2 Epiphany Proper A2
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 1:29-42 Sermon
January 19, 2014
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
498 "Rise, Thou Light Of Gentile Nations"
371 "Jesus Thy Blood And Righteousness"
358 "Lamb Of God I Fall Before Thee"
132 "O God Of God, O Light Of Light"
BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD!
TEXT: (v. 35-37) “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.”
You perhaps have heard the term "ceremonial law" used when talking about Old Testament Judaism. But apart from that, we just don't know a whole lot about it. If we go into the Old Testament, there we will find a whole bunch of ceremonial laws that were imposed upon the Israelites. The Book of Leviticus is chock full of them; so if you want to get an idea of what kind of sacrifices the people had to make, this is a good place to look. And in addition to the ceremonial laws spelled out in the Scriptures, the Jews had their own set of traditions that were set forth in the Talmud and the Mishnah.
Before I continue with this, I want you to remember that Jesus kept the ceremonial law perfectly in every respect. He did it so we would be freed from all of this. That's why all of these Old Testament Ceremonial Laws don't apply to the New Testament Christian. Jesus' fulfillment of these laws is something I'm going to address in just a little bit; but first, I think you should know what some of these laws are.
If I were to go into a lot of detail, we'd be here all day long. So I am going to briefly outline what occurred on one of the most high of the Jewish holy days, Yom Kippur, or in English, the Day of Atonement. This was the day that the great high priest entered into the most holy place in theTemple, the "Holy of Holies" as it is called, and made sacrifices on behalf of the people.
Yom Kippur lasts for one entire day, from sunset to sunset, and it is certainly a busy and full day. According to the Gregorian Calendar we use, it can fall anywhere from September 14th to October 14th, and I won't try to explain how the Jews arrive at the date each year. But if you want to do the math yourself, go to the 16th and 23rd chapters of the book of Leviticus.
So here's what happens on that day: The Kohen Gadol, (or the priest) has to have a Mikvah, which is a type of ceremonial bath where the priest is fully immersed in water. Incidentally, the Mikvah is the ONLY Old Testament ceremony where total immersion was a requirement. Then he does a ceremonial washing of his hands and feet, and then dresses in a special golden garment. The morning Tamid offering is then given, followed by another Mikvah and washing the hands and feet twice, and a garment change into special linen garments.
Then a bull is sacrificed as a personal sin offering. After this, a lottery of the goats is held, where two goats are chosen and sacrificed, one for the Lord, and one as the scapegoat. Then the incense is prepared and offered.
The blood of the sacrificed bull is sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, followed by the sacrificing of the Lord's goat, and the sprinkling of the goat's blood, both inside and outside of the Holy of Holies. The goat's blood is mixed with the bull's blood, and smeared on the Golden Incense Altar.
Now it's time for the scapegoat. It is led out into the wilderness, and shoved off a cliff. While this is happening, the sacrificial animals are prepared. The priest opens up the bull and the goat sacrificed for the Lord, and removes their entrails, mixing them together. Once it is confirmed that the scapegoat has been shoved off the cliff, the other animal carcasses are given to the priest's assistants, and they are burnt in a special place of ashes.
The high priest then goes into the women's courtyard, reading sections of the Torah, or the Law regarding Yom Kippur and the sacrifices. This is then followed by the second garment change, complete with another Mikvah and the washing of the hands and feet twice. The linen garment is removed, and then the priest dresses in a second special golden garment.
Then two rams are offered, both of which are slaughtered by the outer altar, and their blood is caught in a bowl and taken to the altar itself, with the blood dashed on the northeast and southwest corners. The rams are then dismembered, and their parts are burnt entirely on the outer altar. Then the priest makes a grain and a wine libation offering.
After this, a Musaf Offering is made. This is the Jewish church liturgy, which must be properly and completely done. At the end of this, the entrails of the bull and goat that had been mixed together are now burnt on the outer altar.
Now comes the third garment change, where the second set of golden garments are removed. The priest then has another Mikvah, and twice washes his hands and feet. The priest then puts on a new set of linen garments.
The priest now returns to the Holy of Holies. He removes the incense bowl and the associated implements. When he comes out, it's time for the fourth garment change. The linen garments are removed, and he has another Mikvah. Afterward, he again washes his hands and feet twice, and puts on a third set of golden garments.
Now it is time for the evening Tamid, or prayer. After this is done, the priest washes his hands and feet again. And that is a thumbnail sketch of what happened on that highest of Jewish holy days, Yom Kippur. A very full and busy day indeed.
