John 1:29-42, The Lamb, the Dove, and the Rock (a sermon)

[January 19, 2014] Today’s gospel reading begins with the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus, and ends with Jesus giving Simon the Arabic name Cephas, or Peter in Greek. So what’s going on here? And what does it have to do with us? “Come and see!” Jesus says.
The Witness of John (John 1:19-28)

After we’ve absorbed the first 18 verses of John’s gospel—and no one absorbs it all, it just keeps giving and giving—we come to the beginning of a story. Those verses prepare us for it. In verses 6-7 it says, “A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He was not the light, he was to bear witness to the light.” In verse 15 it says, “John witnesses to him. He proclaims: ‘This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me has passed ahead of me because he existed before me.’”

Obviously John is important, or he wouldn’t be mentioned. But right away we see that in himself he’s nobody. He’s only a witness to Jesus. When you look at medieval paintings of the crucifixion, you always see John standing to one side and pointing his bony finger at Jesus. Sometimes he has a staff with a banner on it that says in Latin, Ecce Agnus Dei: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” That’s all John does, he points people to Jesus.

That’s also what the gospel does: it points us to Jesus. If you don’t get this, then nothing you read matters. You’ll find what you’re looking for, I’m sure. If you want to find a way to lose weight, I suppose you can find it. But you’re wasting your time. You’re better off looking somewhere else. Look for Jesus, and you’ll find him too. When you read the gospels, he’s all that matters. And the neat thing is, when you find him, you find yourself. You’ll see what I mean.

So the story begins at verse 19, with John the Baptist. The first thing John says is: “I’m not the One you’re looking for. The only reason I exist is to point you to that One and to prepare his way. Compared to him I’m nothing, not even fit to undo the strap of his sandal.” So if John’s only purpose is to bring us to Jesus, let’s see him do it.

Today’s reading begins at verse 29. John sees Jesus coming towards him and says, “Look, there’s the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He’s the One I’ve been talking about. I didn’t know him myself, and yet my purpose in coming was so that he might be revealed to Israel.”

What if I told you the meaning of your life, your purpose on earth—the reason for your existence—is to point people to Jesus? Do you think something like this is true? We too are supposed to be his witnesses. But do we bear witness? Is Jesus our little secret, or do we let our light shine? What if people find out about our secret? What kind of impression of Jesus do people get by knowing us?

The Lamb of God (1:29-31)

John said Jesus is a lamb, “the Lamb of God.” This is a metaphor: Jesus obviously isn’t a four-legged animal. If you were by the Jordan River in those days and heard John say this, what might you think he meant? They sacrificed lambs daily in the Temple in Jerusalem. They also sacrificed other animals. And every year you all would have sacrificed a lamb for the Passover Seder, and eaten it. At the Seder meal, every year of our lives, we would have remembered the story of the Exodus: how our ancestors killed a lamb and smeared the blood on the doorposts so that, while they were eating the lamb, death passed-over their house. The blood of the lamb separated them from the destruction that hit the Egyptians. Another way of saying Jesus is the Lamb of God is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.” All that—that whole notion—is contained in the simple words, “Look, there is the lamb of God.”

What about when he says, “that takes away the sin of the world”? That means a whole lot more than just forgiveness. It means he will remove sin itself from the world, the whole problem of sin and all the horrible things sin has done. It makes me think not only of the lamb on the cross, but the lamb who sits on the throne of God in the Book of the Revelation. He overthrows all the kingdoms of the world and establishes the kingdom of God in their place. “The lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” If I mix images, we can say the Passover Lamb takes us into the Promised Land. Mainly, though, think of this: When Jesus died on the cross, he was the Passover lamb defeating the entire problem of sin, slavery in Egypt, the might of Pharaoh, hopelessness, and all that sin means for us today.

