12: The Lamb of God (John 1:29 & 36)
12: The Lamb of God
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’” (John 1:29)
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God’” (John 1:35).
The Lamb of God. This is the only time in the gospels when Jesus is called this title. In fact John is the only New Testament writer who uses the name (here and in Revelation).
What does it mean? There are different types of lamb mentioned in the Old Testament that can all be referred to as “God’s lamb”. They all have to do with God bringing a lamb to a sacrifice. We are going to look at three of them here. Firstly the lamb of worship, then the lamb of deliverance and finally the lamb of forgiveness.
The lamb of worship.
The idea of God having a lamb to bring to a sacrifice first appears in Genesis 22. It appears during the narrative about God’s testing of Abraham, the Father of faith.
Abraham and Sarah have finally received the child promised to them by God, Isaac, their only son, miraculously conceived in the twilight of their years. Then comes the test. After a few years God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him in “the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Genesis 22:2).
Early the next morning and apparently without telling his wife what he was doing (probably a wise decision!!) nor anyone else, Abraham saddles his donkey, cuts some wood, gathers his son and two young servants and heads out. They will be gone a few days and when they return Isaac may not be with them, although Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed God would raise him back to life after the sacrifice, because there was a whole nation to come from him yet.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)
On the third day, he saw the place of sacrifice from afar and told his two servants to wait for them there with these awe inspiring words:
“Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.’” (Genesis 22: 5)
They are awe inspiring words because they reveal Abraham’s heart. This is the first mention of the word “worship” in the Bible and Abraham was plainly a fully devoted worshiper of God. He would give anything and everything to worship Him.
They are awe inspiring because of the faith that is in them. He believed that he and the boy would go up the mountain and then that he and the boy would come back down the mountain and return to them. What faith! What trust!
Abraham puts the wood, in a prophetic picture, on the back of his son and, with knife and flaming torch in hand, leads him up the mountain.
Isaac is curious, but not suspicious. He seems to trust his Dad as much as Abraham trusts his Father in heaven. His question is just the obvious one in the situation.
“And Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’” (Genesis 22:7)
What must Abraham have been feeling? That innocent question must have pierced to the bottom of his heart. But, amazingly, he is resolute in his faith. God promised that all the nations of earth would be blessed through Isaac and so Isaac was going to live. He was going to have to lay his son out on the wood, plunge the knife into his chest and then set him ablaze. Somehow God was going to then raise him back to life. It was a crazy process but somehow it would turn out ok in the end.
But in that moment he gave a reply that didn’t make sense.
Hebrews tells us that he was expecting to receive his son back from the dead. He was fully expecting to kill him as the sacrifice. So why didn’t he say something like “we’ll sort that out nearer the time” or even “the Lord knows”. Instead he comes up with this incredibly profound statement that must have come directly from the throne of God by the Holy Spirit:
“Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.’ So they went both of them together.” (Genesis 22:8)
Maybe he was thinking that Isaac was going to be the lamb that God provided, or maybe he was just caught up in a prophetic utterance. Either way his words echo down through the ages with deep significance and meaning.
The first mention of the word worship in the Bible. A man going to sacrifice his only son. A son walking up the mountain of sacrifice with the wood on his back.
“God will provide for Himself the lamb”
This worship is perfect because it is offered in absolute faith and trust. It is not the act of bringing his son to the altar that makes the worship perfect, otherwise people would have been unwittingly doing it with their firstborn sons ever since. It is the total trusting obedience to the word of God that makes this worship so perfect.
They get to the top of the hill. Abraham builds an altar. Then he ties up his one and only son. Then he puts him on the altar and raises his knife to kill him.
He must have felt so alone. But then he realizes he isn’t. He realizes that the whole of heaven is watching him, for that is where the voice comes from that stops him.
“And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’
‘Yes,’ Abraham replied. ‘Here I am!’
