January 18, 2014
Second Sabbath of Epiphany
As the writer of the gospel of John began his version of the story of Jesus, he opens his gospel with a story about John the Baptizer doing the work of informing the locals about the coming- and then arrived-Messiah, as “the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” To people steeped in the culture of ritual animal sacrifice, they understood what John meant: Jesus was to humanity in its entirety what a baby sheep was to one person or family–a substitute receiving the penalty of death that was rightly deserved by the human being who had committed the offense.
The doctrine of substitutionary atonement developed into one of the hallmarks of the Christian faith. The idea is that a righteous God could not allow sinful humanity to be in his presence unless they were atoned for by the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ. This understanding states that God’s wrath was satisfied and now he can handle atoned-for humanity being in his presence again.
In this sermon, I ask whether maybe we are mistaken over Who demanded the sacrifice and what that means for how we understand God and how we deal with our own guilt, shame and dysfunction.