The Undoing of Death
Meditations on Holy Week Inspired by Fleming Rutledge’s Sermons
John 1.29 “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
Genesis 22.8 “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
Hebrews 9.22 “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
I grew up in Latin America, a land conquered by Spanish Conquistadors many centuries ago. These conquistadors have left one particular mark upon the lands they subdued. It is the mark of the Catholic Church. They came and converted the native population to Catholicism by force. All over Latin America in museums, historical landmarks and Conquistador forts I have seen one symbol repeated from country to country. It is the symbol of a lamb lying meekly with the Christian flag nestled in the crook of its front legs. It is rather disgusting to me that the Conquistadors brought this image of Lamb of God in to the New World in such a violent way. They completely subverted the symbol of the Lamb of God for their own purposes. But it does make me wonder, what would the symbol of the Lamb of God have meant to Christians in the first century?
First, the book of Enoch tells a story any Jew of the first century would have known. In this story God’s people are described as sheep. Lambs are born to the sheep but they are threatened by wild beasts. The lambs cry desperately for the sheep to protect them, but of course they cannot. But then one of the lambs grew horns. (horns in the Bible mean power and dominion). This lamb is given a sword and it defeats all the enemies of God’s sheep. A conquering lamb.
Second, the book of Revelations tells us that the Lamb of God bears on it the marks of being slaughtered. And the book of Hebrews tells us that without blood, there is no forgiveness for sins. For thousands of years God’s people offered sacrifices as means of atonement for their sins. The idea of a lamb being slaughtered for the forgiveness of sins would have been as common an idea to the first century Jews as mixing chocolate and peanut-butter is to us today. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” would have needed no interpretation.
Third, the blood of a lamb painted over doors in Egypt delivered the Israelite’s eldest child from death. The blood of the lamb DELIVERED them. Everyone within earshot of John the Baptist would have known that the Passover Lamb was sacrificed for their deliverance.
“Behold, the Lamb of God…” say John the Baptist. This does not mean “look” at the Lamb of God. It means more than that. It means “See and believe” the Lamb of God. Isaac reached the top of the mountain with his Father to make a sacrifice. And seeing nothing to sacrifice he asked his Dad what they would do. Abraham answered his son, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” In other words, “Look and believe, my son, God will provide a lamb.”
Behold, upon another mountain, stretched out on an altar of crossed wood God provided his own sacrifice. The Lamb of God. Jesus Christ, his son.