Lamb of God
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, once described the sacrifices of the annual Passover in Jerusalem. He estimated the priests slaughtered nearly 1.5 million lambs in a matter of two days. Blood ran from the altars, down the temple mount, and into the Kidron Valley below, forming what appeared to be a flowing river of blood. Yet, after all of that bloodshed, not one sinner was redeemed.
Even so, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb 9:22). The wages of sin is death, so death—the shedding of blood—must take place as a just punishment for sin (Ro 6:23). Where, then, does forgiveness enter the equation?
First, we need to understand our position before God.
God is good and holy. His law is righteous. When he says, “Thou shalt,” or, “Thou shalt not,” these commandments are neither arbitrary or indifferent. They are morally sound. They are perfect. Furthermore, they are absolute. We do not have the authority to take what we want and leave the rest. We either follow every last rule or we don’t. Whoever keeps the entire law, and yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of breaking it all (Jas 2:10).
In light of this truth, you will not be surprised to learn there is no one righteous, not even one (Ro 3:10).
Once again, the wages of sin is death (Ro 6:23). What choice does God, a just judge, have but to sentence us with the appropriate punishment of death? That is where you and I stand before God.
Second, we need to understand the merits of a sacrificial lamb. Through Moses, the Lord says to Israel, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement” (Lev 17:11). Life for a life. When the innocent animal dies, it takes the place of the sinner who offers it.
The problem with an animal sacrifice, however, is its insufficiency to actually atone for sin. As God rhetorically asked, “What are all your sacrifices to me?” (Isa 1:11). “I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle,” he says. “I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats.” While those countless creatures once sacrificed on altars may not be guilty of humanity’s sin, they’re also not fitting substitutes for men and women.
Jesus, on the other hand, is the perfect substitute. When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law (Gal 4:4). He lived as a flesh-and-blood human being, subjected to God’s holy law, and has been tempted in every way as we are, yet he died without sin (Heb 4:15). Only an innocent man can offer himself in the place of criminals because only an innocent man doesn’t have his own crimes for which to pay a penalty.
That is why John the Baptist introduces Jesus to the world as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29). Christ would be like a lamb led to the slaughter, giving his life and shedding his precious blood, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Isa 53:7; 1Pe 1:19; Heb 9:22).
Where does forgiveness enter the equation? Please understand that forgiveness does not mean God ignores our sins. As a righteous judge, he can’t. Crimes must be punished. But what he can do— Better yet, what he did was send his Son to suffer his wrath in our place. He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Co 5:21).