John 1: 29 – 35   The Lamb of God January 9, 2022

The Lamb of God

John 1: 29 – 35


(preached on January 9, 2022 on Zoom)


There’s a saying that confession is good for the soul.  One elderly lady had always taken that saying very much to heart.  Over the years she developed the habit of going to her church and making her confession frequently and fervently.  The priest who heard her confession was hard of hearing, so he always asked his parishioners to write their sins on a piece of paper when they came to confession. Then, as they made their confession, he could follow along on the written list of sins. That was somewhat unusual, but it was also helpful.  It ensured that when parishioners visited him in the confessional, they could simply hand him the paper. That would spare them the indignity of shouting out their transgressions where others might hear.


One day the elderly lady came to confession, as usual.  She knelt and handed her paper under the screen to the priest.  Now, in the course of his ministry, the priest had heard just about every sin you could think of.  But as he read the words on the piece of paper in front of him, he was very surprised.  The note read, “half a pound of butter, eggs, broccoli, a head of lettuce, two cans of tuna fish…” After a minute, he stopped and asked her, “What is this?  It looks like a grocery list.”

The elderly lady heaved a deep sigh.  “Oh dear,” she said.  “I must have left my sins at the supermarket.”


Confession is good for the soul.  Confession can help free us from guilt.  Confessing our sins can free us to live joyful lives as children of God.  These days we don’t hear the word sin very much.  We don’t often hear someone admit that they’ve done wrong.  Everyone seems to be trying to put a positive spin on their mistakes.  We talk about errors, or slip-ups, or booboos, but we shy away from that little three-letter word, sin.  You don’t have to look very far, though, to see that sin is behind a lot of what’s wrong with the world.


Sin is alive and well today.  You can read about it on the Internet and in the newspaper.  You can hear about it on TV.  Sin isn’t just alive and well out there among famous people either.  Sin is alive and well among us.  Sin is in the hurtful things we do to people we know:  the cold shoulder, the harsh word, the resentment we hold on to for years.  Whenever we let our hearts grow hard with resentment, sin is at work.  Whenever grudges fester in our marriages and our families, sin is at work.  We all sin and fall short of the loving ways of God.  We don’t always know why we do it.  The apostle Paul put it well when he wrote, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate”  (Romans 7:15).


But faith in Jesus, as Paul goes on to say, can set us free us from the sin that holds us back and keeps us from living the joyful lives God intends for us.  Jesus came to show us that God loves us and wants to forgive us when we admit our sins and change our hearts and lives.

In our gospel passage for today, from the gospel of John, John the Baptist speaks about Jesus as the one who takes away sin.  He uses a figure of speech that might sound strange to us.  Seeing Jesus, he says, “Here is the Lamb of God!”  We might wonder why John talks about Jesus that way.  What does he mean?


We  can get an idea of what he means if we imagine the scene in which John is speaking.  John is walking along the road with his disciples.  Maybe he’s caught sight of Jesus on the road ahead of them.  Here it helps to know that lambs were often led along the road in those days, as they were brought to pasture.  So imagine that John and his companions see a flock of lambs.  It occurs him that this is a way to introduce Jesus to his disciples. He says, “Hey, guys, see those lambs up ahead there?  Well, that man…he’s the Lamb of God.”


John says Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  It may sound strange to us, but a lamb was a powerful religious symbol in John’s day.  Describing Jesus as the lamb of God, John is drawing on a tradition that had shaped the spiritual life of his people for hundreds of years.  That’s because making animal sacrifices was a big part of religious worship in those days.  Every morning and evening, a lamb would be sacrificed on the altar to atone for the sins of the people.  The sacrifice of a lamb restored the people to a right relationship with God.


When he called Jesus the Lamb of God, John may also have been thinking about what lambs are like.  Lambs are not aggressive by nature.  Lambs are not violent.  They don’t have much in the way of self-defense.  They don’t have sharp teeth or rugged claws or even swift feet to run away with. Lambs have a gentle temperament.  John may have been remembering the words of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote that God would call a gentle servant to save his people from sin. This gentle servant would go through suffering, and in that suffering, bring salvation.


You and I may not know much about animal husbandry, but even for us it’s not hard to make the connection between a gentle lamb and a gentle leader who guides his followers with tenderness and patience.


By calling Jesus the Lamb of God, John is saying that Jesus will make the sacrifice that will bring people into right relationship with God.  To us today, lambs and Jewish temple sacrifice may be strange.  But we can see that Jesus is the one who brings us into right relationship with God.  All of us sin.  We all fall short of the loving ways God calls us to live by.  But Jesus shows us that we are greatly loved by God.  He shows us that God doesn’t want any of us to be bound by sin.  God wants us to acknowledge our sin, change our hearts and lives, and enter into the joyful lives God intends for us.


The Lamb of God comes to set us free from sin.  By his sacrifice, Jesus shows how much God loves us.  Jesus comes that we might be free to receive the love of God, free to love others and ourselves, and free to live joyful lives as God’s children.










Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Epiphany 1