About three years ago, I think it was, I read a wonderful book entitled “Grace” by Max Lucado, and in this book he tells a story.
It seems that there was this Chinese man named Li Fuyan, who tried every treatment imaginable to ease his headaches, but nothing helped. An x-ray finally revealed the culprit: there was a 4-inch rusty knife blade that had gotten lodged in his skull, and it been there for the past four years. You see, in an attack by a robber Li Fuyan had suffered lacerations on the right side of his jaw. He didn’t know the blade had broken off inside his head, and that’s what was behind the pain.
Lucado comments on this story: he says we can’t live with foreign objects buried in our bodies (or our souls). What would an x-ray of your interior reveal? Regrets over an earlier relationship? Remorse over a poor choice? Shame about a marriage that didn’t work, the habit you couldn’t quit, the temptation you didn’t resist, or the courage you couldn’t find? Guilt lies beneath the surface. It festers and irritates. It’s embedded in us. Guilt, shame, remorse…
On an episode of “This American Life”, a public radio show, host Ira Glass remarks:
Some regrets never go away. People tell us they forgive us, we try to forgive ourselves, and we still know like we did wrong, like we hurt somebody, it was real. And that feeling, it can immobilize you. If you’re lucky, it teaches you something you can take into other situations. But I think often it’s just like this pebble in your shoe. It teaches you nothing. It doesn’t slow you down, really. It just hurts. It just hurts in a way that does not stop hurting.”
Regrets, shame, remorse…
In a New York Times article, columnist David Brooks wrote a couple years ago he argues “religion may be in retreat but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.” Regrets, guilt, shame… Brooks has it right. What do you do, though, with your guilt and your regrets?
John the Baptist points us to Jesus in response to that question, and he says “Look! The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” That got people’s attention. We’ve been doing a series, “Jesus Is”. This is the second message in the series and here we learn that Jesus Is: the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. That image of the lamb had to have stirred memories from the Old Testament for those that heard John speak. For instance, we remember Abraham and Isaac on the mountain in Genesis 22, where Abraham was about to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and just as he is raising a knife up God stops him. And they look up, they see a ram caught in the thicket. It had been provided by God for the sacrifice. We have described for us the sacrificial lambs that were used in the temple of Jerusalem. Leviticus 14 tells us “and the priest shall take one of the male lambs and offer it for a guilt offering for the sins of the people.” And then there’s Isaiah 53, where the prophet Isaiah describes the “suffering servant” who will come, “and He will be led away like a Lamb to the slaughter for His people.” And of course we don’t want to forget the Passover lamb from the book of Exodus. Remember that story, where the blood of the lamb protected the Israelite firstborn children when the Angel of Death swept over the land of Egypt. And each year as the Jews celebrate Passover that lamb reminds Israel of God’s goodness, His protection, as well as their deliverance and redemption from slavery under the Pharaoh.
But there’s more here than simply the image of a lamb. John said he’s a lamb *of God*. OF GOD. He’s sent by God. He’s of God, is provided by God, He’s the son of God. And He was provided for what? For our sin, “the sin of the world” John says. You see humankind’s greatest problem is sin, and it needs a solution. Scripture tells us that all of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’re rebels against God. You don’t have to read scripture to understand that all of us has sinned. You just have to watch the news, don’t you? Notice John says here “sin”, not the plural “sins”. He says that because he’s pointing us to the reality of the spiritual condition that exists within us, that we’re born with and cannot cure ourselves. Paul talks about it in Romans 5, telling us that sin runs deeper than sinful actions and words or thoughts. He says “therefore just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Our sinful actions and thoughts and words and things that we leave undone are the symptoms of our sin condition that’s within us. The natural inclination to be selfish and egocentric and full of pride? That’s sin. It’s the cause. Sins are the effect. Sin is the tree. Sins are the fruit. Sin is the disease. Sins are the symptoms. Billy Graham said sin is “the cause of all trouble, the root of all sorrow.” The dread of every person lies in one small word: sin. It’s crippled the nature of men and women. It has caused humankind to be caught in the devil’s trap. And sin lies at the heart of chaotic world conditions as we know them. As we look around and say “what’s wrong with this world?” there’s a very simple explanation, it’s called sin and it’s existed through the centuries. And sin has eternal deadly consequences: “the wages of sin is death.” Death in this life, being separated from God, and death in the life to come, away from God.
Now as far as our symptomatic sins that we can see, we’ve tried all kinds of things to deal with them. You know what I mean. We try to cover them up, hide them, like Adam and Eve did in the Garden. Or try to ignore them, or narcotize them with drugs and alcohol. Or fix things ourselves to make things right with God. Or for transfer the blame to someone else or something else. Or explain them away with rationalizations: “everybody’s doing it”. But none of that works, does it? There is no peace within. Our guilt for us can crush us. King David tells us that in Psalm 32. He said, after he had adultery with Bathsheba, “when I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long, for day and night your hand, Lord, was heavy upon me. My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” He was depressed!
