Everything has a starting point and what we sometimes forget is that faith has a starting point as well.
For most of us, our faith starting point happened somewhere in childhood with a conversation with a parent, or a priest, or a pastor. Maybe it was something you heard in church, or at a camp.
But somewhere in your childhood, you were handed some building blocks and your faith journey began.
But as you got older, the starting point of your faith as children took some hits as we noticed that there was a gap, between what you had been taught about God and what you experienced as an adult.
And sometimes our childhood faith doesn’t survive the rigors of adulthood as life chips away at it. It’s not that we chose to abandon faith, it just got lost in the rear-view mirror.
So, what we've been doing over the past few weeks, is hitting the restart button, and asking the question, "What if we didn't know anything, where would we start?
Last week, we talked about the role of rules because every religious system has this set of rules built in. Sometimes you did well. Sometimes you didn’t do so well. And for some of you, it’s part of why you left the faith . . . you were just kind of fed up with them.
But along with those rules, most of us were taught that you should pray and ask God to forgive you of your sin . . . when break those rules.
Maybe it was woven into a prayer with your family at bedtime.
Or perhaps, you grew up in a church where you recited the Lord’s prayer and part of that prayer says “forgive us our debts or trespasses” . . . depending on your tradition . . . “as we forgive our debtors or those who trespass against us”.
And as a kid, it really worked out great because really, what’s the worst thing you did? You took your sister’s toy or didn’t tell the whole truth to your mom.
But as you got older and your mistakes . . . or rule breaking . . . or sins . . . got bigger, something happened . . . we started to feel guilt and shame. And some of you, there are whole seasons of your life you wish you just could go back and relive. You wish there was a chance for a do over.
But that’s not possible so we do all kinds of things to deal with it . . .
• Sometimes we just try to ignore it. We don’t talk about it or push it to the back burner.
• Sometimes we go to the doctor who prescribes medicine.
• Sometimes we self-medicate.
• Sometime we laugh about it. People walk up and tell their story, and you go, “Oh, that’s nothing.”
• Sometimes we try to bury it in the sea of, “Well nobody’s perfect”
• Sometimes we try to justify it, “I was young”, “I didn’t know any better”, “I was angry”, or “I had a little too much to drink”
But even with all of that . . . it just doesn’t go away. It just kind of hangs there, like a cloud. It’s not every day. It may not even be every week but it follows you around, like a shadow.
And at the core of that struggle is forgiveness. What you’re really trying to figure out is, “Is there a way to forgive myself so whenever it shows up . . . I don’t have to ignore it, laugh about it, make excuses for it . . . I can’t just go, “Nope, nope, nope, that’s forgiven.”
So, the question I want us to wrestle with today is, “What can take away my guilt? My shame, My sin?”
Every religious system offers a solution to this dilemma; prayers, meditation, counseling, confession, candles, even penance where you voluntarily punish yourself to make up for what you’ve done.
And some of you have tried all of that but honestly, it just doesn’t work. You still carry around the weight of your shame and guilt. That cloud still just seems to follow you wherever you go.
Every religious system offers a solution . . . but there’s only been one person who stepped forward and said, “I don’t simply have a solution, I am the solution.”
Now, whoever would say a thing like that is either crazy, lying, or someone we should pay attention to as we struggle with this question, “What can take away my shame, my guilt, my sin?”
Let’s listen to our text this morning . . . READ John 1:19-31
Here’s the scene, John the Baptist, this rugged, un-kept, smelly, dirty, bug eating prophet, is standing in middle of the Jordan River shouting “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” and a ton of people from all over came out to hear this guy. I mean, the banks of the river are jam packed with people.
Now, we’ve seen those people; holding up those signs and shouting on their bull horns as people walk by, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” but nobody really listens to those people. If they do, it seems to be more about mocking or arguing – or because it’s a freak show.
So . . . why are they going out to him?