‘Don’t lay a hand on the boy!’ the angel said. ‘Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.’” (Genesis 22: 10-12)
The relief for Dad. The relief for the son. Abraham looks up and sees the most welcome sight in all the world to him. It must have been the most welcome sight he ever saw in all his life.
“Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket.” (Genesis 22:13)
If he had said something to Isaac at that point what would he have said? Maybe he would have said:
“Behold, the lamb of God!”
Abraham did what all true worshipers need to do. He took God’s lamb as his own sacrifice.
“Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.” (Genesis 22:13)
Our sacrifices of worship will never be good enough of themselves. They will always be tainted to some extent by our own pride and self absorption, no matter how small it is. No, if we want to offer something eternally pleasing to God, it needs to be perfect. We don’t have such an offering. So God provides One Himself for us. He provided for us on the mount where He brought His lamb to the sacrifice. We killed Him on the Cross at Calvary, but God brought Him to the sacrifice.
“Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’” (Genesis 22:14)
When John the Baptist said “behold the Lamb of God” he was pointing us to God’s perfect sacrifice. The only way we can offer worship to God is by taking this lamb as our own sacrifice.
The second lamb of God that is mentioned in the Old Testament is the lamb of deliverance. This is the Passover lamb of Exodus 12.
These are God’s instructions to Moses.
“Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbour shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:3-13)
Abraham’s first born son, Isaac’s life was threatened by the will of God. Israel is the nation that came from Isaac’s line. Now all Israel’s firstborn sons are in danger and again the threat comes from God Himself.
The first time the firstborn is threatened, with Abraham and Isaac, it is just a test. God is not angry with Abraham and He has no intention of killing Isaac.
This time though the threat is very real. God really is going to kill all the firstborn sons of Egypt, just as Egypt, a generation before, killed the sons of Israel. He is going to bring down the final “god” of Egypt, the firstborn son of Pharaoh and his peers with him. He is going to execute righteous judgment against a proud and arrogant people who have dealt treacherously and murderously with His people and resisted every opportunity to repent. And there were many opportunities to repent.
A “plague” is going to come, an Angel of death, that will sweep over the land and in one night all the firstborn in Egypt will die.
However, God made a promise to Abraham.
It would appear that Abraham’s descendants had not really remembered The God of their forefathers, but He had not forgotten them. He had made a promise and because of His promise and His purpose (certainly not because of their righteousness and faith in Him) He was going to save them from the plague that was coming.
And so He instructs Moses to take a lamb (either a sheep or a goat) that is without blemish. They shall keep that lamb for four days until the fourteenth day of the month and then kill it at twilight on the fourteenth day. Then they shall take the blood, mix it with hyssop (Exodus 12:22) and daub it on the lintel and doorpost of the house in which they are staying. Then they should stay inside all night.
If they do not hide themselves behind the blood of the lamb, they will die.
And where does the threat come from? Who is the destroyer from whom they must hide?
It is the Lord Himself.
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:12-13)
“For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” (Exodus 12:23)
The Lord, in righteous judgment is going to pass through the the land and kill all the firstborn sons. But as He goes He will be looking for the markings of blood on the lintels and doorposts. When He sees those markings He will “pass over” that house. This is not the out of control rage of a bad tempered person or the murderous spite of someone looking to get even. This has nothing to do with the sort of anger that caused Cain to kill Abel.
When God is angry, He is still completely in control. There is no “collateral damage” where much more gets destroyed than the intended target. God’s judgments are sure and true and only touch those that God intends them to.
There is only one hiding place in all of Egypt. One place of refuge from the righteous judgment of Almighty God. It is behind the blood of the passover lamb.
The firstborn son of the promise, Isaac, was saved by a lamb. The firstborn of Israel are now saved in exactly the same way.
The passover lamb, however is not a lamb of worship, as Isaac’s “lamb” was. It is a lamb of deliverance.
Deliverance from what?
Deliverance from the wrath of God and His righteous anger.
