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Behold the Lamb of God!
Isaiah 49:1-7, I Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-34

I was reading an article, a while back, about the hard time many dentists have been having. Not only must they now be careful so as not to get diseases, such as AIDS and hepatitis But now, for the past few decades, or so, business, itself, has been more difficult for dentists. And this is due to the advent of fluoride in toothpaste, fluoride in drinking water, and an overall better use of oral hygiene among most people. In other words, people aren't getting the cavities they used to get. And, so, people don't have to pay the dentist quite as much as they used to for fillings and extractions. Rather, now the business seems to be going to the orthodontists and periodontists, persons who spend their time moving teeth around or making sure that the gums are still there to hold them.

So, now, when you go to the dentist, you're told to brush after each meal with a fluoride toothpaste and to drink fluoridated water, if you can. And what's somewhat ironic about this advice is that when the dentist gives it, it's like he's trying to work himself out of a job. If the dentist wanted to get rich, you'd think he'd give candy to his customers as they went out the door, and send them candy on their birthdays and at Christmas. But I don't know of one dentist who does this.

And I mention this because this is the same sort of position that John the Baptist found himself in. For some years hed had a pretty steady business out in the wilderness. Persons had gone to him for baptism at the Jordan River in order to re-enact the entry of the people of Israel into the Promised Land. John the Baptist was a man people were really beginning to listen to. He could have eventually built up an even greater following. But, instead, with the coming of Jesus, John began to put himself out of business. For, as our gospel lesson for today tells us, there came a day when Jesus came to John the Baptist and John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."


In other words, John was telling everyone: "Look! Here comes someone who is greater than me! If you want to follow someone, follow him! Everything I have done was done simply to reveal this person -- Jesus Christ -- to you." John's work in the wilderness was done, and he knew it. His pronouncement: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" was like a letter of resignation. With the coming of Jesus, John would have to go look for something else to do.


I can think of quite a few persons who have even changed their occupation upon encountering Jesus Christ. I read a story, once, of a man who had been a bartender for twenty years. And, then, one day he came face to face with the reality of Jesus Christ. And it was as though Jesus was telling him that he wanted him to do something different with his life. And so the man quit the business of bartending and opened a Christian teen center which, among other things, served snacks and softdrinks to kids after school and on weekends.


Or, just last year I had the opportunity to hear a man tell of how for many years he had been a drug pusher and had even used drugs. But then, after a number of tragic things happened to him, he accepted Christ into his life. And, now, he spends his time going around the country telling people that it's better to have hugs than drugs.


Indeed, sometimes the power of Christ is such in our lives, that it even causes us to change how it is that we make our livelihood.


But, perhaps what was most radical for John the Baptist was revealed in what he said: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." John knew that the results of Jesus' coming into the world would bring about tremendous changes in the way people related to God and to each other. For, up to that time people had to follow the Law implicitly in order to have salvation. And there were over 600 of those laws they had to follow, perfectly. So, if anything, those laws pointed out the sins of the people. Rather than saving, the Law condemned.


But John pointed at Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." In other words, John was announcing that this Jesus would be one who would replace the present religious order of Law and replace it with something totally new and different. Christ would establish a new order wherein Love would be the Law and Grace would be the answer to every need.


Sometimes we have a hard time understanding this. But, it's not as complicated as we may think. What John was saying is that if we put our faith in Jesus Christ, if we follow Jesus and make him our Lord, then the Law of God no longer applies to us. That doesn't mean that we can simply go out and break the Law. Rather, it means that when we follow Christ what we do in our lives will be based upon love. When we make a decision it will be based upon our love for our fellow human beings as well as our love for God. And the person who lives this way, following Christ, is given a gift: the gift of righteousness in Christ. The Christian can look forward to salvation because Christ makes him perfect.


And it was with this knowledge that John the Baptist left his work of baptizing out in the wilderness. No longer would he minister to those who wanted to be God's people. He would give those people to Jesus. Instead, it became John's task to convict those who continued to refuse to acknowledge their God. And, so, John the baptist went to Jerusalem and preached at the Palace of the wicked king Herod. And because of his preaching he was arrested, thrown into prison, and eventually beheaded.


But, as I said before, the mission of Jesus was to bring about something totally different. In John's own words, Jesus was one who would "baptize with the Holy Spirit."


When we baptize people, not only do we initiate them into the family of God, but, something else happens, as well. Into that person's life comes the power of the Holy Spirit. With the baptism of a baby or a little child, the Spirit of God is called forth to fill and begin to work so that some day that child will acknowledge for himself the power of God in his or her life. With the baptism of an adult the Spirit of God is called forth to fill and begin to work within the person's life so that the person may grow and be useful to God's kingdom on earth.

Indeed, we United Methodists believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And with the baptism comes the promise of a continued filling of God's Spirit, a filling that can happen over and over again as we are used by God for his purposes.

Today, John the Baptist reminds us that the One who comes, Jesus Christ, is the One who takes away the sins of the world. We would do well, today, to ponder over this, even to ask, "What sins does he want to take away from me and how will that change my life?"

Amen.

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