The Spotless Lamb of Sacrifice
Scripture: John 1:29–34
The Spotless Lamb of SacrificeJohn 1:29-34
Sunday, July 28, 2002
Pastor Randy Smith
Last week we studied the remarkable testimony of John the Baptist. His memorable acts of humility enabled him to stay out of the way as all the attention was focused on Jesus Christ. He did not come to bear witness of himself; rather He came to bear witness of Christ. He desired the decrease of his own popularity, if it meant the increase of Christ's popularity. In humility, he saw himself not even worthy to untie Christ's sandal.
A humble man indeed, but not the humblest. Untying a man's sandals was a degrading task assumed only by a slave; however, washing a man's feet demonstrated the ultimate task of servitude. It was Jesus Christ Himself who went against all cultural norms. At the Last Supper, He donned the towel and began to wash the disciples' feet.
When I consider that account, two images immediately come to mind. First is the image of meekness, gentleness and innocence. Second is the image of the One who would serve by dying and shedding blood to wash away the sins. Both of these images are often conveyed in the Scriptures by the use of a lamb . (Keep that in mind, I'll be coming back to this point.)
I believe the main point in our text this morning (1:29-34) is found in verse 34, where the Baptist said, "I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." Complimenting the conclusion in verse 34 is the pronouncement of the Son of God in verse 29. "The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'" I believe verses 29 and 34 serve as bookends to this entire paragraph, which seeks to identify the person of Jesus Christ.
This morning, I'd like to begin with the conclusion in verse 34 and work backwards, primarily focusing on that glorious identification of Christ. "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
1. CONFIRMATION OF THE LAMB (1:30-34)
Let's first begin with the Baptist's confirmation of the Lamb.
Concluding in verse 34 the Baptist "testifies" with great affirmation that Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God. You'll remember that the Baptist did not come to bear witness of himself, but he came rather to bear witness of Christ. And his witness is not an undocumented speculation, but rather a conclusion as to what he both saw and heard.
Now, we can imagine the skeptic chiding John and saying, "What makes you so confident that Jesus truly is the Son of God? What have you seen? What have you heard that allows you to bear such a profound testimony that implies the deity of Jesus Christ?" To that John would reply as he did in the preceeding two verses. Verse 33, "And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.'" Then in verse 32, "And John bore witness saying, 'I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.'"
In other words, John's ministry was to administer a water baptism of repentance to the multitudes that came to him. Eventually, John knew that Jesus Christ would appear on the scene and bring completion to his own role as a forerunner. But since Jesus was also fully man having taken on flesh, there was nothing unique about him that would set Him apart from any other man. How was John to recognize the true Messiah, especially when there were so many "false-christs" running around?
So for this clarification, God spoke personal revelation to the Baptist. The identity of His Son would be the One on whom the Holy Spirit comes and remains. We know from verse 32 and the other gospel accounts that this prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Possibly Luke is the most specific. "Now it came about when all the people were baptized, that Jesus also was baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove , and a voice came out of heaven, 'Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased'" (Lk. 3:21-22).
The Baptist made it clear twice, in verse 33 and then in verse 31, that "I did not recognize Him." John was looking for the Messiah, but apart from the sign, he had no clue as to Christ's identity. But still he (verse 31), "came baptizing…so that He might be manifested to Israel." In other words, John was simply fulfilling his ministry as ordained by God to raise the curtain for Christ's public appearance. But when the incarnate Lord Himself appeared on the scene, and His nature was witness by the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit, there was no doubt left in John's mind as to Christ's identity. John's ministry was completed. John said in verse 30 (repeated from 1:15), "This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'" And verse 34, "This is the Son of God."
2. IDENTIFICATION OF THE LAMB (1:29b)
John called Jesus "The Son of God." Another term that John used to identify Christ in our text this morning was "The Lamb of God ." The title is found only twice in the Bible, both times in chapter 1 of John's gospel (vs. 29, 36). To rightly understand this popular, but complex title, we must immerse ourselves in first century Judaism. We must uncover what the Baptist meant by such a title and how his audience perceived it. Four fascinating perceptions immediately come to mind from the Scriptures.
First, the Lamb of God was prophesized. For centuries Israel knew about the sacrificial lamb as they recalled the incident from the father of their nation, Abraham.
Turn to Genesis 22, beginning in verse 1. "Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering , and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance. And Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship and return to you.' And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son , and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'My father!' And he said, 'Here I am, my son.' And he said, 'Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering ?' And Abraham said, 'God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.' So the two of them walked on together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there , and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' And he said, 'Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me .' Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son . And Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide , as it is said to this day, 'In the mount of the Lord it will be provided '" (Gen. 22:1-14).
Since this verse makes no mention of an atonement for sin, I do not believe that this account between Abraham and God makes a direct reference to our verse in John 1:29. However, I do believe there is an indirect reference when we consider the terms: sacrifice, substitute and servant.
