How many times have we read this verse, or heard it, without really stopping to absorb the impact of what it is really saying? Our very familiarity with verses such as this one is many times a hindrance to our discovering the depth of what is written. We become so used to the words that we quickly pass over them thinking we have gleaned all there is from them. John did not say – ‘look, over there is the Messiah, follow Him’. He did not say, ‘Look, over there is Jesus of Nazareth, He will lead you into all truth.’ What he did say was “Behold the Lamb of God.” This title did not merely mean, as some have supposed, that John was pointing out that Christ was meek and gentle as a lamb. This would be truth no doubt, but only a very small portion of the truth. There are far greater depths to be plummeted here! John recognized that Christ was God’s great sacrifice for the sin of the world. He was that Lamb of which Abraham told Isaac at Moriah God would provide. (Gen. 22:8.) He was that Lamb which every morning and evening sacrifice in the temple daily pointed to. He was that Lamb of which Isaiah had prophesied, that He would be “brought to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7.) He was the true Lamb of which the Passover lamb in Egypt had been a representation. In short, He was the great propitiation for sin which God had covenanted from all eternity to send into the world. He was indeed, God’s Lamb.
John tells us that, “Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world.” He did not become one of us to be a conqueror, or a philosopher, or a mere teacher of morality. He came to save sinners. He came to do that which man could never do for himself–to do that which neither money nor learning nor human effort could ever accomplish– He came to “take away the sin of the world.” But, the cross did more than just bridge the “sin” gap – Christ removed it, He took it away. The Lamb of God has eliminated, removed, and annihilated any separation between God and man; that is, in Christ – for God, hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18). Jesus has taken our sins upon Himself, but He has done even more than that, He has taken away the sin (singular) of the world. Let me take you back to the beginning. Or should I say, to man’s beginning.
How was He, the Lamb of God first presented to the world? It was as the lamb for one man, presented by one man for himself, and on his own behalf. If we go back to the beginning, to Genesis, we see Abel, a shepherd, bringing of his flock a lamb, and he brought this lamb for himself, and on his own account, that God might accept him, and that he might present to God an offering well pleasing in His sight. Cain, his brother, on the other hand, brought of the fruit of the ground as an offering to God. We must not judge the men, but rather the sacrifices, for I believe that the difference was in the sacrifice, as much as in the man bringing it – for little is said about the differences of the men, but it is said, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” Cain’s sacrifice, the fruit of the ground, the result of his own energies, was without the shedding of blood, whereas Abel’s sacrifice was a type, a foreshadowing of Christ, the Lamb of God, and was thereby accepted. Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. And it is no different today. You can only be “accepted in the Beloved.” You are not saved by what you can do, but by what He has done; not by what you have suffered, but by what He has endured. We are accepted for His sake. When you approach God, bring the Lamb of God; put Him on the altar, and you shall be accepted at once. But Christ is more than just a personal Savior.
Let us continue. As we move along through the history of Israel, we find the Lamb presented in another connection. While Israel was in Egypt, under bondage, the lamb was for the family, (Exodus 12:3). “In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house.” This is why the apostle Paul could claim to the trembling jailer in Acts 16:31; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” As we move along, we see in Exodus 29 (38,39) God’s command that the lamb was for the people, for all of Israel. The sacrifice lamb began with the individual, went on to the family; and then the lamb was offered for the whole nation, day by day, morning and night, a continual burnt offering throughout their generations at the door of the tabernacle.
And then we behold, in today’s Gospel lesson, ‘the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ We have gone beyond the individual, the family, the nation of Israel, and have come to the Lamb for the world. But, we must not stop there. Let us glance towards heaven itself, and there we see the Lamb for all heaven. From the Book of Revelation chapter 7, “These are they which came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
But, need we stop there? No, for a few more verses down we find; “And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever.” It is a blessed truth that the day shall come when, from every place that God has created, there shall be heard the voice of praise unto the Lamb forever; there shall be found everywhere men and women redeemed by blood, angels and archangels, and glorious spirits, rejoicing to adore Him who was, and is, and is to come; the Almighty Lamb of God.
Yes, one day all will behold the Lamb of God, but it will be an awful thing to see the Lamb from afar, with a chasm, a great impassable gulf in-between. For even then, Jesus will still be the Lamb, even to the lost; but then it will be “the wrath of the Lamb” that they will behold. The 6th chapter of Revelation tells us: ’15And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’ Be not deceived; the Lamb of God always has and always will be among us. He may be neglected, rejected, refused by many before that great and terrible day, but He will be beheld in eternity, and beheld to the everlasting confusion and unutterable dismay of those who refuse to behold Him here and now as the Lamb who taketh away the sin of the world.
