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The Lamb of God

January 15, 2023 |The Lamb of God| John 1:29-42

JD Cutler

[Due to technical difficulties, there is no audio of this sermon]

As we said last Sunday, we are in the church season called the season of Epiphany. It is a season we examine and reflect on the revelation of Jesus to the world.

I mean, when we think about it, this is the heartbeat of the gospels, the revelation of who Jesus is, written so that we may know him and follow him. We see this easily in the way each gospel writer begins with revealing who Jesus is and then goes on to record various details of his ministry and the fulfillment of his purpose. Whether, like Matthew, they begin with a genealogy, or like Mark who begins with John the Baptist’s ministry of preparing the way for the son of God, or Luke who starts with the announcement of John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ birth, or the apostle John who begins his gospel by going all the way back to the beginning to show that Jesus is the word of God. Each one begins with a revelatory statement or story about who this Jesus is. Matthew is especially concerned with painting us a picture of who Jesus is.

In his gospel, where we will be spending a lot of time this year, he begins with his genealogy where we see he is the promised son of David, and the promised son of Abraham. In Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, we see that he is Immanuel, God with us, and he will save his people from their sins. In the visit of the Magi we see that he is king of the Jews. In his Baptism by John we see he is the son of God, the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. In his temptation in the wilderness we see him as victorious over temptation and sin and then his public ministry begins.

In John’s gospel, we find another complementary event not found in Matthew’s gospel.

Sometime after his baptism and most likely his temptation, John the Baptist declares, in addition to all of that, he is also the Lamb of God.

That terminology would have been especially impactful to first century Jews, but less so to us, which we will see why in a minute, but for now, let’s simply understand that this was a powerful declaration by John. So much so that his own disciples would leave him and begin to follow Jesus.

So for us, removed from Jewish backgrounds, removed from the first century religious practices, we have to ask, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Lamb of God? Does it matter for us today, and does it help us understand, the way it did for the original hearers, who this Jesus is?

I think the answer for those questions are of course, yes, and so it brings us back to the first one, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Lamb of God?

With this question on our minds, let’s dig into our scripture this morning.

We find this declaration in John 1. We will begin at verse 29. Our focus is going to be on verse 29 and the five following verses but for context we are going to read all the way through 42.

John 1:29-42 (ESV) 29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” 35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called (see-fus) Cephas” (which means Peter).

(A few notes to better understand the parentheticals in John’s gospel here. He gives the Hebrew word and then gives the Greek equivalent in his notes.

Rabbi, teacher. Cephas is the aramaic word for rock, and Peter is the Greek word for rock. This is similar to the multiple names Paul/Saul is given in the NT. One is his Hebrew name and one is the Greek equivalent.)

The disciples’ decision to follow Jesus is rooted in this declaration by John that Jesus is the Lamb of God, which Peter’s brother, Andrews understands to mean that this is the Messiah, which means Christ. Another dual reference from Hebrew/Greek both meaning the anointed one, or chosen one.

So what did it mean for them, how did they understand it? Why did it matter?

To fully understand those questions we turn to our first division this morning.

The Promise of the Lamb of God

What is John referring to?

Behold, the Lamb of God- For his Jewish audience, John’s declaration would have immediately brought to mind the idea of a sacrificial lamb. The sacrificial lamb plays a role throughout all of the old testament life from Abraham to Moses, from Egypt to the temple, from present reality to the future promises of God through the Prophetic voices.

The first important instance of a sacrificial lamb is found in Genesis 22.

For brevity, I will summarize what we find there. Abraham, who after waiting a lifetime for God to fulfill his promise of a son with Sarah, finally has Isaac, the firstborn son of the promise. The Bible says that after a while God set about to test Abraham by calling him to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering.

On the way up the mountain, Isaac asks an important question.

He says essentially, I see the wood, I see the fire, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering, to which Abraham replies, God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.

Far from being deceitful or lying to Isaac, Abraham is stating his faith and trust in God. God had promised to bless Abraham through Isaac and Abraham believed him.