In obedience, Abraham was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice. However, God in His grace substituted His own sacrifice, whereas Isaac could be saved. In the same way that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, God willingly gave His Son to be a substitute and sacrifice for the sins of the world. Moses in this Genesis account said that Abraham did not spare his son. In the same way, speaking of God, Paul in Romans said, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Rom. 8:32). And God's Son, Jesus Christ, willingly like Isaac went to the altar of sacrifice, in submission to the Father, wood strapped to His back, prepared to give his life for God's glory.
Both accounts are very similar, yet there is one profound difference. Isaac was spared by the substitutionary lamb. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was the substitute and spared He was not. God prevented Abraham from plunging the knife into Isaac's breast, but He did not prevent the Roman soldiers from driving nails in Jesus' hand and feet, and thrusting a spear into His side. God surely did provide a lamb for Abraham's sacrifice, but it pointed to the greater Lamb He would provide for our sacrifice. Jesus was our substitute in that we may be forgiven and declared righteous.
Second, the Lamb of God was also personified. In the Genesis account we just discussed, the Lamb of God is prophesized, but the future lamb's identity remains unclear. However in Isaiah 53, the revelation progresses. The lamb is prophesized, but now also the Lamb is personified. His identity is clearly a Man. Turn if you would to Isaiah 53. From this text in Isaiah alone, what can we learn about the coming Lamb of God?
First of all, the Lamb of God would be an ordinary man in appearance, showing why John the Baptist needed a sign to identify Him. Isaiah says in verse 2, "For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him."
Second, the Lamb of God would be rejected by those He came to save. Verse 3, "He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him."
Third, the Lamb of God would be destined to be God's appointed agent to die for our sins. Verse 4-6, "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him." Verses 11-12, "As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors."
Fourth, the Lamb of God would be gentle, humble and forgiving in His sacrifice. Verse 7, "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth."
Fifth, the Lamb of God would be spotless, without stain. End of verse 9, "Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth."
Sixth, the Lamb of God's sacrifice would be pleasing to the Lord. Beginning of verse 10, "But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief."
Though denied by the Jews until this day, the connection of Isaiah 53 with Jesus Christ is rather obvious. As a matter of fact, the Christian who accepts the inspiration of Scripture, is left with no doubt as to this conclusion.
Turn to Acts 8. Do you remember the account in Acts 8 when Luke recalls the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch? Beginning in verse 32, "Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: 'He was led as a sheep to slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He does not open His mouth. In humiliation His judgment was taken away; Who shall relate His generation? For His life is removed from the earth.' And the eunuch answered Philip and said, 'Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?' And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him" (Ac. 8:32-35). There can be no doubt, Isaiah 53 is a prophecy about Jesus Christ. It puts human flesh on the Lamb of God and clearly predicts His rejection and sacrifice for sinners.
Third, the Lamb of God was applied (or used in a practice).
Any of us who have any inkling of the Old Testament Scriptures, know that the nation Israel was commanded to offer sacrifices. These sacrifices came in many ways: Some were offered on behalf of the nation, others for specific individuals. Some sacrifices were animals and vegetables; others were made with incense. Some were made by the priest; others were made by the community. Some were made to honor God; others were made to atone for sin.
Particular for our study this morning are the sacrifices that involve the killing of a living animal, namely a lamb or sheep, and the spilling of its blood for the atonement of sin. In other words, do any of the sacrifices in the Old Testament foreshadow, Jesus Christ, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?" Let's examine 4 sacrifices beginning with Adam's covering.
Sacrifices date back to the time of Adam, following the fall, when sin came into the world. Adam's two sons, Cain and Abel, performed the first sacrifice recorded in the Bible. Hebrews 11 states that only Abel's sacrifice was acceptable to God because it was based on faith. Faith in what? Faith…most likely in the command that sin needed to be appeased by a sacrifice.
But before Cain and Abel's sacrifice, we recall the animal garments provided by God to cover Adam's physical nakedness. Many scholars argue that these garments came from a sacrificial animal. Through the taking of life, God Himself provided a covering for man. Is this an allusion to God taking the life of His Son to cover our sin and spiritual nakedness? It's very possible!
Another direct sacrificial illusion to the Lamb of God was the Passover. You will recall that God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb and place it's blood on 3 locations around the frame of their doors. When seeing the blood, the angel of death would "Passover" and not destroy the "first-born" of that particular family. Salvation would be brought to the Jews, and death would be brought to the Egyptians in this last and horrific plague.
In the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 5:7 says, "For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed ." What is the connection between the Passover lamb and the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ? The gospel of John makes that association very clear. The Passover Lamb is fulfilled in Christ as He brought about the new exodus.
For example, Exodus 12:46 reads, "It (the Passover lamb) is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it . John 19:36 says, "For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, 'Not a bone of Him shall be broken .'" Exodus 12:22 reads, "And you shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts." John 19:29 says, "A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop , and brought it up to His mouth. Exodus 12:13 reads, "And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt." John 19:34 says, "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water. And as we all know from the events of the Lord's Supper, the time of Jesus death coincided with the time of the Jewish celebration of Passover (Jn. 18:28; 19:14).
As we move to another sacrifice, many Christians cringe when they read through their Bibles and come to the book of Leviticus. When we think of Leviticus, we think of the numerous commands, which relegate the Mosaic sacrifices. They seem so distant and gory and ritualistic. I want to mention just one of these sacrifices this morning, but I hope you will see them all in a new light when they are viewed through the lens of Jesus Christ.
