September 20, 2017
Why the Cross?
The Cross and “The Lamb of God”
John 1:29 (NASB)
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Twice in John 1, John the Baptist refers to Jesus as “The Lamb of God”. Such a title (if we can call it that) is rich in its emotional and theological imagery. John the Baptist used that title the only two times it appears in Scripture—John 1:29, 36. In this lesson I hope you will be more impressed with Jesus knowing the full riches in “Lamb of God.”
The Lamb of God as a sacrificial Lamb
Imagine if you saw a lady wearing a pretty gold necklace to church and dangling on it you see a gold hangman’s noose. You would likely think “Huh?” What could possibly be attractive about a hangman’s noose? You might even think it was kind of sick.
Would anyone dare display a hangman’s noose in honor of someone who was executed by hanging? Then imagine years ago when Christians began to wear a cross—a means of execution—as a piece of jewelry. It was a scandal. Hanging on a cross until dead was a disgrace. But Christians rejoice that the humiliation of Jesus is exactly what secured our forgiveness and eternal life. Like Paul said, “I do not want to be proud of anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14, NLV). To the cross Jesus was nailed—as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36). The Lamb of God is our sacrificial Lamb.
The lamb imagery is a flashback to the sacrificial system which God gave to Israel, which in turn was the foreshadow of Christ the ultimate, effective Lamb of God. The New Testament makes this clear. Paul wrote, “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21). Peter penned, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Pet 2:24).
“The sacrificial nature of Christ’s death is clearly expressed. He was referred to by Paul as “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7). The apostle Peter stated that believers are rescued “not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pt 1:18, 19). So also the references in John 1:29, 36 to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” probably had in mind the idea of sacrifice.”1
In the human imagination found among all of the world religions, any of their gods can hammer people, punish them in a variety of ways. Only in biblical Christianity does a loving God take upon himself the guilt of fallen people. God became one of us, a better Adam, the ultimate Adam and became the sacrificial Lamb in our behalf.
This lesson is designed to honor Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It cannot be left unsaid what implication and application this must mean for Christian living. The Bible teaches that to honor Christ is to follow him as our lamb-like example. If the grace of Jesus, his gentleness toward me and his humiliation on the cross for me really touch my core, it will affect my personality and the way I treat people:
The Lamb of God as our example
“Oh, don’t worry about our German Shepherd—he’s as __________________.”
“Gentle as a lamb” is a common expression in all cultures (Google it). The fact that John did not declare Jesus as the Bull of God or the Goat of God cannot be overlooked. The gentle disposition of a lamb is a significant part of the imagery that God wants us to get from the title “Lamb of God”. The gentleness and humility of Christ during the cross event are part of his divine perfection and what makes him so winsome. And this is the way Jesus related to people. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29).
Peter taught us how to relate to someone who is harsh and unreasonable and said “What did Jesus do?” Peter wrote, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:21-23). Another of Christ’s apostles adopted the attitude of Jesus, “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ …” (2 Cor 10:1). Paul wasn’t going to pick a fight.
Here are a few examples from the Bible of how “gentle as a lamb” applies. If someone presses you into service and makes you carry something a mile (Matt 5:38-48); how many times I should forgive someone (Matt 18:21-35); I need to sue a church member (1 Cor 6:1-8); Looking out for #1 (Phil 2:1-11); How to relate to a person who opposes the gospel (2 Tim 2:24-26; 1 Pet 3:1-16). The “gentleness of wisdom” and the loaded pistol in my mouth (Jas 3:1-18); I have an unreasonable boss (1 Pet 2:18-23).
At this point, 1. “The Lamb of God as a sacrificial Lamb” and 2. “The Lamb of God as our example” still do not exhaust the fullness of the imagery in the title “Lamb of God”. This one might surprise you:
The Lamb of God as conquering Lamb
The Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world has a larger sense than atonement for the sin of individuals. It refers to the end of the story of Christ’s restoration of the world when all sin and its consequences are “taken away”. Because of the death of Jesus a death sentence was pronounced on Satan. “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31). The context of the Lamb of God sayings in John 1 includes the bigger picture of the dignity of Christ—he is the Creator of all things and he is the Messiah who, according to the OT, restores all things. So we expect that “taking away sin” restores God’s creation.
You might say that doesn’t sound like a job for a “lamb”! No, it doesn’t, but in John’s theology as expressed in the book of Revelation, it is the Lamb, first appearing in Revelation 5, who judges the earth. It is the Lamb who takes the “last will and testament” scroll from God and for the inheritance to be accessible to the redeemed the seven seals (of judgment) must be broken. In chapter 6 and 8 it is the Lamb who breaks the judgment seals one by one. Here is how the Lamb is described:
“And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth” (Rev 5:6). Yes, a Lamb, but with seven horns. Horns are OT symbols of military and political strength. The number seven represents perfection or completeness. The Lamb is omnipotent and has all authority. The eyes represent his omniscience. This is no ordinary Lamb. The victim Lamb has become the conquering Lamb at the end of history as we know it.
“The Lamb” as a reference to Christ occurs 24 times in Revelation. “The wrath of the Lamb” is found in Revelation 6:16. Especially noteworthy: “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Rev 17:14).
Conclusion: “Therefore, pinning on John’s Lamb of God just one background unjustifiably restricts John’s otherwise thick and varied portrayal of Jesus and his mission.”2
1 Robert W. Lyon and Peter Toon, “Atonement,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 232.
2 J. Dennis, “Lamb of God,” ed. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Second Edition (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; IVP, 2013), 483.