Bible Speaks by Rev. L. Althouse
March 1, 2015
Background Scrip-ture: John 1:29-34
Devotional Read-ing: Joel 2:23-27
As you are probably aware, the scripture passages used by me are selected, not by me, but a committee repre-senting many de-nominations, most of whom use these passages for Sunday school materials provided for children, youth and adults.
When I receive these scriptural selections I try to ask myself three questions:
•Why was this passage selected?
•What do I know or can find out about it?
•How may this scripture be of help, guidance and interest to my readers?
All three questions are important, but the third question is the most important to me. If I can’t find something of relevance to you, there’s no point in taking up space in your newspaper – nor you taking the time to read it. So, first of all, what are the pertinent facts about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist? The incident is recorded in Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21,22, marking the beginning of the ministry of Jesus.
However, John (1:29-34) does not mention his baptism of Jesus, but focuses instead upon his identification of Jesus as (1) “he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me,’” (2) the one who is God’s only Son, (3) who makes God “known,” (4) who is “the Lamb of God,” (5) “who takes away the sins of the world, and (6) “who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” One day later, “John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by he exclaimed ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God.’”
If we also look in 1 John (one of the epistles attributed to the same writer), he asserts that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, that he will forgive our sins (1 John 9), that he is the expiation (atonement) of our sin, (2:13), and that Jesus “came to take away our sin” (3:5).
Blood of the lamb
We know lambs were often icons of salvation for the Hebrews/Israelites /Jews. In Exodus 12:3-14, it was the blood of lambs on the doorposts that were signals for God’s wrath to pass over their homes and their sons. In Leviticus 9:3 and 23:12 the Hebrews are instructed to take a lamb for a burnt offering.
But the prophet Jeremiah challenged the efficacy of that ritual: “Can vows and sacrificial flesh avert your doom?” (Jer. 11:19). So when John the Baptist proclaims “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), he is proclaiming that this is the one whom God has promised us, the one who can free us of our imprisoning sins.
So, it is at this point, too, that we can find ourselves personally involved. When I was in high school, there was a fellow student, “George,” who would suddenly greet us in the hallways of our school with a thunderous challenge: “Are you saved?” I know of no one who wasn’t shaken by his challenge. We would walk briskly – or even run desperately – to the nearest class-room or stairway.
“George” was a nice guy, but his challenge scared the “bejabbers” out of us. I don’t remember how I responded to him, but I decided that if “George” were to challenge me today, I would answer: “Yes, saved every day.” Once-and-done may work for some people; but today as yesterday, I need to recognize God’s forgiveness and be assured of his grace.
I sometimes ponder all the ways in which the world has radically changed since my youth. From time to time you, too, are likely think about the gap between what was then for you, and what is today. But one thing that will not change is our ongoing need for the grace of God.
I need repeatedly to recognize and respond to the magnanimous gift of Jesus as the Lamb of God, taking the crushing weight of human sin and mine upon himself, though he deserved none of it.
A single plot?
Recently, I came across an essay by Frederick Buechner in which he says, “I think it is possible to say that in spite of all its extraordinary variety, the Bible is held together by having a single plot. It is one that can be simply stated: God creates the world; the world gets lost; God seeks to restore the world to the glory for which he created it.” I confess that in light of the tremendous diversity of the scriptures, I, like the rider who jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions at once, often fail to see God’s “single plot” with grace at the very heart of it.
Yesterday, I visited the cemetery plot where my earthly body will be laid to rest. I saw once again the three words I had engraved on the stone: “It’s all grace!” I know that, but all too often I have to be reminded that it is God’s grace that brings us into this world, grace by which we live in it, and grace with which we leave it.
That was the message that God spoke to us in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: it is all by the grace of God that we live, die and look beyond death for the continuing love and mercy of God. Yes, in the long run, as well as the short, it is Jesus, the Lamb of God, who conquers.
So, what is the relevance for us of the Baptist’s recognition and confession that Jesus is the Lamb of God? It is the reminder of the Amazing Grace that we ought to refresh every day of our lives:
“Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come,
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.”
(Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1779)