Behold the Lamb

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3 January 2018

Yesterday John the Baptist explained his role as the Herald, the forerunner of the Messiah. Today the tension rises, and John identifies Jesus as this Messiah dramatically proclaiming: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Why Lamb? It has little to do with Jesus’ meekness, mildness, or humility, and everything to do with his being the victim of a sacrifice. The term references the Passover lamb and points to Jesus’ mission as the one who takes away our sin. But how does sacrifice deal with anybody’s sin?

The idea of sacrifice runs through practically the whole of the biblical revelation. Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah all performed sacrifices. For centuries the temple of Jerusalem was a place where millions of animals were slaughter and burned in sacrifice. The logic of sacrifice shared by the vast majority of ancient people is expressed simply by saying that some aspect of God’s good creation needs to be returned to God – the first fruits of the harvest or sacrifice of an animal – to signal the sinner’s desire for union with God. It seems odd, but this was the standard religious practice of ancient times and indeed of Jesus’ time.

God was never perceived as needing these offerings in any way. The sacrifices were benefitting the people who made them. As the sacrificer made the sacrifice, he was ordering himself more fully to God. He was redressing the problem of his sin. Not for God’s sake but his own sake. That’s the background that would have been in the mind of John the Baptist when he said ‘ Behold the Lamb of God.’ The phrase has nothing to do with Jesus being meek and humble. This phrase has to do with temple sacrifice. John is saying that Jesus will be the one who offers the final and definitive sacrifice – the one who finally reconciles divinity and humanity.

John points us to who Jesus truly is. Is He a miracle worker? – Yes. Is He a great wise man? Again, yes. Is He the profound spiritual doctor that sees far deeper than any person? Absolutely. However, beyond these extraordinary attributes, Jesus is the one “who takes away the sins of the world” – by dying He will destroy our death and by rising He will restore our life.

Today John the Baptist sees in an instant the truth that we are called to spend our lives learning. “Behold the One who takes away the sins of the world.” Happy we are to be called to the banquet of the Lamb.

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