Christ's sacrifice has many similarities to all the Old Covenant sacrifices which pointed to the cross. Both the "Guilt and Sin Offering" immediately come to mind, but possibly the "Burnt Offering" best foreshadows in a remarkable way, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
The "Burnt Offering" was a sacrifice made to God every day, both morning and evening in the Temple. On the Sabbath, the sacrifice would double, and during special festivals more animals would be offered. The animal that was sacrificed by the priest was most often a lamb. Because this sacrifice happened so often, it was referred to as the "Continual Burnt Offering (Ex. 29:42). The purpose of the sacrifice was to propitiate the wrath of God and remind the assembly of the necessity to be in daily consecration to God.
Do you see the connection with Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? We no longer need to make daily sacrifices because our Lamb went to the altar on our behalf. He died once and for all for sin. Jesus was our sacrifice, but He was also our High Priest who brought the sacrifice of Himself. The Old Testament priests were continually standing to perform these sacrifices, but our High Priest sat down after offering the eternal sacrifice of His own body. Hebrews 10:12 says, "But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God." His work is completed. Other sacrifices must cease. The propitiation for sin and the ongoing consecration with God, once fulfilled in the Burnt Offering, is now fulfilled for eternity in Christ!
When considering these sacrifices, Jesus Christ truly is the great Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John in Revelation said, "To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood " (Rev. 1:5). The apostle Peter said, "Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ " (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
The Lamb of God was prophesized in the provision made for Abraham, personified in the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52 and applied thought the Old Testament in animal sacrifices. Finally , the Lamb of God is magnified in the Scriptures. As of now we have been looking backwards in time to identify the nature of the Lamb of God. In this final category, we'll look forward and see how the Lamb is magnified in the Scriptures.
Though the exact title, "Lamb of God" is found only in John, one other book in the Bible, also authored by John, uses "Lamb" as a title for Jesus, the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation pictures Jesus as the Lamb who won the victory for God and His people through His sacrifice. It pictures Christ as the triumphant Lamb, exalted with great strength and glory.
Allow me to share a few verses. There were over 25 to choose from! Revelation 5:6- And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. Revelation 5:12-13- "saying with a loud voice, 'Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.' And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, 'To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb , be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.'" Revelation 6:16- "and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb ." Revelation 7:9-10- "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" Revelation 12:11- "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death." Revelation 17:14 "These will wage war against the Lamb , and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful."
It's ironic; often in the Bible a lamb or sheep is mentioned in contrasting terms to the Lamb described in Revelation. Those lambs are helpless, but this Lamb is strong. Those lambs are led, but this Lamb leads. Those lambs are fed, but this Lamb feeds. Those lambs are slain, but this Lamb is alive and slaying His enemies.
3. OCCUPATION OF THE LAMB (1:29c)
Well, where have we been thus far? We have studied the confirmation of the Lamb. Then we studied the identification of the Lamb, by focusing on 4 distinct references to the Lamb from elsewhere in the Bible. Finally, we conclude our message by taking a brief look at the occupation of the Lamb. By occupation, I mean His role or His work. Specifically, John 1:29 says He is the Lamb of God "who takes away the sin of the world ."
The connection by now should be rather obvious. Since the fall of man, man has lived in rebellion toward his Creator. God, in the Old Testament times, had instituted sacrifices to propitiate His wrath and cover sin. However, we read in the New Testament that the blood of bulls and goats could never completely take away sin (Heb. 10:4). God passed over sin through the earlier sacrifices but removed it completely in the final supreme Lamb of God in whom all the sacrifices point. God is willing to reconcile and He demonstrated His willingness to forgive through the provision of the Lamb who would stand in our place as a substitute.
Christ abolished the Temple services through the Temple of His body. God no longer need be approached in one specific location (the Temple), through one specific people (the Jews). Christ died for the sin of the world. All who sincerely come to Christ will be accepted without distinction. Their sins will be forgiven through the blood of His sacrifice, and He will personally take up residence in their bodies, which are now considered the new Temple of God. John summarized the occupation of the Lamb well in one of his later epistles, "And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin" (1 Jn. 3:5).
Sarah Hale wrote the famous nursery poem, "Mary had a little lamb." But in light of today's message, I like to think of the nursery rhyme theologically in a different context context.
Mary had a little Lamb.
He came on Christmas night.
She laid Him in a manger bed,
This King of life and light.
He ate with poor and sinful folk;
He claimed He was God's Son.
It made the leaders plot His death,
This holy, sinless One.
He came to give us joy and peace;
to take away our sin.
He heals the sick and calms the
Storm and ushers justice in.
What makes the Lamb love Mary so
And all the world beside?
By grace alone He chose His own;
For them He lived and died.
And we must love the Lamb you
Know. His blood will wash us clean,
Our words must show that we are
His; Our lives by all are seen.
One day this Lamb will come again,
More Lion than a Lamb;
Defeat His foes, reward His own.
O, praise the day He came!
Together we testify with the Baptist. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world!