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WWJBD

Thomas J Parlette

“WWJBD”

John 1: 29-42

1/15/17

 

This Christmas marked a milestone of sorts for the Parlette family. In the days after Christmas, our oldest son Grafton flew to California for a training camp with his swim team, while Juliet and I took our youngest son Thomson down to Florida to visit my parents. This was the first time Grafton had traveled on his own and been away from family for such a long time. I remember the feeling on our first day in the sunshine when Juliet turned on our “Find my Phone” app, and there was Grafton on the West coast and us on the East coast. It was one of those milestones of growing up – as a child and as a parent.

Before we dropped Grafton off at the team bus the day after Christmas, I felt the urge to offer some fatherly advice. In addition to my customary “Have fun… storming the Castle” quote from The Princess Bride – which always earns me a teenage roll of the eyes – I offered another bit of parental wisdom. I encouraged Grafton that when in doubt, ask yourself, “WWRLD – what would Ryan Lochte do.” Then don’t do it!

It seems to have worked. My son and his friends manage to avoid all international incidents. “WWRLD – then don’t do it.”

In reading this account of Jesus’ baptism and the calling of his first disciples from John, we could take away a similar bit of advice. Perhaps when we have doubts about what to do in our life of faith, we could remind ourselves to ask “WWJBD – What Would John the Baptist Do.”(1)

Last week, we took a look at the baptism of Jesus as Matthew tells it, which is nearly identical to the way Mark tells it as well. But in today’s reading, we hear a very different account. John doesn’t actually show us Jesus’ baptism. John is more concerned with telling us what it means, rather than how it happened. In fact, some scholars suggest that John assumed that his readers, or hearers, already knew the “Jesus story” – he didn’t need to tell them how it happened, he wanted to tell them what it meant, what it showed about Jesus.

This is very typical of John. He is not very interested in a chronological, historically accurate record of what Jesus said and did. No, John is more concerned with telling his hearers what Jesus’ words and actions mean. John is more concerned with who Jesus is. John is writing a theological biography of Jesus, the Christ – not an historical one.

According to John’s gospel, when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him to be baptized he uttered some remarkable words: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Such a proclamation even before Jesus had begun his ministry is unique to the Gospel of John. Jesus to this point has performed no miracles, called no disciples, raised no one from the dead. He is still fresh from the carpenter’s shop. He has made no enemies, issued no controversial teachings nor ruffled any royal feathers. And yet, here is a reference to Jesus’ identity as the “Lamb of God”, and a reference to his purpose – to take away the sins of the world.

Before anything else happens in the story, we know who Jesus is and what he is going to do. In the other Gospels, Jesus doesn’t reveal any of this until near the end. But not so in John. We know right from the beginning who Jesus is and what he is going to do.

We also know who John the Baptist is – or perhaps more accurately, we know who he is not. John is quite clear from the start that he is not the Messiah. He comes only to point out the Messiah, to witness to the Son of God. Which is exactly what he does.

“Behold – Look! There he is… the Lamb of God! That’s the one who will take away the sins of the world. Let me point him out to you – There is the Son of God!”

What would John the Baptist do? He would point to Jesus. He didn’t try to be Jesus – he just pointed to him.

There are two things here that John wants us to know about Jesus. First – he is the Son of God. This is the one who has power over the winds, over the seas and over demonic forces. This is the one who has the power to feed thousands, who heals diseases and raises people from the dead. This is the one who was present at the time of creation – this is the Word made Flesh, God incarnate. Jesus is the Son of God, with all God’s divine power and majesty.

And yet, John wants to point something else out to us as well. Jesus is also the Lamb of God, the one who will take away the sins of the world. This is a rather shocking thing to say, one that is unique to the Gospel of John. In pointing to Jesus as a lamb, John is using an image commonly associated with sacrifice. For Jews, this image of a lamb was an echo to the lamb sacrificed at Passover, the lamb whose blood was smeared over their doors in Egypt so the Lord would pass over their household when the first born of the Egyptians died. Now John is pointing to Jesus as the Son of God, but also as the Lamb of God – the one who will sacrifice himself, the one who will use his blood to take away the sins of the world.

It has been said that in Creation, God shows us his hand, but on Golgotha, God gives us his heart.(2) For God so loved the world, that God’s own son came as a sacrificial lamb. An outpouring of love that only God could accomplish, saving us when we don’t deserve it.

The story is told of a young soldier who was utterly humiliated by his senior officer one day. The officer had gone beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior in disciplining the young soldier, and he knew it, so he said nothing as the younger man said through clenched teeth, “I’ll make you regret this if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

A few days later their company was under heavy fire and the officer was wounded and cut off from his troops. Through the haze of the battlefield he saw a figure coming to his rescue. It was the young soldier whom he had treated so badly. At the risk of his own life, the young soldier dragged the officer to safety. The officer was overwhelmed, and said apologetically, “Son, I owe you my life.”

The young man laughed and said, “I told you I would make you regret humiliating me if it was the last thing I ever did.”(3)

That is how God treats us. That is God’s kind of revenge – born out of love, not hate, rescuing us even when we don’t deserve it.

“Behold, the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world,” said John the Baptist, foreshadowing what would happen at Calvary. On the cross something happened that bridged the gap between a holy God and an unholy humanity. On the cross, we see Christ in his majesty, but also his mercy. We see the Son of God in all his power, but also the Lamb of God in all his humility.

In a cathedral in Copenhagen, Denmark there is a magnificent statue of Jesus by the noted sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. When Thorvaldsen first completed the sculpture he gazed upon the finished product with great satisfaction. It was a sculpture of Christ with his face looking upward and his arms extended to the heavens. It was a statue of a majestic, triumphant Christ.

Later that night, however, after the sculptor had left his fine new work in clay to dry and harden, something unexpected happened. Sea mist seeped into the studio, and the clay didn’t properly set. By the next morning, the upraised arms and head of the sculpture had begun to droop. The majestic Christ with arms lifted up and head thrown back was transformed into a Christ with head bent forward and arms reaching downward, as if in a pose of gentle invitation.

At first, Thorvaldsen was bitterly disappointed. But as he studied the transformed sculpture, he came to see a dimension of Christ that he had failed to see before. This was a Christ who was a humble, gentle, merciful savior. Thorvaldsen inscribed on the base of the completed statue, “Come Unto Me”, and that sculpture of the Lamb of God in his mercy has inspired millions.(4)

So when we wonder what we should do in our life of faith, when we wonder what we should study, or which mission we should support or whether or not we are having any kind of an impact – as an individual or as a church…

Perhaps we should step back and think about WWJBD.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves What Would John the Baptist Do?

He would point to Jesus…

“Behold – There is the Son of God, in our midst.

There is the Lamb of God, come to save us through sacrifice.

Come and see.”

May we offer that same invitation to our world today.

May God be praised. Amen.

 

1.    Rodger Nishioka, Feasting on the Word, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, p.264.

2.    Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, p.20.

3.    Ibid…p.20.

4.    Ibid…p.20-21.