Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Text: John 1:29
Old Testament: Exodus 12:1-14
New Testament: John 1:29-42
When I was three, my mother took me to where her parents once lived. It was my grandfather’s farm. My grandfather died when my mother was two. It had not been in the family since his death. But it still was a working farm for a family that owned my grandparent’s old homestead the day we went to visit it.
The farm sat on a ridge, about a mile west of the farming village of North Fairfield. It had been part of the family inheritance for over 100 years. There was an old family cemetery up the country road from the farmhouse. Earlier ancestors were quietly resting there. Their Christian faith looked forward to the resurrection day when they would live again. At least that’s what the old weathered tombstones stated from under the trees lining the graveyard.
The cemetery spoke about Christian hope for new life – life beyond death.
The day we visited the farm I saw life flourishing at the barn. It was a beautiful Saturday morning late in the spring. Mother helped me out of our car to the ground. I was surrounded by bleating sheep and lambs in the barnyard.
It was sheep shearing time!
I had never been around sheep before, let alone little lambs. I was fascinated by their gentleness, their innocence, their warm noses and little eyes peering out from beneath their wool coats. They came up to me, looking for food. When they saw I was empty-handed, they turned away.
One by one each sheep was carried to a wooden box where a farmhand took what looked like a set of electric shavers to their backs. Wool fell to the ground in white bundles. The sheep were stimulated by the cool spring air.
There was absolutely nothing about the sheep that was intimidating or threatening. They were incapable of frightening me, or anyone else. They didn’t have horns, claws, or teeth sharp enough to harm a person. They were gentle and sweet. The lambs were even more gentle, sweet, and innocent. I could pet them and they just stood there, bleating away, chewing a little grass.
Controversy over sheep took decades to arrive when animal rights activists began to protest sheep-shearing. They claim it’s cruel to sheep. Sheep-herding families say shearing helps sheep and lambs live healthy lives. It removes wool in which parasites can live in the summer heat that can bring death.
In all public controversies, claims and counter-claims have political ramifications. Such is the plight of sheep and lambs. Their innocence is the ground for political conflict – especially where sheep are the national economy.
At least sheep-shearing doesn’t require a sheep or lamb to die. But that isn’t the case in the Bible. The Bible’s story of Passover reminds us that lambs are victims of international conflict. Israel’s freedom from Egyptian slavery depended on sacrificial lambs. God instructed Israel’s families to sacrifice a pure lamb, to avoid a plague of death God would send on Egypt to free the Israelites.
God warned Israel’s families about the impending threat. Sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on their door lintels with a hyssop branch. This would be a sign for God’s angel of death to pass over the household and spare the first-born of Israel that lived there. Lambs and Passover – the Jewish symbol of salvation.
The relationship between sacrificial lambs and Israel’s freedom from slavery runs deep in the Jewish consciousness. Exodus 29:38-43 says lambs were sacrificed in the Temple of Jerusalem daily, in the morning and the evening. Their sacrifice was for saving the nation’s covenant with God.
Beyond the Passover story, the story in Genesis about Isaac’s sacrifice teaches us God doesn’t want a human sacrifice to prove faithfulness. God substitutes a sheep for Isaac to show His love for Abraham. God’s love protects His covenant people. Sheep and lambs symbolized God’s love that frees his people from death and gives them new life – even when they sin.
So, when John the Baptist said, “There goes the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” if you didn’t know the Scriptures’ back story, you might think this was a sweet statement. Lambs are without guile. Lambs are gentle and kind. Their defenselessness evokes purity and innocence – two qualities that shouldn’t be controversial.
In fact, John the Baptist was making a controversial political statement. First, no human being could be or should be sacrificed for Israel. Equating Jesus with the Passover lamb that was daily sacrificed in the Temple was an affront to God’s covenant. No human blood was on door lintels that sheltered Israel’s first-born from death in Egypt. Only a lamb’s blood would do.
Jesus wasn’t there in Egypt at Passover. His blood didn’t free the Israelites from Egypt’s slavery. His blood wasn’t to be on the Temple altar in Jerusalem. Only a lamb was prescribed by God for daily sacrifice in the great Jewish Temple. It was a daily reminder of God’s love during Passover that freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
The God of Abraham didn’t allow Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to prove his faith to God. God substituted a sheep instead from His love. The God of Abraham forbid child sacrifices throughout the Jewish Scriptures. Equating the son of Joseph and Mary with a lamb to be sacrificed was sacrilege that dishonored who God was.
Second, no lamb sacrificed in Jerusalem’s Temple was sacrificed for the sins of the world. Lambs were sacrificed only to heal Israel’s relationship with God that was broken by their sins. Sacrificial lambs were for the Jews – not the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, the Egyptians or anyone else from the nations around the Holy Land.