So there’s the human predicament: sin. Which brings about our regrets and our guilt and our shame, and a causes a great chasm between God and us. The relationship with God and with others, and with ourselves even, that was intended for us has been broken by this spiritual disease called sin. And the truth is we cannot fix this predicament ourselves. But here we have John the Baptist announcing the good news: that God has provided the solution. The cure. The healing for your soul: Jesus the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That’s why Christ came at Christmas. He came into our world to take away everyone’s sin. And to “take away” means “to take up” or “bear”. Jesus took away our sin by taking it upon himself, and he bore it himself. Our sins were laid upon him. Our sin – he took. You see, we know where the story is headed, right? That Lamb, that John is pointing to, will go to a cross and suffer my punishment so that I won’t have to – for sin. He will pay the debt for my sin which I could never repay because of my spiritual bankruptcy. He who was rich became poor so that I might become rich in God. That’s how serious sin is to God. And that’s how much you are loved by God. Someone put this way, I like this:
How you measure the size of a fire? By the number of firefighters and fire engines sent to fight against it. And how we measure the seriousness of a medical condition? By the amount of risk the doctors take in prescribing dangerous drugs or surgical procedures. How do we measure the gravity of sin and the incomparable vastness of God’s love for us? By looking at the magnitude of what God has done for us in Jesus, His son, who died like a common criminal for our sake and in our place at the cross.
Hebrews 10 tells us that Jesus was carrying out God’s will at that cross, he says, and by it we have been sanctified, made holy in God’s sight through the offering of the body of Jesus.
And it’s once – for all – did you get that? Once, for all, this sacrifice. We cannot add a single thing to what has been done for us by Jesus Christ. We’re covered! Peter witnesses in his letter that you and I were “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” Paul describes the implications of this sacrifice on the cross in the 5th chapter of Romans: “therefore as one trespass led to condemnation for all people so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all people.” It‘s this Lamb’s perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for sin that provides the foundation of a renewed relationship with God. He is our hope as we sit in our regrets, in our guilt, in our Shane. He is our freedom as we look over our lives and wonder “what am I to do with these things?” Trusting in the Lamb of God, Jesus, we can repent and come to Him and receive forgiveness, cleansing, and a new start. There’s an old hymn that Isaac Watts wrote that really captures the truth of this. He says
Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altar slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace, or wash away its stain.
But Christ the Heavenly Lamb takes all our sins away
A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.
It’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That’s our answer for our burdens, our sin, our guilt, and regrets. And how can we know this is all true? Because that Lamb, that died on the cross, was raised from the dead and exalted by God. He sits at the right hand of the Father. All authority has been given to him. The Lamb of God has the final word over us. We read that in John’s book of Revelation, chapters 5, 6, and 7. It says “I saw the Lamb of God” and he said “He was like a triumphant, victorious” individual. It’s an exalted title. John memorializes the sacrificial work of Christ, and he tells one day we will hear the angels singing with a loud voice “worthy is the Lamb who was slain! To receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! Worthy is the Lamb!”
Friends, this Jesus is so much more than a great teacher and a prophet. He’s more than a moral example to be emulated. In last week’s message we learned He’s the son of God, He’s God the servant King. Today we learned this life-giving truth: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. In Him alone there is forgiveness for sin, and where there is forgiveness, friend, there is life. And you and I need that life. We need Him for forgiveness, and a right, saving relationship with God. Everyone needs Him. So I’m told in scripture what will I do with the burden of sin and guilt and shame? The dread of facing God’s judgment? I bring it to Jesus, the Lamb of God. We don’t need to be crippled or captive any longer to the disease of sin in our lives because God provided the cure through His Son Jesus Christ, Lamb of God. Place your trust in Him and what He’s done for you. Come to Him, come to the Lamb in faith. Bring your burdens, your guilt, your regrets, your brokenness, and receive forgiveness and a new life that’s free from sin, and death, and the power the devil. As you turn to Him in repentance, He will not turn you away. He will forgive you. For those who are already walking with Christ, the message is: come to Him daily. We’re not perfect by any means. Come to Him confessing those sins that still find their way into your everyday thoughts and words and actions and receive your daily baptism, the daily drowning of the old, egocentric person. Know this: Jesus the Lamb of God stands ready to forgive you. Let’s use this next hymn as our closing prayer, and we’ll sing that last line of each verse: “O Lamb of God, I come.”
Pastor Steve Kramer