Text: John 1:29-42 (RSV)
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, for he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, 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, 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 do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” 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 him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his 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, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter[a]).
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
So, John says that Jesus is “the Lamb of God.” Just what exactly does that mean? And, furthermore, this Lamb of God “takes away the sins of the world.” OK, what does that mean?
Speaking of Jesus as the Lamb of God is something we’re used to hearing, and the image of Jesus as the Lamb of God is very familiar to us – it’s on one of our stained-glass windows. It’s based on Revelation 5:6, and symbolizes Jesus’ shedding his blood – as a sacrificial lamb – to take away the sins of the world.
This is one of those concepts that, if you step back and think about it a little harder, can become very confusing and difficult.
Jesus as the Lamb of God. When I think of Jesus, I don’t think of him as a lamb. I think of Jesus as the one who chased the moneychangers from the Temple, who went toe-to-toe with the authorities of his day, who courageously – even defiantly – showed compassion to people on the margins, and who told the world that God’s mercy, love, and goodness were for all people, not just a chosen few. I think of Jesus more as a lion than a lamb.
But John doesn’t shout “There goes the lion of God!” He shouts, “Behold the lamb of God.”
Unfortunately, the answer to that is not simple. In a post on the “Working Preacher” website, Professor Richard Swanson details some of the difficulties this passage presents, and then concludes: “What matters, I think, is that the phrase ‘lamb of God’ does not point easily and simply to a single symbolic referent. Rather, it weaves this chance encounter with Jesus into the whole variegated tapestry of Jewish Scripture…The lamb is the long-awaited son, provided by God as part of a promise long-delayed, who walks with his father, the two of them together, on the way to the slaughter of the son and of the promise.
“I think it matters that this links Jesus somehow to the sin of the cosmos.”
The bottom line here, I think, is that John pointed out to his followers that Jesus was and is the One sent by God, the One who is not only the hope of the world, but the One who will bring about the fulfillment of that hope. That is who Jesus is, regardless of the terminology used to get that point across.
“This is the Son of God.” It doesn’t get more definitive than that!
John was one of the best public relations men in history. He did not waste an opportunity to tell his disciples and anyone else just who this Jesus was. Was this Nazarene a prophet? Yes, but more than a prophet. Was he a teacher? Certainly, but not just any teacher. He was nothing less than the Christ of God, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the One who was to come and – very important – take away the sin of the world.
In our generation, we are almost the victims of our own success – the impact of this incredible truth is almost lost on us. It takes a real effort to get it back, to really allow what that means to dawn on us again.
But the people John talked to, the people Jesus worked with, did not know all of that. This was something completely new, something never before seen or experienced. It rocked their world. “You mean to say that this man is the Messiah?!? You mean that we are standing right now in the Messiah’s presence? Really? Can this really be true?”
John’s answer was consistently, “Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. He is exactly what I’m describing. So take my advice: Change the things that need changing in your life, and follow him.”
That is the Gospel message in a nutshell. It’s pretty straightforward, very uncomplicated, and easy to understand. But following it is – or can be – very, very difficult.
We can totally relate to the two disciples of John, who sort of give chase to Jesus. Jesus turns around and asks them finally, “What do you seek?”
And it’s almost like they’re kind of caught flat-footed, because they don’t have an answer. They’ve been so busy chasing after him that they haven’t thought out just what it is they actually want!
Instead of answering Jesus’ question, they ask another question, one that doesn’t seem quite on track – “Uh, where are you staying?” And Jesus says, “Come and see.”
These disciples follow Jesus, not so much to check out his lodgings as to get closer to this remarkable human being; and I think that is because, down deep somewhere, they want to come to grips with who they are or can become. Jesus asks them, in effect, to identify themselves; but, instead of saying, “We are two people looking for meaning and purpose in our lives,” they lamely ask where he’s staying. They can’t formulate what’s in their hearts.
How many times have you been in such a situation? There’s something pressing on your heart, something you desperately want to say, a question you sincerely need to ask – and have answered – but you just can’t seem to find the right words, or the right time, or the right place. Maybe you’re afraid of the answer. Maybe you worry that saying what’s on your mind might be worse than not saying anything. And so you remain silent, or stammer out a question or say something that isn’t even close to what’s really burning in your heart.
