O CHRIST, THOU LAMB OF GOD, THAT TAKEST AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD; Have mercy upon us for our many sins of uncleanness, selfishness, greed, hatred! Have mercy upon us, we pray again, as we realize the eternal penalty of our unforgiven transgressions, but turn for pardon to Thee, who in Thine own holy body on the cross at Calvary, the altar of Thine atoning love, didst offer Thyself to ransom us from ruin and restore us to our heavenly Father! Show us that we can come to Thee in every need of soul or body and find peace for our restless hearts, comfort for our sorrows, healing for all agonies. O Jesus, precious Savior, through this broadcast earnestly warn those who are destroying themselves in unbelief! Send Thy Spirit to call them, if necessary through hardship and reverse, to repentance and faith! Let many who are children of wrath be born again as children of grace! Earnestly we beseech Thee to make ours a God-fearing nation which truly trusts in Thee. Humbly we ask that it may be Thy will to bring back our dear ones in the armed service unharmed in body, unimpaired in soul, in the peace of truth and righteousness. We are not worthy of approaching Thee, since we are but dust and ashes, but Thou hadst told us, “Come unto Me,” and now, O blessed Redeemer, we come to Thee assured that Thou canst help and heal, save and sustain. Grant us Thy promised grace! Amen!
MISSIONARIES tell us that the Scriptural name for Christ “the Lamb of God” is particularly offensive to the Japanese, who regard the lamb as a “dirty, stupid, cringing animal.” A professor at Columbia University maintains that because the churches’ ambassadors have insisted on preaching Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” only one half of one per cent of Japan’s population has accepted the Gospel.
We doubt, however, whether the picture of our Lord as the sin-bearing Lamb is responsible for the slow growth of the Kingdom among the Nipponese. Millions of them have never even heard of the Savior and His cross. If we had been as zealous in sending messengers of the Gospel to Japan as we were in sending scrap iron, there might have been no war in the Pacific. The real reason why masses in Japan have spurned Christianity is the same as makes unbelievers throughout the world reject the promise of salvation: they are ashamed of Christ’s cross; they love sin; they refuse to humble themselves before the Son of God and repent; they keep on trying to earn their own way into an imaginary hereafter.
We need not be surprised that fanatical, self-destroying Japanese ruthlessly sweep divine grace aside; but what a terrifying indictment of many American preachers that they too hate this Old and New Testament picture, “the Lamb of God”! From its first days and the secret meetings in the catacombs, the Church has cherished this sacred symbol, and its early hymns glorified the Lamb slain for the sins of an evil world. Today, however, a large, increasing number of churchmen is through with this. They preach the quicksand creed which directs sinners to be the saviors of their own souls, but which always pushes them more deeply into delusion and despair. If there is to be a cure for the soul ills from which humanity suffers, a healing for the wounded, aching, bleeding hearts of war-racked men and women; if we are to have the hope of heaven, then we cannot be ashamed of “the Lamb of God.” Instead we must constantly behold Christ as the sin-bearing Savior. Years ago in Scotland Thomas Boston (he was one of those spiritual leaders-God give us more of them!-who believed that Christian worship should mark the home and who went from house to house in his parish to teach his families how to pray together) preached a sermon annually on Jesus as “the Lamb of God.” The Sunday before he died, he was too weak to enter his pulpit; so, seating himself at a window, he spoke to the congregation gathered in the garden below on “the Lamb of God.” In the evening his people returned, and their pastor, visibly weaker, once more preached to them-on the same passage. When the service was over and his daughter asked him, “Father, why didn’t you choose another text?” the veteran of the Cross replied, “That is all they need, ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.’”
