There was a story in the news some years ago, of a woman who sued her drug dealer for damages caused when she overdosed and fell into a comma. She won. Indeed, many critics hearing this even piped up to say that this was a good step forward in dealing with the chronic problem of drugs in our country. Say what?
As Christians, when we hear such stories we tend to get frustrated, or bewildered. Are they for real? Can you blame someone else for your poor choices in life? Do they mean to tell me this woman was tied down and forced to take drugs until she became addicted? And exactly how does tying up an already over-burdened legal system with frivolous cases help to solve anything? There is an underlying assumption in our society today. ‘It’s Not My fault!” This seems to be the hue and cry of the modern day man and woman. ‘It’s Not My fault!” There is a desire to say that there is no sin in the world… at least not in ME anyway.
Daily we hear of new stories in which someone is tying to lay the blame on someone else for something which seems absolutely absurd. People just don’t want to be accountable any more. Instead they would rather find a scapegoat. And it doesn’t really matter who they are … just so long as their suffering makes people feel better about themselves, or helps us to dodge the guilt and blame for what happens to us all. People today would sooner find a scapegoat to lay the blame on than to stand up and be accountable for their own actions and choices.
This tendency is nothing new, though. The idea of a scapegoat comes from the ancient Israelite practice followed on ”Yom Kippur’ (The Day of Atonement). You heard about it last Sunday in the sermon. Once a year the Israelites would gather together and in a public ceremony`they would lay all the guilt and shame and sin of the nation on the head of a goat. This goat was then expelled into the wilderness, carrying away all the accumulated sin and guilt of the past year. You can be sure this scapegoat made the people feel better about themselves. In fact, it was the one day of the year that many Israelites looked forward to above all others.
In light of these popular notions, then, it becomes easier to see why so many of the people of Jesus’ day thought that John the Baptist was more than a little bit crazy. After all, what was his message? ”Repent! Stop hiding behind that scapegoat and start being accountable for what you have done! Repent, turn away from your sin and turn back to God! Repent and be baptized.” No wonder so many people thought he was foolish! His words and ideas flew right in the face of popular sentiment. He took sin and accountability seriously while the world around him was too busy saying ”It’s not my fault. Besides, I’m not accountable any more! The goat has my sin now.”
In our text for this morning we see John continue to make pronouncements that set him at odds with popular conceptions of the day. This is seen most strikingly in all that he says about Jesus. First he says (29) ”Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” But then later he will go on to say (34) ”l have seen and l testify that this is the Son of God.” None of this sounds strange to us, but it would have been ludicrous to the Israelites. They had some very fixed ideas about who the Messiah would be and what He would do. Most of them believed that the Messiah would be a powerful ruler who would restore the kingdom of Israel to glory. He would be wise and holy and mighty to behold – mighty enough to send the Roman Empire packing. When John referred to Jesus as the Son of God he was saying straight out that this man before them was the Messiah! There could be no mistaking this title. The Messiah is the Son of God.
But John also said that this Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And here’s the confusion. Lambs were used in sacrifices. Their blood paid for people’s sin. They were regularly killed at the altar of the temple. In saying that this Jesus was the Lamb of God, John was telling the world that He was a sacrifice; that he would have to die. But that didn’t fit anywhere into anyone’s preconceived notions of the Messiah. Nowhere in anyone’s thinking did it ever happen that the Messiah would die! Especially for the sins of the people! Such an idea was unheard of. You can almost hear the people asking ”What do you mean? Is this Jesus the Messiah or not!?! He very well can’t be both the Son of God and the Lamb of God!”
With a single stroke, John’s message was proclaiming that the One who was coming to save them would also be the One who by His very actions would also convict them of their sin! It was not a message that people wanted to be faced with.
It still isn’t.
But it is the message of Epiphany. It is the message that God calls us to proclaim to the world around us, just as John did to the world of his day. Jesus is the Son of God, but He is also the Lamb of God. We believe in a God who died for our sins. This message is still so hard for our world to hear. No one out there is looking for such a costly answer, just easy excuses.
But it can also be a hard message for us to proclaim, because we are no better. We are sinners just like the rest of the world. Maybe we’ve never sued our neighbourhood drug-dealer, but we’ve all tried to avoid the blame for our actions. We’ve all found scapegoats, we’ve all made excuses. When God asks us to bring the Epiphany message to the world He is asking us to stand up and admit that Jesus is the Lamb of God … and that means that He died for OUR sins. To proclaim this message means that we can no longer hide behind excuses. We must humble ourselves before this world and admit to our sins. That can be very awkward , and embarrassing to say the least. Is it any wonder that so many Christians, ourselves included , are reluctant to tell others about Jesus?
But there is great comfort and great hope in the very same fact that . JESUS CHRIST IS THE LAMB Of GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN Of THE WORLD! Not only does this statement make it clear that we are all guilty of sin, but even more importantly, it also proclaims that this sin has been taken away! It hasn’t just been excused away. The burden has not simply been dumped off on another. It was willingly and lovingly taken up by Jesus. Jesus himself came into the world and lifted the weight of our sin and the burden of our guilt. He lifted it all right up or of our shoulders and carried it as far away from us as ”the east is from the west”.
No excuses, No blame. He did it all out of His perfect love for us. And He did it all as the Lamb of God. Just as in the Old Testament, the blood of a lamb paid for sin. Jesus became a willing and perfect sacrifice so that His blood could pay for your sin. He lived a holy life so that he would be spotless and clean. Then He died upon the cross as the final sacrifice for sin. In that one action the entire debt of every sin that was and every sin that will ever be was owned up to, was accounted for, was paid for. On that cross Jesus took all the shame associated with sin away from us forever. He did it so that we could tell others the wonderful news; “You are forgiven! Life doesn’t have to be like this anymore.”
In a world where no one wants to be held accountable for their actions the idea of Jesus as the Lamb of God is so vitally important. Perhaps the best way to show this is to consider another image that comes concerning lambs and sacrifices. When God sent down His last plague upon Egypt, in which every first-born would die, how did the Israelites escape? Through the sacrificial blood of a lamb placed upon the door frames of their homes. If, like the Egyptians, we deny our sin or continue to ignore it, merely blaming it on other people or events out of our control; then it will eventually creep in the door and kill you.
But, if like the Israelites we own up to what we have done, or have failed to do; if we show the world around us that our lives are marked by the innocent blood of Christ; if we stop making excuses and instead take comfort in the blood of Christ shed for our forgiveness … Then the death caused by sin will pass us by! The blood of the Lamb of God paid for all sin, for all time. After Christ there is no more need for scapegoats. For in Him we have the perfect sacrifice. There is no more need to pass the blame. There is no more blame. The blood of the Lamb, willingly and lovingly shed upon the cross, brings healing and forgiveness and eternal life to the whole world.