The author of Hebrews points to Abraham’s faith in God, that even if he sacrificed Isaac, he believed that God could raise him from the dead. So strong was his trust that he bound Isaac, took up the knife and was about to display a level of faith and trust almost unexplainable to you and I when God stopped him and provided a ram to sacrifice in his place. After which God re-affirms his covenant with Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him.

Fast forward some 600 years, and the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, is in Egypt, oppressed and enslaved when God sends Moses to free them. After a back and forth between Pharaoh and Moses, God’s ultimate deliverance comes in the form of the final plague, the death of the firstborn sons. Again, God provides, like he did for Abraham, a way for the firstborn sons to be delivered from death by the passover lamb. In Exodus 12 we learn about this passover lamb.

Passover Lamb- Exodus 12

Exodus 12:1-3 (ESV) 1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household.

Exodus 12:5-6 (ESV) 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.

Exodus 12:7-8 (ESV) 7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.

Exodus 12:11c-13 (ESV) It is the LORD'S Passover.12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

Daily Sacrifice- Exodus 29:38-39

Out of Egypt, three months later, God brings his people to Mt. Sinai. God gives the people various societal laws and instructions, gives them instructions on how to assemble the tabernacle and its instruments of worship, including the tent, the altar, the priestly garments, and how to consecrate all of it so God’s manifest presence could dwell with his people. After that he instructs them on the daily offering in Exodus 29.

Exodus 29:38-46 (ESV) 38 “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. … 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

As a note, this sacrifice was still going on daily in the temple during John the Baptist’s ministry. The imagery is not missed by the Israelites when John declares that Jesus is the lamb of God.

Prophetic- Isaiah 53:6

These are the pictures of the sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament, but there is also the promise of The lamb of God in the Old Testament. Isaiah, in one of the prophecies concerning Jesus says this about his ministry.

Isaiah speaks of a work of God where he would put our transgressions, our iniquities, our sin on another, who would willingly take them on himself, being our literal and figurative sacrificial lamb.

Isaiah 53:4-7 (ESV) 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

Isaiah speaks of a work of God where he would put our transgressions, our iniquities, our sin on another, who would willingly take them on himself, being our literal and figurative sacrificial lamb. This is what John was referring to when he declares that Jesus is the Lamb of God. which leads us to our next division.

The Purpose of the Lamb of God

Why do we need the lamb of God?

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!-

In the Old Testament, these lambs were sacrificed, the innocent in place of the guilty to deal with the sin of the Israelites. To make it possible for God’s presence to dwell with his people on the mercy seat in the holy of holies, within the tabernacle. These continual, ongoing, sacrificial lambs a picture of the consequences and cost of man’s sin against God.

There is a sense in which they took away the sin of the people.

Takes away- to bear away what has been raised, carry off

But in the very nature of the sacrificial law there was a reminder that it was not ultimately efficient in dealing with sin because it had to be repeated daily, as well as the day of atonement, and any additional and supplementary sacrifices made by the individual throughout the year.

Even with the tabernacle and subsequent temple, even with the priesthood, even with the sacrifices, there was still not only the stain of sin, but the sin nature of man that was left undealt with.

The author of Hebrews in the New Testament, picks up on this in Hebrews 10.

Hebrews 10:1-14 (ESV) 1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The system could not fully deal with or take away sin, but it served as a shadow, to use the language of Hebrews, of the true lamb of God that could and would.

Even with the tabernacle and subsequent temple, even with the priesthood, even with the sacrifices, there was still not only the stain of sin, but the sin nature of man that was left undealt with.

This sin nature, that every son or daughter of Adam is born with, the very sin nature that you were born with, that your kids were born with, and that your grandkids will be born with.

Even with the sacrificial system, you see why there remained this need for a greater sacrifice, this need for God to do what only he could do in providing the better sacrifice?

