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January 15, 2023

Lamb of God

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary Category: Biblical Scripture: John 1:29–42a

The Second Sunday after Epiphany

January 15, 2023

John 1:29-42a

 “Lamb of God”

John Bertram Phillips or, J. B. Phillips (1906 –1982) was an English Bible scholar, translator, author and Anglican clergyman. He is most noted for his version of The New Testament in Modern English, first published in 1958. Among his many books, perhaps the best known is one which he wrote in 1952, Your God is Too Small. “’The trouble with many of us today,’ writes J.B. Phillips, ‘is that we have not found a God big enough for our modern needs. In varying degrees we suffer from a limited idea of God.’ Phillips exposes such inadequate conceptions of God as ‘Resident Policeman,’ ‘Grand Old Man,’ ‘Meek-and-Mild,’ and ‘Managing Director,’ and explores ways in which we can find a truly meaningful and constructive God for ourselves” (Your God is Too Small by J.B. Phillips | Goodreads). I think of this in light of what we hear in today’s Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 49:1-7), where the Lord God speaks: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). God’s plans are much bigger and grander than focusing only on the needs of his chosen people, Israel. God’s concern is for all peoples, nations, tribes, and languages – the whole world. And this great plan of God’s centers on the One we see in today’s Gospel lesson: the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The sermon for today, based on the Gospel lesson, is entitled “Lamb of God.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

I am indebted to Dr. Kari Vo for her online devotion with Lutheran Hour Ministries this past Thursday. She said so well what I wanted to convey that I am going to use her words and share them with you:

Have you ever really thought about that title ‘Lamb of God’? In Jesus’ day, lambs were killed for sacrifice on God’s altar. If you had sinned, or if you wanted to make a special offering to God—a thank offering, maybe—you brought a lamb to the temple with you. There you would hand over the lamb to the priests. It would be killed, and you would be forgiven. You would live.

But the lamb was yours, wasn’t it? You bought it with your own money. If you were a shepherd or landowner, maybe you raised it from your own flock. It was the lamb of you, if I can say it that way—not the lamb of God. Yours was the sin, yours was the sacrifice, yours was the lamb.

But now John points to something different. ‘Here is the Lamb of God,’ he says. Why should God have a lamb? He hasn’t sinned. He doesn't need to make an offering for Himself. Ah, but He does need to make an offering—not for Himself, but for us.

Jesus is the Lamb of God because He is provided by God, not us. He is how God will cleanse and forgive all His sinful, rebellious children. Jesus will carry our sins, and we will be forgiven. He will lay down His life for us, and we will live. He is not our lamb—we did not buy Him or send Him. God did. Why? Because He loves us. Because of mercy, because He would not stand by and see us destroy ourselves with our own evil.

Notice that Jesus is walking around freely during this whole interaction with John the Baptist. I suspect ordinary lambs had to be led by a rope, or even tied up. No sane lamb would want to go into the temple. They could smell the blood!

But Jesus is walking around freely. There is no danger of Him suddenly deciding He doesn’t want to offer Himself for our salvation. And this is what makes Jesus different from all the other lambs. The Lamb of God goes willingly to the altar of the cross. He knows what is coming, and this is His own free choice. The story of the Lamb of God is not a story of child abuse—the idea that God the Father is somehow forcing Jesus to suffer and die for our sake. That’s not how the Trinity works. No, the true God is One God—and in His infinite wisdom and love, decides internally—in the counsel of the Trinity—what to do about us. Father, Son, Holy Spirit—these Three-and-yet-One God chose the path to the cross. God Himself came into the world as Jesus, to be that sacrificed Lamb. And what God willingly does to Himself cannot be abuse.

No, this is love. This is willing, joyful mercy—Jesus giving Himself for you and me. And now that He has risen from the dead, we will have Him, and He will have us, through all eternity. Thanks be to God!” (Dr. Kari Vo, in her devotion for January 12, 2023 for Lutheran Hour Ministries).

So what does this willing, joyful mercy of Jesus the Lamb of God mean for our lives? Tomorrow is the federal holiday honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), whose call for racial healing and equity for all remains as unfinished and ongoing work in the life of our nation. This is as poignant and relevant today as it was when he lived more than fifty years ago. But there is another African-American leader, not as well-known as Dr. King, but whose influence and guidance blessed the lives of many people. His name is Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), African-American philosopher, author, theologian, and civil rights leader. Among his many works is a poem, which our choir sang as an anthem during Holy Communion last Sunday. This poem, entitled “The Work of Christmas,” is a reminder to all of us of what our calling looks like in Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all,
To make music in the heart.

(The Mood of Christmas, p. 23; published and copyrighted by Friends United Press, 1985)

May the Holy Spirit move us to follow and rejoice in our Lamb of God, and so do that work of Christmas. Amen.


other sermons in this series

Feb 11


Jesus Only

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: Mark 9:2–9 Series: Lectionary

Jan 7


Star and Dove

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: Mark 1:4–11 Series: Lectionary

Dec 31


Depart in Peace

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: Luke 2:22–40 Series: Lectionary