Second Sunday after the Epiphany

“Behold, the Lamb of God”

John 1:29-42a

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Look at John pointing at Jesus. On second thought, don’t look at John. Look at the One to whom he is pointing. And that’s the point about John: he is always pointing, away from himself and toward Another. Look! he says. Here He is! Here’s the One about whom I was talking. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John had a couple disciples who were following him, and after John twice points out Jesus as the Lamb of God, they begin to follow Jesus. This is how it works: people follow other things, someone points out Jesus, and Jesus brings them into the Kingdom. The ones who follow the pointed finger of John all the way to Jesus become Jesus’ followers, and the followers become the pointers. Andrew and Philip become the pointers to Simon and Nathanael. And eventually the pointers reach all the way to the year 2008 and Northern Minnesota. Do you think that John and Andrew and Philip could have imagined such a thing? They didn’t even know that this giant land mass we call the United States existed. But it didn’t matter; they just kept pointing at Jesus, saying, “Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

I don’t know if you remember the one who first pointed you to Jesus. My parents, not knowing what would happen in the future, took me to the baptismal font and my grandfather, standing in the place of Jesus Christ, poured some water over my head and said that I was now claimed by Christ for His own. And the reason it doesn’t matter if I remember that moment or not is because God remembers it. God doesn’t forget things like that. He forgets your sins, because they’re removed from you as far as the east is from the west. He forgets that I constantly forget about Him, because that’s the sort of God we have. But He never forgets who His children are. He never forgets the ones whom He has claimed for His own. It could be that your experience is like mine, and you don’t remember when you left the kingdom of darkness and entered the Kingdom of Light. Or maybe you could say definitely: It was that spring day in 1986 that the Holy Spirit called, gathered, and enlightened me by the Gospel. But whether you remember it or not, someone else pointed you to Jesus. Someone else directed your attention to Him. Someone dragged you, kicking and screaming, and threw you down at His feet. So here you are.


You, who needed to be pointed to Jesus, are now a pointer, whether you know it or not. When your co-workers see that you don’t cut corners or take short-cuts, they might wonder what you’re pointing at, and they might ask you about it. When your child sees that God comes first in your life, regardless of what else is going on, they see you pointing beyond yourself. On the other hand, you may have done things that might make people wonder who it is you’re following. I know I have. When you go out there in the world, when I go out there, to whom or to what are we pointing? Does your every word, your every action, your very being, point to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? What, then? Yourself? If your next door neighbor were to look over your shoulder and follow your gaze along the length of your arm and past the end of your index finger, what would they see in its trajectory? Probably, if we’re honest with ourselves, most people would see our fingers pointing right back at ourselves. Very likely, they will see that the most important person in my life is me. Very likely, they will see that the most important person in your life is you.

But what happens for John’s disciples is what we want for all people. John’s disciples are following John, who is following the true God, but there are millions of people who follow whatever gods catch their eyes. Everyone is following something. Remember Luther’s definition of a god in the Large Catechism: “A ‘god’ is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart” (LC, Kolb/Wengert, 386:2). Where do people look when things are going wrong? Where do they turn when their relationships go bad? To what or whom do people give their whole hearts? To whatever or whomever people entrust themselves, those are their gods. If someone thinks having more money will take away all his problems, money is his god. If someone thinks her family will make all the bad things go away, family is her god. Some people think that having the right president, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, will make this country the utopia it was meant to be. What short memories people have during election season! Nonetheless, government has become their god. If you think that you don’t need anyone else, and that you can take care of yourself, you are your god. Behind many of the places people look for good and in which they hope to find refuge stands the ultimate god of our world: the Self. The magazines and television commercials pay homage to this god all the time: It’s all for You! Because You’re worth it! Have it Your way! What do You like? What do You need? Whatever it is, You deserve it! This makeup will make you look like the woman you are inside, or at least the woman you deserve to be. This Bowflex will make you look like the man you are inside, or at least the man the women want you to be.

