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Lamb of God

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Sermon 5 of 7 from the Christ BC series

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December 2008 – Christians everywhere recognize the lamb as a familiar biblical image. It is often connected with both Christmas and Easter. Though lambs aren’t specifically mentioned in the Christmas story, they are implied by the presence of shepherds and also by the fact that Jesus was born in a stable. So even though the word “lamb” is not used in connection with Jesus’ birth, we know there must have been many flocks in the area around Bethlehem.

The Bible makes the connection between Jesus and lambs in several passages. Isaiah 53:7 compares the Messiah to a lamb going to be slaughtered. John the Baptist called Jesus the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Paul called Christ the “Passover Lamb” in I Corinthians 5:7. Peter spoke of Christ’s blood as the blood of a lamb in I Peter 1:18-19. Finally, the book of Revelation explicitly calls Christ “the Lamb” 30 times.

Our emotional connotations for the word “lamb” are entirely positive. Words such as gentle, helpless, friendly and innocent come to mind. Compare that with the image of the snake used as a symbol for the devil. Children instinctively love lambs while most people fear snakes. The two animals are about as far apart on the emotional scale as you can get.

I. Showdown in Egypt

In order to understand the biblical picture of Jesus as the Passover lamb we need to leave the modern world and journey back in time 35 centuries to the land of Egypt. There we discover that the Jews are being held as slaves by the Egyptians. For 400 years the Jews have lived in harsh, difficult conditions. For generations their labor has been exploited by cruel taskmasters.

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Finally God raises up a leader named Moses. He goes before the Pharaoh with a message from God: “Let my people go!” Pharaoh doesn’t take this seriously, so Moses comes back several times with the same message from God. But Pharaoh has no intention of letting these slaves God go free.

So God devises a plan that will cause Pharaoh to beg the Jews to leave his land. He sends a series of terrible judgments (called Plagues) on Egypt. Each one represents a terrible natural disaster and each one shows God’s complete power over nature and at the same time, reveals the impotence of the false gods of Egypt.

Here are the first nine plagues listed in order:

Water into blood
Frogs
Gnats
Flies
Disease upon the livestock
Boils
Hail
Locusts
Darkness

The last was a direct assault upon Ra, the sun god of Egypt. Since was considered the representative of Ra, this plague demonstrates that even Pharaoh was no match for the Almighty.

Although these plagues inflicted severe suffering upon the people, Pharaoh hardened his heart against God. Instead of saying, “You can go” he tried to make deals. First he offered to let the Jews go a short distance into the desert if they would promise to return. Then he offered to let the men go if the women and children stayed behind. Finally, he offered to let them all go but leave their animals behind. Obviously, none of these options was acceptable. God does not make deals with pagan rulers!

Finally the moment had come for the 10th and final plague. The Lord told Moses, “Don’t worry. When this one hits Egypt, Pharaoh will be in a hurry to let you go” (cf. Exodus 11:1-2). At midnight on a certain night, the Lord would go through the land of Egypt and every firstborn son in Egypt would die at that instant. He specified that no family would be excluded–from Pharaoh’s household to the home of the lowest Egyptian slave. God would even include the firstborn cattle in his judgment.

But God would spare the Israelites in order to make a distinction between God’s people and Pharaoh’s people.

Exodus 12 reveals God’s plan to spare the Israelites from the midnight massacre of the firstborn. He would spare his people using the blood of a lamb. When the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the doorpost of each Jewish home, God would see the blood and would literally “pass over” that house. But if God didn’t the blood, he would take the life of the firstborn in judgment.

It was the blood of the lamb that saved the people of God that night.

Every year since then, for 3500 years, and continuing to this very year, the Jews have observed a Passover celebration as a solemn reminder of God’s amazing deliverance in Egypt.

II. The Passover Lamb

Charles Simeon comments that even the minutest details of the Passover seem designed to point to Jesus Christ. We will point out ten of the most notable similarities between the events of the first Passover 3500 years ago and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross as the ultimate Passover Lamb.

