Ash Wednesday Sermon
March 9, 2011
Sermon: The Pure and Holy Lamb of God
1 Peter 1:18–19
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18–19)
The phrase “spring cleaning” sounds a bit old-fashioned and outmoded to twenty-first-century ears. But even in these busy times, we do find it necessary now and then to stop and do some major cleaning around our house or work space. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but the frantic, frenzied lives we live leave little time for either one. And it begins to show after a while.
You can live with a certain amount of clutter in your house, but messy souls are another matter. Lent comes around each year to school us in repentance. You could call it a spring cleaning for the soul. That’s why Lent is such a good thing, spiritually speaking. For forty days Christians are led on an annual pilgrimage with Jesus to His cross, through His bitter suffering and redeeming death, to His grave, and then on to His glorious resurrection.
Lent is a time of repentance. But because repentance involves both sorrow for sin and faith in Jesus that brings forgiveness and new life, Lent is also a time of cleansing and renewal—cleansing and renewal in Jesus, the Lamb of God. That’s what we will be doing in these services: airing out our souls, clearing out the clutter of our sin-filled hearts, tossing out the trash, and finding refreshment and renewal in the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which cleanses us from all sin.
The focus of our meditation tonight and in all the services of Lent and Holy Week will be the great Lenten hymn “Lamb of God, Pure and Holy.” Each time we gather here before the cross we will contemplate another perspective of our Savior’s redeeming love as it is highlighted in God’s Word.
Tonight, then, as we begin our Lenten journey, the sinless Lamb of God comes clearly into focus in the words of the apostle Peter, who writes that Jesus is “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).
I don’t have to remind you how unique Jesus is. The Bible says the Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary as true man, just like us in every way except one: He was without sin. In that way He is different from you and me, for we are sinners through and through. But in every other way, Jesus is exactly like us, including the fact that He faced the very same temptations you and I face each day. The difference is that Jesus resisted every one of those temptations, while we cave in to temptation—or even embrace it with open arms. We find ourselves defiled and contaminated by sin from head to toe. It should not surprise us when we feel dirty and polluted deep within, for we have fouled ourselves not just in what we do but also in what we say and how we think. There is truly nothing good in us when it comes to our sinful nature. Sadly, we are thoroughly blemished and defiled in our sin. Worse yet, by nature we find ourselves disqualified from the presence of God and we stand under His wrath and judgment.
Yet we have an advocate with the Father: Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. He knows the onslaughts of doubt and temptation first hand; He is familiar with every trick of the devil. Jesus bore our sorrows and is well acquainted with grief. He is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses because He has endured them all Himself and knows every one of them first hand.
Our consolation is found in Christ’s sacrifice. In His suffering and on the cross, Jesus exchanged His righteousness for our sin. He, the sinless Son of God, was made to be sin for us, though He knew no sin, so that we might be made the righteousness of God. All who trust in Christ not only find their sins removed and absolved, but by faith in Jesus they also share in His holiness; before the judgment seat of God they stand just as holy as Christ is, without blemish or defect.
The apostle teaches that the heavenly status we have in Jesus, the Lamb of God, also has profound meaning for the life we live here on earth: “you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18).
At first this does not seem to connect with us because our life does not seem very empty. How can it be when it is crammed with so many activities? We have our hands full with appointments, deals to close, projects to finish, goods to be sold, people to be managed, kids to be raised. All kinds of things crowd our calendar and our clock. With all the demands on our time and attention, it is quite difficult just keeping our heads above water, much less stopping to catch our breath.
Amid our fractured, frenzied lives, Lent comes as a breath of fresh air, bidding us to pause and reflect on what is going on around us. St. Peter gives us a fresh perspective on the whirlwind blur of our lives. He labels it bluntly: “the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18).
Who could call our life empty, we wonder? With our crowded calendars and jam-packed IPads, with the infinite details clamoring for our attention day to day, the problem seems to be just the opposite. We seem to be suffering from too much rather than too little. We seem to have a surplus rather than a famine. But that is precisely the problem. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Life on overdrive is not really living. Going faster and faster, we are getting nowhere fast. We may accumulate a good share of the trophies that many people consider signs of success, but if that is all we have to show for our time and effort, we do not have much. We may have a full life as some people count it, but when you get right down to it, such a hectic, compulsive life is full, all right—full of emptiness.
The world around us is always trying to sell us a bill of goods. We hear a great deal of talk about “freedom,” but what it boils down to is the freedom to do as you please, the freedom of the unbridled will. The Bible brands such freedom as bondage. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). That is the problem with life in this fallen world. All that glitters is not gold. Things are not always what they seem. Turn a sinner loose to do as he pleases, and you have sent him down the path to hellfire. But that is what the world would like. Sin masquerades as freedom. All deviations are labeled “freedoms,” and the claim is made that these freedoms are a precious heritage handed down to us from our forefathers. But these so-called “freedoms” are not freedom at all. They are bondage to sin and slavery to death.
No wonder, then, that St. Peter calls such bondage disguised as freedom what it actually is: empty, worthless. Listen again: “You were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18). Note the passive nature of that redemption: “You were redeemed.” This is no do-it-yourself project. Only the blood of Jesus Christ, the sinless Lamb of God, the pure and holy Lamb of God, could redeem us from the tyranny of Satan. There is a price tag on sin, you see, and that price is extremely high: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But Jesus came, this Lamb of God, this Lamb of ours—this pure and holy Lamb—to lay down His life on the cross and pour out all His blood that we slaves might be freed.
Now, in this holy season, we contemplate the depth of the love of God, our merciful heavenly Father, who loved the world so that He gave His only Son to save the lost. By His grace, you are His and He is yours this night. So cleanse your souls in Him. Lay down your burdens, put away your sorrow, and set aside your heartache and your pain. All this and more the pure and holy Lamb of God has taken with Him to the cross that by His death He might redeem you, make you pure and holy like Himself, and set you free to live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. You can be sure of that, even as He is now risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. Amen.