From Praying the Names of Jesus Week Six, Day Two
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
Praying the Name
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1:18 - 21
Praise God: For his strong love.
Offer Thanks: That nothing in all creation can separate you from God's love.
Confess: Any tendency to identify yourself so closely with your sin that you have difficulty accepting God's forgiveness.
Ask God: To increase your gratitude for his forgiveness.
Since becoming a parent, I have come to realize that children are capable of asking the most profound theological questions. Take my seven-year-old. One of Luci's favorite questions is: "Where is God?" She cannot understand why she can't run up to him and throw her arms around him. Why doesn't this big God she hears about simply bend down, pick her up, and plant a kiss on her cheek? My oft-repeated answer — that God is everywhere but that he is a Spirit who cannot be seen — seems never to satisfy her. The other day, Luci posed the question again. Before I had a chance to trot out the same unsatisfactory answer, she asked another question: "Mom, is God mad at people?"
It occurred to me that Luci was wondering whether God's seeming remoteness was caused by his anger. Was he keeping his distance because he was upset with the way people were behaving? Without answering her first question, I found myself replying, "Honey, God has a problem, and it's a big one. He loves people but he hates sin. God is completely good and kind and loving, and he hates it when we aren't. How can he love us when he hates our sins? So God has decided to solve this big problem by getting rid of our sins rather than getting rid of us. That's why he sent his Son. Jesus took the punishment for all the wrong things we do. Jesus' death took away our sins, so that now, when God looks at us, he doesn't see the sin that he hates but only the people he loves. Does that make sense?" The smile on her face assured me it did.
Since then, I've found myself thinking about Jesus as the sacrifice who makes us whole. Have you ever wondered, at the outset of Jesus' public ministry, why John the Baptist hailed him as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"? Why didn't John shout instead, "Hey, look, here comes the Messiah!" Or, "Look everybody, it's the Lion of Judah." Or, "It's the King of kings!" Instead of these powerful titles, John evokes a shocking image of Jesus as an innocent victim destined to become a bloody sacrifice. The son of a priest, John would have been familiar with the sacrificial system. He would have heard the braying and the bleating of the innocent victims, would have seen the blood poured out, would have inhaled the pungent odor of burning animal flesh mingling with smoky incense in the temple. "Here comes Jesus, the marked man, the bloody sacrifice, the innocent Lamb who is going to be sacrificed for the sins of the whole world!"
The next time you think about Jesus as the Lamb of God, discard the image of a cuddly stuffed animal, the kind children like to carry around. Think rather of Jesus, the innocent victim who died because he loves you. Join me in thanking him because as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. His sacrifice is so effective that when God looks at those who belong to him, he sees the Lamb who loves us, the one who has peeled sin's thick disfigurement from our souls, leaving now no barrier to God's love. No wonder Paul proclaimed so confidently that nothing — "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38 - 39)! Because our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, we have become like magnets to which God's love is irresistibly drawn.
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.