The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 1:29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me. 31 And I did not recognize Him, but in order that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.’ 32 And John bore witness saying, ‘I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, “He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” 34 And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. 35 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ 37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ And they said to Him, ‘Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?’ 39 He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ They came therefore and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’” (which translated means Christ).
Evangelism, raising and keeping families in the church, and fidelity to the teachings of the Christian Faith on the part of people who claim to be believers in Christ is getting harder and more rare with the passing of each year.
Now faithfulness to God’s Word and to the mission of Christ’s church has never been easy. Throughout church history the Christians and the Christian church had to struggle to answer crucial theological questions. If the church corporate had answered those questions wrongly, the true Christian Faith, the Faith of the prophets and the apostles would have been lost. The Epistle of Jude was written by Jude. Who was Jude? Jude was the younger bother of James. James was the half bother of Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph. He became the head of the church in Jerusalem. In essence he was the first bishop to preside over the New Testament church. Jude wrote, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
From the very beginning of the New Testament church preaching, teaching, and right worship mattered because God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mattered to the people who were thankful they had the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
During the time of the Apostolic Church, the Evangelists (who wrote the Gospels) and Apostles (who wrote the Epistles) needed to distinguish between Judaism and Hellenistic philosophies and the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Early Church had to meet the challenges of its day by providing a clear answer to what it meant to confess God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in One Godhead. Along with the challenges to Trinity, there also arose fights over whether or not, or what it means to say the Jesus Christ is both human and divine. The three Ecumenical Creeds were the response to these various challenges.
The Mediaeval Church forsook the Bible’s teaching that righteousness and salvation came by grace through faith in Christ for Christ’s sake alone. The Mediaeval Church taught that a person was made righteous and saved through a process that required both faith and good works, most good works as defined and prescribed by the church.
The Reformation was the response to Mediaeval Church’s errant doctrine. The reformers restored the Bible’s teaching that salvation is by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ alone for Christ’s sake alone, apart from good works, lest anyone should boast. The reformers restored to the church “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
During the Enlightenment, the misnamed, “age of reason” – rationalism really, the nature and authority of Scripture was challenged. “Has God really said?” Is the Bible really God breathed or is it a product of human imagination? Tragically, the Western Church did not rise to the occasion and has suffered greatly from its inability to contend earnestly for “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
While modernism (think 20th century), challenged the idea of truth, especially religious truth, Jesus very clearly said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and that no one comes to the Father, except through Him.
Today, there are many fine Lutheran pastors who believe that the big question before our generation is the question, “Where is God to be found?” This, they believe, is what the people of our time are confused about. They maintain that people today are looking for God in all the wrong places.
Of course the right answer to the question, Where is God to be found? is in the Word and sacrament ministry of the church. The wrong answers are in a person’s feelings, or imagination, or experiences.
“Where is God found?” is an important question and we ought not shy away from saying such things when we speak the Gospel to our neighbors. I think the situation is even more dire than that. I think the question that marks our current generation is this one, “Does God matter?”
That is the question for both people inside and outside the walls of the church. It is the question for all the people who have left the church and for the people who never dawned the door of a church?”
When we read in the Old Testament lesson this morning (Isaiah 49:1) “Listen to Me, O islands, And pay attention, you peoples from afar. . .”; when we read in the Gospel lesson, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! . . . And Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saying to his own brother Simon, ‘We have found the Messiah,’” or any other Bible verse, does it matter? Does it make a difference in our thinking, in our acting, and in our worldview?
It is one thing to listen to the Word of God, to acknowledge that we are believers in Christ and His words, yet still stumble and fall into sin. We are sinners and we sin everyday in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and what we have left undone. It is one thing to be ignorant of certain things in the Bible and get confused about theological questions and spiritual matters.
It is quiet another thing to render God, His work, and His words meaningless and irrelevant for our daily lives. That’s the same thing as saying God just doesn’t matter. This is where people are today. God’s words and deeds don’t matter (see John 15) to the people of the West, including most of the remaining church goers, or to be more accurate the “audience members.”
