A couple of days later than I wanted to be with this. But, it’s a good message and one worth sharing. Even if it gets under some skin…
John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare for the revolution. The revolution God himself was bringing. John was preaching and baptizing in the wilderness, preparing a people ready to participate in the revolution of the arrival of kingdom of God that would come with what Jesus was doing and saying. John had gathered a large following, and had many disciples of his own. At least two of these would become disciples of Jesus, Andrew and we believe John, though it doesn’t say so explicitly.
Jesus comes out to where John is, to see this thing that John is doing out by the Jordan River. John sees him coming and declares to his disciples Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The next day Jesus comes again, and John says it again. The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” Andrew and John became followers Jesus, or as we might say, followers of the lamb. Two of the very first Christians. To be a Christian, to participate in the revolutionary kingdom of Christ, is to be a follower of the lamb who takes away the sin of the world. But – what does this even mean?
We all know there is something deeply wrong in world. We are over 7 billion strong as the human race, but we are still a long way from getting it right. Something is wrong. Why is there still so much hatred, so much racism, so many wars, so much poverty. Why do 2 billion people, with all our advancement, technology, and ability to create wealth, still live abject poverty? Why is there still so much preventable disease? We have the means, we have the ability, we just have not organized ourselves to be able to prevent these things. Never mind the diseases we haven’t cracked yet, but there are diseases we are completely capable of beating, yet we have not. Why?
The only answer has to be because of our sin. It’s what John calls the “sin of the world”. In the book of Genesis, the sin of world begins with unhealthy desire. In the garden, Adam was warned about this. But Adam and Eve ignore their warning and begin to feed their unhealthy desire, leading to their expulsion (or maybe it would be more helpful to call this exile). Then sin rears its ugly head, and Cain kills Abel. This is the story that most clearly shows the sin of world that replicates its self over and over. It seems to be the source of our problems and deep systemic problems we have until this day.
The sin of world is our rivalry with our brothers and sisters whom we call enemies and others, leading us to hate and accuse, to refuse and vilify, ultimately to oppress and kill our sisters and brothers, especially if they belong to some other tribe, race, nation, or religious group. We refuse to recognize those other than we think we are as our brothers. Then we participate in all those Cain-like activities of hating, accusing, vilifying, oppressing and even killing. This is the opposite of what the bible calls love. The Bible also says God is love. It’s by going against the grain of love that the world becomes a miserable place.
If we refuse to love God in such a way that it is manifested in loving our neighbor, we are on the highway to hell. If we are going against universe as God created and intended (and we almost always are), we suffer the consequences of unintended pain and suffering.
Someone must intervene. This is what must be done when someone we love has gone down the path of self destruction. God intervenes. This is what we call Christmas. God stages his own intervention. Because “For God so loved the world…”. God beholds this race he has made in his own image engaged in increasingly self destructive behavior, and inserts himself into our situation in the form of his only begotten son.
Someone must stage an intervention. Someone has to take away the sin. It’s the sin that’s the problem. Wars, poverty, racism, hatred are just manifestations, symptoms. But the deeper problem is the sin. So when Jesus appears on the banks of the Jordan, John announces the Lamb of God who takes away sin of world.
How? How does Jesus take away the sin of the world? We are at the beginning of the story, but we find at the end of the story exactly how Jesus takes away the sin of the world. The sin of the world, hating and killing our brothers, will be violently sinned into Jesus. He becomes the supreme victim of problem, he becomes the supreme victim of the sin of the world. The sin of the world that wrecks the capacity of human flourishing coalesces into a great single moment in history and is sinned into Jesus. And so he bears the sin of the world.
Where does he take it? Down into death, Hades, Hell, Sheol. Exactly where it belongs. He takes that sin with himself down into the depths of death, and after three days he shakes it off. He’s raised from the dead!! He comes back, having born our sins, without a word of blame. He takes it all, he bears it. He’s the innocent Lamb of God. All that sin, hatred, blame, revenge, retribution will all stay in Hades, but the Son of God returns on the third day. He speaks of love, peace, and forgiveness, not vengeance and payback. This is how the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. He leads us into the new world by absorbing sin, forgiving it, and taking away sin of the world. It dies with him, but is not resurrected with him.
BUT – we are called to be followers of the lamb. In our own lives in our own way we are to imitate day by day, in ways big and ways small, what Jesus did. We are not fans of the lamb, but followers of the lamb. It’s one thing to be spectator in the stands, cheering your support. Go Jesus!! It’s another another to suit up. It’s another thing altogether to get in the game, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.