1. It must be a lamb

Exodus 12:3 says that each man is to “take a lamb” for his own household. It couldn’t be a bull or a dove, which were sometimes used in other Old Testament sacrifices. God was very particular–it was to be a lamb and only a lamb. Nothing else would do.

When John saw Jesus, he cried out, “Look! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Paul says that “Christ , our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed for us.” Revelation refers to Christ as the Lamb in 30 separate instances.

2. It must be a male

Exodus 12:5 specifies that “the animals you choose must be year-old males.” Jesus fulfilled this in that he was the son born of the virgin Mary.

3. It must be a year-old lamb

This means that the lamb must be in its prime, neither too young nor too old. Even so, “Christ offered up himself in the midst of his days, not in infancy with the babes in Bethlehem.”

4. It must be without blemish

The Hebrew text uses a phrase that means “without defect.” This means that the Jewish men would have to carefully inspect their lambs to make sure there were no open sores, no patches of bare skin, no infections, no diseases, no blotches or blemishes, no sickness of any kind. This prevented a man from offering a lame or inferior creature while keeping the best for himself.

I Peter 1:19 picks up on this theme when it speaks of Jesus Christ as being “a lamb without blemish or defect.” Hebrews 4:14-16 emphasizes that though Christ was tempted in all points as all men are, he was without sin. When Pontius Pilate finished examining him, he declared, “I find no fault in him” (John 19:6 KJV). Even the hostile high priests could find no just cause to put him to death so they trumped up false charges against him.

It may be significant that the Passover lamb was selected on the 10th day of the month but not sacrificed until the 14th day. That gave 4 days to carefully examine the lamb. If Christ entered Jerusalem on Sunday and was crucified on Friday, then the intervening 4 days fit the same pattern. During those momentous days his bitter enemies used every possible tactic to discredit him, but each attempt utterly failed. They could not find even the smallest flaw in his character. Thus, even his worst enemies had to concede that he was fit to be a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

5. It must be slain and roasted

Exodus 12 is quite clear on this point. All the lambs were to be slain at the same time and the blood drained form them. Then the carcasses were to be roasted and eaten whole. They were not to be boiled or eaten raw (both pagan customs). Anything left over was to be burned. Thus, the lamb was to be completely consumed.

Both the slaying and roasting picture the sufferings of Christ on the cross. Not only did he die, but his death itself was a complete sacrifice. He died the death of criminal hanging on a hated Roman cross. It was not the noble of Socrates drinking poison but the humiliating death of a man rejected by the world he came to save.

6. It must have no broken bones

Exodus 12:46 specifies that when animals were chosen for the yearly Passover sacrifice, none of the bones were to be broken. It was the custom of the Romans to break the legs of those being crucified in order to hasten their death. John 19:32-36 tells us that the Roman soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs because he was already dead. Verse 36 points out that this happened to fulfill the scripture that says, “Not one of his bones will be broken.” Although the quoted verse happens to be Psalm 34:20, the ultimate reference goes back to Exodus 12.

7. It must be offered “between the evenings”

This unusual phrase is a literal translation of the Hebrew phrase found in Exodus 12:6. Although the NIV says that the offerings were to be made at twilight, the words literally mean “between the evenings,” which in Jewish thought meant between 3-5 P.M.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus was crucified at the “third hour,” meaning 9:00 A.M., since the Jews reckoned time in 24-hour periods beginning at 6:00 A.M. Matthew 26:45 tells us that there was darkness from the sixth hour until the ninth hour, or from 12 noon to 3:00 P.M. Shortly thereafter Jesus uttered his final words and died. His body was then taken down from the cross before sundown. Thus, Jesus died “between the evenings” (3-5 P.M.) at the exact hour the Passover lambs were being sacrificed throughout Israel.

