daily biblical sermons

Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice by whom the remission of our sins is effected
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the Second Sunday of the Year, January 19, 2020
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6, Psalm 39, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, John 1:29-34

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29).



Today’s gospel reading contains one of the most important verses of the Bible – “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) – one that has utterly central significance for our lives as sinful people in this world, alienated from God by the sin of our first parent Adam and compounded by our own subsequent personal sins. Our situation is such that we are in dire need of someone to remove these sins from us and overcome our alienation from God, which we ourselves are unable to do, and reconcile us with him. Human experience shows that we mere human beings cannot do this to ourselves, and the Bible is the historical record of God’s reaching out to us to provide us with the only Son of God, the Savior of the world, who is the only one that can do this for us.



Although Jesus was a Jew, his very title “Savior of the world” “was foreign to Jewish first-century ears” (Andreas J Koestenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Baker Academic, 2004), page 67-68). The Jews rather were looking for a Savior of the Jews, but Jesus came as the Savior of the world, for he is the lamb of sacrifice, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).



But we should not get the wrong idea from this that therefore there is no longer any sin in the world and that everyone is now automatically forgiven and saved, for such a belief is the heresy of universalism. Rather, the Scriptures make it clear that although Jesus’ death is sufficient satisfaction and reparation to cover all the sins of the world from Adam to the end of the world, it is only effective for those who genuinely repent and intend to immediately amend their life and stop sinning gravely and then who accept him as their Savior by putting their trusting faith in him and by accepting him also as their Lord and the Master of their life whom they now promise to obey by following his biblically revealed moral law, which their baptism and justification now oblige and enable them to keep.



By keeping God’s biblically revealed moral law we who have been justified by our faith, not by our law keeping or good works, are then further sanctified. So Justification comes by faith (not by works), whereas sanctification requires our cooperation with God’s grace by performing good works in obedience to his biblically revealed moral law.



Today, then, Jesus appears on the bank of the Jordan River, and John the Baptist points him out to his own disciples as, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).



With this saying of John the Baptist we are at the very heart of Christianity and of the gospel message, namely that God has not simply sent us a prophet to vaguely talk about mercy, but rather has sent us a Savior who will actually remove our sins from us by himself suffering our just and necessary penalty for them on the cross, thereby making full reparation for them on our behalf so that all that put their faith in him and genuinely repent will have their sins removed from them and heavenly peace given to them, and so their alienation from God will be overcome by his atoning act on the cross, and they will therefore be reconciled with God.



Christ is the great reconciler, and he does this not by mere words and teaching, not by mere good example, not by merely being with us as Emmanuel, not by merely dwelling within us, not by merely giving us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink whereby he is truly God with us and within us – all these things are true and very important, and he does them all for us – but the central fact is that he will actually make full reparation for our sins by suffering our death sentence for them for us as our substitute.



Our part in this act of salvation is to accept him as our substitute, and we do this by making an act of faith in him, at which point God the Father justifies us, which means that he declares and thereby makes us ungodly sinners righteous, not with an earned righteousness of our own, gained by doing good works, but rather by reckoning to us his own righteousness as a gift so that we shine not with our own righteousness that we have earned, but with God’s righteousness, which he gives us as a gift by means of our faith in him, because of his atoning death for our sins on the cross.



Therefore I, like St. Paul, should say that my number one desire is to “be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law [keeping], but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9). What is this “righteousness of my own, based on law”? It was the misconception of many Jews of St. Paul’s day who thought that by their good works in keeping God’s moral and ceremonial law they could earn and merit their own righteousness. St. Paul quickly disabuses them of this error and proclaims that the righteousness that he wants is “the righteousness from God that depends on faith [not on my own good works]” (Philippians 3:9).



Why is this so important? It is of the greatest importance, because we “know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ … because by works of the law shall no one be justified” (Galatians 2:16).



So how is it that we are justified by faith and not by our good works done in accordance with God’s moral law? We are justified before God not by our own good works, but rather by the good works of the Son of God whom God sent us as our Savior. And what good works are these? They are his suffering and death on the cross, as our substitute, in punishment for our sins. This means that God sent him as the one and only effective sacrifice for sins, the fulfillment of the symbolic animal sacrifices that God gave the Jews to prepare them for the unique and only effective atoning, reparation-making sacrifice for human sins. Jesus would be the true and only Lamb of God who actually takes away the sins of the world.



God told the Israelites to put their hand on the head of a lamb or other animal, thereby indicating the animal as their substitute and then kill it before the Lord so that the animal vicariously suffers and dies as the sinner’s substitute for the sinner’s sins instead of the sinner suffering and dying for them. It bears their sins and their punishment for them, and when they sincerely repent and put their faith in God, he will forgive their sins, and atonement will be made for them by the death of the animal.



This, of course, is only symbolism, “for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4), but the sacrificed animal was a symbol of the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who would one day come and truly take away the sins of the world – not just of one sinner, not just of the Jews, but of everyone everywhere of any race or nation who sincerely repents and puts his trusting faith in the Savior that God has sent into the world for the whole human race, namely the only Son of God, the Savior of the world, for “He Himself [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2 NKJV).



What these Jewish sacrifices symbolized, Jesus’ sacrifice actually accomplished, that is, it actually took away the sins of the world, namely of those that accept him as their Savior and put their trusting faith in him and genuinely repent of their sins. God forgave the Jews their sins when they offered their sacrifices with faith, not because of the worth of their sacrifices, but because they were the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice of himself on the cross for our sins that truly did have the power to take away sins.



“Christ is a Savior. He did not come on earth to be a conqueror, or a philosopher, or a mere teacher of morality. He came to save sinners. He came to do that which man could never do for himself – to do that which money and learning can never obtain – to do that which is essential to man’s real happiness. He came to ‘take away sin’” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).



This is not just a once for all experience for us, but rather whenever we need Christ to take away the guilt that cripples our spirit and depresses us, caused by ever new sins that we commit – even seemingly small sins like sins of thought, such as impure thoughts – he is always there, ready to help us on a daily basis, ever reapplying the atoning merits of his reparation-making death on the cross to our personal sins, when we call upon him with faith and genuine repentance, for “he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:23-25).



This is especially and most effectively applied to us through the sacrament that Jesus gave us for this purpose, namely the sacrament of reconciliation, which he instituted when he said to his disciples after his resurrection, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:22-23).

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