One lesson for us to take to heart this morning is this: Say the words! Ask the question! You might not get another chance! Think of all the people in your lives who are important to you. Now consider this: You are also important to them.
“What do you seek?”
That’s a question for all of us to ask ourselves, too.
Just what do we seek? This is a particularly important question for us today. What is it that we are looking for in this New Year? What hopes do we have for St. John’s? How are we going to get where we want to be?
Aren’t we just like those disciples? Don’t we, too, want to “come and see”?
And what do we want to see? As John states in Chapter 12, when certain Greeks came to Philip, they stated, “Sir, we want to see Jesus!”
“In his book Prayer from Where You Are, James Carroll cites the large puzzle page that many Sunday papers carry. A favorite puzzle is the drawing of a scene like a Sunday picnic. Under it are the words: ‘Can you find the hidden person?’ You look and look and see nothing. You rotate the paper for a different view. Still nothing! Then, suddenly, in a cloud you see an eye. Then in a tree branch you see a mouth. Eventually, you see the entire face. Once you find the person, that drawing is never the same again. Life is like that drawing. There’s a person hidden in every part of it, and that person is Jesus. Once we find Jesus, life is never the same.”
This is what drove those two disciples to follow Jesus that day – they wanted to see him, they wanted to find something in him that filled the void in their lives, that gave their lives meaning. One of these disciples, it should be noted, was Andrew, the brother of Peter, who was to become the chief Apostle. Without Andrew, there might not have been a Peter.
Isn’t this is also what brings us here today, and every Sunday? At the end of the day, what we do here has less to do with dollars and sense, with maintenance, with schedules, or anything of that nature than it does with answering for ourselves that deeply existential question: Why are we here? The real purpose of St. John’s, as of every church, is to serve as a way station for those like us who seek meaning and purpose for their lives, because we know that life is far, far more than just our day-to-day existence. We come together because we, too, want to see Jesus. We want to feel his presence in our lives; we want to see his face – not just in the background, not just dimly, but before us, leading us onward, beside us, walking with us step by step, above us, reminding us of the call of Heaven.
The life of faith is not something that is always somehow outside of us, or beyond us. It is within us.
What drew those disciples to Jesus, what caused them to break from the crowd and follow Jesus, was something that was within themselves. It was more than just curiosity; they wanted to find the face in the picture, to connect the dots. When John points to Jesus and calls him “the Lamb of God,” he shines a spotlight on the face of the God who dwells among us, who turns to seek us, and asks us the question that makes us stop and take stock of our situation:
“What do you seek?”
And we ask ourselves: “What am I looking for? What’s my aim and goal? What am I really trying to get out of life?” But the deepest – and scariest – question we ask is this: “What is the purpose of my life? Why am I here?”
That’s why we come here. That’s why we have signed on to this great Mystery that is our faith. We want to feel connected to God. We want to know that we do have a purpose for being here. We want to know that our lives do have meaning.
I’m reminded of a line from that 80s song that goes “looking for love in all the wrong places.” So much of our lives can be described that way. Some people search for “security,” however they define it. Others spend their every waking moment in achieving what we might call a career. There is nothing wrong with either of these things, but they don’t set the bar very high; and, sadly, at the end of the day, there really is no security in the chances and changes of this life, and eventually, every career comes to an end.
And some of us search for peace, a something which allows them to live at peace with themselves and others. Another noble ideal.
But that’s not what drove those disciples to follow Jesus. That’s not what brings us here every Sunday.
What they sought, and what we seek, is to be at peace with God. This is the search for God, and this aim can only be met and supplied by Jesus Christ.
What are we after? We are all after a relationship. We don’t want to just pass Jesus on the road. What we wish for is an intimate relationship with him – in our workplaces, our schools, our homes, our hearts. And that is why we are here. It is why St. John’s exists.
So, today, I invite you to join those disciples as they follow Jesus. I invite you direct your aims and efforts to feel that life of faith that dwells in you!
In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.
 Swanson, Richard, “Commentary on John 1:29-42,” Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1879
 Link, S.J., Mark, Jesus: A Contemporary Walk with Jesus, Allen, Texas, Resources for Christian Living, 1997, my italics