8. It must be sacrificed by all the people

Exodus 12 stresses that lambs must be offered by every man for every family in Israel. And all the lambs must be slaughtered at precisely the same time. Thus, the lambs represented the total participation of the nation in the blood sacrifice. By the same token, Christ was crucified by the Romans on behalf of the Jews. Everyone participated in his death. His death was made as a sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. What many lambs did for many people, Jesus the Lamb of God did for all people.

9. The blood must be sprinkled

Again, Exodus is very specific in describing the ritual. Once the lamb had been slaughtered and the blood drained, the father must take a bunch of hyssop (a leafy bush), dip it in the blood, and then put some of the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe. The blood would be sign that the family had sacrificed a lamb as the Lord had commanded. “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12: 13).

This pictures not the death of Christ, but our application of his death to our hearts by faith. That’s why I Peter 1:2 speaks of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ. The lamb alone could not save an Israelite. Not even a dead lamb could save. Not even the blood in the basin could save. Only the blood sprinkled on the doorpost could spare the people from the terrible judgment of God.

Think of it this way. Jesus Christ is our only hope of salvation. He is God’s Lamb offered for the sin of the world. However, Jesus’ blood saves but only when taken by faith. For those who reject the blood, even the Lamb of God cannot save them.

The Israelites might have done many wise things, and availed themselves of many preventatives against the destruction of the angel; but if they had not sprinkled the blood upon the doorposts they would have perished. Men may strive to do many things to ameliorate their condition as sinners, but the Cross of Christ is their only real protection.

 

10. The meat must be fully consumed

Not only was the blood shed and the meat roasted, but the family was to eat the meat together with bitter herbs and unleavened bread (a reminder of their days in Egypt). They were not allowed to keep the meat for later use. Any part not eaten must be burned. Thus the Israelites signified their complete participation in the death of the lamb. His life was taken, his blood shed, the blood applied, the meat roasted, and the meat consumed. Through these measures the Jews were reminded that their redemption came through the death of a substitute. The lamb died in their place. By eating its meat, they signified their complete identification with the lamb who died for them.

The meaning for us is plain. Christ saves us when we “eat his flesh and drink his blood” by faith. Jesus used these very terms in John 6:53-58. He said this speaking not of literal flesh and literal blood but of what saving faith is all about. We are to take Christ completely, wholly, absolutely, and without qualification. When we take him as Savior in this manner, it is like eating and drinking at a feast.

Afterward, they were safe and they were free!

You know the rest of the story. The death angel stopped at every home in Egypt, but every home in Goshen (where the Israelites lived) was spared. From Pharaoh’s palace to the lowest household came loud wailing. Screams pierced the night. Family after family began to scream as they discovered dead children in the middle of the night. No so in Goshen. So quiet was it that not even a dog barked that night (Exodus 11:7).

Soon after that Pharaoh sent word that the Israelites were free to leave. In fact he begged them to leave before anyone else died! That’s why God told the Jews to eat the Passover in haste. He knew they would be moving soon.

Thus did God both smite the false gods of Egypt and at the same time deliver his own people through a miraculous deliverance by the blood of many lambs.

In the same, through the blood of Christ, the great Lamb of God, we are safe from God’s wrath and set free from the penalty of sin. In him and through him and by him God has delivered his people once and for all.

III. Abiding Lessons For 20th Century Believers

From this ancient story we may glean four abiding lessons that apply to believers today.

1. Jesus Christ is God’s lamb

He is the only person who meets all the qualifications. He fulfills every detail of the Old Testament picture. No other person in the Bible meets the requirements.

But that explains a poignant part of the Christmas story. When aged Simeon took baby Jesus in his arms and blessed him, he said that Jesus would the cause of the rising and falling of many in Israel–thus indicating that while some would follow him, others would bitterly oppose them. Then he added a special word for Mary: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).

This was an early reference to the death Jesus would die. From the very beginning he was marked out as God’s lamb. He was born to die! Although Mary could not then know all the details, from the earliest days she knew that suffering lay along the pathway of his life.

That’s why many of our greatest artists, when painting Mary and the Christ child, have portrayed with a sense of sorrow and heaviness in her face. Often she looks into the distance as if she can see the form of a cross on the horizon.

