Unto Us: A Lamb is Given

Unto Us: A Lamb is Given

John 1:29-34

One of my favorite movies and stories is C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  After entering a magical wardrobe that transported the Pevensie children into the world of Narnia where it was winter, but never Christmas, due to the curse of the white witch for the last 100 years.  But after Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy enter Narnia things begin to change, for an ancient Narnian prophecy said that before Narnia would be delivered from its curse, two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve would appear.  The one who would deliver Narnia from the curse would not be the Pevensie children, but a Lion named Aslan:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.[1]

It was Aslan the Lion who would restore Narnia because he was the only one powerful enough and capable of doing so.  The reason we read or watch stories like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is because the winter we find ourselves in has been going on way too long, and we all long for the life that comes with the spring. 

John the Baptist was a person who fascinated the masses. He dressed in camel’s skin, ate locust and honey, and told all who came out to hear him to repent of their sins telling them things like: “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:7-8).   Some wanted to know if he was the Christ, others thought that he might be the prophet Elijah who never died but was miraculously taken into heaven by a chariot of fire (see 2 Kings 2:1ff), some wondered if he was the prophet Moses said would come who would be like him (Deut. 18:15).  John was none of those individuals.  So who was he?  John said that he was, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23).      

The Lamb Was Given

Hundreds of years before John was born, there was an ancient prophecy given to the Hebrew people by the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1-2).  When Isaiah’s prophecy was given, Israel was exiled by the Babylonian Empire because of God’s judgment on his people for worshiping other gods and breaking his commandments.  He had warned them for decades that if they continued in their sins, that judgment would indeed come.  In Isaiah 40, God promised his people that although they were experiencing his judgment, that he had not forgotten them. 

How would Israel’s warfare end and her iniquity be pardoned?  It would begin with a voice: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’” (Isaiah 40:3–5).

The wilderness is symbolic of a cursed creation.  It is appropriate that the voice that is to be heard is one crying out in the midst of the wilderness.  In the midst of pain, distrust, frustration, thorns and thistles, weariness, sweat, burdens, and death is a voice.  If there is a voice, there is life.  What is the voice crying?  “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” 

Do you know what would be announced in the ancient east when the Babylonians conquered the land of a particular kingdom?  The following announcement would be made on behalf of the coming king: “Make his way good. Renew his road. Make straight his path. Hew him out a track.”[2]  In preparation of the arrival of the new king, the building of a new road symbolized two things: 1) The coming king was sovereign and powerful, and 2) his presence would make all things better.  With the coming of the king, all that resists his coming will be leveled and with his coming the land and people under his reign will flourish.

What the prophet Isaiah was describing in Isaiah 40 was not just John the Baptist, but the coming of God Himself as the King: “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isa. 40:5).  With the coming of God as King, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…”  Why?  Because, “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together…” (vv. 4, 5).  John’s whole mission and purpose was to announce the coming of the King who is the Lamb of God.  When John realized who the promised King was, he understood that he was first the Lamb and said, “Behold, 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 before me, because he was before me’… I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-30, 34). 

The role of John the Baptist was to prepare people for the coming of the Lamb who was also the promised King.  The religious leaders who approached John were not looking for a Lamb, because they didn’t think they needed one.  They thought that their greatest threat was the tyranny of the Roman Empire who only the Messiah could destroy, but the real threat was the one that loomed and lurked in their own hearts heart. 

The Lamb is our Substitute

How did John discover that it was Jesus, the son of Mary, who was the Lamb?  John tells us that he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove.  In Luke 3:21-22, we are given a bit more information about what John saw and heard when he baptized Jesus for the first time: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21–22).  In other words, John heard a voice from heaven that accompanied the decent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus.  In Matthew 3:15, we are given even a bit more information as to why Jesus was baptized in the first place.  John told Jesus that he had to be baptized by Jesus, but Jesus answered: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

Why is any of this relevant?  It is relevant for three reasons: 1) The descending of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus signified the moment that his mission for why he was born into the world was now active; 2) the decree from God that Jesus was his son in whom he was well pleased was confirmation that Jesus was qualified to fulfill the mission of God to reconcile and save sinners because of his identity as the son of God; finally, 3) Jesus did not need to be baptized because he needed to repent of sin, but to fulfill all of the requirements of the Law of God for the purpose of living out the perfectly righteous life the Law requires that no other human could do except for Jesus. 

For the above reasons John recognized Jesus as, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  John said this of Jesus because of what happened in Exodus 12 when Israel celebrated the first Passover, when God commanded each Hebrew family to choose a lamb to be sacrificed and to have its blood smeared on the doorposts of their home.  By doing so, the angel of death would pass over every home marked by the blood of the lamb.  Every year after the first Passover, Israel would celebrate and remember how God delivered them from Pharaoh and Egypt by first bringing a lamb without any defects to the temple to be sacrificed for the sins of each family.  This was not the only time a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of the people; there was a sacrificial system set up by God that required a lamb to be sacrificed repeatedly.  Why?  Because we are sinners who never stop sinning, this is why the Bible says: “Under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22). 

