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Sermons : John 1: 29-42

Telling Others

Read John 1: 29-42


Last week, the Lectionary focus was on the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and this week we find John at the centre again, this time with a couple of his followers. We’re a little further on in the timescale as Jesus has had his time in the wilderness and is now focussed on beginning the work he knows that he must do, and just about to start the recruitment process that would give him a team that he could both teach and work with.

So, picture if you can a walk in the countryside with John and his disciples chatting away, probably discussing what’s been happening over the past month or so and what it all means. And then John’s distracted by looking up and seeing a familiar face approaching along the path. And he doesn’t point and say to his disciples, ‘Oh look, there’s Jesus again!’ but ‘There, in front of you, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’

As you would! But what did he mean?

The ‘Lamb of God’

It’s a phrase, a title that appears in so much of our worship material, in prayer books and hymns. But what was in John’s mind when he used it?

Well, we’re only guessing of course, but there’s a few possibilities.

In a short while it would be the feast of Passover. If you remember this was the story that the blood of a slaughtered lamb was smeared around the doorposts of the Israelites when they were exiled in Egypt, and when the Angel of Death appeared and killed the first-born of the Egyptians as punishment for not letting the People of God go, he would pass over the houses where the Israelites were living.

It was the blood of the lamb that delivered them from death.

Pure speculation, but what if, as John spotted Jesus walking towards them, nearby shepherds were bringing lambs from the surrounding countryside to Jerusalem and the temple?

Was that the thought in his mind, that here was the one whose sacrificial life was going to deliver the people from death to life. That’s how Paul thought of Jesus, as a Passover Lamb, and at a festival time some years later would tell the Corinthians; ‘For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’ (1 Cor 5:7,8)

Let’s not forget that John was the son of a priest, so he’d be familiar with the Temple rituals and its sacrifices. Every morning and evening a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people, as laid down in the book of Exodus. As long as there was a Temple, there would be daily sacrifices, even in the times of war or when the people were starving. It was that important to the people, only stopping when the Temple was destroyed in AD70.

So, John’s words are prophetic when he announces, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’

In the back of John’s mind would also be the Scriptures that he had learned as a boy, particularly as the son of a priest. Isaiah has that great picture of one who was brought ‘like a lamb to the slaughter’ (Isaiah 53:7)…… again, one of our Advent / Christmas readings. Maybe John was the first to make a connection that the Church would later make, of seeing Isaiah pointing to the person of Jesus.

There’s another connection, another picture of the lamb that John might be thinking of, one that’s not so familiar to us because it’s not in the Bibles we generally use – it’s in the apocrypha, stories about the times between the Old and New Testament, which were a real struggle for the people who were rebelling against their foreign rulers, and its about a hero called Judas Maccabaeus, whose symbol was… a horned lamb that stood for God’s champion.

Lamb of God. 

There’s a lot in those three words. The writer of Revelation uses them twenty-nine times in his book, and it has become one of the most precious descriptive names for Jesus, summing up as it does the love, sacrifice, suffering and triumph of Jesus Christ.

And John, whose role in the story was so important, knew that this was his moment to point people away from himself (because he had his own following as a prophet) and toward Jesus. John is the one who stands on stage and opens the curtains before moving to the wings to allow Jesus to occupy the (often lonely) centre of the stage.

And John, who baptized with water, would give way to Jesus, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, we are told, and another prophesy would be fulfilled, ‘26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you’ (Ezekiel 36)

The Jews understood that the Spirit of God could inspire the prophets of old, give them powerful words and insights. This was God coming into a life, empowering people. But whereas they saw this as an occasional if amazing event, John goes out of his way to say the Spirit that rested on Jesus at his baptism remained with him, and when Jesus baptizes with the Spirit then God’s Spirit enters a life and takes up residence. God is with us.

So, Jesus adopts John’s disciples and his ministry begins. And Andrew, one of those two men, tells his brother about Jesus, and two thousand years later we are here, because someone somewhere told us about this Jesus and we turned, like those first two in our story, and followed him.

And that of course is always the challenge of the Church, not the building or denomination but the people, to tell others about Jesus, either through our words or actions, so that they might also hear him and have the opportunity to follow, and know the presence of God’s Spirit in their lives.

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