So just in case you haven't been keeping score, here's the final tally: The Kohen Gadol (the priest) wore five sets of garments (three golden and two white linen), was immersed in the Mikvah five times, and washed his hands and feet ten times. The sacrifices included two (daily) lambs, one bull, two goats, and two rams, with accompanying mincha (grain) offerings, wine libations, and three incense offerings (the regular two daily and an additional one for Yom Kippur). The priest entered the Holy of Holies three times. And the Name of the one true God was pronounced three times, once for each confession.
All of this was just for one day each year. There are many other ceremonial rites besides this one for a variety of reasons. Yom Kippur was one of the easier ones to follow in the body of a sermon.
We are now coming out of the Christmas season; and right from Jesus' birth, we see how he and his earthly family kept the ceremonial law. When Jesus was eight days old, Joseph was probably the one who circumcised him. And when Mary had completed her period of cleansing following childbirth, she came to the temple to offer the appropriate sacrifice. This was the time when Simeon and Anna first saw the baby Jesus. This was NOT some form of "baby dedication" as some have supposed.
In our Gospel lesson for today, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Interestingly enough, John is the one who identifies Jesus in this way. Jesus does not call himself by that term. He tells us that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. The fact that Jesus is indeed the lamb who was led to the slaughter is definitely understood, and is confirmed in the book of Revelation.
The ceremonial law, and all of the imagery that happened on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, are all things that pointed ahead to Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he made when he gave himself to death on the cross to pay for the sins of the entire world for all time. When Jesus shouted, "It is finished!" from the cross, and theTemple curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of theTemple was torn in two, there can be no question that this brought the ceremonial law to an end. Jesus had fulfilled it for all time by being the very Lamb of God who was sent to take away the sin of the world.
Let's look and see what the Bible says about this. First, we go to Hebrews chapter 7 verses 26-28: "26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever."
Hebrews chapter 9 gives some of the best detail as how Christ has fulfilled the Yom Kippur sacrifices. Reading the whole chapter is very enlightening; however I'll quote verses 11-14: "11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come... 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 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."
People often wonder about some of the imagery we encounter in a Christian church. In the middle of the chancel we have an altar. That's what we call it, because it represents the one and only sacrifice Christ has made on our behalf. What Christ has done is all that we need. The altar is right in the middle, because Jesus Christ is our focal point, along with what he has done. Through faith in Christ, our worship is pleasing to God, and he accepts our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Through faith in Christ, the prayers we offer up are heard and answered by him.
We celebrate the Lord's Supper at the altar, because Christ gave his true body and blood into death to pay the price for our sins. The altar no longer is used for the blood of animal sacrifices, because the true Lamb of God, without spot or blemish, without any sin of his own, shed his blood for us. So every time we come to the altar with the sacrifices of a broken spirit and a contrite heart, we find the forgiveness Christ gives us through faith alone. And as a physical sign and seal of that forgiveness, we have his true body and blood in, under, and with the earthly elements of bread and wine. Because Christ's sacrifice was the ultimate sacrifice, we no longer have to burden ourselves with the intricacies of the ceremonial law. The Lamb of God himself fulfilled it all on our behalf.
You'll notice that various church denominations have altars, more or less for the same reasons I gave. Lutheran Churches, Anglican and Episcopal Churches,Eastern Orthodox Churches, and even Roman Catholic Churches have altars that recall the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
To the right of the altar is the lectern, where the Word of God is read; and to the left of the altar is the pulpit, where the Word of God is preached and taught. On the altar are two candles, signifying the Law and Gospel, the two fundamental teachings of Scripture. The large candle by itself is the Paschal candle, which symbolizes Jesus Christ as the Light of the world. The candle in the red container over on the wall is the Sanctuary lamp, reminding us that wherever two or three are gathered in the Name of Christ, he promises to be amongst them.
Some churches have additional candelabras either on or beside the altar that hold seven candles each. Scripture attributes the number seven to God, with special meaning to the seven days of creation. This is something we don't have.
As you sit here this morning, I want you to think about what it might have been like to be sitting in the Jerusalem Temple. The area in the church where the congregation sits would only consist of men. The women and children would be seated behind a screen in a type of gallery off to the sides of the main worship area. Where the altar sits would be blocked off by a three foot thick curtain. We would be following a liturgy all in Hebrew. There would be the chanting back and forth of various antiphons. The Psalms would also be sung; that's the Old Testament hymnal, in case you didn't know.
But Jesus came and destroyed the walls that separated us from God and from each other. We sit together in worship. And there in front of us stands the altar, open and unencumbered, where we can freely approach God, and where we know we can find him. The name "Jesus" means "One who saves," and the name "Immanuel" means "God with us." Jesus Christ is the one who is worshiped and glorified, who is indeed the spotless and blameless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What John the Baptist proclaimed is the truth we believe, and the truth that saves us.
In closing today, I'm going to share the words of Hebrews chapter 13 verses 20-21: "20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."