1/20/2020 8:52:37 AM
Not Your Burden: The Burden of Sin
One of my favorite singer/songwriters of all times is Steveland Hardaway Judkins (aka: Stevie Wonder) – born in Saginaw, Michigan, six weeks premature. And because neonatal intensive care in 1950 wasn’t what it is today, he was born blind. That’s a burden that he has had to be bear his whole life. But he’s an extremely successful songwriter, singer, entertainer. Maybe you’ve heard about the uber-talented physicist Stephen Hawking who died two years ago. He suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) for over 50 years. Do you know about Jessica Cox – born without arms, but now she is a pilot. She flies planes – as well as doing every single task in life – with her feet. Or maybe you’ve seen Nick Vujicic who was born without arms and without legs. But now he is a sought-after motivational speaker, he swims, he and his wife have been blessed with two children, and he does just about everything we do…probably more.
Those four people have burdens in life.
We all have different burdens, don’t we? Some of you have had to care for a family member with extreme special needs. Some of you live with constant pain. Some of you were picked on, maybe for just being the way God made you. And it might still hurt. Everyone has a burden to carry, at different times, different weights, different reasons because we all are different and we have different experiences and God blesses us differently.
But there is one burden that is equal…from God’s perspective, although from our perspective it often seems unequal. This burden is equal because its load is eternal -- not for 69 years (Stevie Wonder), not 50 years (Stephen Hawking), not 36 years (Jessica Cox), not 33 years (Nick Vujicic). The weight of this burden could last in perpetual, eternal continuation for you and me and every other human who has ever lived or will live. Unless…. This burden is lifted off of us.
That burden with eternal consequences is, of course, sin. But look what John the Baptist hollered, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Those words have been called the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit. We would hope that each of the 116 catechism students can say those words from memory and that these words would be etched in every adult mind too because it’s the summary of the Bible. It’s the simple essence of John the Baptist’s work, exactly what he was born to do. It’s like John 3:16, the good news in a nutshell. Martin Luther said, “This is now the foundation of our faith that we know where our sins are placed…God lifts them away from us and places them upon the shoulders of the Lamb.” There are at least 1,331 songs that include the phrase “Lamb of God.”
But why a lamb? The word “lamb” communicates so little to us, especially the over 99% of you who have never had a lamb, never cared for a lamb, never fed a lamb, never butchered a lamb. But to the Jews who heard John say that phrase it instantly took them to their childhood memories of Passover, when they first witnessed their dad cut the throat of the Passover lamb, so they could have roast lamb as they re-told the story of the Exodus. Each family would butcher their Passover lamb every year after having a priest inspect it and declare it spotless and without defect. Hearing John call Jesus “the Lamb” also reminded every God-fearing Israelite of what happened at the temple – a lamb sacrificed in the morning and one in the early evening….and other lambs sacrificed for sin offerings, guilt offerings, burnt offerings, fellowship offerings. The lamb was the animal of sacrifice – for regular worship and special occasions. By my rough count, by the time John spoke those words that day at least 2,085,000 lambs were sacrificed at the temple (and the tabernacle which was around for 400 years before the temple). And somewhere between 50-100 million lambs sacrificed for the Passover.
But that was to end in three years. Because this Jesus was God’s lamb, the one who Isaiah said would be silent as it was led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53). God’s lamb would finally put to an end the lamb sacrifices by being the fulfillment. You see, those innocent cute animals did not – and could not – lift the burden of human sin and guilt from peoples’ consciences or – more importantly – from the record of human behavior which God sees, and which is the determiner of where we mortals spend eternity. But Jesus, God’s lamb, could lift that burden of every time we missed the mark or crossed a line. The lambs merely pointed ahead to another innocent….spotless…young…male…sacrifice. For 1476 years it was God’s plan for those lambs to pre-figure the great Lamb.
