Introducing Jesus: Reflections on John 1:29-34
I wonder if this message would have much meaning for someone new to the faith. If I haven't heard much about Jesus, if I don't really know who he is and what he does, then it means little to me to be told that his identity is now going to shape mine. Why would he be my choice among so many other options?
I need to have an answer to the question, "Who is the Lamb of God?"
John the evangelist would have made a superlative screen play writer. He is the master of crafting brief scenes that include whole Christologies! Here, in this scene in which John the Baptist introduces us to Jesus as the Lamb of God, John the evangelist manages to convey that this Lamb of God is pre-existent (1:30-31), the one upon whom the Spirit descends and rests (1:32-35), and the chosen one (1:34). I'm thinking that, since my identity is bound to be shaped by somebody and something in 2011, I want it to be shaped by this man who is walking by us right now: the Son of God, God's unique instrument, the Messiah and the Servant of the Lord.
"Look! Here is the Lamb of God!" This introduction conveys three key aspects of Jesus' identity. He is the apocalyptic lamb who destroys evil. He is the Suffering Servant willing to give his life for the redemption of his people. He is the paschal lamb who takes away our sins and leads us from bondage to liberation.
The lamb is the apocalyptic lamb. Jewish writings about the end of times included a figure of a conquering lamb who will destroy evil in the world (Brown, p. 59). Raymond Brown suggests that John the Baptist hailed Jesus as the lamb of Jewish apocalyptic expectation who was to be raised up by God to destroy evil in the world. This picture fits John's prediction that Jesus would divide the wheat from the chaff (Mt. 4:23; Lk. 3: 17) and it is similar to Revelation 17:14 (Brown, p. 60.)
The lamb is the Suffering Servant. The title of Jesus as Lamb of God is reminiscent of one of the ways the Servant is described in the Servant Songs of Isaiah (42:1-9, 49:1-13, 52:13-53:12). There is debate over whether the Servant is an individual (Moses or Jeremiah), the nation of Israel, or a corporate personality (Brown, p. 60). However we identify him, Isaiah 52:7 tells us that the Servant, in his acceptance of his sacrificial death, is "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter." Craig R. Koester in Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community writes, "The repeated reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God (in John's Gospel) indicates that comprehending the significance of Jesus' sacrificial death is basic to understanding his identity" (p. 157)
The lamb is the Passover lamb. John is fond of Passover imagery in relation to Jesus' death. A number of details in his passion account seem to parallel the details of paschal lamb and Passover.
The time of Jesus' death corresponds to the time the priests began to slay the paschal lambs in the Temple for Passover (Jn. 19:14). The sponge full of wine on a branch of hyssop raised to Jesus' lips corresponds to the hyssop smeared with blood of the paschal lamb to be applied to the Israelites' doorposts (Ex. 12:22). The detail that none of Jesus' bones was broken (Jn. 19:35) connects to the stipulation in Exodus 12:46 that no bones of the paschal lamb should be broken. As the Passover lamb, Jesus is the means by which we move from bondage to liberation as individuals and communities.
I suspect Susan's husband is not the only one who utilizes the "this is my wife Susan" social technique to get somebody to reveal his or her identity to them. I admit to having used the "this is my husband Murry" approach on many an occasion. It worked for John the Baptist, as he introduces Jesus: "This is the Lamb of God." It motivated two men wandering around looking for something, unaware they were looking for something, to follow Jesus and allow him to give them an identity as more than wanderers.
This is the one who will shape our identities if we choose to follow him. This is the one who is working against injustice and brutality in our world and in our lives. This is the one who was willing to sacrifice his life that we might have a new life and who calls us to sacrifice selfish aims and comfortable goals. This is the one who opens a path to that new life through choppy seas and roaring waves.
"Look! Here is the Lamb of God." And you are . . . ?
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.