Because that is all you
need, I tell you across America:
For the unbreakable pledge of your redemption, for true freedom from
and want, for comfort in affliction and courage in danger, for Heaven’s
full mercy on your body, mind, and soul,
Look to Jesus Christ,
your Lord and Savior! Follow the
direction of Saint John’s glorious Gospel appeal (chapter one,
twenty-nine), “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
The man who spoke these deathless words, John the Baptist, was a pre-eminent preacher in the Church of all ages. Indeed, Jesus declared that among the children of men none was greater than this “voice…in the wilderness,” who was to “prepare…the way of the Lord.” For every minister John should still be the model. Unlike some in American pulpits, who would not even consider a pastorate paying less than a thousand dollars a month, he was no servant of money. His heart was staid on the Lord, not on gold and silver. Neither had he, clothed in camel skin, any love for costly robes and bejeweled garments. How unsparingly he would have condemned those men who called themselves God’s priests, yet clad themselves in vestments costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the masses existed in poverty and Christ Himself, the Son of the Almighty, was content with a Palestinian peasant’s garb!
John, the first preacher of the New Testament, refused to cater to the rich and influential. He shunned Jerusalem, the religious center, and far away, on the banks of the Jordan, he warned rich and poor, soldier and civilian, clergy and laity, high and low. The prominence, wealth, learning and power of his hearers never made him overlook their sins. God give us ministers who, instead of salaaming to millionaires, building churches only in fashionable, exclusive suburbs, will meet the masses on their own ground, to proclaim the unsparing denunciation of sin and Heaven’s complete counsel of compassion!
John was also humble, self-effacing. He preached with such eloquence and power that, with all Judaea eager to hear him, he could have used his popularity for personal profit. Instead, pushing himself into the background, he acknowledged publicly that he was not worthy of unloosing and carrying the Savior’s shoes, that he was merely the servant who ran in advance to prepare a highway for his Lord. Pointing to Jesus, the wilderness preacher cried, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Thank God for the thousands of humble, self-denying Gospel-ambassadors in the United States! They rarely make the headlines; only seldom are they called to fashionable, important churches or chosen for positions of leadership; but they are the salt of the earth and, in heaven’s sight, the pivotal men for this critical hour. In eternity they will receive a warm welcome from their Lord, who will greet each of them, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”
John the Baptist is a model for modern clergymen also because of his personal faith. He preached Christ because he himself beheld and believed Christ. Hypocrisy is always out of place, but never more so than in the pulpit. Here pretense and deceit must vanish. Yet I myself heard the man who was Socialist candidate for the Presidency of the United States disdainfully reveal that in many cities where he had spoken ministers came to him, stating that they agreed with his radical program, but that they had to conceal their real feelings from their congregation.-May the Holy Spirit so direct and strengthen you, the clergy of America, that when you speak to your people you behold your Redeemer as John did when uttering the words of our text. The man of God who constantly directs his vision to Jesus will speak with honesty and ringing personal conviction.
Once more, John is a model servant of the Lord because he drew his theology and his sermons from the one source with the promise of spiritual power-sacred Scripture. Today many pulpiteers think it old-fashioned and out of date to take a Bible passage, explain and apply it. Their own words, they proudly believe, mean more than God’s. The latest book, motion picture, or pronouncement by a world figure, these furnish the texts-or often the pretexts-by which the “Thus saith the Lord” is banished. How different this wilderness herald of the holy Christ! When he saw Jesus approaching and wanted to tell his audience who this mysterious but majestic Stranger was, he did not rely on his own reason; he did not take recourse to the sayings of the temple priests in Jerusalem; he went straight to Scripture. He remembered that marvelous verse of mercy, the seventh in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah (the passage which converted the high official of the Ethiopian queen, which also turned Lord Rochester from a wretched roué into a contrite child of God), Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter.” John recalled the solemn liturgy in which the Passover lamb was slain, its blood sprinkled on the door posts to insure the members of the household safety and deliverance. His thoughts probably went back to the first book of the Bible and its portrayal of that awful moment when Isaac, about to be sacrificed, asked his father, “Where is the lamb?” and Abraham assured his unsuspecting son, “God will provide Himself a lamb.” Summing up all this revealed truth, John pointed to Christ-and to whom else should any preacher point?-declaring, “Behold the Lamb of God,” which Isaiah foresaw would be led to slaughter for us! “Behold the Lamb of God,” whose blood, far better than that of the Passover sacrifice, assures us of eternal deliverance! “Behold the lamb of God,” which the Father has provided, as Abraham learned, that we may escape death! “Behold”-John puts it all together in twelve of the most marvelous words the New Testament contains “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!”