John the Baptist had been clear to his hearers that the wrath of God was heading in their direction too.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” (Matthew 3:7)
His advice to them was to “flee”. But where can you flee to get away from God? There is only one hiding place from His righteous anger and judgement and that is behind the blood of God’s lamb.
Jesus was crucified on the day of the Passover for a reason.
John the Baptist calls Jesus “The Lamb of God”. That title brings to mind both of these Old Testament stories which were so ingrained in the minds of the Jewish nation. John is clearly saying that Jesus is both our sacrifice of perfect worship and our sacrifice for deliverance.
Through Him and Him alone, we can worship God acceptably.
“Through him (Jesus) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrew 13:15)
By Him and by Him alone can we be delivered from the righteous judgment of death that we all face for our rebellion against God.
But John goes beyond the issue of worship and deliverance, He says:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)
This brings us to the third lamb of God we are going to look at in the Old Testament.
We could look at the lamb of redemption, that buys back our freedom as children of God (Exodus 13 and 34:20), or the lamb of peace (Levicticus 3:7) bringing us back to peace with God. We could also look at the lamb of healing and purity, that returns us to health and wholeness after sickness or childbirth (Levicticus 12:6 and 14:10), or the lamb that is the firstfruits of the harvest that is to come after Him (Levicticus 23:12) or the lamb that consecrates all our moments and makes them holy, each morning and night (Numbers 28:4), our sabbaths (Numbers 28:9) and our months (Numbers 28:11-15).
Jesus, as the Lamb of God is all of these and more, but for the sake of time we are going to look lastly at the lamb of forgiveness.
If a lamb was brought to be sacrificed for sin (which means anything that we do and are that is offensive to God), then the High Priest would take that lamb, lay his hands on it and speak those sins onto it. In this way, symbolically, the lamb takes the sin from the person and then pays the penalty for the sin, which is death. The “sinner” walks away feeling that their sins have been taken away and paid for. The sacrifice was available to cover all the sins of all God’s people including unintentional sins (Leviticus 4:32), careless sins (Leviticus 5) and anything that someone may feel guilty about (Leviticus 10:21).
On the day of atonement, that we read about in Leviticus 16, goats were sacrificed for all the sins committed in that year by all of God’s people. Two goats would be taken and one was sacrificed on the altar as a sin offering. The other had the sins of the whole congregation for the year spoken over it as the High Priest laid his hands on its head (Leviticus 16:21) and it was then sent into the wilderness. It was called the scape goat and as it was removed far away from the people it was a picture of God taking their sins far away from them.
The Holy Spirit refers to these sacrifices in Isaiah 53:6, when talking about the saviour that is to come.
“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
Note Who is laying hands on this particularly sheep, speaking all the sins of us all, the world, onto it. It is not an earthly High Priest. It is God Himself. On the cross God laid all my sins on His Lamb, every wrong action and thought and motivation of my heart that has ever offended the heart of a Holy God. He didn’t just do it for me, He did it for everyone. That is astonishing and totally beyond our understanding to grasp. How could such a hugely overwhelming amount of ugly, ungrateful, utterly selfish pride and sin be taken away by one person? Only because He is so utterly and overwhelmingly pure, selfless and obedient to every word and will of His Father.
The most amazing fact is not that there is so much sin in this world. The most amazing fact is that the pure righteousness of Jesus is so incredibly vast that it can swallow a whole universe of darkness so that it is never seen again.
This again is God’s lamb that He brings to the sacrifice for us. This lamb takes away the sin of the world and therefore brings absolute and total forgiveness to all of us who receive Him and believe in His name. Forgiveness from Whom? From the God that we have sinned against.
This is the lamb that John the Baptist wants us to see. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
We have to understand that this lamb is primarily God’s lamb. He is doing something absolutely incredible for us, delivering us from sin and judgement and death and enabling us to offer perfect worship to Him who has loved us and saved us. But first and foremost He is doing something wonderful for God. After all He is His lamb. The Lamb of God. First and foremost He purchases for God the very desires and pleasures that our sinfulness would deny Him.
