Epiphany 2a

Preached: January 20, 2008

Only He Takes Away the Sin of the World
John 1:29-41

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That Word for us to take to heart and put into practice is John 1.

The next day [John] notices Jesus coming toward him and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away sin of the world. This is he about whom I spoke, ‘After me comes a man who had come before me, because he was first compared to me.’ I did not know him. But in order that he might appear to Israel, for that reason I came baptizing in water.”
And John testified saying, “I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove from heaven and he remained on him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize in water, he said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and remaining on him, he is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and have witnessed that he is the Son of God.”
The next day John and also two of his disciples were again standing there. Noticing Jesus walking, he says “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard him speaking and followed Jesus.
Turning around around and seeing them following, Jesus says, “What are seeking?” They said to him, “Rabbi (which means Teacher when interpreted), where are you staying?” He says to them, “Come and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying and remained with him that day. It was about the tenth hour.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the who who had heard John and followed him. He was the first to find his own brother, Simon, and say to him, “We have found the Messiah (which is interpreted Christ).”

This is the Word of our Lord

Dear friends in Christ, fellow baptized saints of God:

What do you want? Happiness and comfort? Good health and friends? A sense of purpose and meaning? A good education and job? A good future for your children and grandchildren? Fun and excitement? Pleasure and well-being? Money and wealth? Retirement and travel? Knowledge and power? What do you want? What are you looking for in life? What are you seeking, trying to find? Sometimes we have big dreams; sometimes we just want to make it through the day.

As those two disciples of John ran after Jesus, he turns and asks them not whom but what are they looking for,what do they want. As the master teacher, Jesus uses this question to get them and us to think deeply. To only ask, “Whom are you looking for?” let's us give a shallow, reflexive answer. “I'm looking for God. I'm seeking Jesus.” Doesn't that make us sound good and spiritual? But to ask, “What are you looking for? What do you want?” makes each of us pause and think. What's most important in my life? What am I really living for? What do I treasure? What do I devote my time and money to? And our honest answer to those questions does not sound nearly as spiritual and godly as parroting statements like “I'm looking for Jesus; I'm seeking God.”

What are you seeking in life? That question lays bare our upside-down, inverted priorities. It exposes ours hearts as chasers after earthly desires, leaving our God behind. It convicts us as the sinners we are and condemns us as fit only for hell. But that very conviction and death sentence leads us to want what we truly do need. Not pleasure and purpose; not health and wealth. But what we truly need: Our sins taken away.

That's where John the Baptist pointed his disciples and where he points us today. Only one has taken away the sins of the world. Only the Lamb of God! John's testimony calls you to listen and believe. Your testimony, in turn, invites others to come and see. For only the Lamb of God gives what we truly need. Only he takes away the sins of the world. That's our theme today.

A. John's testimony calls you to listen and believe

1) What was John's testimony?

John the Baptist would strike us as an extraordinary fellow. Consider his clothes. Course camels hair and a plain leather belt. Consider his diet. Locust and wild honey. Consider his sudden appearance coming out of the wilderness. Consider his bold preaching that called even the highly-regarded Pharisees and Sadducees to account, addressing them as a brood of vipers. Quite an unusual, remarkable character! No wonder the crowds flocked to see and hear him. Even fishermen from up by the sea of Galilee came and followed him, men like Peter and Andrew, James and John.

But John the Baptizer knew his place. He was simply here to testify. He didn't testify in a courtroom, but each day of his life. You know that testimony. His words, recorded in Scripture, have also become part of the Church's liturgy for hundreds and hundreds of years. They are on your lips week after week. You sang them in the Gloria early today: “O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sin of the world.” We sing them before Communion as well in the Agnus Dei. “O Christ, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world.” And so as Jesus, seeming to be just another ordinary man, comes towards him, John testifies, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV). Listen to and believe his testimony!

2) Why listen to John and believe his testimony?

But why listen to John? Was he some eccentric genius more in tune with the divine and so had special, spiritual intuition? No. That's not the reason. John makes it clear that on his own he did not know Jesus as the Lamb of God. Even though his life mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah, on his own he could not have known who the Messiah was. John makes that clear, “I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed in Israel” (John 1:31 NIV).

So why listen to John? Why believe his testimony? Because John, as a trustworthy witness, is not testifying about his own opinions or intuition. He is testifying about what he has directly seen and about what God himself had revealed to him. What had John seen? You heard about it last week at Jesus' baptism. “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him” (John 1:32 NIV). But even based on what he had seen, John would not have known except that God himself had promised this sign and revealed it to John. John explains, “I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit’” (John 1:33 NIV). He testified to what he had seen and what God had promised. And God's promises do not fail. And so John could say, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34 NIV). For hadn't the Father himself made that known at Jesus' Baptism. John's testimony is trustworthy and true. It comes directly from God.

