1109) Lamb of God (b)

The Lamb of God, by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1635

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      (…continued)  Sin is a powerful force in the world, and a lamb is not the first image that would come to mind if you were to do something about it.  What can a lamb do to even defend itself, let alone take on anyone or anything else?  Lambs have no claws.  They have no sharp teeth.  They can’t even run fast.  When attacked, there is not much for a lamb to do but to receive the blows and just take whatever is coming at it.  We might have expected that John the Baptist would have said of Jesus, “Behold, the LION of God, here to come and track down and devour the sinners of the world.”  But no, Jesus is a lamb, John said.  And that is a very good thing, because we are all sinners who would be devoured if a lion was sent to get rid of all the sin in the world.  But God comes to us as a lamb.

     Throughout the Bible, lambs are associated with gentleness, with innocence, and with dependence.  In Isaiah 40, God is the shepherd who gathers the lambs because they are helpless.  In Nathan’s parable to illustrate David’s great sinfulness, the lamb stands for helpless innocents, killed by the wicked who are in power.  The prophet Jeremiah, speaks of the helplessness of a lamb being led to the slaughter, and when Isaiah spoke of the suffering servant of God, he spoke of him being killed without making a sound– just like a little lamb.  In the New Testament, Jesus picks up on the same image when he said that the disciples were being sent out like lambs among wolves.

     And when describing how Jesus came to take away the sin of the world, the New Testament says that Jesus will be like a lamb.  So when God’s Word speaks of Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God,’ it describes the surprisingly gentle way God deals with our sin.  Our sin deserves fierce rebuke, judgment, condemnation, and punishment.  Yet, in the face of our horrible sin, we get an innocent lamb.  There is in the Bible the wrath and terrible judgment of God, and that will one day come.  But that is not where God starts, or how God wants to be primarily known by us.  God comes with gentleness.

     What happened when Jesus, this gentle lamb of God, came into this dangerous world?  You know what happened– he got slaughtered.  That is what happens to lambs.  And all those Old Testament verses about a lamb being led to the slaughter are then applied to Jesus.  The words about the lamb which is silent before its killers become a fulfilled prophecy, as Jesus is, for the most part, silent before his accusers.  Just as the Passover lambs in the Old Testament were killed as a sacrifice for sin, Jesus was himself killed on the Passover weekend, becoming the ultimate sacrifice for every sin ever committed.

    What does this mean and how does that work?  A full understanding of that is beyond our comprehension, and the New Testament itself uses several different images to describe it.  But the heart of the message is unmistakably clear– Jesus, on the cross ‘took away the sin of the world,’ just like John the Baptist said he would.  Jesus did not yet end all sin.  Sin is still all around us and within us.  But Jesus took away sin as a barrier between us and God, allowing us to return to the Father, and now able to look forward to that time when all sin would be completely taken away and gone forever.

     This lamb of God also left for the world an example of how to deal with the sin all around us.  Jesus said we are not to deal with the sin in others by revenge, and not by an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and not by angry retribution; but by forgiveness and by gentleness.  It was with that sort of example that Jesus inspired his disciples, and that example has been inspiring and changing people ever since.

     Now there is a difference between how an individual responds to sin, and, how the government and its representatives respond to sin.  The words of Jesus on forgiveness is to individuals in their relationships with each other, but it is the government’s job to restrict sin, to apprehend the dangerous sinner, and to punish sin.  This is something different.  We do not tell the Christian judge to forgive everyone who comes before him.  On the bench he does not represent himself but the government, and it is the government’s job to restrain sin, not forgive it.  Romans 13 says God has given the government that job so that the citizens may be protected, by police officers and courts and armies; and governments are under the command of God to be just and fair. 

     But to individuals, Jesus, the lamb of God, shows us how to live in the midst of sin, and we also are to model such forgiveness and love.  One of the most powerful examples of this was Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Even though his followers were being beaten and jailed and sometimes even killed, King would allow only one weapon to be used in retaliation.  That was what he called the ‘weapon of love.’  He said to his oppressors, “We will counter your violent physical force with soul force and we will match your ability to hate with our ability to love.’  The movement did not always follow that advice, but it was the peaceful and non-violent and forgiving spirit of the civil rights movement that began to change the hearts of an entire nation.

     It was that spirit in the ministry of Jesus that inspired his disciples to leave everything and follow him.  It is in that same spirit of gentleness and forgiveness that we have the assurance of God’s grace, given to us not because of what we have done, but because of the love and sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

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Isaiah 53:6-7  —  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Acts 16:31  —  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…

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Psalm 25:16-18:

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.
Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.

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Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; grant us your peace.  Amen.

The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), used in Christian worship since the 7th century