“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That was how John the Baptist introduced Jesus to all those present (John 1:29). This was not something he figured out himself. It was revealed to him by God (John 1:32-35).
What does it mean that Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God’? To answer this question we need to turn to the Old Testament. God created us so that we could worship Him and have fellowship with Him. However, after Adam and Eve sinned, sin blocked people from having a relationship with God (Isaiah 59:2). Our God, being a God of love did not want the people He had created to be eternally separated from Him. But, because He is holy and just, a penalty needed to be paid for sins committed so that sin is forgiven and reconciliation achieved. (Even in our unjust world there is a penalty to be paid for something as minor as jaywalking!) Hebrews 9:22 tells us “and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Sin was serious enough to warrant the shedding of blood (death of an innocent victim) for the punishment of it.
Lamb in the Old Testament
In Leviticus we read of a lamb being sacrificed as a sin offering (4:32-35). The priest lays hands on the head of the lamb, transferring symbolically the sins of the person upon the lamb that is ‘without defect’. Although “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats (and lambs) to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4), this sacrificial system was practiced to:
- Show how serious sin is that it required the sacrificial death of an innocent victim.
- Point to a time when God would provide His own Son, the perfect Lamb of God, as the ultimate sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.
The sacrifice of a lamb also played an important part in the Exodus where the firstborn of the Israelites were saved. God instructed them to kill a lamb (called the Passover lamb) and mark their doorposts with its blood. The angel of the Lord then knew to pass over their houses.
Christ our passover lamb
The apostle Paul states that ‘Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed’ (1 Corinthians 5:7). John, in his gospel, clearly compares Jesus to the Passover Lamb by saying that Jesus was crucified the same day that the Passover lambs were being killed in the temple (John 19:31)
Jesus’ death on the cross
Jesus’ death on the cross made it possible for us to break free from the bondage to sin. He did for us what we could never have done for ourselves; He took our place; He became our substitute; He became our sacrifice and His death satisfied the holy justice of God. For this reason He is called the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
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