In the first chapter of his Gospel, the 29th verse, John the apostle quotes John the Baptist, who, seeing Jesus come to him, said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!"
There you have the conclusion of Jesus life at the very introduction of Jesus' ministry. You know from the beginning what the end is going to be.
They understood John's words, but they could not appreciate their meaning and they forgot them. But it was there at the very start.
Did you know at the beginning of your life how it was going to turn out? Of course not. Very few of us imagined that we would be in this place at this point in our lives. We didn't know whom we would marry, what our career might be, where life might take us. But Jesus from the very beginning of His ministry knew what the end was going to be.
The word "behold" is a word we trip over all to lightly when we read the Bible. It's intended to spotlight something. It's intended to draw our attention to something. The word "behold" means something like "Look here! See this!" We know that something very astonishing is going to be laid out before us.
So, in this single verse, this single truth, there are three startling aspects. First, we see how startling it is that a man should take the place of a lamb. Second, we are startled to learn that the offended should provide the atonement for the offender. Third, it startles us to know that one deed by one man can erase many deeds done by many men.
"Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." A man takes the place of a lamb! They understood that because they were familiar with lambs and their relationship to sin. In fact, they knew all along that a lamb could take the place of a man. So, it is rather startling to see the opposite.
They began with that at birth. It was a law of the Jews that the firstborn belonged to God. But all human sacrifice was prohibited. How could you give the firstborn to God and make no human sacrifice? You had a substitute. A lamb took the place of a man. That was at their very birth.
It carried them back in memory to when their ancestors were in Egypt and God said, "I'm going to pass through Egypt and I'm going to slay the firstborn in every household." But to the Jews he said, "If you will kill a lamb and put the blood on the doorpost, then the lamb will take the place of the man. I will not slay the firstborn in your household."
They understood its relationship to sin. Whenever they sinned, they brought an offering to the Lord - a lamb. They knew that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." But they brought the lamb instead. Before their altars the lamb took the place of the man.
Standing on that vast paved courtyard that once housed the temple of the living God, one might think about all of the feet that had passed that way. Solomon in all his splendor built this temple. There were the priests and the Levites who had come that way. Jesus feet passed over those stone! Strangely, we might be most impressed not by these, but by the cloven feet that by the thousands had walked in this place the lambs sacrificed for the sake of Israel, sacrificed for the sins of Israel.
John the Baptist was familiar with all of this because he belonged to the priestly family. His father had killed those lambs and laid them on the altar. He had seen it done over and over again. Because of his rich familiarity with their custom, he saw it as an illustration of a new striking truth. So, he turned the whole thing upside down. Often lambs had taken the place of men, now a man would take the place of a lamb.
John the Baptist could have introduced Jesus to the world as a lion rather than a lamb. The lion is as prominent in prophecy as the lamb. The coming Messiah is described as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah."
Did you ever play that little parlor game where you decide what animal you would like to be? Somebody says, "A bird, so I can soar through the heavens." Somebody says, "A race horse, beautiful and graceful." Somebody says, "An owl, because he is wise." Or, "A turtle, because he lives so long." Or, "A lion, because he is the king of the jungle." But who wants to be a lamb?
John the Baptist could very well have introduced Jesus to the world as the lion of God. It's true and it's scriptural. But he chose instead to introduce Jesus to the world as the Lamb of God. There is a reason behind that choice, just as there was a reason behind all of those sacrifices. Look at them superficially and it s utterly incomprehensible. Does God love to see animals die? Does He rejoice in the shedding of blood? Do the pain and the death mean something to Him? How strange! How macabre!
No, it all looks to the future. Without the sacrifice of those lambs, we would not have the striking contrast of this text. The only way that we ever understand anything is by comparing it with something or contrasting it with something. When we want to describe something we say, "It's just like . . ." Or we say, "It's just the opposite of . . ." That's the only way we ever understand anything - comparison, contrast. Without all those tens of thousands of lambs on the altar of Israel, we could never understand what Jesus came to do.
In our own experience an animal takes the place of a man. If we want to experiment with drugs or surgical procedures, what do we do? We take an animal. Some people are opposed to that. They are not thinking it through. We don't favor cruelty to animals, but on the other hand, we must test our drugs and we must test our procedures. Shall we test them on a human or shall we test them on an animal? The answer's obvious. It would be better for 10,000 mice to have cancer if a cure for cancer for people could thereby be found.
So, for an animal to take the place of a man is not only a part of Israel's experience, but it's a part of our experience, and not just in the world of research. Until recent times on a farm an animal took the place of a man. An animal carried the burden. An animal pulled the load. An animal pulled the plow. It's a principle with which we are thoroughly familiar. How startling to see it suddenly turned upside down.
We say the value of a man is far greater than the value of an animal. But what is the value of a man? This is a question that comes up in Scripture. At the time of Joseph a man was worth twenty pieces of silver. That's what Joseph's brothers got for him when they sold him into slavery. By the time Jesus came along inflation had taken its toll; Judas got thirty pieces of silver for Jesus.
When the Nazis occupied Holland, many of the Dutch hid Jews from Nazis to save their lives. The Nazis, in order to counteract that, offered a reward for every Jew who was turned in - 7 1/2 gilders. That's what they said a man was worth.
The worth of a man! That's a thought to ponder. We are worth so much that Jesus would come and take the place of a lamb for the sake of man. If we are startled to see a man take the place of a lamb, we're startled all the more to see that the offended provided the atonement for the offender.
