02 January 2010

Jesus is The Lamb of God


This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”  John 1:19-34

Make no mistake.  With one simple pronouncement, the voice calling from the desert making straight the way of the Lord, tells all of us from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry about Jesus’ primary mission:  “The Lamb of God who takes the sins of the world!”
There are many of us called to testify about Jesus who could learn much from John the Baptist. He knew exactly who he was and what he was supposed to do. His entire ministry revolved around preparing people in their knowledge of another. For all humanity, it is critical to know the one John prepared the way for. John never claimed or grasped for an identity that wasn't his. He became lesser so that One who IS worthy could become greater.
Many of us pastors and church leaders, particularly "successful" ones, have large egos. This is true particularly in the corporate style of church or any large-scale Christian endeavour. The "successful" pastor or leader is usually quite charismatic and those who aren't are usually trained and encouraged to be so.
For example, I once attended a lecture from a popular pastor of one of the largest churches in Perth at a minister's conference. The whole point of his lecture was that many churches weren't doing well because many pastors are not interesting people. He encouraged us to do as he had done and pursue a variety of interests so that we could become more interesting.
We must put ourselves out there in the community so that we can sell more books and/or bring more people into our church or organisation. THEN, we are in the best possible position to introduce people to Jesus. Unfortunately this method has at least two fundamental flaws that prevent us from transitioning from point one to point two.
One, if people are brought into our churches or organisations because of our popularity, what incentive or training is available for people to testify about Jesus? If growing a church is all about liking Phil Baker, Brian Houston, Jimmy Swaggart, TD Jakes, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Alan Hirsch, etc..., then are people truly growing in their knowledge of Jesus or even encouraged to grow in their knowledge of Jesus? It's so true:  what we are won with is what we are won to.
Two, if people are brought into our churches or organisations because of our popularity, then our sustained success depends on our sustained popularity. All of us like being popular (even if it's among a small band of the loyal). None of us like being despised. At a moment of truth, it is very tempting for the popular leader to choose popularity over humility and submission to the Lordship of Christ.
This makes Christ's own example all the more striking and awesome. How does John describe Him? "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" St. Paul wrote that Jesus took the form of a servant. Jesus was a servant. How much of a servant?
Going back to the principle of first mention, the word 'lamb' is first mentioned in Genesis 22. This is the disturbing story of God testing Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice the son God promised to Abraham so long ago. Abraham and his son Isaac went to offer a burnt sacrifice to God.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

And, thankfully, God stopped Abraham from killing his son and provided a ram for the burnt offering.

The next mention of the word 'lamb' is in Exodus 12, God instructed the Israelites to kill a lamb and sprinkle it's blood on their doorposts so His angel would not enter their home and kill their firstborn sons.

In both of these instances in God's revealed Word, there was someone that was going to be killed until something else was killed in their place. (When it comes to these disturbing and blood-soaked stories, I am reminded that I worship the One, True God. God does not have to conform himself to my sensibilities. As CS Lewis wrote about Aslan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, "He's not tame, but he is good.") So, the Jews would have this in mind when John proclaims Jesus as "The Lamb of God who takes the sins of the world!"

There has been much debate in liberal church circles about the "penal substitution theory" of the atonement. I just listened to a podcast by The Emergent Village where Tony Jones and Mark Baker tried to replace the penal substitution theory of the atonement with another theory. As usual, the emergent church sounds credible when it comes to tearing stuff down, but they fall short putting something in its place.

Do we willingly follow a God who would kill His own Son? Sounds barbaric, doesn't it? Another prophet, Isaiah, references a lamb in the 53rd chapter of his prophecy:

         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 her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,

though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering,

he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,

because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.


Did God kill His own Son? Not actively, but certainly passively. It seems that at least from the beginning of Jesus' ministry, at least one person knows exactly what the primary purpose of Jesus' mission is: to take away the sins of the world. Here's what I do know. Without an active, intimate relationship with our Creator, the One, True, Living God, we are the living dead. We have rebelled against our heavenly Father and sought our own way. And that way always fails and leads to death. We needed a way to restore our active, intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. Throughout the history of God's revealed Word, He provided that way through His Lamb, the Lamb of God, Jesus.

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