The Dove (1:32-34)

But wait. There’s not only a lamb. There’s also a dove. John went on to say, “I saw the Spirit come down on him like a dove from heaven and rest on him.  He who sent me to baptize with water had said to me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” The coming of the Spirit upon Jesus is a sign to John that he is the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. We should learn to read within each gospel. In the Gospel of John when does the Holy Spirit come? It’s in chapter 20 when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into his disciples. It happens on Easter Sunday, the day Jesus rose from the dead. That’s when everything John’s gospel prepared us for finally happens.

So the lamb points us to the cross and the dove points us to the resurrection. If we want to witness to Jesus, we need to witness to the Holy Spirit too; we need to witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is the Gospel. This is a lot to meditate on. But I know you’re going to come back to this again and again, until it seeps into your bones and becomes your second nature.

What Do You Want? (1:35-39)

“The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past, and John looked towards him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.”

If no one pointed me to Jesus, I could not be a Christian today. If no one pointed you to Jesus, you could not be a Christian today. Actually, many people pointed me to Jesus. Have you pointed anyone to Jesus? You don’t have to say a lot. You don’t even have to know a lot.

When we come to church, we hear readings from the Bible and the preacher points us to Jesus. Every time we come we repeat this. Are we following Jesus yet? It’s not enough just to sit and listen. We need to follow Jesus.

When we do start to follow him, Jesus is going to ask us, “What do you want?” So we might begin to ask ourselves that question, because whether we hear it or not, Jesus is always asking us: “What do you want?” What do you want when you come to church? When you pray, what is it you really want? When you read the Bible, what do you want to find? Of course, we want something very self-centered. Most of the time. Once in a while we want something nobler. We don’t need to pretend we’re better than this. If we try to be “religious” or “righteous” we just make fools of ourselves.

But the Holy Spirit works in us in spite of ourselves. In the muddle of all our self-seeking we find there’s something else we want. This is the kernel Jesus is looking for. He asks, “What do you want?” and something inside us says, “Where do you live?”

But what kind of answer is that? For the two disciples, it means they want to go with Jesus to his home and spend time with him, a lot of time with him. It may help if we realize the word “live” is the same word that’s translated “abide.” “Abide in me and I in you.” “In my Father’s house are many abiding places.” It’s an important word in this gospel, but it gets translated in different ways so we may not realize this. It gets translated “live,” “dwell,” “remain,” “stay,” “abide.” “Where do you abide? Where do you dwell? Where are you staying? Where do you live?” “Where are you Jesus so I can be with you?” Do you want to abide with Jesus, be with him? Is that what you want? Because if that’s what you really want, Jesus might just give it to you. “Abide with me,” “abide in me.”

Jesus says, “Come and see.” “So they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day.” Literally, it says, they went and saw where he abided and they abided with him. You see? The same word is used over and over.

How can you say you want to be with Jesus if you don’t read the Bible and pray? How else are you going to abide with him? Yes, we abide with him in our spirit, but how do you think we get to know him there? When Jesus says, “Come and see,” he means we have to spend time with him and look. The way to be with him is to pray; the way to see him is to read the Bible. If you’re content with doing this once a week, all I can say is, your spiritual libido must be dead.

When we want to bring people to Jesus, sometimes all we have to do is say, “Come and see.” This can mean we invite people to church. It can also mean we let people get to know us. “Come and take a look at me, look at my life. This is what a witness to Jesus looks like.” Sometimes we’re the only Bible people will ever read. We are full of terrible things, just like the Bible is, but in the midst of that is a John the Baptist pointing his finger at Jesus and saying, “I’m not the light; I can only point you to what I found. For me, Jesus is everything. Come into my life and see for yourself.”

The Rock (1:40-42)

One of the disciples who began to follow Jesus that day was Andrew. He immediately went to his brother Simon and told him what he found. “We’ve found the Messiah!” So the question I ask you is this: how long should we wait before we tell people what we’ve found, before we tell people about Jesus? Should we wait until we’ve memorized the Bible and understand everything? Should we wait until we can answer every question people might pose to us? We should all be like Andrew: “The first thing Andrew did” was find his brother Simon and tell him. And then “he took Simon to Jesus.” This is love. Do you love anyone? If you love them, have you told them what you’ve found? Do they know? I think we have our work cut out for us.