How surprised his audience must have been when John the Baptist said, "the Lamb of God." Wait a minute! God hasn't sinned. Why does God need a lamb? Man needs a lamb. Man has sinned. God is holy. God is righteous and just. God has never sinned. What do you mean, "the Lamb of God?"
Such questions must have arisen in their minds. It is as if a thief should rob you, be caught, tried, and convicted, and then you have to serve his sentence. There's not one of us who would do that.
We are certain that it is the offender who must make restitution, not the one who has been offended - the guilty and not the innnocent, the wounder and not the wounded.
That's the way we think it is in the family. Mother says to the little child who has just beaten up on the sibling, "You go and say you're sorry." The one who has been beaten up doesn't have to say anything. It's the one who has done the deed that must say, "I'm sorry" and make restitution.
There were once two brothers who didn't speak. Each one said, "I'm perfectly willing to patch up the quarrel, but it isn't my fault. It's the other one who has done the injury and he is the one who must come and say he is sorry. I'm perfectly willing to forgive him as soon as he admits he is wrong."
That's the way we operate in life. That's the way we operate in society. In the little insults that come to us and the little hurts and grievances, we say, "All right! That person hurt me! That's the person who must begin to make restitution."
That's the way it is in law. The law doesn't fine the person who has been damaged by the crime. The law fines the criminal.
That's the way it is in nature. If you offend the laws of electricity, it will not be your next-door neighbor who will be electrocuted! If you offend the laws of poison, it will not be your next-door neighbor who will be rushed to the emergency room.
So, here is a principle that runs all the way through the world. There are very few exceptions to it. There is one in the Old Testament.
Hosea's wife had left him. She had been more than unfaithful to him. She had actually become a prostitute. She had gotten down to the lowest rank of prostitute and was living in the slums of the city. Hosea, who had been wounded, searched for her and found her. He pleaded with her to come back. All along we think that she should have pleaded with him to take her back.
It also happened in the New Testament as God, the offended, provided the sacrifice for the offender.
We're glad that He did because He alone could do it. We had nothing to give in expiation for our sins. Our sins are too vast and too numerous. If He had not done it, it could not have been done at all.
A frequent blood donor, a preacher, went to the Adler building in Clearwater, Florida where the blood bank is located. He drove a Volkswagen. He pulled his battered ten-year-old Volkswagen into the parking lot and there sat a magnificent new Rolls Royce. That Rolls Royce cost more than his entire net worth. He knew whose it was because the parking space was marked Edward Adler. He knew that that Rolls Royce belonged to the wealthy couple who had given an enormous amount of money to build that building to house a blood bank. Without a moment s hesitation he parked his little VW right beside the Rolls Royce. He knew that his contribution was just as necessary as theirs. You cannot transfuse dollars into veins. All they had given would be worthless without people of another rank coming in to give blood.
No other person could have made the atonement if God had not provided it through Christ.
In the city of Thessalonica in Greece there is a church called the church of St. Demetrius. In the church there is a box. In the box there is a handful of earth. They say this was soaked with the blood of St. Demetrius when he died as a Christian martyr. We are never to take martyrdom lightly, but the blood of St. Demetrius cannot do for you what the blood of Jesus can do for you!
There is something else startling in this text. That is that one deed done by one man on one day should erase many deeds done by many men. That's not logical. Logic tells you just the opposite. Logic tells you that for one sin you ought to do a whole lot of good deeds. Maybe a whole lot of good deeds will overbalance the one sin. Logic tells you that while many good deeds might erase one bad deed, obviously, one good deed could not logically erase many evil deeds.
There is much in the world that is not logical. It is not logical that we should be loved, but it is true. It is not logical that our mates should love us. It is not logical that our children should honor us, but they do. It is not logical that our friends should be loyal to us, but they are. There is a great deal in the world that is true, but is not logical. Here is something that is absolutely true and totally illogical: one deed done by one person, Jesus Christ, can erase many deeds done by many persons.
It would have been amazing if this text had taught that Jesus in a single act erased all of my sins. It would have been amazing if this text had taught us that Jesus in a single act erased all of the sins of the people in one city. It would have been amazing if the text had taught us that Jesus in a single deed managed to erase all the sins that Americans had ever committed, or all the sins of the twentieth century. But it's larger than that. It's the sin of the world!
It's not logical but it is true. It's not limited but it is universal. It's not limited to geography. It's not limited to race. It's not limited to financial status. It's not limited to education. It's not limited to social standing. It's not limited to anything!
It's not logical, but true. It's not limited, but universal. It's not automatic, but it is conditional.
There was once a man who never went to church. Somebody told him that he ought to go to church. He asked, "Why? Jesus died for everybody's sins, so he died for mine. I don't have to bother about it." He didn't understand that universal doesn't mean automatic.
Jesus will never forgive you of the sin of which you do not repent! Not in this world and not in the next! He will never forgive you if you do not believe. That's the foundation stone of forgiveness and salvation. It's absolutely necessary.
It must be a personal thing. He will not forgive you on the grounds that your wife has faith, or your husband has faith, or your parents have faith, or your children have faith. It must be a heartfelt faith, a confessed faith, an obedient faith.
Jesus said that those who rejected the baptism of John the Baptist rejected the counsel of God. What would He say of those who reject the baptism that He himself commanded?
Faith: personal, heartfelt, confessed, obedient. That's what it takes if the blood is to be applied.
The Lamb appears 27 times in the book of Revelation. Most often he's on a throne! It's the Lamb who is on the throne in Heaven. But though the Lamb is on the throne and the blood dried in the dust of Calvary long ago, still the blood avails. Still the death has power for life. Still the Lamb takes away sins.
Dear dying Lamb, the precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.