Since the lamb must die in order for the blood to save, Jesus must someday die and his blood must be shed. This is the fate and appointed destiny of the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.


2. There is no salvation without sacrifice

Hebrews 9:22 reminds us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” A living lamb may be cute and cuddly, but it saves no one. Unless the lamb dies, his blood does no good. In God’s economy, only shed blood can forgive sin. As the great Lamb of God, Jesus must go to the Cross in order to save the world.

3. Even Jesus cannot save you without faith.

You might say, “This story is absurd!” But I assure you that it is entirely true. Suppose an Israelite had refused to sacrifice a lamb. His firstborn would have died that night. Being a Jew could not save on that fateful night. It’s not national origin that matters to God, but faith in God’s appointed way of salvation.

The same is true for church members. You aren’t saved by coming to Calvary Memorial Church. That doesn’t matter at all. When God looks down from heaven, the only thing that matters is that he see the blood of the Lamb applied to the doorposts of your heart.

4. If you refuse God’s lamb, there is no other plan of salvation.

Consider two men in Egypt on the afternoon before that fateful night. One is a good, moral Egyptian, the other an immoral, dishonest Israelite. Somehow the two men have become friends, despite their many cultural differences. The Egyptian enjoys the friendship of the Israelite even if he does not understand his strange religion. And the Israelite has seen many advantages to forging a relationship with a man from Egypt. So it was that they chatted together that day, the Israelite describing in some detail his plans to kill a lamb and put the blood on the doorpost. Only he sees no purpose in this strange thing. Why should waste a perfectly good lamb (his best one) on such a useless endeavor? The Egyptian agrees, but wonders all the while about the many terrible plagues that have befallen his native land. They part, promising to chat the next morning.

But that conversation never takes place. Later that afternoon the Israelite keeps putting off killing his best lamb. His wife pleads and begs, “Sweetheart, it’s time. Don’t wait too late.” When the appointed hour comes, he kills the lamb but not with any enthusiasm. He delays till the last moment putting the blood on the doorpost. 10:30 comes and goes, then 11:00 and the dear wife is fearful her husband will delay too long. Their four children, including the firstborn son who looks so much like his father, gather round the table. 11:30 and still the man delays. 11:45 and still the man has not done it. His wife weeps before him. “How can you risk the life of your oldest son like this?” Grudgingly, the man takes the hyssop and applies the blood to the doorpost. His wife smiles, now satisfied because her family is safe.

Midnight comes and goes and nothing happens. Not a sound is heard. Not even a dog barking.

No Blood on the Door!

But in Egypt wild screaming, shrieks, wailing, women crying, fathers shouting. Death! Everywhere, Death! Firstborn sons and daughters dying in their sleep. Firstborn cattle dead in their stalls. Not a family is left untouched by the death angel. In the home of the good and moral Egyptian man, sudden terror and then wailing. Their 15-year-old, the heir to the family business, their hope for the future, their comfort in old age, has suddenly stopped breathing. He dies so suddenly they don’t even have time to say good-bye.

Why did he die? Because there was no blood on the door!

But what if the Egyptian had put blood on his door and the Israelite had not? Then the roles would be reversed.

It’s the blood of the Lamb that makes the difference. For those who reject the blood, God has no other plan of salvation.

You Need a Lamb!

You need a Lamb! It must meet all the requirements laid out by God in Exodus 12. The lamb must die. And you must apply the blood to the doorposts of your heart. That is, you must trust in the blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

Where will you find such a lamb?

Look to the Cross! Gaze upon the blooding form of the Son of God! Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus is the Lamb you need. He is God’s Lamb for your sin.

Let the people of God rejoice for the Lamb of God has been sacrificed for them. Let us be sober this year at Christmastime knowing that Babe in the manger was born to die..

Sleep on, Lamb of God. Snuggle tight to your mother’s breast. The road from Bethlehem leads to the Cross.

 

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