Every lamb sacrificed throughout the years of Israel’s existence was a sobering reminder that something more was needed to remedy the sins of mankind.  There was one who was promised, who would be slaughtered one time so that the sins of mankind could be forgiven forever; this is the person Isaiah spoke of through the prophet Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4–6,)

When John said that Jesus was the, “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” he recognized that the only sacrifice Jesus had to make was himself and that it only had to be once because it would be everything we ever needed (Heb. 7:27).  What is striking and what the religious leaders missed when they asked John their questions was that it was not sinners who brought the Lamb of God to be sacrificed; it was God who, out of his great love for you and for me, whom brought the perfect Lamb to be sacrificed for our sin. 

The Lamb is our Satisfaction

By calling Jesus the Lamb of God, John was acknowledging that it is sin that is our biggest problem.  The prophet Jeremiah said of the human condition: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)? For this reason, we are warned from the pages of Scripture that the wrath of God stands against all ungodliness and sin (Rom. 1:18; 6:23).  Thomas Goodwin said that if God’s wrath against sin was a fire, then “all earthly bellows would… not have been able to make the furnace hot enough.”[3]  It was for the wrath of God that the Son was given.  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…”(Isaiah 9:6).  Jesus was born to be our savior, and by being our savior, he had to become our Lamb who would endure every bit of the wrath of God on our behalf. 

John’s dad was a priest, so growing up, John saw the blood spattered and stained garments every time his dad came home from a long day of mediating the temporary sacrifice of animals that were only meant to remind the people of God of a greater sacrifice to come.  Jesus too, was well aware of the sacrificial lamb, and the role of the lamb being given to take away the sins of the world.  Every Passover celebration Jesus participated in, he understood that he was the Lamb in the meal; that he was the only Lamb qualified and able to atone for the sins of mankind.  Because of our own sinfulness, we tend to justify our condition. 

We tend to identify our sin with our humanity, but Jesus was the example of perfect humanity, yet without sin.  Because Jesus was perfect and sinless, he was the only human on planet earth who could and did experience the horror of sin; he saw just how revolting sin really was.  Because Jesus is perfectly holy, he was able to appreciate evil for what it really is.  Because Jesus was free of sin, he was able to see and appreciate just how ugly and horrible sin really was.  I believe this is why Jesus got so angry with the religious leaders when they trivialized their sin when they should have known better and condemned them for doing so: Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27–28, NIV).

However, Jesus did not recoil from his purpose on earth, nor did he shrink back from doing and being what we needed, and what we needed was a savior who is also Christ the Lord!  In Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly, he said of Jesus: “He sides with you against your sin, not against you because of your sin.  He hates sin.  But he loves you.”[4]  In his hatred of your sin and his unrelenting love for you, he willingly became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  As the perfect Lamb given by God, the wrath we all deserved was satisfied when Jesus was sacrificed as our sin substitute. 

Conclusion

As the Lamb of God, Jesus became sin for us.  Every breath he sucked into his lungs and every step he took on the soil of earth was a constant reminder that he came to first serve as the Lamb of God.  On the cross, Jesus took on all of your sin.  On the cross, Jesus became your lying, your cheating, your anger, your lust, your unfaithfulness, your hatred, your idolatry, and every deep and dirty thing that is true of you.  Jesus could have recoiled, Jesus could have turned away, Jesus could have been unwilling to be your perfect Lamb, but he did none of those things! 

Instead, Jesus set his face towards the cross!  Instead, Jesus pursued the cross!  Instead, Jesus embraced the cross!  In fact, we are told in Holy Scripture that it was, “for the joy that was set before him” that he, “endured the cross and despised its shame” (Heb. 12:2).  Why did he do it?  He told us why he did it, Jesus said: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Because the Lamb of God came to take away the sin that alienates you from God the Father, we are now no longer regarded lost, but found, and because we are found, Jesus calls us his friends (see John 15:12-17).

The religious leaders who questioned John really didn’t think they needed another Lamb.  They wanted the Lion of Judah; the promised King who could destroy Rome and restore peace to the region.  They did not understand that the Prince of peace of Isaiah 9:6, had to first become the Lamb to reconcile sinners with the God whose wrath they deserved.  But make no mistake, the Lamb who was slain, not only conquered sin, but defeated death on our behalf, and by doing so, has guaranteed the coming spring that will make all that is wrong with this world and us—new! This is why all of heaven is singing in worship and anticipation of the Lamb:

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”” (Revelation 5:9–12)

This is what it means for the Son to be given: God gave us the Lamb!  Amen.


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, pp. 74-75.

[2] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

[3] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly (Wheaton, IL: Crossway; 2020), p. 68.

[4] Ibid. p. 71.