Because these are Jews and Jews consistently practiced ritual cleansing for the purpose of purification. In fact, many would have experienced ritual cleansing at least once a year around what is known to us as Rosh-hash-ana . . . the Jewish new year.
Rash-hash-ana is a time that the people of God renew their covenant with God by reviewing the mistakes they had made over the past year and resolve to make improvements for the coming year;
The ultimate goal is that God would not judge them for their sins and make the coming year miserable because of their sins . . . but rather forgive them for their sins and bless them in the coming year.
But John wasn’t telling people to baptize themselves, which was typical. Instead, he taking a hold of them and was baptizing them himself. No one had ever done this before.
And when the religious leaders saw the crowds they were like “who is this guy”?
Quick side track . . . Isn’t it interesting how we’re so infatuated with big crowds? We connect crowds to success. This guy, this movement, this church, has big crowds, so they must be doing something right.
So, these religious guys, seeing all these people flocking to the banks of the Jordan River ask John the Baptist some really important questions, “Who are you? Are you a prophet? Are you Elijah? Are you the Messiah? We want to know because you’ve drawn a heck of a crowd.”
John says, “Nope, I’m not any of those guys. But if you think I’m something special, if you think my preaching is good or I have good insight . . . you need to know that I’m just the opening act. There’s a guy coming after me, a guy whose sandals I’m not even worthy to untie . . . so get ready.”
The next day, John is back down by the river and he’s shouting . . . repent, repent, repent . . . and there’s nothing seeker friendly about his message as he’s essentially saying to everybody, “You’re horrible. Quit being horrible”.
And the people were like, “I know I’m horrible. I’ve been trying to ignore it, or medicate it, or laugh about it, or justify it so I don’t have to deal with it, so thanks for bringing it up.”
I’m sure there were some people there thinking, “This is exactly why I quit going to church. You preachers are always piling on the guilt. You’re probably going to try to take my money next.”
And then suddenly, John stops and says, “Everybody . . . Look, look, look . . . hey, you in the back, stock talking and look . . . the lamb of God.”
A more literal translation of this text is, “The lamb God has sent” so what they heard is “Everybody Look, God has sent a lamb.”
Everybody’s looking for a sheep, right?
Let’s put this in to context because as we like to say at Logos Dei . . . “Context is everything”
For 1,500 years, this is a culture that has been sacrificing lambs to atone for their sins because their religious framework said that that when somebody sins against God something’s got to die to make up for it. It’s an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
And so, by sacrificing an animal they are saying, “We recognize that we deserve to die. And we’re just thankful that you’ve allowed us to offer the life of an animal instead of our own lives.”
But they knew that the blood of an animal was never going to get it done. It was never really going to wash away their guilt and their shame. It was still going to hover over them like a cloud. Which is one of the reasons I think that so many people flocked to the Jordan River to hear John. Maybe this will work.
Back to the story . . . John says, “Look, God has sent a lamb who takes away . . . literally, lifts and carries off . . . the sin of the whole world.”
And when he said this, nobody had any idea what he was talking about. Like us, they were still thinking that there’s something they need to do to get rid of the cloud and it looked like this baptism thing might be a solution.
So, they were like, “That’s interesting but can we get back to the baptisms. I’ve got some stuff I need to wash off. And after me, can you dunk my sister because I know she’s got some stuff”.
And as Jesus began his ministry, he would leave hints by preaching and telling parables, all suggesting that maybe there was more to what John was saying . . . maybe it wasn’t just about a good message, or getting dunked, or even a big crowd . . . maybe there was more to it. But no one understood what he was talking about.
And when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, his final destination. It was the Passover season. We talked about this last week.
God’s people had become a nation, as promised, but they were a slave nation. For 400 years, they were slaves in Egypt and then God sent Moses who told Pharaoh, “let my people go”.
