Isaiah 49:1-7 (page 609 in our pew Bibles) The second of four "servant songs" applied by Christians to the person and work of Christ, in which the hopes vested in Israel by God to be "the light to the gentiles" become focused in Jesus
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (page 952 in our pew Bibles) In Paul's otherwise standard opening he nevertheless expresses his theological belief in "calling". He is called "by the will of God" but also the whole church is "Called" to be Saints. God is the one calling and we in turn call upon the name of Jesus.
John 1: 29-42 (page 886 in our pew Bibles) "Jesus is the lamb of God". In the Jerusalem Temple lambs (as perfect as possible) were sacrificed to make amendment for sins committed. What John the baptist is referring to is that Jesus sacrifice on the cross will atone (make amends) for the sins of all people in all times if we put our faith in that atoning sacrifice. We all need atonement because we are all sinners and the sacrifice is offered once for all time just because God loves us. All we need to do is believe in this good news
Have you ever wondered why the cross has become the defining symbol of Christianity?
The cross is an instrument of torture and execution.
A modern equivalent would be to hang a gallows or an electric chair around our necks. But the cross, a method of execution so barbaric that even the Romans eventually banned it has become the symbol of a religion that is supposed to reveal the love of God for his creation.
The paradox is on the face of it astonishing.
But when John the Baptist says “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” that throws light on this central mystery.
The lamb is the sacrificial animal killed in the Temple. A terrible thing – an innocent dies. John points at Jesus and says – that’s Him - the sacrifice, the one that will suffer and be killed (unbeknownst to John at that time on the cross). He didn’t know the means but he knew he had to die.
John would have had in the back of his mind, the story from the bowels of the Old Testament when Abraham was called upon to sacrifice his only son Isaac but in the event Abraham said “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son” (Genesis 22:8).
And God did. He provided Jesus. The lamb of God.
For why and for what?
The answer is given in that same short pronouncement. Behold the lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world”
Through his death he brings forgiveness of our sins and restores fellowship with God. Jesus’ death opens for us a path, a way, to God. And this is open to anyone who believes.
“Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is if you like the whole gospel in one line. That is the Good news. It contains the method by which this will be achieved – Jesus’ death and what will result, the sins of the whole world will be taken upon his shoulders and who it is for – the whole world.
The result, the end product is a restored and renewed relationship with God. And God wants that because he loves us.
So we end up with this central paradox that the ultimate symbol of love is a means of execution.
Epiphany is a time of revelation and today we have revealed the complex, multi-faceted nature of the cross of Christ. Symbolsed by the gift of Myrrh from the Magi.
And what does it reveal about Love?
We learn That love and sacrifice are closely related. What would you not do for someone you truly loved. Have you not sacrificed willingly for love.
We learn that God’s love is closely related to service.
Do we not call Jesus the servant king in hymns and songs and litrugies? We read the servant songs of Isaiah and apply them to him. Yes he did serve mankind. He healed the sick, he cured the lame, he made the blind to see”
But his greatest act of service was the cross – He laid down his very life that we might live. What faith Jesus must have had to go willingly to his death because he truly believed that it would make a difference.
Serving, sacrificial love made concrete in that self-giving sacrifice on the cross. The suffering and pain he went through and bore without complaining , could have been done only with the greatest faith in his Father and with the highest love for us driving him on despite the pain. “Take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours”.
The good news is a person. The good news is an event. The good news had wonderful consequences. The good news was achieved through sacrificial love and faith.
John saw Jesus and said,
“Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”