Focus on Christ Meditations: 15. A Most Remarkable Description
Jn 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Hindsight is a deceiving thing; it makes us think we would have understood the circumstances we read throughout the Bible, whereas the truth would more likely have been that we heard the words and our reply might well have been, “er….yes?” This truth has been there in the back of my mind constantly throughout this series. We read the words in our completed Bibles, or we hear them expounded so easily by a preacher on a Sunday and so we give so little thought as to the way that message would have come over to the original listeners. Bear that in mind with today’s verse.
We have examined some (not all) of the accounts of what happened surrounding the coming of the Christ in the form of a baby. We saw an angel tell Mary the child’s name will be Jesus which, we noted means, ‘the Lord saves’. Then there was the angel in Joseph’s dream who told him to name the child Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. Then there was the angel coming to the shepherds to tell them that Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ. Again and again this idea that he will be a saviour comes through. Yes, we saw in the early Isaiah prophecies that he will be mighty, a great and lasting ruler, and so those early people could be forgiven for thinking that, apart from that unclear reference to ‘sins’, this ‘saviour’ will be a mighty ruler who will overthrow all of Israel’s enemies.
And now we jump forward thirty years and John the Baptist comes with further confusing and apparently contradictory messages. You’ve never noticed them? First of all we have, “John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, `He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” (Jn 1:15) Then, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (Jn 1:26,27) And from Matthew we have, “after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:11,12) Each of these verses speak of power, authority and greatness. Well that fits with the early Isaiah prophecies.
But then, “John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” There’s that sin reference again, but what makes it more confusing, especially in the light of all that has just gone before, is John identifying Jesus as “the lamb of God.” Sorry, I think this is another of those “er…yes?” moments. And John says it twice (Jn 1:29 AND 1:36) as if to make the point quite clear, no, he wasn’t speaking out of turn the first time, he was speaking prophetically.
Now you are struggling not to be all-knowing-it at this point because we know Revelation 5 where Jesus is enigmatically described standing before the throne in heaven and then described as “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain,” (Rev 5:6) so yes, today, post-Crucifixion, and with all the teaching of the New Testament, we are comfortable with the idea of Jesus being God’s sacrifice for our sins, but what if you had been back there, standing next to John, what might you be thinking?
A lamb? What does that imply? A lamb conjures up a picture of meek and mild. How does that fit with the ruler-deliverer picture? So where does a lamb come in the Old Testament? That might give us clues. Well, clearly a lamb was the usual offering to God even back in Abraham’s day (see Gen 22:7) because Isaac expected there to be one, and Abraham spoke those immortal words, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Gen 22:8) before he bound up Isaac and laid him on the altar, before another angel intervened and stopped him.
Lambs also appear in the sacrificial laws of Leviticus (e.g. see Lev 3:7) but it could equally have been a cow, a sheep or a goat, so a lamb wasn’t especially significant. No, the lamb gets its primary significance in the story of the Passover in Ex 12 where every family (of this mainly shepherding community) were to take and kill a lamb without blemish (i.e. one of the best ones) and take some of its blood and put it around the doorposts of the home so that when the destroying angel came he would see it, know it was a Hebrew home, and pass over it while he went on to kill every oldest son throughout Egypt. The lamb was thus the classic symbol of God’s means of salvation for His people.
So when John suddenly calls Jesus ‘the lamb of God’ is he implying that somehow Jesus is going to die as a sacrifice for our sins? How does this fit with the king-ruler-deliverer pictures? Now it is possibly so familiar to us today that the idea of this is no problem to us, but in a day when this had not been expounded, it was a mystery.
Consider how Jesus’ disciples struggled with this, especially in the light of all the miracles that showed that Jesus was completely in control of everything (water into wine, walking on water) and Jesus did such wonderful things (healings, deliverances, raising people from the dead) that surely no one would wish to harm him? When Jesus, obviously fully aware of his destiny, started talking about his death, they found it impossible to cope with.
The classic was with Peter: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt 16:21-23) Please, please, please, put off your twenty-first century knowledge and try and catch the mystery that confronted these followers of Jesus, a mystery which explains so clearly the struggle they had when confronted with his death.
The apostle Paul said it later: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:22,23) As we later go further into this study we will see why death on a cross was such an anathema to both Jew and Gentile. This was one of the greatest and most staggering mysteries that has ever been hidden from the eyes of the world – and it’s wonder and reality is still hidden from many today.
To reflect upon: Lord, please forgive me that so often I treat your word so casually and only scratch the surface. Please give me greater understanding.