John the Baptist seemed to be mocking the Jewish ritual of Temple sacrifices to atone for sin. He was politically controversial. He offended the high priests’ sacrifices in Jerusalem’s Temple. He offended God’s covenant. If Jesus was the Lamb of God whose sacrifice takes away the world’s sin, then God was working way outside the box of what anyone knew about God. As far as the Jews were concerned, John the Baptist was controversial – to say the least.
Now this all sounds like old Bible history. We think these are religious beliefs that have lost their importance today. Think again. First, the Jews still don’t believe Jesus died for anyone’s sin. He is no Lamb of God. Second, there are people from other religions who think Christian faith in Jesus as the Savior of the world’s sin is ridiculous. They haven’t changed their faith in the Prophet Mohammad, Buddha, Shiva, or any of the other deities worshipped on earth.
If everyone around the world believed what John the Baptist said was true, the world wouldn’t be divided in its religious beliefs. There would be one religion, Christianity. The entire world would be members of Christ’s Church. But they’re not. Because they don’t believe John the Baptist was telling the truth.
But the crux of the controversy can be seen inside Jesus Christ’s Church. There are millions of Christians who are confirmed who choose to distance themselves from Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin. They’re not showing any interest in Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Some of them are people who worship in Church each Sunday who don’t believe what John the Baptist said about Jesus at all! They don’t believe Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world because they don’t believe there’s anything called sin! Sin language is offensive. It’s judgmental. It puts people down.
People aren’t sinners – they’re good. People don’t intentionally or even unintentionally disobey God. They’re empowered by the Holy Spirit to always be good, faithful, God-loving, people-loving people. God made them so.
Its controversial to preach Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world in the Church of Jesus Christ today. The idea of sin implies divine judgement on the world, including us worshippers. Today, people in our secular culture resent being judged. The cultural language of toleration taught in a secular society means to accept others without judgment. It implies there is no moral consequence that challenges our relationship with each other, or with God.
Toleration as the culture understand it misuses its original intent. It came from the Church. It was a Christian principle that expressed Christian unity at the end of the Reformation. Toleration originally recognized the common Christian faith, the common Christian belief in Jesus being the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
Christians from various denominations are not in conflict with each other. We tolerate the differences in our denominations’ organization. It did or does not mean we ignore the basics of sin and salvation that describe who Jesus is and what He did.
It’s no longer acceptable in many quarters of the Church to think or teach someone needs Jesus to die on the Cross for sin because God loves the world so much, God created us good. People are good. People are loving by nature. People love a loving God. God doesn’t want them to feel contrite for sin. This is the influence of secular humanism on the Christian heart.
This is the controversy of our age where belief in humanism is taught, practiced, and politically correct. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world really didn’t die for the world’s sins – because sin doesn’t exist. There doesn’t need to be a Cross in a sanctuary. There doesn’t need to be communion to remember the body of Christ is broken for you and the blood of Christ is shed for you. We don’t need a communion table or a pulpit to preach the blessing of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. People are saved by their goodness.
There’s just love. A good feeling about yourself without repentance. Love of self. Love of others – without the Lamb of God who died to show us God’s love. This is a Christianity without a price paid for it, a community formed without sacrifice. This is a church without the cost of discipleship.
Judgement, sacrifice, accountability, submission, repentance, humility, self-control can’t represent Jesus Christ or His Church. Just love. Free love.
Friends, we live in a secular age when Christians are pressured by disbelievers to give up on Jesus’ identity. We’re losing the hope of salvation behind saying Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The secular world in which we live is intolerant of our belief that Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Without Jesus’ dying on the Cross, there can be no Easter. There is no hope for new life, eternal life to free us from the power of death.
America shares the same problems as when John the Baptist saw Jesus so long ago. Obeying national law isn’t enough, just like it wasn’t when Jesus began His ministry. The Jews obeyed the law. They sacrificed lambs on the Temple’s altar daily to show God they were good and faithful. It wasn’t enough.
The innocence and purity of the sacrificial lambs on the altar of Jerusalem’s Temple wasn’t enough. The Jews couldn’t save themselves, or the world by their good intentions behind sacrificing their lambs.
Their hearts were darkened by their sense of goodness and self-righteousness in spite of the lambs being sacrificed in the Temple. It took Jesus to offer His life for good, law-abiding Jews and Romans to free them of sin’s impact.
Jesus is like the little lambs I saw in my grandfather’s barn. His meekness, gentleness, purity, and innocence overcome the pride in human hearts that doesn’t know God or think it doesn’t need God’s grace. Jesus exposes self-righteousness that doesn’t think it needs Jesus’ Cross.
Intolerance of Jesus’ as the Lamb of God was the national and personal sin needing salvation. Intolerance of Jesus as the Lamb of God is today’s sin that needs a Lamb of God to free us from it. We need a Lamb of God to save us. The nation and the world needs the Lamb of God to save it.
The signs of sin are all around us. We can’t escape their reality. They dominate and control humanity. They separate us from God and generate global conflicts that bring death to the world.
Thank you, O Lamb of God, for taking away the sins of the world. We need you so the resurrection can be our hope! Amen.