Sermon Ideas For John 1:29-34 Part 3
In these six verses, John provides the reader with a synopsis of Christ's identity and role in initiating God's reign. We learn that Christ is the pre-existent Lamb of God in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. As the Lamb of God, Jesus fulfills the tradition of the paschal lamb, offering himself as sacrifice so that sin may be conquered. Jesus is the culmination of centuries marked by hope, suffering and waiting. In clarifying the pre-existence of Christ, the author asserts that Christ, as vessel of God, precedes and supercedes John the Baptist in terms of significance and role in God's divine strategy. Christ as vehicle of the Holy Spirit marks Jesus as God's unique messianic instrument for salvation.
Two texts from T. S. Eliot's works help to illustrate this text. The establishment of God's reign begins with the birth of Jesus. In "Journey of the Magi" in Ariel Poems, the Magi struggle with the death of old selves and old beliefs in the face of this new birth.
All this was a long time ago, I remember, And I would do it again, but set down This set down This: Were we led all that way for Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly, We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. We returned to our places, these kingdoms. But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, With an alien people clutching at their gods. I should be glad of another death.1
Eliot speaks to the pre-existence of Christ and significance of Christ's birth in Choruses from the Rock:
Then came, at a predetermined moment, a moment in time and of time, A moment not out of time, but in time, in what we call history: Transecting, bisecting the world of time, a moment in time but not like a moment of time. A moment in time but time was made through that moment: For without the meaning there is no time, and that moment of time gave the meaning.2
Walter Wangerin emphasizes the sacrificial nature of Christ as the Lamb of God in his essay The Hornbill. In this descriptive piece about an ugly bird in the rain forests of Africa, Wangerin provides a striking metaphor of Christ's divine purpose as paschal lamb. The hornbill gives up freedom and safety and ultimately life for the sake of her children. Wangerin draws the parallels between a dependent Christ sacrificed for those who thought they were independent; a powerless Christ sacrificed in order to overthrow visible, corrupt powers; and a loving Christ sacrificed to demonstrate God's limitless love.3
The seventeenth-century English poet George Herbert expressed the grace of the Paschal Lamb and his own sense of unworthiness in his poem Love Bade Me Welcome. Herbert pursues the belief that Christ is Love personified, that all of life issues from the God of love, and Christ in sacrificial love restores all life to God.4
The familiar verses of the hymn Of the Father's Love Begotten articulate the mystery of the pre-existent, human, and divine Christ of whom John the Baptist speaks. The words are attributed to Aurelius Clemens Prudentius from the late fourth !-- Generation of PM publication page 4 --> century. Another worship resource which develops the theme of the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ at his baptism, is the Litany of the Holy Spirit from the Taize Community.
For a moving account of baptism into Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection which is anticipated by John in this text, preachers may want to read Forty Acres and a Goat by Will Campbell. In the chapter "What But Thy Grace," a young hospice patient moves from rabid agnosticism to gut-level belief and is baptized within hours of her death. Campbell's portrayal of the woman's baptism by her own "cloudy stomach fluid" provides a strong contrast to the ethereal tranquility of John the Baptist's baptism of Jesus. Yet in Campbell's story we see the impact of Christ as baptized paschal lamb enfleshed in a helpless, dying woman's wish for salvation.5
Blaise Pascal summarizes the significance of this text in Pensees, a collection of his thoughts and writings. Jesus Christ is the unique and necessary point of reconciliation between God and humanity.
"Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.6
Judy E. Pidcock Columbus, Ohio
11. T. S. Eliot, "Journey of the Magi" in The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), p. 68. 2. T. S. Eliot, "Choruses from the Rock," in T. S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), p. 107. 3. Walter Wangerin, Jr., "The Hornbill," in Walter Wangerin, Jr., The Manger is Empty (Harper and Row, 1989), p. 21. 4. George Herbert, "Love Bade Me Welcome, in Oxford Book of English Verse (Oxford University Press, 1966). 5. Will D. Campbell, Forty Acres and a Goat (Peachtree Publishers, Ltd., 1986), p. 159. 6. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (Penguin Classics, 1980), p. 87.