Which is what John says immediately after and in the same breath as declaring Jesus is the Lamb of God, he says that he is the one who takes away the sin of the world.

Truly and finally carrying off sin, its guilt, and its consequences.

Before we move on to look at who this lamb was, we need to ask a question concerning John’s statement. Who is this lamb for and whose sins does he take away?

In saying the sins of the world, what does he mean?

There are those that would say that everyone in the world would be the beneficiary of this lamb’s work. We call that universalist theology, that God will ultimately save all of mankind through Jesus.

An understanding of scripture should prevent us from reaching that conclusion.

For instance in another place where the world is mentioned we read this powerful distinction.

John 3:16-18 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

It should be clear here that the world that is saved is made up of those that believe in Him, that being Jesus, the son of God, and therefore his sacrificial work is applied to their lives and relationship to God.

One commentator rightly points out the following.

(Reformed Expository Commentary (28 Vols.) - REC) By speaking of “the world,” John is making a contrast with Jewish exclusivism. He is saying that Jesus saves not merely the Jews—as was expected in his day—but also Gentiles, everyone in the world who believes in him.

It is the inclusivity of his ministry that is highlighted by the words, 'the sins of the world', and not the scope.

But for those that believe, the cross, the message that Jesus is the sacrificial lamb provided by God for our sin and in our place, it is the power of God that saves us.

The song we sang earlier beautifully states this truth.

The Lamb of God in my place, Your blood poured out, my sin erased

It was my death you died. I am raised to life. Hallelujah, the Lamb of God

The final division we turn to is in an attempt to fully understand who this Jesus is that John declared is the lamb of God. We turn now to…

The Person of the Lamb of God

Who is this lamb of God?

In our passage, John says a number of things concerning the identity of Jesus and then there is one implicit truth about Jesus we see from his statements. First let’s look at what he explicitly says.

This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’

34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

Jesus is before John- in rank or preeminence and in existence. From John’s gospel we can fully understand this because he tells us that Jesus is the word of God was in the beginning, before anything that was created, including John, the word was with God and was God.

Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit- John came baptizing with water so that the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit would be revealed. This is what we looked at last week.

Jesus is the Son of God, another way of saying he is the Messiah, the Christ. That is to say that Jesus is God’s promised Messiah, his anointed one who would accomplish the great work of establishing the new covenant in his blood.

These things we see clearly in our text, but there is another important implication in John’s words.

Let me take you back to what we know about the sacrificial lambs.

Passover lamb- Your lamb shall be without blemish,

Daily sacrifice- two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering.

Day of Atonement- you shall offer a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing aroma: one bull from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old: see that they are without blemish.

Jesus is the perfect, sinless, lamb of God, without the blemish of indwelling sin and without the blemish of any sins. Because of this he is the only acceptable sacrifice for sin.

The New Testament authors understood this and often reminded the Christian community of this truth.

1 Peter 1:17-21 (ESV) 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus is the perfect, sinless, lamb of God, without the blemish of indwelling sin and without the blemish of any sins. Because of this he is the only acceptable sacrifice for sin.

Hebrews 9:13-14 (ESV) 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Jesus is the Lamb of God, and far from being an insignificant truth or simply a picture, it is woven into the very understanding of who this Jesus is. In the book of Revelation we find this description of what is to come. Listen to the way Jesus is represented here.

Revelation 5 (ESV) 1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, 4 and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (What would we expect, a lion right, a conqueror)

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.


What is left to say, but to echo John the Baptist, behold, the lamb of God!

This Jesus is your savior, indeed, he is the only way to be saved. By his own perfect blood he has paid the price for sin. He who knew no sin became sin for you, for me, for all that would believe in Him. Religion cannot save you, being good cannot save you, success, charity, riches cannot save you.

Would you be reconciled to God?

Would you have your sins forgiven, your debt paid, and your guilt erased?

Then you need the precious Lamb of God, this Jesus, who came, lived the life you could not live, died the death you deserved, and rose again in victory.

Behold! The lamb of God.

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