Many who love the Lord, in repeating this passage, may lose some of its eternal height and depth. So pause to measure the horror of sin which this picture, “the Lamb of God,” implies! John says, in effect, “Behold Him who is being led to slaughter for your iniquities!” We can begin to realize the enormity of our transgressions only if we understand that they sent the Almighty’s own Son to the cross, there to die in payment of their penalty. We cannot fathom Christ’s grace unless we feel the appalling terror of our own sin. It is not a small, trivial, insignificant matter, this breaking God’s Law; nor is it smart and sophisticated, as we are often told today. Every violation of the divine will incurs His wrath and provokes as punishment eternal death, banishment from the Father, everlasting condemnation in hell. Now to be saved from that, first of all consider your own crimes against the Lord, just as John thundered out his warnings, not to be sensational, negative, and destructive, but to help prepare the hearts of his hearers for Christ’s Gospel. He preached sin to convince them that they needed a Savior from sin.
Listen to him, as the throngs surround him. He speaks courageously to the soldiers and directs them, “Do violence to no man!” He says, in effect, to those in the armed forces: “No soldier should do anything that overrules God’s Law. You may have to destroy and kill, but don’t practice ruthless murder, inflict unnecessary suffering, and bring misery on innocent people!” Today the Baptist calls out to a world overshadowed by war, “Do violence to no man!” But who hears and heeds him? The advanced culture of our age has produced bombs which have damaged or destroyed more than a million homes, wiped out hospitals and orphanages, massacred women and children. A Senate investigation committee has charged many firms with making excessive war profits, while our fighting men gave their lives. Now, to all who promote bloodshed for personal gains, purposely do violence to innocent civilians, John still calls out: “Recognize your evil! ‘Bring forth…fruits worthy of repentance!’”
Again his plea for repentance addressed itself to the government officials in his day, the publicans, the tax gathers, who crowded to hear him. When they asked John, “Master, what shall we do?” he told them not to despoil nor defraud their countrymen. He pleaded that they turn penitently to their God. In this critical hour the Lord likewise looks to those in public office for honesty and self-effacing service. With the billions spent today, the opportunities for graft, bribery, and official dishonesty are greater than ever before, and public servants need faith, divine guidance, and the help of our prayers. Those who best serve God best serve America. In our country’s cradle days Congress was so aware of the Bible’s importance for national blessing that resolutions were unanimously passed endorsing the first printing of Scripture in our land. An early picture shows Congress in prayer. Today the Almighty is left out of our public affairs too often, and those in high government positions frequently express themselves as though they do not need Him. Therefore John’s appeal to the publicans must be repeated to every public official forgetful of Him who founded and preserved our land: “Bring forth…fruits worthy of repentance!”
John also told his hearer, “Be content with your wages”; and if he were with us today he would likewise speak to workers, not so much on questions of salary and income-with certain lamentable exceptions in the white-collar group, our pay envelopes are fatter than ever-but on their personal relation to God. It is a danger which, if not checked, may bring disaster on our country, that sinister forces are coaxing workingmen into atheism, urging them to reject the Bible, Christ and the cross. Investigations reveal that important branches of American labor have been infected with this unholy poison. Therefore, as the voice of the wilderness preacher rings through the centuries to reprove the leaders in this away-from-the Lord movement and to direct them, “Bring forth…fruits worthy of repentance!” we appeal to the nation’s 60,000,000 workers: Don’t turn against the savior! Rather turn against every racketeer and atheist! Find the laboring man’s greatest Friend in Jesus, a laborer Himself!