John the Baptist was the greatest of all prophets before Christ. Jesus himself says so. I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.” Luke 7:28 ESV But two of his disciples leave for Jesus. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. Whoever is least in the kingdom is greater than John. You can be the greatest ever to live under the vision from Moses, but when Christ comes it’s a completely different world. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 ESV
This is what it means to be a Christian, to follow the lamb. To live the ways of the lamb. What does it look like? Often times it looks like what Stephen did. The day after Christmas on the church calendar is the feast of Stephen, St Stephens Day. It’s appropriate that the day after celebrating birth of Christ the church honors the first Christian martyr. We know the story of Stephen. He was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. Acts 6:5 ESV. Stephen was powerful, full of the Spirit, and was gathering around him many followers of Jesus. This put him in rivalry with some in the Sanhedrin. “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” So, of course, they killed him. But as he’s dying, he cries out – “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Acts 7:60 ESV. He cries out for Jesus not to blame his own killers. He’s become a little Christ, a Christian. He carries their sin upon himself. Just as the sin of the world comes upon Jesus but he does not recycle it or return it. He did not follow the way of Cain, the way of revenge, way of the world. He cries out for forgiveness, not vengeance. He bore the sin of the world, helping the lamb of God take away the sin of world.
We either retaliate against sin and help the devil recycle and reenergize the sin of the world, or we absorb and forgive sin and help Jesus take away the sin of the world. This is what it means to be a follower of the lamb.
Are there any modern examples followers of the lamb. Well, how about Martin Luther King, Jr? He was America’s greatest prophet. True to what Jesus would say, America killed him and then built a monument to him. What sorrow awaits you! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago. But in fact, you stand as witnesses who agree with what your ancestors did. They killed the prophets, and you join in their crime by building the monuments! This is what God in his wisdom said about you: ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them, but they will kill some and persecute the others.’
So, yes, we killed him and built monuments to him. We killed him, and created a holiday honoring him. We killed him, we honor him, and we still live in the world picking up stones to throw at one another.
America has twin foundations sins. The enslavement of Africans for the sake of economy, and the expulsion and sometimes genicidal treatment of native inhabitants in the name of expansion. It was all about economy and expansion.
It is fitting, then, that the grandson of slaves in the 1950s would show by his life to white American Christians what it looks like to follow the lamb. The Gospel had taken root in African American churches at the time, and Martin Luther King was an embodiment of that.
The Dexter Avenue Baptist church in Montgomery Alabama. It’s weeks before Christmas, November 17, 1957. In Alabama. A black man in Alabama in 1957 knows what it is to have enemies. Martin Luther King that day preached a sermon called “Loving your enemies.”
“The evil seed of the enemy neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy….we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding…
Seeing the image of God in your enemy who is trying to harm you is a very difficult thing to preach. It would have been easy to just preach an us vs them, God is on our side Sermon, but that’s not what he did.
…Returning hate for hate multiples hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Violence multiples violence. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies or else? The chain reaction of evil hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. To our most bitter opponents (bitter opponents as in KKK members dragging black men off to be beaten and worse) we say we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall neet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, we shall continue to love you. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes (his home was bombed) and threaten our children and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”
Now that’s a follower of the Lamb. Only Jesus makes that sermon possible. Only Jesus makes that life possible. He didn’t only want to liberate African Americans from unjust oppression, he wanted to liberate white Americans from the idea that they had to perpetuate their evil system.
On April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee Martin Luther King, Jr bore the sins of America when he was cut down by an assassins bullet. By following the lamb, preaching Jesus, loving enemies and practicing nonviolence, Martin Luther King, Jr helped take away the sins of America. His death helped awaken America to its sin of racism.
The death of Jesus was obviously unique in that he was the sinless sin of god vindicated by resurrection on the third day by the Father. But the suffering and death of St Stephen, Martin Luther King, and every other Christian martyr is the ultimate example of what it looks like to follow the lamb. They were helping the lamb take away the sin of the world, and God will raise them, too, to life everlasting.
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”
John 1:29, 35-37 ESV
“What sorrow awaits you! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago. But in fact, you stand as witnesses who agree with what your ancestors did. They killed the prophets, and you join in their crime by building the monuments! This is what God in his wisdom said about you: ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them, but they will kill some and persecute the others.’”
Luke 11:47-49 NLT