Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jesus: the Lamb of God

Behold! The Lamb of God  who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29. John the Baptist did not have a long recorded career in Scripture, but from what we know of him, this declaration upon seeing Jesus, the Christ, was perhaps one of the greatest recorded in the New Testament.

As Christmas approaches again and we are reminded of the birth of Jesus Christ and the great joy it heralds we must not forget that Jesus became a Man. That Man became a teacher, healer, prophet and more; and for three and one half years He wandered Israel healing and doing good. But none seemed to know that His greatest good would not come from anything He did with His life, but rather with His death upon the cross.

It was to this that John the Baptist alluded, even if he didn’t understand what he meant by that profound statement at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. When did Jesus accomplish what John said He would? Not during His earthly ministry. He healed and rose the dead; He fed the hungry and walked on water. But He had not come to the purpose of His life. What was that purpose? Jesus tells us. “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour…and I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself,” John 12:27, 32. This is precisely what He told Nicodemus when they first spoke at night, earlier in Jesus’ ministry. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:14-15.

Jesus’ life would culminate in His death by being executed on the cross. He would die in the Roman manner of execution as a malefactor, sentenced to death by evil men who were jealous and afraid of Him. But moreover, He would die to suffer the just judgment of God upon the sins of all mankind. Isaiah, writing more than seven centuries before the time of Christ, testified the same. That God’s just Servant would perish, violently cut off, but not for Himself.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors, Isaiah 53:4-12.

The prophet Daniel likewise makes mention of the vicarious death of Jesus, the Christ when he writes, “And after sixty two weeks Messiah (anointed one; similar to the Greek word “Christ”) shall be cut off, but not for Himself,” Daniel 9:26. As all in Adam have fallen into a sinful state, and we sin both by heritage and choice, making us guilty before God, so Christ came as the representative Man to atone for Adam’s folly. As one man brought all into the bondage of sin, being our head and representative; so too did Jesus become the head and representative of those who by faith in Him would be born again into His likeness. When we are born the first time we are Adam’s children, sinners without spiritual life. Jesus affirmed a second birth (the term “being born again” meaning just this) was necessary for eternal life and sonship with God. This was only possible because Christ became sin for us. “For [God the Father] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” 2nd Corinthians 5:21.

So when did Jesus take away the sin of the world? It had to be, could only be, at the point of His death, when the sky darkened and He hung on the cross bearing the unknown, horrid separation from God the Father that all mankind must experience in their present fallen, sinful state. Jesus asserts this when He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Mark 15:34. When the darkness of God departing from Him and Christ being punished as our vicarious sin offering had concluded, our Lord declared “It is finished,” (John 19:30) committed His spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46) and breathed His last, Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46. I know many commentators dislike the use of John 19:30 as a proclamation that sin had been fully dealt with on the cross, but said commentators tend to be heavily steeped in legalism or tradition and refuse to allow the atonement to be complete. But given the context of the passage, and what is said about the nature of Jesus’ life and death in the NT and OT, there is only one conclusion to be reached: Jesus’ death satisfied God’s judgment. He suffered sin’s judgment, so mankind, through faith in the Savior, need not experience it.

The OT sin offering typified Jesus’ death. The penitent sinner brought an unblemished lamb to a Jewish altar. There he would lay his hand on the animal, an act recognizing that the lamb was going to die in his stead at that point. The sin of that individual transferred to the lamb, that animal would then be killed, its blood shed in the man’s stead while the man was present. The death that lamb died the man deserved, and by bringing the animal to the altar and offering it thus he testified that he agreed with God that His judgment against sin (and against that man) was just. There is only one punishment for sin: death. “The soul who sins shall die,” Ezekiel 18:20. There is only one way to atone for sin: shed blood, in other words, death. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement (The Hebrew word literally means “covering”) for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul,” Leviticus 17:11. “Without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22.

Jesus the Christ came to this earth to provide a single, perfect sacrifice for sin that every Jewish sin offering foreshadowed; furthermore such offerings reminded the people of their guilt and sinful state; it was a reminder that the people needed a Savior, Hebrews 10:3-4. The function of the Law was to make a people ready for the coming of the Christ, Galatians 3:24. Then we could be justified by faith in Him, apart from the works of the law. John the Baptist, faithful forerunner of the Christ, was also busy readying in his day a people prepared for the Lord, Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 1:17.

To celebrate the life of Christ is good. To recognize that His life led to His miraculous, triumphant death over sin is better. His life was a ministry of service that would provide reason for trusting Him with our eternal destiny. He demonstrated by His miracles and wisdom that He had power over man’s physical state, even death. He had power over demons; He had power over storms and material existence (such as when He created food for thousands). He used these miracles as an indicator that He (more importantly) had power to forgive sins and grant spiritual life to whom He willed, Matthew 9:1-8; John 5:19-21. It is only through His name that one is saved. We know what this term means. We sometimes say that someone has made a name for themselves. We then associate accomplishments and perceived character with said name. It is so with Jesus. He accomplished with His victorious death what thousands of years of religion have failed to do: He opened the way to Heaven for those who would, by faith in Him, enter in. Jesus is the Lamb of God, and the gift He gives is year round for every one of all ages.

Merry Christmas to one and all in the name of our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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