John’s most scathing indictment struck at the churchmen of his day, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He called them a “generation of vipers,” because, having substituted man’s word for God’s, they were killing men’s souls, as poisonous snakes take human lives. The American clergy should likewise heed this warning, for thousands of preachers in the United States have said good-by to the Bible, turned away from the Cross and tried to pull the Lord Jesus down to the low level of all humanity. Churches in an increasing number are setting aside the clear-cut “Thus saith the Lord,” to tell their members how good, not how weak and sinful, they are; proposing man’s plan of salvation by character, instead of the Lord’s plan of salvation by grace. It is tragic enough, God knows, when a scoffer openly assails Christianity; but how treacherous beyond description when the Savior’s glorious Gospel is cunningly attacked from pulpits built and paid for by trusting believers!
However, John did not speak only to soldiers, workers, government and church officials, in denouncing public sins; he preached the Law to all his hearers, indicting the wrong in their private lives, testifying that by their rebellion against the Almighty they would ruin their country and themselves-a dire prediction soon to be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem. Today America needs a voice crying in the wilderness of its unbelief to indict the sin which people like to regard as trivial; the sin which magazines, plays of the stage and the screen, often glorify; the sin through which commercial interests heap up huge profits (especially from our military men and women); the sin which many of you deny, but at the cost of your eternal salvation. The devil hates the preaching of God’s Law, and especially in war’s upheaval he has succeeded in making himself appear as an angel of light. Today, when highly paid writers lie and deceive, far from being charged with falsehood, they are acclaimed as successful propagandists. A military officer who curses and abuses the divine name is not called to account for his profanity and blasphemy; rather he is pictured as a rugged, red-blooded he-man. Girls who sacrifice their purity are ready to excuse their transgression as patriotic. If a woman leaves her home for factory work when her family needs her love more than the money she earns, she is called noble and self-sacrificing, no matter what happens to her children.
In the Lord’s sight, however,
sin never changes. Through war
and peace it is always every violation of the divine Law in thought,
word, or deed, whether public or private. This disregard of
code-let us not deny it as we stand before the Almighty-abounds in our
lives; and our misdeeds are so tragic and treacherous that, if
they separate us from Him, cause terrifying agony here on earth, and
send our souls to hell. They are so appalling to Heaven’s
that we could be freed from their curse not by ourselves or our fellow
men, not by Christian teachers and preachers, not by saints and
not by Peter or Paul, not by Isaiah or Jeremiah, not by Moses or David,
not even by angels or archangels, cherubim or seraphim, but only by our
merciful Father’s own Son and His death on the cross. Therefore,
as John calls to us from the banks of the Jordan, “Behold the Lamb of
may we truly and fully behold in the crucified Christ the consequence
our guilt! May pride and pretense disappear from our lives,
vanish unspoken from our lips, as we kneel before Him to cry out: “O
of God,’ what a shocking debt my sins must have heaped up, since my
lifetime, were it spent in repentance, remorse, restitution, could
pay my indebtedness! How crushing the Lord’s hatred of my
if the accumulated treasures of this world could not satisfy His
Above all, what a never-to-be-measured punishment my transgressions
have incurred because they sent Thee to the cross! ‘O Lamb of
as I confess the scarlet stains on my soul, show me the reality of Thy
pardon, the pledge of Thy peace!”
Then, beholding your Savior in faith, you can realize the glorious grace our text offers when it calls Jesus “the Lamb of God, WHICH TAKETH AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD.” These words picture our Lord not only an innocent Victim of man’s hatred; not only a non-complaining Sufferer, heroically silent in His anguish; not only a non-resisting Martyr marching meekly to death as a lamb led to slaughter; far more than all this we find in Christ the redeeming mediator, atoning God, who rescues us from ruin. He takes away our sin. We transgressed heaven’s Law, but He was punished in our stead. We were condemned; but He assumed our sentence. As Isaiah foresaw, “God,” moved by measureless mercy, “laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Here is the center, climax, and culmination of our faith, “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold,…but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot,” the highest, holiest, happy truth even angels can hear: Jesus, the Son of God, takes away our guilt.
