Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

Since the time of the early Church, Holy Scripture has inspired all manner of Christian art. That’s no less true when it comes to images of Jesus  

such as the Lamb of God, which in the New Testament we see in today’s Gospel and also in the Book of Revelation.

 

For instance, in the world of literature. In the late 18th century, the British writer, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, wrote a poem referring to the Lamb of God opening one

of the seven seals of the scroll in Revelation.[i]

 

And then, in the visual arts: E.g., the resurrected lamb that marches as in victory, carrying with it the flag of St. George. By the way, that image is displayed on a

wall in one of the staircases to the Lower Narthex.

 

Last, in sacred music we experience many references to the Lamb of God.  It is, of course, part of our historic liturgy—set right before Holy Communion.

Also in our book of worship, we have well over a dozen hymns referring to Jesus the Lamb—probably the best-known among them being “Just as I Am,  

without One Plea.” That’s the one that was always sungat Billy Graham crusades, one of which, by the way, I attended as a teenager. The 2nd verse goes like this:

            Just as I am, and waiting not

            To rid my soul of one dark blot,

            To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,

            O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

 Later this morning we will sing another hymn pointing to Jesus in this way.  [It’s a song I really like to sing; and I’m bit upset it will be during communion.

But, Todd, don’t worry about having put it there. It’s okay…sort of.]  [You might be surprised to know there’s even aXn rock band whose name is  

the Lamb of God. But this morning we’re not going to go that road.]

 

This image is so familiar, most of us may not even think about it.  We assume we know just what it means. Yet, when John declared, “Here is the Lamb of God

who takes away the sin of the world!,”  he never explained just where he got that from. It could have been a direct revelation from God. Still, John did not spell

out it's exact meaning.  So I’d like to take a few minutes now to look at that.

 

When we read about lambs in the Bible, we often think of ourselves: How Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for us, who protects and guides us—

we who belong to his spiritual flock.

 

But another image of a lamb has to do with sacrifice. And we get much of that from the Old Testament. We think of a lamb—among other animals— as being

 sacrificed at an altar, most often the altar at the temple in Jerusalem.  And we think of that sacrifice as somehow paying for the sins of the one who offers it.

 

What may seem surprising is that most Jewish sacrifices actually had nothing to do with the taking away of sin. That’s true! Instead, their purpose was  

usually to commune more deeply with, of becoming much closer to God.   It also was a means of “expressing thanks, gratitude, and love to God.”[ii]

 

Only in rare circumstances was a sacrifice made in order to remove the power of sin—one of them being on what is today called Yom Kippur, the annual Day

of Atonement. And even for that event—before the J. temple was destroyed— the priests offered up not a lamb or sheep, but rather a bull.[iii]

 

So, for us Christians, where does the idea come from of sacrificing a lamb as a sin offering? Many of you are probably already thinking about the Passover

in the Book of Exodus—when a lamb’s blood was wiped on the doorposts of each of the homes of the Hebrew slaves—so the plague carried out by the

Angel of Death might pass over them. And in the Last Supper of Holy Week, when Jesus declared the bread and wine to be his body and blood  

“for the forgiveness of sins.”[iv]

 

Even though it wasn’t the body and blood of the lamb itself,  that’s how early Christians understood it, for example, St. Paul. As he wrote in 1 Corinthians,

“… our Paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.” And in his Letter to the Romans: Jesus is he “whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement

by his blood….”[v][vi] However, the altar on which he was lifted up was made not of stone and did not stand securely in the Holy of Holies, but was hewn

out of wood and raised up in a place of execution.

 

Although all of this may seem clear to you and me, in the time of the early Church it took several generations for theologians to develop this understanding.

And even then they still disagreed about some of its finer points.

 

 For us and for all people, God sacrificed, gave up his only Son.  Yet knowing this great act is so familiar we sometimes forget how profound it is.  I am reminded

of a curriculum for Sunday school in which the classes were  intergenerat’l, including children, parents, grandparents, and other older persons.

 

We were all asked a difficult question: “Whom would you give up your life for?”

One boy whose father was then deployed in the Middle East talked about his willingness, if necessary, to give up his life for a comrade in arms,  and also, ideally,

for his nation.

 

No one mentioned, but another possibility would be an officer of the law,  potentially for innocent persons whom he or she is bound to protect.

 

The most common answer came from parents—that they would give up their lives for a daughter or son. That is what we see in one of the most moving stories in

all of scripture— in the story of Abraham and his son Isaac on their journey up a mountain in order to offer a sacrifice to God. If you know the account, you

remember that God commanded Abraham to give his own son as a burnt offering.  So he built an altar out of stones and lay down the firewood.  Then he bound

 Isaac hand and foot and took up his knife.

This story a philosopheronce wrote about—in his homeland of Denmark— back in the 19th century. He even devoted an entire book about it,

writing in great detail about the choice Abraham had to make.  He tried to put himself in his place, imagining the stress and hopelessness of his situation—either

save his son and forsake the God who  promised through Isaac to make his descendants as plentiful as the stars in the sky,  as numerous as the grains of sand on

the seashore.  Or Abraham could remain faithful to God & lose the son whom he loved so much.  As it turned out, he chose God, who ultimately ordered him to

spare the life of his son.

 

In the Gospel of John we read: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that all those who believe in him may not perish, but have

everlasting life.”   This is he who was willing to die—and did die—so you & I & all others might live.

 

This is what John the Baptist meant when he said, “Behold, here is the Lamb. of God!



[i] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Religious Musings” in Poems, 1796; the reference to Revelation 7:9-11.

 

[ii][ii]https://en.widipedia.org/wiki/Korban;http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/resource/sacrifice_nt.xhtml;;and Richard Swanson, “Commentary on John 1:29-42,” in Working Preacher.

 

[iii]https://theeucharist.wordpress.com/index/chapter-14-eucharist-and-sacrifice/

 

[iv] Matthew 26:28.

 

[v]http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/resource/sacrifice nt.xhtml.

 

[vi] 1 Corinthians 5:7b; Romans 3:24-25.