Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
With these words John introduces Jesus to the world.
“Behold the Lamb of God!”
At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus is crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover, at the very time that the Passover lambs were being sacrificed in the temple.
Behold the Lamb of God!
John also makes a special note that the legs of the two who were crucified with Jesus were broken to hasten their deaths, however, Jesus had already died at that point and so his legs were not broken. This was important to John, as it was forbidden to break any bone of the Passover Lamb.
Behold the Lamb of God!
Israel languishing in slavery in Egypt.
Pharaoh was not inclined to grant Moses’ request to “Let my people go!”
And so what followed was a series of 10 plagues, each designed to frighten Pharaoh into releasing the Israelites.
· The Nile turned to blood
· Frogs overran the land
· Then came gnats
· And flies
· A deadly pestilence killing Egyptian livestock
· Boils on their skin
· Thunder and hail
· And then locusts
· And next to the last, darkness covered the land. So dark, that it could be felt.
All these plagues, and still the heart of Pharaoh remained hardened.
And then came the final and most horrific plague.
God would strike down the firstborn sons throughout all of Egypt. But as for the Israelites, their sons would be spared if they did as God commanded.
They were to sacrifice a lamb, a perfect lamb, with no blemishes, and the blood of the lamb was to be wiped across the lintel of their doors, and seeing this, the angel of death would “Passover” their homes, and their sons would be spared.
Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. The Passover Lamb.
There is another story that the words “Behold the Lamb of God” calls to mind. We read in Genesis 22 the story of the sacrifice of Isaac:
1 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12 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." 13 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. 14 So Abraham called that place "The Lord will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided."
Behold the Lamb of God.
This story of Abraham and Isaac will always be a special one for me. My dad was a pastor, and was serving in Worland, WY at the time.
During Lent one year, he put on theatrical presentations of numerous biblical stories. I participated in two of the dramas. For the story of Jonah and the whale, dad made a whale and inside of it, I was the one who moved the whale about to swallow my dad and then spit him out again.
And then we did Abraham and Isaac. Dad bound me up and laid me on the altar. He stood before the altar and lifted up his hunting knife high above his head. And then, a carefully timed recording sounded from backstage instructing him to not harm me. And then, he turned to retrieve a lamb, caught in the bushes, to sacrifice instead. This I don’t remember. I suppose he used a stuffed animal for the lamb. I don’t know. I can’t remember that part.
What is seared into my memory, though, is the image of my Father with his hunting knife raised high above his head, ready to plunge it into me.
And it left me with a question.
“What kind of Father would sacrifice his own Son?”
“And why would they do it?”
The Bible tells us that God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, as a test of Abraham’s faith.
“. . . now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."
Perhaps it would make more sense if instead of using the word “fear”, we used the word “love”.
Now I know that you love the Lord your God, above all else, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.
Through it all, Abraham’s faith is evident in his statement to Isaac.
"God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son."
What kind of Father would sacrifice his own Son?
And why would he do it?
The answer is that it was God who made that sacrifice, not Abraham, as Jesus was offered on the cross.
And he did so, to take away the sin of the world, and to cause the angel of death to Passover us, that we might live with him forever.
John provides us with the answer early in the Gospel:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
"For God so loved the world that he sacrificed his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
We are not comfortable with sacrificial language.
It is foreign to us.
And yet, for each of us, there is something, someone, who we love enough to make real and substantial sacrifices for.
In Romans 5, Paul writes:
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
Offered in Love.
God love you so much, that he was willing to sacrifice his own son.
One of the youth of my congregation in Baker, MT preached a sermon at the Montana Synod youth gathering. One of Jana’s points was what she called “speciality”. You are so special, so precious to God, he loves you so much, that even if you were the only person in the world he would have still offered his Son as a sacrifice to save you. Speciality.
As uncomfortable as we are with language about sacrifice, there is a truth about it that is absolute.
Love that is unwilling to sacrifice for the sake of the other is not love at all.
Love that is unwilling to sacrifice is nothing.
Behold the Lamb of God, the one God himself sacrificed for you.
At the end of John’s Gospel we hear the rest of the story.
"Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."
“Do you love me?” Jesus asks.
Feed my sheep.
“Do you love me?” Jesus asks.
Are you willing to make the sacrifice that love demands?
Love is costly. This is true.
To truly love someone with all your heart, soul, and mind is to be willing to give yourself up for them.
As Jesus says in John 15:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
This is the type of love with which Christ lived and died.
And God asks nothing less from us.