Now as a faithful congregation we continue to preach “salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone for Christ’s sake alone, lest anyone should boast.” When the faithful read or hear the command, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” they know what that means for us and for the rest of the world.
Does God Matter? That’s the question that has dominated the sermon thus far. In regard to the world and the fallen, the answer seems clear enough. But that isn’t the most important question. Does God matter? is a question rooted in an approach that starts with us, members of the human race and moves toward God. That means it is a question rooted in law. Does God matter to us – to what we believe, how we think, and our standing before God?
When John the Baptist says twice in the Gospel lesson this morning that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” when Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother tells Peter, “We have found the Messiah,” and even when St. Paul wrote to the Christian in Corinth, (1 Corinthians 1:3) “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” they were all three saying something about God’s disposition toward us. Sinners and saints matter to Christ Jesus, to our Heavenly Father, and to the Holy Spirit.
God is all those things both human reason (philosophy) and the Holy Scripture say God is: all knowing, all powerful, all holy, omnipresent, immutable, and God is doing what God does. He governs all things in heaven and on earth. Yet, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The sinful world matters to God, even if the true God doesn’t matter to the world. John 3:18 “The Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”
The world matters to God. You matter to God too. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14) “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The people of the Old Testament mattered. That’s why the Lord God, Yahweh Elohim, required the sacrifices of bulls, goats, and birds. The lamb, more than any other animal, was the animal required by regulations of the law.
John uses the word “Lamb” to bring to mind this fact and to point to the continuous flow of blood from the altar in Jerusalem. The morning and evening sacrifices, purifications, sin and guilt offerings, Feast of Booths, Pentecost, First Fruits, and Passover, all required blood sacrifices and especially the sacrifice of a lamb. All that blood because God’s adopted children mattered to Him.
As sinful as the Old Testament Israelites were, as a nation and as individual people, they understood that the sacrificial lamb was taking their place. The sacrificial Lamb of Old Testament didn’t have any blemishes or spots. It was to be as close to perfect as possible. Its sacrifice was to remind the people that one day God would send His perfect Lamb in their stead. Jesus was the perfect Lamb, the son of God, the Messiah whose sandals no other man or woman is unworthy to untie.
We matter not because we are worthy in ourselves. We aren’t special. There isn’t any good thing in us worth salvaging. We matter because of Christ Jesus alone. In Him, the glory of God dwells. Enter the Old Testament lesson. Isaiah 49:3 “He said to Me, ‘You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory. . . I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’” (Colossians 2:9-10) “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.”
The sacrifice of God’s Lamb, His only Begotten Son of God covers all the sinful thoughts, words, and deeds that anyone at any time has ever had and done. It includes the sinful nature that we were born with. It includes all our hate, gossip, grumbling, worry, lusts, greed, and false faith.
There is no sin anywhere by anyone that the Lamb of God does not “take away.” “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The English translation “takes away” is one word in the Greek. That word means “to lift up and carry to another place.” This means that the Lamb takes the load of the world’s sin, ours included along with the curse and “carries it away” to the cross. That’s is how much human beings in general and you in particular matter to the God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
(Galatians 3:13) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
You matter because you have been redeemed. The world matters because all sins have been paid for. We matter because the work of Christ was not and is not in vain. The Word of God goes out and accomplishes the purpose for which it is sent.
This is why after taking on flesh, living a life of perfect obedience, carrying our sins away to the cross, and being resurrected on Easter morning, Jesus commissioned the apostles and the rest of the church at His ascension and on Pentecost Sunday to go to the ends of the earth with the Word and sacrament ministry.
The question of our generation may well be, “Does God matter?” The answer in every time and in every generation remains the same. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” As Andrew said, “We have found the Messiah.” And where have we found the Messiah. I suggest you consider using the words of Jesus. Remember His answer in this mornings Gospel lesson when Andrew and his friend asked Jesus where He was staying. “He said to them, ‘Come, and you will see.’ They came therefore and saw where He was staying.”
Does God matter? “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Where is He to be found. Tell people, “Come and see. He is staying at little Immanuel Lutheran Church in His words, His Word and sacrament ministry.” Do His words matter? Yes they do. He says to you, “Your sins are forgiven.”
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.