Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Lamb of God

Did you know that that phrase appears in the Bible only two times?  In John 1.29, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"  Again, in John 1.36, he simply said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!"  If this expression doesn't appear anywhere else in the Bible, where did John get the idea to call Jesus the Lamb of God?

Because it is the Easter season, the question piqued my interest right away.  And most likely, John would have derived the idea from the Old Testament.  Yet the more I searched the Scriptures, the less I found there that fit.  There is the Passover lamb, the "lamb led to the slaughter" in Isaiah, the lamb for a burnt offering, among others.  None of them, however, is called the Lamb of God.  Still they all have one thing in common.  Nearly every passage in the Old Testament containing the term "lamb" refers to a sacrifice of one kind or another.  Perhaps by calling Jesus the Lamb of God, John intended for us to see in Him the fulfillment of all that is foreshadowed in all of the sacrifices taken together.  All the truth to which the entire sacrificial system points finds its embodiment in Him.  He is the perfect sacrifice, rising above all others and perfecting all others.

One of those Old Testament truths I found particularly fascinating because it showed me so vividly what Jesus did for me.  Genesis 22 contains the story of the offering of Isaac, called in Jewish writings The Aqidah, the "Binding of Isaac."  In so many ways, Isaac is the perfect Old Testament picture of Jesus.  I'd like to share some of these ways with you.  For instance, Isaac was a  child of promise.  God Himself promised to Isaac's mother not only a child but a son (Genesis 18.10,14).  Furthermore, because she was physically no longer able to bear children (v. 11), Sarah would have her son through a miracle produced by God at "the appointed time" (v. 14).  And, for all practical purposes, Isaac was Abraham's "only begotten son" (cp. Hebrews 11.17).  We know Abraham fathered Ishmael as well, but Ishmael has nothing to do with the promises of God.  So, God Himself called Isaac Abraham's "only son" (Genesis 22.2).  For me, God gave the promise of Jesus's birth to His mother (Luke 1.26-37).  Like Isaac, He was a promised "son" (v.31), a miraculous birth (v.35), and the "only begotten Son" of the Father (John 3.16).  Finally, He, too, came at the "appointed time" (Galatians 4.4: the "fulness of time").

And this is only the preliminary!  Of all the pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament, Arthur Pink tells us, "This is one of the very few...that brings before us not only God the Son but also God the Father.  Here, as nowhere else, are we shown the Father's heart.  Here it is that we get such a wonderful foreshadowment of the Divine side of Calvary."  Isaac is greatly loved by his father.  God told him to "take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac...and offer a burnt offering" (Genesis 22.2, italics are mine).  Of Jesus, more than once we hear the Father's voice say, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3.17; Mark 9.7).  But Isaac's father like Jesus's not only loved him, he offered him as a sacrifice.  When they reached the mountain of the Lord, the Bible says Abraham "built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood" (Genesis 22.9).  When Isaac asked, "'Where is the lamb...?'" (v.7), Abraham answered, "'God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son'" (v. 8).  The message is clear at this point although Isaac may not have fully understood it.  The son was the sacrifice, but it was his father who offered him.  On the Day of Pentecost, Peter declared this same message for us, "this Man [Jesus, the Son], delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God [the Father], you nailed to a cross...." (Acts 2.23).

The Father not only delivered the Son as a sacrifice, the Son willingly submitted to the plan.  Isaac was not a young child.  According to Josephus, he was at least twenty five years old, old enough and strong enough to overcome a father of a hundred twenty five years.  But he submitted to be bound as a sacrifice.  Interestingly, the word translated "bound" in verse 9 is, according to Leon Morris, a "technical term for tying up an animal for sacrifice."  Isaac submitted to the same treatment as a sacrificial animal without a trace of complaint.  Furthermore, he carried the wood upon which he was lain as a sacrifice up the mountain just as Jesus carried the cross up Mount Calvary and submitted to the sacrifice there for our sins.  Abraham laid Isaac on the altar just as the Father truly laid Jesus on the cross.  In truth, as Arthur Pink said, "what took place on that mount of sacrifice [Moriah and Calvary] was a transaction between the Father and Son ONLY."

Finally, the story of the Lamb of God would be incomplete at this Easter without the resurrection.  Symbolically, Isaac was in effect dead from the moment God commanded Abraham to sacrifice him (cp. Hebrews 11.17-19).  The journey to Moriah was three days.  And on that third day, Abraham received him back from the dead as a type (v. 19).  This Easter, we remember that our Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God also came forth from the grave on the third day (cp. Luke 24.21) to provide life for all who receive Him.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

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