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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

On The Jordan Banks, The Lamb

Sixth Wednesday in Lent


Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”


Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”


Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”


He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”


When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.


Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Matthew 26:36-46


“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”


This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”


Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

John 1:26-34


While the Israelites were in exile in Babylon (Iraq today), Persia (Iran today) climbed into power. Cyrus, a benevolent conqueror, did not pillage and destroy the lands he conquered. In fact, the exiles were freed from their bondage, and by a royal decree were permitted to return to their native land.


So in 537 B.C. a caravan of 42,360 Israelites, plus about 7,300 servants and maids; 736 horses; and mules, camels, and donkeys left Babylon to make the 800-mile pilgrimage home. And Cyrus sent along the silver and gold worship items the Babylonians had stolen.


When the people arrived home, Jerusalem, the temple, and the houses were in a shambles. Work on the temple was crucial, but with the poverty and pressing need for homes, the work lagged, dragged, and stopped. Only after 20 years was work on the temple resumed and completed. For 200 years the Persians were the lord of Jerusalem.


Then new nations rose to power. The Macedonian, Alexander the Great, at the age of 24, defeated Darius III in 333 B.C. The Macedonians were soon to dominate the world. Alexander conquered Egypt, then Tyre, Syria, and Palestine. When he conquered Jerusalem, Alexander offered sacrifices to Greek gods in the temple. He founded the great city of Alexandria in the Nile delta in Egypt.


The Greek empire was split into three kingdoms: Macedonia to the north; the Selucid Kingdom through Asia; and the Ptolemaic from the Nile to Palestine. In those Greek-dominated years Judaism reached its lowest time. The language largely slipped from the people in favor of Greek. It was at this time that the first translation of the Old Testament was made into Greek, known as the “Septuagint.” It was the counterpart of today’s modern translations, the Bible in the language of the people.


The Greek influence in Palestine was considerable. Greek thought, and the Greek language prevailed.


Then, in 168 B.C. the Selucid king, Antiochus, seized the land, and plundered the temple in Jerusalem. He sent in his tax collectors, set houses on fire, and took women and children captive. An altar of Zeus was set up in the temple. The sacred scrolls of the Holy Scripture were destroyed. And a systematic religious persecution began.


The time was soon ripe for revolt. Mattathias of Modin refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. When ordered to do so, he killed the king’s commissioner and fled to the mountains with his five sons. Gathering a band of followers they waged guerilla warfare against the Selucid Empire, and liberated Jerusalem in 164 B.C., restoring religious liberty back to the Jews – celebrated today with Hanukkah.


But! There’s always a “but” in Israel’s history, isn’t there? But, in the year 63 B.C. the Roman army under Pompey arrived in Palestine. Judah became a Roman province, and Rome became the master of the world.


So it was that Caesar Augustus issued a proclamation that all the world should be enrolled, and everyone went to his own city. And Joseph and Mary also went up to Bethlehem, to be enrolled in the census. And so it was that Christ was born in Bethlehem – when the land was under the will of Rome – when Greek was the common language – when the Jews remembered their quiet past and yearned for the place and peace and freedom they had known.


And then, in due course of time, John, the one preparing the way for Christ, began to preach and baptize at the Jordan River. News of this new prophet and his message stirred the people with new hope. And the crowds who came to him and heard his call to repentance left with renewed hope.


And then, one day, Jesus appeared at the river. And John stopped speaking, his eyes riveted on this new arrival on the scene. The people turned their eyes to see who or what John was looking at.


And then he spoke. And in a single statement he draws all the significance of the sacrificial lambs of the Old Covenant systems into a simple statement – and sets the stage for the mighty acts of God in the New Covenant with his words: “Behold!” – and look with wonder and with awe – “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”


The Lamb, for which all the other lambs were types, had come at last! This Jesus is the antitype. For three years He will live among the lambs of the land. Three Passovers will come and go, and three times the scapegoat will be released into the wilderness. Then this lamb, without blemish and without spot, will become the sacrifice supreme, chosen by God to pay the penalty of the world’s sins. “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The whole force of the Good News in Jesus Christ is summed up in John’s one sentence! Jesus will take upon Himself the sin of the world. It’s beyond comprehension! For sin, here, you see, is the staggering sum total of all the sin of all mankind.


In the judgement of God any one sin is deadly and damning – multiply your sins by millions, and multiply it again, and again, and again. It’s all been laid on the back of Jesus, who, in His death, like the scapegoat of old, bore it away to be remembered no more.


The Law opens us to our sins, condemns us for them, but does not remove them. All the good works we do, do not remove sin. There are only two places for the burden of sin to rest. It either stays on us, or God lays it on His Lamb. There is only one way to find release from the burden of sin. That is in the Lamb of God. So behold the Lamb of God – with the knowledge that He must be offered up; tried and excommunicated by His church; outlawed by His nation; stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.


And also behold the Lamb of God – risen from the dead; ascended into glory; sitting on the right hand of God; the Light of Heaven, with His redeemed saints in glory; the hope of His redeemed saints in time.


Christ is the center of everything! Cling to the Lamb! For by faith you hold your invitation to the Lamb’s marriage feast. By faith you hold your passport to Heaven!


All praise to the Lamb of God!


Amen

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