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Jesus, the Lamb of Godcomment (0)

March 25, 2010

By Bob Terry

It was John the Baptist who first called Jesus “the Lamb of God.”

John was preaching and baptizing in Bethany beyond the Jordan, the area where Baptists dedicated a Baptismal Center a year ago this week. John, the cousin of our Lord, had rejected personal claims of Messiahship only the day before. He told representatives of the Jerusalem priests that he was not the Christ but a voice crying, “Make straight the ways of the Lord” (John 1:19–28) for the true Messiah was already in their midst.

The next day as Jesus approached John, the preacher cried out for all to hear, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

The analogy of the lamb was not accidental. The lamb was one of the most meaningful symbols in the Jewish faith. John understood the implications of his announcement and so did all who heard his words. As Easter approaches, it is appropriate for Christians everywhere to remember the significance of John’s words as well.

Lest one ask how this eccentric preacher who bordered on being a wild man could understand the theological nuances of his cry that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” one should remember who John’s parents were.

The Gospel of Luke goes into great detail to establish John’s credentials. He is the son of Zacharias, a priest, and Elizabeth, a descendent of Aaron. John’s lineage established him as one who could be a priest himself. He was reared with the daily practices of the Jewish faith. He heard the Scriptures read and learned from his parents the significance and meaning of the words and rituals of their faith.

His outlandish clothes (camel hair garment), bizarre diet (locusts and wild honey) and in-your-face preaching (“you brood of vipers”) should not mislead one to think of John as unlearned. He knew his way around the temple because of his father’s service there and was probably known by the Jerusalem authorities. 

But the significance of the Lamb of God was not reserved for the learned alone. It was known by every Jew. It was part of their consciousness, a part of their existence as a people.

Exodus 12 records the story of God, through Moses, instructing each Jewish family to slay a lamb or a goat and swab its blood on the doorposts of their houses. On the foretold night, the death angel would claim the firstborn of everything in Egypt, but would pass over the homes marked by the blood of the lamb. All happened just as Moses had said and that night became known as Passover, the time when God passed over the Jews.

Later, in Leviticus 16, God designated the lambs as the symbol of the forgiveness of sin on the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. The lamb was more than a once-a-year sacrifice, however. Leviticus 14 outlines a number of offerings the people were to make, including the sin offering and the guilt offering. Again, it was a lamb without blemish that was to be offered for the forgiveness of sin. Exodus 29:38–39 even specifies that a lamb was to be offered twice a day, morning and evening, for the forgiveness of sin.

Understanding the lamb as the sacrifice for sin was part of the culture. It was rooted in the sacred texts that the Jews read. It was part of their corporate practice as a people. It was part of their individual relationship to God as they sought forgiveness of sin.

When John pointed to Jesus and declared Him to be “the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world,” everyone knew what John was saying. Indeed some looked for, longed for, the Messiah described in Isaiah 53:6 — a lamb on whom God would lay “the iniquity of us all.”

This symbolism was not lost on the early church. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:7 that Jesus “Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.” The apostle Peter continued this imagery in 1 Peter 1:8–19, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” 

The Day of Atonement symbolism is used in Romans 3:25, in which Paul wrote, “God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” The apostle John, in Revelation 1:5, picked up on the sin offering theme when he wrote that Jesus “has freed us from our sins by his blood.”

Looking back at the many sacrifices for sin required in the Jewish faith, the writer of Hebrews asks, “If the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleanings of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13–14 NASV). A chapter later (Heb. 10:10, 12), the author said the whole Jewish system of sacrifice is no longer needed because “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all … He having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time.”

Jesus is the Lamb of God. He takes away the sin of all who will believe on His name. But that forgiveness did not come without sacrifice, the sacrifice of God’s own Son as the spotless Lamb of God.

This Easter season, hear again the cry of John the Baptist, that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This Easter season, add your voice to that proclamation.

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