Jesus’ baptism and him pointing out Jesus as the Lamb of God. I created the images above in my prayer/art journal and wrote the poem photographed below which is on the facing page. I was going to decorate it, but didn’t get around to it….. I’ve moved on to considering Grace, which is how we come to gain from Jesus’ sacrifice.
The poem became part of the structure of the sermon on the Sunday, which I post below.
Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-12; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; John 1.29-42
There’s lots of imagery in today’s gospel – lamb, dove, water, and a new name for Simon – Peter which means rock. Back then Peter wasn’t a proper name, it was simply a nickname, rock.
Epiphany season = the revelation of who Jesus is to the world – revelation = penny dropping, aha moments. I get it! I see! I hear what you are saying!
And talking of pennies – I have 3 here. Very dirty. What will happen if I drop them in water? Will they change? We will check at the end of the sermon. [visual aid = one container has citric acid in the water, another a denture cleaner tablet]
So, back to the gospel:
Behold the Lamb of God
For 2000 years
The Jews had asked
Where is the sacrifice
The Lord will provide?
Isaac and Abraham
were given a ram,
but year after year
lamb after lamb
to atone for sin.
Behold the Lamb of God – this is a phrase loaded with meaning. It isn’t just about Jesus and his sacrifice. The original hearers of John’s proclamation would have had so much more triggered in their memories.
The story of Abraham taking his son Isaac up the mountain because God wanted a sacrifice is well known. Isaac was special – he had been born after God had promised that Abraham would be the father of many. And now he was being tested. Would he kill his beloved son? Was he obedient to God? Yes, he was willing to do this because God had asked it of him and he trusted God and he knew he would do best to obey.
However, he didn’t know that God would stop him, just in the nick of time. I expect his heart was heavy thinking that God had given him a son and who was now to be the sacrifice.
And before we get all hot under the collar about child sacrifice and God being so terrible – in those days, in the peoples surrounding the Jews, child sacrifice was common. Not within the Jewish race, but others would include child sacrifice in their worship of false gods. So actually what God was doing here, in providing the ram just in time, was indicating that He, the true God, did NOT want the people to sacrifice their children to him. He didn’t want his people to be led astray into the ways of those around them..
And years later, when Moses brought the people out of slavery and into the Promised Land they commemorated that exodus with the Passover celebration every year. And every year lambs without spot or blemish would be sacrificed – not just at Passover, but at other times. And all the while they were waiting for the Lamb that the Lord would provide.
According to John’s gospel Jesus’ death coincided with the sacrifice of the Passover lambs. But there is also an allusion to Isaiah’s Servant of God prophecies about Jesus who goes like a lamb to the slaughter, since ‘the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’. Is 53.7
said St John
when he saw The One
upon whom the Spirit alighted
This is he – the Messiah
The Lord has provided
The Lamb of God
to take away
the sin of the world.
John only recognised that his cousin Jesus was the long awaited Messiah when he saw the Dove – that symbol of the Holy Spirit – rest upon him.
God had told John what to look out for and when he recognised who Jesus was, he was able to tell people that although they were flocking to the Jordan to be baptised for the forgiveness of sin and to show their re-commitment to following God’s ways, they needed to follow Jesus, who would baptise them with the Holy Spirit. He also tells them that he recognises Jesus as God’s Chosen One, His beloved Son.
And when John wrote his gospel he repeated the recognition of Jesus as the Lamb of God. But the second time it is to encourage readers to take the further step and do as Andrew and the other disciple had and follow Jesus, recognising who he is for themselves.
Andrew wouldn’t have known fully what it meant that Jesus was the Messiah. He would have taken on board John’s teaching and expectations. But at that time there were lots of different ideas of what they were to expect from the Messiah. The disciples’ understanding grew as they spent time with Jesus. It developed after his death and resurrection. Indeed, Thomas, who had doubted the truth of the stories of Jesus’ appearance after his death, exclaimed “My Lord and my God” when he came face to face with the risen Jesus.
And the same is true for us. It takes time, many years, to come to fully appreciate who Jesus is and for our faith to grow and deepen.
When John wrote his gospel he ended it by saying that he could have included a lot more. He couldn’t include all of Jesus’ 3 years of ministry and teaching. He had chosen his material carefully and says his gospel is written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
Many of us have believed that what John wrote is true, that Jesus is the son of God and that through him we can have our sins forgiven and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to know God’s love in our lives. This has been my experience and so I can say:
The Lamb of God
who took away my sin
from deep within
and my feet he shod
with good news
for those whose
ears are open to hear
We were discussing at the bible study on Wednesday night how we know that the gospel is true. Not an easy question to answer. How do you know that your faith is based on truth and not a lie or fairy story? I said that I based it on the fact that it works. Not just for me but for millions of people, when you do believe and trust in Jesus as God’s son, he does take away your sin and cleanse you within, giving you new life. So for me, experience, is a big part of why I believe. There are other, more logical and thought out, reasons for believing. It has been important for me to dig deeper into the scriptures and into theology. The church has, for the last 2000 years, passed on its teaching.
We are part of the church, built upon Simon-Peter. Remember him? The disciple who quite often jumped in with both feet, getting it wrong, denied knowing Jesus 3 times on the night he was arrested and then given the job of feeding Jesus’ sheep and tending them.
We are all, like sheep who have gone astray, been rescued by the Shepherd who has searched us out and who was himself the lamb of God who died in our place.
Jesus baptises us in the Holy Spirit. John says the Spirit remained on Jesus. The relationship between Father and Son and Son and believer is permanent. Jesus permanently possesses the Holy Spirit, and because he does, he will give the Holy Spirit to others in baptism. At the last supper Jesus said “abide in me and I will abide in you”. He wants to take up residence in our hearts and lives. That is the effect of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
John writes about the Holy Spirit further on in his gospel:
- Jesus said, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (3:5 )
- Jesus “does not give the Spirit sparingly”(3:34 )
- and he says: “let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’ (7:38 )
And that’s all promised for us – for you and me. We can have as much of the Holy Spirit working in us as we will permit.
The prayer after communion today reminded me of a verse in Shine Jesus Shine about mirroring Jesus’ life in our lives. We tell his story by the way we live and that includes being like Andrew and willing to tell others we have found Jesus. And we will only be able to do that when we are filled with the Holy Spirit bearing fruit and having the necessary spiritual gifts to enable the church to continue proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
We are all commissioned by virtue of our baptism and membership of the church to be witnesses to that new life we have with Jesus.
So, let’s have a look at the pennies. Are they clean? One is no different. One is clean – it wasn’t JUST water. Water Plus…. Our lives can be cleaned up, like this penny. All the bad stuff, all the effects of sin – our own and others – washed away and we can be made like new. Healed, made whole and God’s image in us restored. It isn’t enough to be baptised in water – we need Water Plus…. and for us the Plus is the Holy Spirit.
We need to be baptised with the Holy Spirit who will live in our lives, gradually changing us bit by bit. Not as quick and dramatic as the penny in container 2. We are more a work in progress.
For 2000 years
the church has proclaimed
Look! Jesus is
the One through whom
we have LIFE
in all its fullness
Come to him
and be loved
be made whole.
Behold! The Lamb of God!