If someone does not point idolaters to the true God, they will die in their sin. The only God who is deserving of the name is the one who has created everything. If your god hasn’t created everything that exists, if it’s made of paper or metal or skin, then get rid of it. It can’t save you, but it can kill you. “Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing” (Isaiah 41:29, ESV). But Yahweh says, “I am [Yahweh]; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isaiah 42:8, ESV). God will not share the praise and the glory that rightfully belong to Him as Creator and God of the universe. This is basic. This is First Commandment stuff: You shall have no other gods before My face, He says (Exodus 20:3-6). But this jealous God who destroys idols and those who worship them, who will burn to nothingness everything that comes between Him and His people, is the same God who appears to John and His disciples. It has been revealed to John from heaven: See, this Man is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This Man is the flawless sacrifice that fulfills the sin offering in Leviticus six; He takes all the sins of every man, woman, and child-your sin-upon Himself and they bury Him. Their weight pushes nails into hands and feet, and thorny crown onto His head, and pushes a heavy stone in front of an unused grave. These sins push God the Son into Hell, separated, impossibly, from God the Father. Look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. “Whoever touches [His] flesh shall be holy” (Leviticus 6:27a, ESV).

You have seen Him; you have touched Him; you have tasted and seen that He is good. Someone pointed you to this Jesus, to this congregation, to this Church, to this font and this altar. You know that this place is the only place where Jesus has promised to be to save. This is the place where Jesus forgives you of your failures to point at Him. Here He untwists your distorted fingers as they point at yourself, and He puts them into His hands and side. Now you point at Him. But your pointing, like John’s pointing, is not really the point. In John’s Gospel, it is very clear that the pointers disappear. Some of the last words we have from John the Baptizer’s mouth are these: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). That’s it. After John, chapter 3, the baptizer disappears, because the Gospel is about Jesus, not John. And it’s not about you, either. It’s not about this building; it’s not about how many people sit here (at least for us; let God worry about the numbers); it’s not about how many activities we can host; it’s not about whether you can get your best friend to make a decision for or against Jesus. (Besides, if Jesus is right, the decision will often be against Him.) The pointing, the speaking and living of the members of Christ’s Body, is always and only about the One at whom the finger points.

So point. When your friends want to know why you don’t sleep in on Sunday mornings, even if you want to, point at the Jesus who is present here to forgive your sins and refresh you, body and soul, for the living of this life. When your children want to know why they can’t do an activity on Sunday mornings, point them to the Jesus who is present here for them. When your unbelieving family visits over the weekend, and you come here instead of making things more comfortable for them, you are pointing them to the Jesus who died also for them. There is much more, of course. These gifts given here do not stay here. You hear them and they enter your heart and mind. You eat and drink them, and you are physically and spiritually joined to Jesus. Where you go, Jesus goes. Even as you point to Him, sometimes your finger is going to shake. Sometimes your finger goes back into its sinfully natural position pointed at your own chest. But that’s why we’re here. That’s why we confess and repent. That’s why we come to hear Jesus say: I forgive your sins.  I died to give you new life.  We come back to the center of our life together, Jesus Christ, present in His gifts, and as we move out into the world, every day of the week, the Body of Christ is present in the world. It seems sort of silly to call this movement “outreach.” It is not as if we’re standing here in the church building and putting our arms out the windows and grabbing people. You don’t “reach out” if you’re already “out there.”  And you are out there, the Body of Christ in the world.

So what do we do? All we do is what Philip does. “Come and see,” he says to Nathanael (John 1:46). Philip knows that nothing he says is going to convince Nathanael that Jesus is the Messiah. Philip cannot bring Nathanael to a critical event. What he can do is point: “Come and see.” Come and see. Jesus does all the work, and Nathanael believes: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (John 1:49, ESV)! What do we do? All we do is what Andrew does. “We have found the Messiah,” he says to his brother Peter. In fact, before Andrew does anything else, he first found his brother Peter. And “he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42). Jesus does all the work; He calls Peter by name, and Peter follows Him. If you have unbelieving family members, leave the lost tribe of Papua New Guinea for someone else or for another time. Bring your brother, or your sister, or your parents. You have been put in your family, your job, your school, your town, for a reason. And God has put you, the people of Trinity/St. Paul’s in this place for a reason. There are people here no different from you, no different from Peter or Nathanael, no different from the many millions whom someone has pointed to Jesus. God has given you an index finger. It’s for pointing. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. “O Spirit, who didst once restore/Thy Church that it might be again/The bringer of good news to men,/Breathe on Thy cloven Church once more,/That in these gray and latter days/There may be those whose life is praise,/Each life a high doxology/To Father, Son, and unto Thee” (LSB 834, st. 4).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/19/08
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