3) What are we to believe?

John's testimony calls you to listen and believe. Believe that this Jewish man, Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, is the Son of God. Although born in time, his origin is from eternity. That's why John could in all truthfulness speak what at first sounds like a contradiction. “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (John 1:30 NIV). John's ministry came before Jesus' ministry. John was the forerunner to prepare the way. But Jesus was the greater one. Although born after John, he was before John. For Jesus is the eternal God, begotten of the Father from all eternity. But he became the Servant to take away your sins.

Yes, believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and believe that the Son of God is also the Lamb of God. Listen to John's testimony. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That name, Lamb of God, flashes before our eyes the countless sacrifices of the Old Testament. Blood and death poured out to pay for sins. Jesus, the innocent Lamb, the spotless, guiltless, sinless Lamb, without blemish or blame, is slaughtered and slain to take away the sins of the world. To take away your sins.

What promise for you is in John's testimony! “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That must include you and me! Look around you. We certainly are still in this sin-darkened world. Feel the guilt and shame and pain within you, evidence that the world still bears down on us. But look, Jesus, God's Son, the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. He takes away your sin. Believe John's testimony: Jesus takes away your sin.

B. Your testimony invites others to come and see

1) How can you be like Andrew?

And then share that testimony.

The next day two of John's disciples were standing with him. One was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, the other was probably John, who later wrote this Gospel, the brother of James. They heard John's testimony and followed Jesus. They spent the day with him. Jesus' words fueled their faith. Andrew could not keep this good news to himself. He finds his brother Peter and tells him, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41 NIV).

Andrew knew himself. He knew how much he needed his sins taken away. Only the Messiah, the Anointed One, whom the Lord God would send on the mission of saving sinners, only he could meet that need. Andrew wanted his sins forgiven. In Jesus, the Messiah, he had that forgiveness. Now he wanted to share it. He finds his brother and invites him to come and see.

Your testimony as well invites others to come and see. Just think about Andrew. How much do you know about him? Not much. None of us know much about him. He is mentioned a few times, but is not nearly as well-known as his brother Peter or his friends James and John. Andrew may not have had the bold, leadership ability of Peter or the deep, reflective insight of John. He was not part of the inner circle as James was. But did that stop him from testifying?

So also you may not be able to speak like angels or preach like Paul. But “you can tell the love of Jesus; You can say he died for all (Christian Worship “Hark! The Voice of Jesus Crying” 573:2). You can tell them: Jesus is God's Son who takes away the sin of the world.

For you see, this is a message for all to hear, for the entire world to hear, beginning with those near you. For that same Good News that assures you that Jesus takes away your sins since he takes away the sin of the world, that same Good News is for them to hear as well. For since Jesus takes away the sin of the world, he takes away their sins too. So testify, just as Andrew did.

2) How can we testify with words and actions?

How can you testify? Invite others to come and see. Even if you have good, persuasive people skills, that's not what's going to win them over to Jesus. Rather Jesus himself through his Word calls them to be his own. So invite them to come and see Jesus in his Word.

Do that by sharing the Word with them, telling them how Jesus has taken away your sins. Let them see that Word at work in you. Let them see you turning to the Word for strength and comfort. Let see you cherishing the Word as your joy and delight.

Often the biggest hindrance in bringing others to Jesus is not that we don't know what to say or say the wrong thing. Often the biggest hindrance is that the way we live tells them that Jesus is not all that important. For example, if you skip church on a Sunday, your own personal faith may not noticeably suffer and you can keep feeding your faith privately as you read and study God's Word, but what kind of testimony are you giving? Does skipping church invite others to come and see or is it telling them that Jesus isn't always worth coming and seeing?

Likewise the way we talk about God's Word and the way we treat others can be like a beacon inviting others to want to come and see what is so special that leads us to cherish the word and show kindness to others. Or it can be a repellent, for why waste my time with Jesus if his Word is boring and his people live the same selfish lives that everyone else lives?

As we each see our many failures in this, we see all the more why we need Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away your sin. This world may have many things we want at one time or another. Pleasure and purpose; health and wealth. But we always need Jesus and his forgiveness. The more we listen and believe his promise of forgiveness, the more we desire to be in his house and his Word. The more his promise takes root in our hearts, the more we want to live for him, cherishing his Word and showing kindness to others. And so the more our words and actions will become a living, breathing invitation to others.

Invite them to come and see. Bring them to church. Sit with them in Bible class. Let them see how important Jesus is to you. Let your words and actions testify that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313