From Praying the Names of Jesus Week Six, Day One
Most of us picture lambs as downy white animals frolicking in rolling green meadows or carried tenderly in the arms of their shepherd. Lambs represent gentleness, purity, and innocence. Though it is one of the most tender images of Christ in the New Testament, the phrase "Lamb of God" would have conjured far more disturbing pictures to those who heard John the Baptist hail Jesus with these words. Hadn't many of them, at one time or another, carried one of their own lambs to the altar to be slaughtered as a sacrifice for their sins, a lamb that they had fed and bathed, the best animal in their small flock? Hadn't the bloody sacrifice of an innocent animal provided a vivid image of the consequences of transgressing the Mosaic law? Surely, John must have shocked his listeners by applying the phrase "Lamb of God" to a living man.
When we pray to Jesus as the Lamb of God, we are praying to the One who voluntarily laid down his life to take in his own body the punishment for our sins and for the sins of the entire world.
John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29
His Name Revealed
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"
"I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie."
This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel."
Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" John 1:24 - 35
Jesus, perfect Offering for all my sins, help me to understand that sin extracts a deadly payment. Thank you for giving your life to deal with my debt. Forgive me for everything I've done to cause you suffering. Help me, Lamb of God, to rejoice in your love for me. Amen.
Understanding the Name
It is impossible to understand the title "Lamb of God" without understanding something about the practice of animal sacrifice in both Old and New Testaments. The sacrificial system provided a way for God's people to approach him even though they had violated the Mosaic law. When an animal was offered, its blood was shed and its flesh was then burned on the altar. When the animal was completely consumed by fire, the sacrifice was called a "holocaust." When only part of the animal was burned, it was considered a "peace offering," intended to restore communion with God. Those who offered sacrifices understood that the animal being sacrificed was a symbolic representation of themselves and their desire to offer their own lives to God. In fact, the sacrificial system of the Hebrew Scriptures represents God's way of instructing us about what it means to approach a holy God. The lamb was the principal animal of sacrifice, and two were offered each day — one in the morning and one in the evening (Numbers 28:1 - 8). The offering was doubled on the Sabbath. Lambs (or other animals) were also sacrificed on the first day of the new month and on such feasts as Passover, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles. Lambs were also offered in cleansing ceremonies after a woman gave birth and after the healing of a leper.
To the Jews the lamb represented innocence and gentleness. Because the sacrifice was meant to represent the purity of intention of the person or people who offered it, lambs had to be without physical blemishes.
The New Testament uses two Greek words for Christ as "Lamb" or "Lamb of God": Arnion (AR-nee-on) and Amnos Tou Theou (am-NOS tou the-OU). The phrase "Lamb of God" is found only in John's Gospel, though Jesus is often referred to as "the Lamb" in the book of Revelation, where he is portrayed as the Lamb who, though slain, yet lives and reigns victorious. In fact, twenty-nine of the thirty-four New Testament occurrences of "Lamb" occur in Revelation, a book so named, at least in part, because of what it reveals about who God is.
The New Testament also refers to Christ's followers as lambs. Because the temple was destroyed in AD 70, animal sacrifices could no longer be offered there. Most Jews today no longer eat lamb during the Passover meal or Seder. Instead, they place a roasted lamb shank bone on a Seder plate as a reminder of the sacrifice.
Studying the Name
- Jesus refused to defend himself when dragged before the Jewish leaders and before Pilate and Herod. How does this relate to the passage from Isaiah? What does it say to you about Jesus?
- Imagine that you are walking into the temple holding a young lamb in your arms. He is like a favorite pet, but now he is going to be sacrificed for your sins. How do you feel? Now imagine doing the same thing over and over because no one sacrifice can possibly take away your sins. What thoughts go through your mind?
- What do you think of when you think of Jesus as the Lamb of God? How does this title relate to your life?
Two of Ann Spangler's most-loved books have been released in paperback: Praying the Names of God and Praying the Names of Jesus.
These books help us understand the biblical context in which these names and titles were revealed, and help us gain a more intimate knowledge of the Father and of the Son.