For nearly four hundred years, no prophet had spoken in Israel. Much like our own day, the people had forsaken God’s law, ignored His voice, and walked according to the dictates of their own hearts (Jeremiah 9:13-14). Although the Lord had repeatedly sent prophets to His chosen people, appealing to them to return to Him, they “made their faces harder than rock; they refused to return,” (Jeremiah 5:3). Since they would not listen to God’s Word spoken by the prophets, He would not listen to their prayers. And because they would not listen to His Word, there was no point in Him speaking to them any longer.

Now after four hundred silent years, God sent John the Baptist to prepare the nation of Israel for the coming of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1). John acknowledges that he is simply “the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” (John 1:22-23). That was his mission; and his message was a call to repentance, because the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matthew 3:1-2). But when the Jewish religious leaders came out to listen to him preach, he boldly denounced their hypocrisy:

7 “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Matthew 3:7-10

One day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and cried out:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 1:29

One time I was doing a Bible study with a lady, and when we came to these verses, I asked her if she knew what they meant. She answered, “No, but I hear them at Mass all the time, and often wondered what they meant!”

So, what do they mean?

The first mention of a lamb in the Bible is in the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22), and it is vital for understanding John’s declaration. God had called Abraham to leave his homeland in Ur of the Chaldees (modern day Iraq), and go to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-6), which God would give to him and his descendants forever. But Abraham had no children and it was nearly twenty-five years before God began to fulfil His promise by giving him a son, Isaac, by which time Abraham was already one hundred years old (Genesis 21:5). But now God was going to test Abraham’s faith (Genesis 22:1), asking him to take this long-awaited boy, his only son Isaac whom he loved, and offer him as a sacrifice on an altar! Abraham did not know this was a test, but the New Testament tells us that Abraham was so confident that God would fulfil His promise through Isaac, that He would do something unheard of: He would raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19)!

As they went up the mountain, there is a fascinating exchange that takes place between Abraham and Isaac that help us understand the words of John the Baptist centuries later:

6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”
And he said, “Here I am, my son.”
Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”

Genesis 22:6-8

Remarkably, we discover that not only did Abraham trust God completely, but Isaac trusted Abraham completely, allowing his father to bind him on the altar. And as Abraham raised the knife to kill his son, God intervened, saying:

“Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Genesis 22:12

From the time that sin first entered the world, God had revealed that the penalty for sin was death. But in His mercy, He had always provided a means by which sins could be forgiven, and that was through the death of a suitable substitute. God accepted the sacrifice of an animal as a burnt offering to provide atonement for sin. But here in this first biblical reference to a lamb, we hear Abraham confidently assert that God would provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering. And two thousand years later, that promise was fulfilled, with John the Baptist pointing to Jesus and saying, “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

What marvellous grace, that God would provide His only begotten Son as the Lamb of God who alone can take away the sin of the world! Abraham’s son was spared from death at the last moment, but God did not spare His own Son. The New Testament teaches that the blood of those Old Testament sacrifices could never actually take away sin (Hebrews 10:4) but were accepted by God as a temporary measure until the time that the unique Son of God would come and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

But there is another key passage that we need to consider in understanding the significance of the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God. At the start of the book of Exodus, we find that Abraham’s descendants through his son Isaac are growing into a nation, but they have become slaves in Egypt. God sends Moses to tell Pharaoh to let His people go, but Pharaoh refuses to listen to God’s messenger. So God sends ten plagues on Egypt that decimates their economy and shows the utter impotence of the Egyptian deities. The last of these plagues is the death of the firstborn male in every house. But God tells Moses there is a way that the Israelite homes can be spared from the angel of death. They are to take a year-old lamb without blemish, kill it, and apply the blood of the lamb to the doorframe of their houses, with the promise that when He sees the blood, He will pass over their houses (Exodus 12:13). Death came to every house that night– either the death of the firstborn or the death of the lamb.

The Apostle Paul explains that “Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us,” (1 Corinthians 5:7). He was the Lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:17-21) who alone can take away the sin of the world. The work of Christ is sufficient for the whole world but is only effective for those who by faith “apply the blood”. Christ has done all that is necessary for your salvation. All you need to do is by faith accept the Lord Jesus as your substitute and ask God to apply the value of the blood of Christ to your account to take away your sins and the punishment they deserve.


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