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First Impressions

John 1:29

Pastor James F. Wright

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, Jan 20, 2002 

John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  John 1:29

We tend to form impressions about people when we meet them.  The more we get to know them, the more that impression changes.  I often find that my first impressions are not very accurate.  It is better for me to wait to get to know a person before I make a judgment on their character based only on the first words I hear them speak.  I don't always make a good first impression myself, I think.

John the Baptist, however, had the right first impression of Jesus when he saw him coming toward him one day.  He knew a messiah would be coming soon.  I must have been hard for him to believe that the savior of the world promised for hundreds of years would turn out to be someone he had known his whole life.  Imagine a cousin of yours growing up to be governor of Illinois or President of the United States.

John was right on the day when he pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold, there goes the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  How did he know?  John said, "I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me told me."  The Holy Spirit told John about Jesus true identity.  John was also told about his purpose in living.  It was very different from the kind of life we live.  He was not to marry, raise children, own a home, or eat normal food.  But John was content with the purpose God gave him.  He was born to point to Jesus and say, "There goes the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

What were you born to be?  The Bible says that we are to be more than consumers in a capitalist society.  People turn to science to give them a purpose for their existence, but it is empty of such answers.  Evolutionary theory says there is not real purpose for human beings.  We are just the result of survival of the fittest.  Who we are is as coincidental as what we look like, the product of a random combination of amino acids and protein structure.  God however, says different.

When I'm teaching catechism to junior high students I sometimes ask them to hold a bag into which I dump a jigsaw puzzle of 500 to 1,000 pieces.  I tell them to start shaking it.  After a minute or two they ask me when I want them to stop.  I tell them they can stop shaking the bag when the puzzle has put itself together.  Then discuss how absurd the notion is that so many people accept as fact, that they are merely the result of a bunch of amino acids jumbling around and combining themselves in a complex pattern such as DNA.  How anyone can believe this is their origin millions of years ago is beyond my ability to conceive.  If you refuse to believe in a higher power, then you have to believe in miracles.

People who accept this theory wholeheartedly have given up the idea of a given purpose in life.  Self-determination has become their god.  Since chance has determined their birth makeup, they are free to define their own purpose for living.  What is right and wrong may change from one perspective to another.  Many believe that the widespread acceptance of evolutionary theory as fact has led to the demise of morals and the corruption of society that we are experiencing.

As a Christian, you have a great purpose to your life.  You were born, like John the Baptist, to recognize that you have a creator.  As Isaiah said by the inspiration of God, "Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. (Is. 49:2).  Jeremiah said the same in his first chapter.  The writer of Psalm 139 says, "You created my inmost being.  You knit me together in my mother's womb."

There are some implications to believing this record.  Children should never be seen as problems to dealt with medically through abortion.  Each child before it is born is a treasure of God, created by him to be born to grow to acknowledge the heavenly Father as creator.  Each child should have the opportunity to be baptized and learn the word of God.

We should also learn from these verses that our bodies do not really belong to us.  They belong to the one who knit them together in our mother's wombs.  God gives this body for us to use for a time, but in the end he will ask for its return.  It belongs to the one who created it, who redeemed it by his death on the cross, and who made it holy by washing it in baptism.  As Christians we are not free to decide how long we want to inhabit this body.  We leave that to God Almighty and we trust that he will sustain us even through a dreaded disease or hopeless situation.

What is our purpose?  We were born to proclaim with John that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  We belong to God, but we have not behaved like we belong to God.  As sinners we have resisted God's will for our lives.  We have questioned his purpose for us.  We continually struggle to follow him.  There are times in our lives when we did not follow him at all; we have all gone our own ways.

That is why it is so important for us to believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away all our sins.  Lambs were the chief animal of sacrifice in ancient times.  A lamb was offered in the morning and evening of every day in the temple of Jerusalem.  Additional lambs were offered on Sabbath days.  Every new moon nine more lambs were sacrificed.  On annual festivals such as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Day of Atonement, or the Passover, many more lambs were offered up to God.  People of the Bible were accustomed to associating lambs with sin offerings.

It was another thing for them to see a human being offered up as a lamb offering.  In the person of Jesus Christ this is exactly what happened.  On the cross Jesus bore our sins once and for all.  No longer does God desire animals to be sacrificed.  They are no longer needed.  Neither do we need a temple or an altar of sacrifice.  In Jesus we have the perfect sacrifice for sins, enough to cleanse the entire population of the world.  Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  We, like John, are to proclaim this to everyone.  This is our chief purpose in this world.

Right before we come forward to receive the Lord's body and blood we are reminded of John's words as we sing, "Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us."  In the Agnus Dei, we proclaim to the world who it is who took away our sins and gave us access to God.  It is Jesus Christ and him alone.

We also have the purpose to witness that all human life is precious to God.  Why else would he go to such great lengths for us?  We are forgiven so that we can serve God by helping our neighbor.  This is our task until our dying day.  We are created by the Father, redeemed by the Son, and called by the Holy Spirit working in the means of his grace to serve him every day we are alive.  Even at life's end, overcome by terrible disease and pain, our purpose is to witness to God by calling on his name to deliver us from evil and take us to himself in heaven.

First impressions are important, but getting to know someone's real purpose is what leads to absolute trust. Jesus' purpose in life was to be the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  Our purpose in life is to receive, give thanks for, and confess that Jesus is the Lamb who takes away our sin.  Amen.



Copyright 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.



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