And what are the desires and pleasure that our sinfulness would deny the God that created us? We are. We are what God wants, relationship with us. And that is what the Lamb brings Him. Yes, the Lamb of God purchases for us all the amazing benefits of being forgiven and made right with God. But primarily the Lamb of God purchases something uniquely precious for God. Us! We are what the lamb purchases for God.
“ And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed (purchased, bought back) people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:8-10)
We may be tempted, in our usual sinful self-absorption, to think that the Lamb dies for us. But firstly and most importantly, He dies for God.
So John the Baptist uses that name when he sees Jesus in the new light of the revealing of the Holy Spirit, when He came to rest on Jesus after His baptism.
It is such a powerful name, pregnant with incredible meaning and yet Jesus is only called that name by one New Testament writer.
It wasn’t that the early church didn’t understand its meaning and importance.
Philip, the early church evangelist, clearly understood that Jesus was God’s lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world as he explained Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian Eunuch.
“ Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
And the eunuch said to Philip, ‘About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:32-35)
Paul understood that Jesus was our Passover lamb.
“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1Corinthians 5:7)
Peter had a clear revelation of Jesus as the lamb that was sacrificed for our sins.
“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1Peter 1:18-19)
However John the Baptist was the only person who was quoted as calling Jesus “The Lamb of God” and John the Apostle is the only New Testament writer to use that title.
Maybe it was because the Apostle John was the only one there.
The only New Testament writer who actually witnessed the sacrifice of God’s Lamb on the cross of Calvary.
He saw it with his own eyes.
He saw what John the Baptist was seeing here in the Spirit. He witnessed “The Lamb of God” taking away the sins of the world.
John the Baptist’s focus was to prepare the way for people to meet Jesus. That meant confronting them with their sin and urging them to repent. He baptised them in water to signify the washing away of their sins. But he knew that the murky waters of the Jordan River weren’t really going to cleanse anyone. It was going to take something much more precious and powerful than that.
But then he saw Jesus walk by and he knew, in that moment by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is all that any of us would ever need.
He knew that all the sacrifices on all the altars made by all the priests throughout all generations couldn’t, of themselves, wash any one of us clean of our sin and guilt and shame. He knew it would take a sacrifice much more holy and pure and effective than that. He knew they could never, of themselves, deliver us from the righteous judgment of death that stands against. He knew that none of them, of themselves, made for perfect worship.
Then he saw Jesus walk by and he knew that such a sacrifice was at hand. The Lamb is already walking the earth and will shortly make His way up to the altar of sacrifice. He will lay Himself upon it and, as He does so, the Father will lay upon Him all the sin and guilt and shame of an entire world for all time. He who knew no sin will become sin.
Then death will come and His Father will allow it. His Father wills it.
Yes, it will not be the jealous spite of the religious leaders, or the cruel “justice” of the Romans, or even the murderous rage of the hoards of hell that seal the sacrifice. It will be God. He could intervene, as He did with Abraham and stop it at any time, but He will not. The perfect Father overseeing the sacrifice of His perfect Son. His One and Only. His Beloved.
For this is primarily God’s Lamb.
This is His sacrifice.
Because He loves the men and women of this sinful, rebellious, murderous world so much.
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
John the Baptist saw it in the Spirit.
John the Apostle saw it in reality.
But then he also saw Him rise again from the dead. More than that, his eyes were opened in the Spirit and he saw the new reality of the Lamb of God in the centre of the throne of God executing the will of God and all heaven and earth worshiping Him.
One day we will all see Him and those that hide themselves behind His sacrifice will be eternally forgiven, delivered and set free and they will never need to fear the righteous anger and judgement of God again.
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”Posted on: May 23, 2018Peter Todd