Lamb of God
Ralph Wood, professor of theology and literature at Baylor University, once asked a group of seminary students to compare two individuals: the modern, astute collegian who insists that sin and the fall of humanity are fallacies invented by the superstitious, and a primitive young man in a remote village whom you find in the woods sacrificing a chicken on a makeshift altar. "Which man is farther from the truth?" he asked. The students hemmed and hawed but hesitantly agreed that the pagan boy, however crudely, understood something the other did not. There is a need in our lives for atonement. There is a need for blood.
We have within us a basic sense of our desperate condition. As Malcolm Muggeridge regularly insisted, the depravity of humankind is at once the most unpopular of the Christian doctrines and yet the most empirically verifiable. We are aware—or reminded often—that we are not quite what we could be, what we might be, what we were intended to be. Something is wrong, something we yearn to see made right, but somehow find ourselves incapable of the kind of restoration we seek.
For generations, the Israelites labored to follow laws that were meant to atone for their sin and restore them to the presence of God: "And you shall provide a lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering to the LORD daily; morning by morning you shall provide it."(1) The language of sacrifice and offering was found throughout Near Eastern culture. But Israel's sacrifices were not the same as blood shed by those attempting to appease the many gods they feared and followed. The prophets sent throughout Israel's history were forever insisting that what God was commanding was something far more than the empty performance of sacrifice. God wanted sacrifices offered with hearts of worship, lives yearning to be in the presence of their creator, though recognizing the fear of such an act. The God of Israel wanted to be near his chosen people, and God made them a way, through the blood of a lamb.
When Christians speak of Christ as the Lamb of God, it might sound like a strange allegory, a symbolic code. The lamb is Christ. The lion is Christ. As with any metaphor, the risk is minimization, instantaneous recognition of the symbol and discontinuation of all that symbol might lead us to discover. But Christ as the lamb is not simply a metaphor. Oxford scholar John Lennox reminds us that these passages tell us not only who it is, but what it is. It is Christ as the lamb, the spotless lamb whose blood my life requires. The description moves well beyond symbolism. Christ is the Lamb whose blood atones my depravity, the Lamb who moves me forever into the presence of God.
When the apostle John describes his vision of heaven in the book of Revelation, the Lamb is found in the center of a singing multitude: "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders."(2) Thoughtfully Lennox asks: "But how can a slain lamb stand?" It is an image that poses so much beyond a static metaphor. The Lamb who bore my sins, forever bears the scars of my atonement, even as he stands.
As the Lamb, Christ has reached a need we cannot. He has become the sacrifice we cannot give. He is the Lamb who was slain and yet stands so that we can stand in the presence of God. In these days of Easter, indeed, as the apostle instructs, behold the Lamb of God. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Cornerstone, the Shepherd, the Advocate who overcomes. The Slain Lamb stands!
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Ezekiel 46:13.
(2) Revelation 5:6.