That’s why today probably the second most popular symbol or picture that communicates Jesus—besides a cross—is the Lamb. That’s why at the center of our front-and-center cross there is a lamb. And that lamb takes away the sin of the world. The word translated “takes away” refers to lifting something up and getting rid of it. Those Old Testament lamb sacrifices pointed to only some part of God’s work; some emphasized substitution, others atonement (paying a price to make up for guilt), others redemption (buying someone back). But Jesus, God’s lamb, would do all those. And what that means for us is that he was not about to lay down the burden of sin once he picked it up for us.
Seven centuries before Jesus Isaiah said -- as if it was already done -- that Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions, was crushed for our iniquities….the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed” (53:5). The cumulative list of our moral failings will either be on Jesus or the person who committed those sins. There’s no third choice. If your sin is on you, then your death will be the most horrible and terrifying event in your history. But if it’s on Jesus—yes, lifted off and taken away from you just like God said he would do and just like John the Baptist said Jesus would do— if that burden is lifted, then you are free and you are saved and one day your death will turn into the greatest day of your history.
But can you be sure that one person dying on a Roman cross could actually lift your burden of sin? Can you be sure that without that burden of sin lifted every person would end up condemned for all eternity? Can you be sure that Jesus and only Jesus will get you to heaven? You can. God doesn’t lie. He can’t. The weekend of Jesus’ death was filled with signs from God. On Palm Sunday Jesus enters Jerusalem, the same day the priests started approving the Passover lambs. Jesus’ crucifixion was in the same 24-hour period as the Passover meal. When Jesus died the whole world experienced eerie supernatural darkness. The very moment Jesus died, the earth shook, and believers who had died came back to life and walked out of their graves. And early that Sunday morning there was another earthquake and Jesus came out of this grave, body breathing, eyes open -- the greatest miracle in the history of the world since Creation. Yes, God made it so clear that the Lamb of God, did take away the sin of the world. And yes, you can be sure of it too!
And you can be sure it’s for you. “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John didn’t say Jesus takes away the burden of sin for some, for those who have been life-long Christians or those who have never made a mess of their lives or those who have never been angry with God or those with marriages and families that look picture perfect. No, he said “…the sin of the world.” That’s everyone. That’s you. That’s me. Sin is not your burden – no matter who you are or what you’ve done, no matter what questions or doubts you have, or even you have struggled with being angry at God himself. It doesn’t matter if you a baby boomer, a Gen-Xer, a millennial, this burden has been taken away from you. Yes, God did that for you.
Did you notice a little word repeated over and over in this section? Five times we are told that John the Baptist or the two other disciples saw Jesus. And so have you! The Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see what John saw. You weren’t there at Jesus’ baptism but the account of what happened that day has enabled you to see what looked like a dove come down from heaven and land on Jesus. By faith you have heard God the Father speak at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (And now you know, he speaks the same words to you.) By the eyes of faith you see the Lamb as your lamb, who takes away your guilt with his death. By the eyes of faith you see him walk out of the grave proving that this is all true. By the eyes of faith you see him guide your steps and bless your life. By the eyes of faith you see Jesus hold you in his powerful hands.
And you see the effects of your sin burden lifted, don’t you? You now have a different allegiance. You have a greater loyalty to the one who gave his life for you. Your life is now filled with meaningful service – no matter what it is, no matter how much or how little you get paid for it. You see Jesus as worthy of introducing someone to, just like Andrew introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. You see how vital it is to not lose your connection to Jesus because there is no one else who could or would lift that burden of sin from your shoulders. You also see your burdens in perspective. It would be hard to argue that your burdens in your life are heavier than being blind for 70 years, or having Lou Gehrig’s disease for 50 years, or living an entire lifetime without arms or legs. Yet, your burdens are real. You know that and God knows that.
But if Jesus can lift away the burden of sin – your greatest burden – and call you a forgiven, perfect, child of God in spite of yourself, then he can also help you carry whatever burden you’re carrying right now. He will carry your burdens with you.
Look and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Look and see your Savior whose death makes you his own. Look and see the Lamb is reigning on his throne. Your burden of sin is no longer your burden. Amen.