Jan 15, 2017 Sermon "Sacrifice" is based on John 1: 29-34

Today’s Gospel reading has the famous and familiar passage about Jesus being, what John the Baptist called…. “The Lamb of God”.
If we think about and unwrap it, what lies behind that term is not an easy concept to get our modern minds around.

The idea of a lamb comes from the ancient practice of making sacrifices to God.
In Jesus’ Jewish tradition, lambs were slaughtered as sacrifices to God all the time.
But the key to what Jesus is referred to, has to do with gaining forgiveness of sins.
The lamb sacrifice was THE key element in the ritual of Temple worship.
The idea came from the history of the Jewish people as told in the bible.

Back in the Book of Exodus, is the story of God’s people held in captive slavery by the Egyptians, until a man called by God, named Moses, leads them to freedom.
As part of that escape plan, God plans to show his power to the Israelite’s captors by killing the first-born of every household.
God, of course being reasonable and benevolent, warns the Egyptians through Moses to let the people go so this doesn’t have to happen.
But when they mock and refuse, God instructs Moses to slay lambs and mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood as a sign to not kill the firstborn in that house.
The Jewish slaves do as God/Moses directed and also eat the cooked lamb meat.

Shattered by what then happens and the power of the Hebrew’s God, Pharaoh and the Egyptians release the Jews into eventual freedom.
Ever since, the Jewish people have a celebration how God’s angel of death ‘passed over’ (Passover) their homes when they were rescued from slavery.
Lambs then, continued to be used as sacrifices to God for any sins they committed.
The blood of the lamb was key in the cleansing of the sins of the people

Now, we have to remember that all peoples back then used sacrifices to their gods for various reasons - for good crops and good weather, help against enemies, etc.
Some people even used human beings to accomplish this appeasing of the gods.
And for any kind of sacrifice, the more pure the better, thus children and virgins were often chosen to be killed.
Since they were seen as sort of pure and innocent, that is why lambs were used.

Doesn’t this all sound bizarre to our ears and minds today?
This idea of sacrificing a poor little innocent lamb (let alone humans) offends us today. We see it as primitive and barbaric and not what civilized people ought to be doing.
Not only that, but don’t we believe, based on all Jesus said and did, that God is loving?
Don’t we think that a caring deity should not need sacrifices to prompt forgiveness?
And aren’t there plenty of passages where God says, through the prophets, that “I do not wish to have sacrifices of blood, but only a contrite heart”.
In other words,…. when we are sorry and repent, God is (should be) willing to forgive.
So when Christianity promoted this idea that Jesus was the lamb sacrificed on the cross, it seems like it endorses the practice of sacrifice to God. 

Three things we need to say before we try to ignore or remove the idea of sacrifice.

One is that, although we believe God is a God of love and compassion and mercy,….he also is a God who desires righteousness and perfection and justice.
He created the world and us to be perfect until we opted for sin and messed things up.
So God has to balance His grace, on the one hand, with his desire for righteousness.
While mercy always beats out retribution with God, justice still cannot be ignored.
Human beings are not just these lovable creatures that ought to be given a pass on sins.
Wrongs have to be addressed and not just ignored because its easier to do so.
We can’t make God out to be like a kindly grandmother who just gives a pass on any and everything we do wrong, saying ‘they didn’t mean it’…or… ‘they won’t do it again’.
There is no justice in an approach that has no amends or restitution to right the wrongs.

The second problem with ditching this idea of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world,….is that Jesus himself promoted the idea.
John the Baptist may have called him Lamb of God, but he said at the last supper that “this is my body broken for you,….my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins”.
If you don’t like the idea of sacrifice, then go complain to Jesus about it.
He said, on more than one occasion, his death on the cross was the sacrifice for sins.
If we reject this very basic aspect of Jesus, we might as well reject him altogether.
If we reject the idea of sacrifice and then reject the idea of Jesus’ sacrifice, then you’re on your own to find forgiveness from God.
You may feel like you have to do more good than bad in life,…..or just hope for the best.
But by embracing the idea of the Lamb of God,…. you have assurance of forgiveness.
Not because of anything we do,…but because of what Jesus did - the sacrifice.

Third reason not to reject the idea of sacrifice has to do with this idea that ‘God is love’.
What’s that word ‘love’ mean in the biblical sense or when we talk about Jesus Christ?
If God is love,….why is there need for a sacrifice?
In short…..because, without sacrifice…there is never real and true love.
You cannot have love without sacrifice; its like fire without oxygen - can’t happen. 
Love that is genuine and lasting and total, always requires there be sacrifice.
When you love your parents, you sacrifice for them.
When you love your kids, you sacrifice for them.
When you love your spouse, you sacrifice for them.
When anyone loves someone, it involves….no, better said - it requires,…. sacrifice.

And so God gave up his only Son to be sacrificed by the sinful world,….
because he loved the same sinful world and wanted it to be granted forgiveness of sins. 
And if we think of Jesus as God, then the love sacrifice made was from God himself!
A pure and perfect offering that covers "the sins of the world".
A sacrifice of God through The Lamb of God - who truly loves humanity.

Amen