To survey even the beginning of this matchless mercy, picture the consequences of a solitary sin! One transgression, hastily committed, can ruin a life, burden a whole family with shame, cause misery to an entire community. One misdeed, disguised as a daring delight, can drive peace from your mind and blight your happiness forever. People write me desperate letters every day because their conscience lashes them; they are terrified by their past transgressions, haunted by remorse over a glaring mistake that once seemed adventurous and alluring, but now in its searing memory leaves them no rest by day or night. A single sin, an assassination, for example, has driven nations into war and caused calamity far and wide. Now, if one evil deed can produce so much agony, how terrifying all the iniquities in your life and mine, in a single home, on one street, in a crowded city! What an appalling total the sum of all the sins, the misery of multiplied millions of transgressions in the United States, throughout the world! Myriad men break God’s Law every moment. How countless, endless, the crimes of the whole race throughout all history! Yet this indescribable, horrifying aggregate, and nothing less, “the sin of the world,” Jesus, “the Lamb of God,” took upon Himself in the mystery and mercy of His atonement.
Here, then, is the Lamb, slain for “the sin of the world,” the universal Redeemer of Americans and Canadians, white and black, Gentile and Jew, plutocrat and pauper, illustrious and illiterate, Nazis and Nipponese-Jesus-praised be his incomparable compassion!-the Rescuer not of a chosen coterie, a select assortment of the best minds, a small group of good men, the Champion of the victorious nations and the winning side, but the Savior of the race, who asks every one of you, citizens and aliens, those in prison and out, the weak and the healthy, the ragged and the rich, the crippled and the straight, youth with its fast step and age with its bent back, soldiers and civilians, privates and officers, blasphemers and those with prayer-filled lips, to accept Him as your own Ransom from ruin, Savior from sin, and Deliverer from death. The Holy Spirit grant that today none of you, no matter how your repeated surrender to sin haunts you, can fail to see the arms of God’s Son stretched wide to receive you!
What glorious grace that He is “the Lamb of God, WHICH TAKETH AWAY” your transgressions! Jesus does not simply overlook your iniquities, push them aside. He does more even than forget them: He takes them all away, wipes them out completely; and once atoned, your sins, their guilt, their curse, their punishment, are removed forever. Treasure this truth in your innermost heart; for if Christ has entirely transferred your sins to Himself, if He went the whole way to Calvary and finished the redemption of the world, there is nothing left for you to supplement or achieve. What height of blasphemy to insist that men must pay for that which He offers freely, to declare that we must finish what he has completed, to make people wonder or doubt whether their sins are forgiven when He has removed them farther than the East is from the West! Recently a copy of a letter written by a Canadian church official came into my hands with the cold-blooded proposal that parents pay forty dollars to receive this “guarantee”: “Should he [your son] be killed…he will go at once to his Maker, to be with Him for all eternity.” You cannot buy admission to heaven for forty paltry dollars. Even entertainment tickets often sell for more than that! Yet you do not need forty cents if you have Christ, for then heaven is yours, freely and fully and finally.
Think of these five foremost blessings which are yours when the Son of God takes away your sins: First: No more punishment! Nothing that happens to you, as one of Christ’s followers, can be called a penalty imposed by divine justice, for Jesus endured the whole punishment to which you were condemned, stilled the wrath of God completely and forever. Through your Savior you have a loving Father, whose thoughts toward you are always merciful and compassionate.
Second: No more slavery to evil! Once you have entrusted yourself to your Redeemer, you become a new creature in the Almighty’s sight, “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” the Apostle promises. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made” you “free!”
Third: No more fear of death! Rulers of empires have cringed before the specter of the grave, eternity, and its judgment; but the believer exults, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” He looks forward to the resurrection of the body and the life eternal, where he shall not only be with his Savior, but be like Him in radiance too dazzling for human thought and words.
Fourth: No more terror of hell, no more cringing before an outraged conscience, but “the victory that overcometh the world”-and everything in it!
Fifth: Our sins forgiven, we have a loving Father, an interceding Savior, a comforting, guiding Spirit, peace with God, peace with our fellow men, peace with ourselves, and the promise of a prepared place in paradise!
The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in October 1944.