Sermon: Lamb of God

January 15, 2023

Psalm 40:1-11
John 1:29-42

by Eric Anderson

In the years since I first heard the phrase, “the Lamb of God,” I don’t think I’ve ever thought twice about it. It’s got a lovely Latin translation – agnus dei – with a soft “gn” that just rolls delightfully through the mouth. The Hawaiian has a differently delightful sound – “ke Keiki Hipa a ke Akua” and so does the first century Greek in which John the Gospel writer wrote: “ho amnos tou theou.”

But… what a strange thing to say.

There just wasn’t a lot of precedent for it. The Scriptures of the Old Testament simply don’t include the phrase, “the Lamb of God.” There’s plenty of references to lambs, for sure. Lambs provided the growth in the flocks of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They represented the precious children of Israel to Isaiah. Most often, however, the Old Testament mentions lambs in the context of the sacrificial worship practices of the tabernacle and the Temple. As Jillian Engelhardt writes at Working Preacher, “’Lamb of God’ evokes the Passover lamb from Exodus 12:1-13. There the Hebrew people living in Egypt are instructed to slaughter a lamb, put some of its blood on their doorposts, and eat the lamb. Those who do this will be spared the final plague of the death of the first born that God brings down on the Egyptian people. To be clear, this is not a sacrificial lamb, at least not in the same way that lambs sacrificed as sin offerings were.”

“The Lamb of God” is a very strange thing to call a human being.

It’s especially strange when John the Baptist continued with the words, “This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’” All four of the Gospel writers made sure to quote the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus had power and authority and a mission that he, the Baptist, did not. All four Gospel writers adopted the title “Anointed One,” the English translation of the Hebrew “mesiach” and the Greek “Christous,” to describe that unique role of Jesus. The Anointed One, as I’ve mentioned before, was imagined as a figure of royal responsibility, political power, and military might.

Not… a lamb. No. Definitely not a lamb.

I’ve said often before that Jesus redefined the nature of the Messiah, the Christ, making that title uniquely his own and deciding what he would and would not do in that role. What I haven’t said, because I hadn’t recognized it, is that John the Baptist was a part of that redefinition.

Lambs are young and inexperienced. They’re fragile and vulnerable. They’re for treasuring and protecting, for raising and celebrating, for the joyful present and the promising future. They don’t bring down empires. They don’t raise new nations. They don’t wear crowns.

Whatever John the Baptist thought he meant by calling Jesus “the Lamb of God,” he surely indicated to everyone there – including Jesus himself – that whatever they thought they knew about a Messiah, they should think again.

What does it mean to us to have a Lamb of God as a Savior?

It’s not all about sin. Richard W. Swanson observes at Working Preacher, “Lambs are part of the sacrificial system, but not as ‘sin offerings.’ Lambs are generally mentioned as a ‘whole burnt offering’ that is distinguished from the sin offering. And the times when lambs ARE mentioned as sin offerings, they are females a year old, which puts them on the borderline between lamb and sheep. And they are female.”

The Paschal Lamb, the lamb of Passover, in contrast, was about deliverance in two senses. First, it was part of God’s action to free the Hebrew people from slavery – deliverance. Second, the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb marked the homes of the Hebrew people so that they would not suffer as the Egyptians did. Third (I did say two, but now there’s three), the families made the lamb into their last meal in Egypt. They couldn’t pack large amounts of food, so the lamb nourished them for the first hasty part of the Exodus journey.

Jesus as Lamb, in John’s eyes, therefore meant that this Messiah would bring deliverance. He mentioned deliverance from sin, because that wouldn’t be obvious, but his hearers would also have understood the deliverance from oppression, from evil, from hunger, even from death itself. As a Lamb, though, he wouldn’t bring that deliverance in the way that kings had – with armies and chariots and horses and swords. He’d bring it with an unexpected intervention of God, one beyond the expectation of human beings.

One to challenge the assumptions of human beings, too.

Two of John’s disciples found themselves following… a lamb. Lambs aren’t leaders. They’re the followers of the flock. In this case, however, the lamb became the leader. That means that we can’t count on the patterns we’re familiar with, at least not as far as God is concerned. At one moment God’s direction may come through those well-rehearsed voices of experience, but in the next it may come in the piping, even hesitant voice of a child.

Those disciples found themselves following, moving. They’d come to the banks of the river, and although rivers flow, John apparently made a semi-permanent home there by the Jordan. Jesus, however, would keep moving. As Debie Thomas writes at, “…we have to follow Jesus all the way home if we want to know where he is and what he’s about.  He won’t be pinned down.  He won’t fit into any box we try to stick him in.  He’s not the type who remains in stasis — he moves.  At times, he will not be easy to seek or find.  In short: the path that leads to him will become clear only when we decide to walk it.”

In following, we too take on the role of lambs. Power and might make a lot of difference in the world, but the Lamb of God does not use them to make a difference, and neither do the lambs who follow the Lamb of God – at least, not if we’re to be faithful to that flock. If we’re going to “Come and see” we’re going to find humble service, not comfortable privilege. We’re going to find long days and hard work. We’re going to find lots of people who need our help. We’re going to find that we don’t always have the means to help them, and that sometimes all we can do is all we can do.

We’re going to find that there are things that we should not do to help them. Bullying. Harassment. Coercion. Hating someone else on their behalf. These are things that Jesus won’t do to us. These are things that we cannot, should not do to others.

On this weekend we honor the life’s work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Let us remember that he did not let injustices go unrecognized or unnamed. He called them out. He acted to end them. As a follower of the Lamb of God, he would not do so with hate. Hate is too great a burden, he said.

As lambs of God, we follow the difficult path which turns away from the easier, or at least more comfortable journeys of wealth and power. As lambs of God, we echo the example of one who laid aside ultimate power to provide ultimate deliverance.

The Lamb of God continues on that journey with us, never failing, never faltering, never leaving us alone.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

There is a significant addition in the delivered sermon that is not found in the prepared text.

The image is John the Baptist in the Wilderness by Paolo Veronese (ca. 1580s) – Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Bilddatenbank., Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on January 15, 2023

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283