(Significant Scriptures: John 1:29-42)
Each year at the end of January, my family and I go to Edmonton where I and our three oldest sons attend the Break Forth leadership and worship conference. These events have been uplifting experiences for all of us for it is a time of learning new things and growing in faith in Jesus. Last year, one of our favourite Christian rock groups, Starfield, was playing at Break Forth. On Friday and Saturday night there are two worship concerts each evening: an early one at 7:00 pm and a late one at 9:00 pm. This one particular evening Starfield was scheduled to play the late concert. During the early concert, I was standing along the side of the assembly hall at the Shaw Conference Centre watching a group perform onstage, when I look a little to the right and standing there was Tim Neufeld, who along with his brother John, formed the group and write and sing the songs they perform. I was excited and I looked around to see if there was someone I knew nearby who I could grab, by the arm, turn, point and say, “Look, there’s Tim Neufeld from Starfield!” But no one I knew was around me. And as I watched I noticed that no one was bothering him at all. Perhaps everyone was so wrapped up in the concert that nobody noticed him. Perhaps the people there for the early concert weren’t familiar with the band Starfield and so they didn’t know who he was. Or perhaps, there were people there who did know who he was, but decided, like me, not to bother him. He stood there for an extended period of time and no one paid him any attention at all.
Sometimes we may wonder how it could be that someone significant could be in our midst and no one notices at all. But it happens! The apostle John tells us of a time when God was in the midst of a group of people and no one noticed! Let me share with you John 1:24-31 from the New Century Version of the Bible.
24 Some Pharisees who had been sent asked John: 25 “If you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet, why do you baptize people?”
26 John answered, “I baptize with water, but there is one here with you that you don’t know about. 27 He is the One who comes after me. I am not good enough to untie the strings of his sandals.”
28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan River, where John was baptizing people.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him. John said, “Look, the Lamb of God, g who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the One I was talking about when I said, ‘A man will come after me, but he is greater than I am, because he was living before me.’ 31 Even I did not know who he was, although I came baptizing with water so that the people of Israel would know who he is.”
God in human flesh was right in the midst of those crowds of people and no one knew who he was. But John knew. And John was not concerned about the God-human Jesus being bothered by some unexpected attention. Because John knew that his life’s work had been all about preparing hearts and minds for this moment, when the Jesus would take centre stage in the drama of human history to begin his life’s work of saving the whole world. The Chosen One was standing right there among those present and they never knew.
And so the next day, John points Jesus out for everyone to see. And John does it in a way that will resonate with the people around him. He says, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) And when John says these words, those listening to him would immediately connect the experience of that moment with God’s story for his people. Yes, they probably would have thought of lambs and how nice and cute they are, how vulnerable and defenceless they are. They would have known all those things because there were sheep and lambs everywhere in that part of the world in those times.
But hearing Jesus described as the Lamb of God, those listening to John would have immediately thought of a special lamb, the lamb given as a sin offering whenever someone had done something wrong. The guilty person would bring a lamb to the temple, place their hands on its head to symbolize the transfer of guilt from the person to the lamb. Then the lamb was slaughtered, its blood was poured out and the fat from its body cavity was offered up as a burnt offering to the Lord. The lamb had to be sacrificed to make atonement for the guilty person so their sins could be forgiven. (cf. Leviticus 4:27-28, 32-35) And so people would have looked at Jesus and thought of the sacrificial lamb that brings forgiveness.
But the people there that day would have also connected Jesus with another special lamb, the Passover Lamb. At the time of the Exodus, the Passover Lamb was slaughtered and its blood was placed on the sides and the tops of the doorframes of their homes. Then the Angel of Death passed over all the homes marked with the blood of the lamb. But any homes not marked with the blood of the lamb lost their firstborn child.
(cf. Exodus 12:1-14, 28-30) And so people listening to John would have looked at Jesus and thought of the lamb whose blood spared them from death.
Jesus is all of these things. He is the beautiful, gentle lamb who never forces his way upon others and never, ever hurts others. Jesus only attracts us and invites us with the beauty of his loving face. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who died in our place for our sins. He offered himself on the cross in our place and there he poured out his blood and allowed himself to be burnt up for our sin so that we could have forgiveness. Jesus is the Passover Lamb whose blood was shed and marked on the doorframes of our hearts so that the angel of death would pass over us. Jesus is the one who opened the door to bring us out of the slavery and bondage of our sin and into freedom in the Promised Land of everlasting life with God.
Jesus loves you so very, very much. He loves you so much that he gave himself for you. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world. And there is no safer place for an imperfect, broken, sinful person to be than with Jesus. And so we can be thankful that John the Baptist has pointed Jesus out to us.
But there is a difference between proximity and intimacy. I was close to Tim Neufeld. But I did not have a relationship with him. A relationship requires time spent together. A relationship involves conversations as you get to know one another better. A relationship means that two people truly care about one another and they enhance each other’s life.
As we read through the stories of the Bible, there were many people that were at times in close proximity to Jesus, but they did not have an intimate relationship with him. Some of these people were religious people and they were in Jesus’ presence, but they didn’t really know him in a relational way. Jesus would often say to them, “the kingdom of heaven is near you.” That’s like saying, “You almost have it, but not quite!”
Our life with Jesus begins when we simply trust in him. But that’s not all there is to our life with him. When Susan and I began our married life together, it all started with two little words, “I do.” But our relationship with each other did not stop growing at that point. It continued to grow and change, becoming deeper and more intimate over time to the point where I would say that the best years of our marriage are the ones that we are living in right now.
It is the same in our relationship with Jesus. It starts with the trusting faith of a baptized child. And throughout all the ups and downs of life, our relationship with Jesus can grow and mature and strengthen as he carries us through challenges that we cannot handle on our own. And as we experience more and more of the unconditional love that Jesus has for us, it only makes us want to love him more in return. And we give more and more of our life to Jesus until we are willing to follow him anywhere and do anything that he asks us to do.
But it is not easy. That was brought home to me in a powerful way as I have struggled with the decision of whether to stay here and continue as your pastor or to accept the call from Walnut Grove Lutheran Church and go to Langley BC to serve the people there. It would have been easy to base the decision on my personal desires. But if it wasn’t what God wanted me to do, then I would be serving myself instead of serving God. It would have been easy to make the decision based upon what was best for my family. But I don’t know the future and so I don’t really know what is best for my family, therfore I concluded that it was best to follow God’s leading and trust in him to look after my family. I could have decided based on what I thought was best for me as a pastor. But I would only be guessing and God is the only One who really knows where I should be.
And so I have tried as hard as I can to listen to God to hear if he is directing me in one direction or the other. But the hard part is this: I have to be willing to put myself and all that I have, including my family, in God’s hands and follow wherever he leads. But as hard as it is, there is something incredibly freeing about it. Because the outcome is in God’s hands too! Whatever the decision is, I don’t have to worry about what will happen tomorrow, or next month or next year. I know that Jesus is with me, he loves me and he is going to make things work out in a way that he knows is best. He is a faithful God and he will do it!
And it is the same thing with you. It is very hard for you to put your whole life and all that you have in Jesus’ hands. But it will also set you free! Whatever happens today or tomorrow or the day after that, do not worry! The outcome is in Jesus’ hands. He loves you, he is with you and he will make all things work out in a way that he knows is best for you! He is a faithful God and he will do it! He is among you! Look and see with the eyes of faith the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Amen!
(Preached at Trinity Lutheran Church, Ponteix SK and Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Swift Current SK on 20 Jan 2008 )