Thus, we see that the cross of Christ, upon which the Lamb of God was slain to make atonement for sinners, is the center truth of the entire Bible. This is the truth we begin with when we read Genesis. The seed of the woman bruising the serpent’s head is nothing else but a prophecy of Christ crucified. This is the truth that shines out, though veiled, all through the Law of Moses and the history of the nation of Israel. The daily sacrifice, the Passover lamb, the continual shedding of blood in the tabernacle and temple, – all these were symbols of Christ crucified. This is the truth that we see honored in the vision of heaven in the book of Revelation. “In the midst of the throne and of the four beasts,” we are told, “and in the midst of the elders, stood a lamb as it had been slain” (Rev 5:6). Yes, even in the midst of the glory of heaven we see Christ crucified, the Lamb of God.
Take away the Lamb of God and the cross of Christ, and this Bible, though full of wisdom, and instruction and edifying thoughts, will be of no everlasting use to you. You may know a good deal about its contents. You may know the historical outline of it, the history as some are prone to call it; you may be able to recite the dates of the events that are described within, just as you might be well acquainted with the history of America. You may know the names of the men and women mentioned in it, just as you may be able to knowledgeably discuss George Washington, Betsy Ross, Thomas Edison, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. You may know the fundamental teachings of the Bible, and admire them, just as one might admire the philosophy of Plato, or Aristotle, or Bertrand Russell. But if you have not yet found out that Christ as the Lamb of God crucified, is the foundation of this book, you have read your Bible to little profit.
It will not suffice to know who Christ was, where He was born, and what He said and did. You may know of His miracles, of His sayings, of His prophecies, and His ordinances. You may know all about how He lived, and how He suffered, and even, how He died. But unless you know the power of Christ’s cross by experience-unless you know personally that the Lamb’s blood that was shed on that cross has washed away your sins, unless you can confess that you know that your salvation depends entirely on the work that Christ did upon the cross, – unless this be the case, the Lamb of God will profit you nothing. You must behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world and never, ever, ever cease beholding Him.
As long as you live, as long as there is breath within your frame, beware of a religion in which there is but little emphasis on the cross. Sadly, we find ourselves living in a time when we are surrounded by these false gospels; both in church buildings and on television. There are numerous places of worship today in which there is every thing you could imagine; except the cross. There is carved oak and sculptured stone and stained glass and impressive artwork. The services may be solemn and filled with the sound of ponderous music. But the real cross of Christ is not to be found there. Jesus crucified is not proclaimed from the pulpit. The Lamb of God is not lifted up, and salvation by faith in Him alone is not proclaimed. There are thousands of books on the shelves labeled as being spiritual and religious in which there is to be found between the covers everything – except the cross. They may be full of directions about sacraments and praises of the church. They may abound in exhortations about holy living, and rules for the attainment of perfection. They may have plenty of fonts and crosses both inside and outside. But the real cross of Christ is left out. The Lamb of God and His dying love are either not mentioned, or mentioned in an unscriptural way. And hence they are worse than useless.
And one last thought. When we behold the Lamb of God, we must never forget that in the purposes of God, Jesus, the Lamb of God, existed from everlasting. His incarnation was planned, counseled, and determined from all eternity. This is what the apostle Paul is reminding Timothy (2 Timothy 1:9) when he writes: ‘God, who hath saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but in accordance with His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began’. We must forever be cognizant and in adoration of what Christ has done for us regarding our salvation, but we must not stop there, we must recognize that our redemption is only part of God’s plan, and not the whole. While we know that Jesus came to earth to die on the Cross for man’s redemption, His work, His doing of His Father’s business included a much more far-reaching purpose – it included the actualization of the Father’s original, supreme desire; to share Himself through a living union with man – a blending of the human and divine. Sin and the Fall did not alter God’s eternal plan, but only necessitated that redemption should be incorporated as part of it. The Father has always purposed for everything to be accomplished through, and find it’s meaning and existence in, His Son. The Son was to have become our very life even if man had never sinned. He is the tree of life. But when we focus solely and primarily on our salvation, though it be true, it elevates sin and leads us to believe that redemption was the primary purpose of God. Because we accentuate man’s fallen condition, the contemplation of the incarnation of Christ is only seen in the light of God’s redemptive plan. Because our perspectives are too narrow, everything in God’s plan seems to take its importance and meaning from the Fall rather than from God’s eternal purpose in Christ. But, when we see our redemption against the background of God’s eternal purposes in Christ, then that redemption becomes even more important and imperative as we accept it as the initial step in realizing the Father’s supreme desire; ‘That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him.’ (Ephesians 1:10)