I’m not talking about being pushy, or imposing ourselves on people, or deliberately making them uncomfortable. But if we were more comfortable, it would go a long way to putting them at ease. I’m just suggesting that the people who love you, who care about you, might want to know what makes you happy, what thrills you. They might want to know what you’ve found. Why not tell them? There may be lots of well-meaning people who’d like to know. Yet we hesitate and hide.

Granted, I know it’s not easy. We’re afraid. We look at our lives and feel ashamed. But come now. Do we really think Jesus doesn’t know us? That he doesn’t see what we see and much, much, more? We feel so, so, inadequate. How can we tell anyone about Jesus? They’ll think we’re hypocrites. Maybe. Or they may relate to us and think we’re like them and maybe, if they’re well-intentioned, they may listen with an open heart. But if we expect their heart to open up to us, we need to open our heart to them first—our heart with all our foibles and weaknesses.

“Jesus looked at” Simon. Yes, Jesus looks at us and sees right through us. He looked at Simon and knew all about him. Simon didn’t start to put his foot in his mouth when he met Jesus; he’d been doing it all his life. And his false bravado? Pretending he’s braver than he really is? That didn’t start all of a sudden either. Jesus knew him. And he knows us. There’s no hiding.

But the marvelous thing is when Jesus looked at Simon he loved him. He loved him and thought to himself, “You are mine. I’m going to give you a new name and make you my own.” Can you imagine that? Yet, it’s no different with you. Jesus, right now, looks at you and knows all about you, he sees everything, even things you don’t see. He knows your fears and your questions and your guilt. And he loves you. He loves you so much he would give his life for you all over again. He loves you that much. And he says to you, “You are mine. You are mine forever, and nothing you can ever do will take you away from me.”

Remember I told you that when you find Jesus you will also find yourself? Here’s what I’m talking about. Peter secretly knew—even if he couldn’t admit it to himself—that he was a weakling and not at all the strong person he pretended to be. Right? Yet Jesus looked right through him—knowing this—and said, “You are Simon son of Jonah.” Yes, Jonah, the man who ran away from God. “You are to be called Cephas,” or Peter—which means Rock.

We might think, Jesus must be mad. Simon is anything but a rock. Yet in the days ahead, a rock is what Simon certainly became. He became so humble and so steadfast a follower of Jesus that the church forever remembered him as Jesus’ foremost disciple. He who denied three times that he even knew Jesus, ended up giving up his life for Jesus. They crucified him upside down because he insisted he was not worthy to be crucified like Jesus. He was a rock.

When Jesus looks at us, he also sees rocks, believe it or not. This very same Peter wrote to us that Jesus “is the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him; set yourselves close to him,” Peter wrote, “so that you, too, may be living stones making a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:4-5). When we come to Jesus he looks at us and declares that he wants us too to be stones for his house. We just need to set ourselves close to him, hang out with him, abide with him.

This is not far-fetched. If we read to the end of the first chapter of John, this is just what we see. Jesus speaks to Nathanael and says, “In all truth I tell you all …” and he makes an allusion to Bethel, which means “House of God.” This is why we are here. Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who gives the Holy Spirit to make us stones for the building up of God’s house. Paul says, “You too, in Christ, are being built up into a dwelling-place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). This is the meaning of being a church: we gather so we can be built up together in Christ into a place for God the Holy Spirit to dwell, or abide.

Do you see all these connections? How the parts of this chapter come together? How this story is really about you? About us? Jesus is the lamb, the Holy Spirit is the dove, but you are the rock and we are all the house. And the only way for the church to grow is for each of us to witness to Jesus. Read this chapter again and again. May God bless the hearing of the Word.

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