But that wasn’t happening so God caused nature to completely freak out and ruined the Egyptian economy but that didn’t work. Pharaoh said, “I’m still not letting them go. So, God said, “Fine, then I’m sending judgement into all the land and he tells the Hebrew people to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on their doorframe and everyone who does this, God’s judgment will Passover them.”
The Hebrew people trusted God. They put the blood of the lamb on their door frames and the next day they woke up as free and delivered people and they left Egypt.
And every year, the Hebrew people would celebrate and memorialize what God did that night.
So, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, there are thousands of people who had traveled for miles to celebrate their story of deliverance from Egyptian slavery and to offer sacrifices to God so that their sins would be forgiven, God’s judgment would pass over them, and their relationship with God would be restored for the coming year.
And he gets his friends together to share one last meal with them, the Passover meal.
Now if you remember, the disciples are stoked because they’re pretty sure that Jesus has come into Jerusalem as the Messiah, God’s king to over throw the Roman government and to restore his Kingdom. So in their minds, this is like the last meal before the battle, before it all goes down . . . which in a sense, they were absolutely correct.
And as they are gathered around the table that night, Jesus says to them, “Ok guys, I know you’ve been doing this since you were little boys. And I know that typically when we do this, we’re celebrating something that happened a long time ago. But from now on when you celebrate Passover . . . when you gather around the table with one another . . . I don’t want you to think about that anymore. From now on, I want you to think about me.”
And they were stunned . . . it would be like me coming in the Sunday before Christmas and saying, “Hey, this year for Christmas, we are not going to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we are going to celebrate mine.”
So, they were like, “What are you talking about?”
And Jesus says, “I know it doesn’t make sense to you right now but it will very soon. From now on this bread is going to represent my broken body, and this wine is going to represent my blood that will be poured out for you.”
The lamb of God that comes to take away . . . to lift and carry off . . . the sin of the world. And they didn’t understand it.
Twenty years after the crucifixion and resurrection, Paul writes a letter to a group of Christians in a brand-new church who, like some of us, were struggling with what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Listen to his interpretation of what John said at the Jordan River that day . . .
“Having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtness . . .”
The reason you wonder, “How can I move beyond this? How do I get rid of this cloud? How do I get rid of this shadow?” Is because it’s real. You are really in debt. And not only do you owe yourself, you owe God. That’s the nature of your shame, and your guilt.
And again, somethings don’t bother you but somethings haunt you.
So, Paul says, “Here’s some good news. You, through Christ, have been forgiven.” Your debt was cancelled when it was nailed to the cross.
You do not have to forgive yourself because yourself has already been forgiven.
If you want to spend the rest of your life trying to figure out how to wash away the shame and the guilt, erase or move beyond the past, or get rid of the ghost, however you want to say it, that’s your business.
But I want you to know that you are trying to pay for something that has already been paid for.
Jesus, the lamb God sent, has picked it up and carried it off.
Now if you believe this . . . there is still a lingering question . . . “What do I do with all the memories?”
Because your whole life you’ve carried them around with you and all you can think is, “failed, condemned, guilty, shameful”
But God, through his Son Jesus, is inviting you to build a new mental memory of your past.
From now on, when you think about your past, those memories are a reminder of something different. They will no longer remind you of your failure, or guilt, or shame. From now on, they will stand in your life as a reminder, a memorial, of God’s forgiveness; His grace, and his love.
What can wash away your guilt, your shame, your sin?
Nothing you’ll ever do. Only what Jesus has done. The lamb God sent to pick up and carry off.
This is why we gather together every week to worship and to share a meal together. It’s our memorial. It reminds us that the lamb God has sent has picked up and carried away our shame and guilt and sin.
So, I have two questions for you this morning as we continue to think about a starting point, or re-starting point for your faith . . .
If, through Jesus, God doesn’t condemn you, who are you to condemn you?
Has there ever been a moment in your life when you’ve received God’s forgiveness and allowed Jesus to pick up and carry off your shame and your guilt?