I fear that miss the import of the words of St. John, hearing that Jesus is like the Lamb of God but that is not what John said. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is already the familiar and common refrain of the hymn we sing as Christ inhabits the bread and the wine with His flesh and blood. It is rather flat for us – a single dimensional view of what it means to be the Lamb of God. But it is no surprise since we are neither Jews nor are we acquainted with the full meaning of that name given to Christ as were those who heard those words first from the voice of the Forerunner and in the whispered reports of what St. John had said.
When St. John gave the name “Lamb of God” to the Jesus whom He had baptized, he was giving to the people who would hear him the full impact and import of Jesus. The people might have mistaken Jesus for another prophet, much like Elisha replaced Elijah. But John came along to disavow this mistake and to give Jesus His rightful and unique place as the prophet to end all prophecies and the priest to end all temple priestly service. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is not only the only One who matters but the very One to whom all things look and who fulfills all things for us and our salvation.
Jesus is the Lamb of God, the real lamb whose flesh and blood can pay sin’s price and release the sinner from his or her captivity to sin and its death. God had counted the sacrifices of old as righteous not because there was something in the animal that made it worthy or something in the sacrifice that made it special. The people were bringing their sacrificial animals in faith, keeping the Word God had said and trusting that God would keep His Word as He had promised.
But now the real Lamb is here. This is the lamb to whom all the lambs slaughtered upon the altar had looked and the one who would end their sacrificial blood from flowing for sin. Jesus is the THE Lamb of God, whose sacrifice upon the cross was no annual ritual but a sacrifice once for all. He does not die over and over again because we continue to sin. His death is once for all – all the sins that had come before His suffering upon the cross and all the sins that would come after it.
This profound truth is echoed every week in the liturgy. The Pastor prays on behalf of all who will receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice of the Lamb’s body and blood on the cross. English might better write it “the one all sufficient sacrifice.” That is what the Lamb has come to do. That is not some of His work but the center of His work for us and for our salvation. He is the Lamb who redeems those who are washed in His blood. He is the Lamb to end the sacrifices that God counted as righteous because the Righteous One has come to suffer, die, and rise for you and for me. He is the Lamb of God who flesh and blood once in time offered still feeds and nourishes a Passover people longing for the new Jerusalem of a life without sin, without tears, without sorrows, without pain, and without death.
Redemption was not something thought about only once a year among the Jews. It was not simply the Day of Atonement to which redemption was on the forefront of heart and mind. The daily sacrifices offered in the Temple to fulfill all righteousness for the sinner who sought to stand before God were a daily and regular reminder that sin was not a self-help proposition – no one redeems himself.
Think how this worked out in the idea of the kinsman redeemer. Though it seems hopelessly outdated in our modern view of things, it was a tradition of love and devotion. According to the Levirate law, a brother could be called upon to redeem his dead brother’s life from dustbin of lost memories so his widow and property live on. He would do this by marrying his dead brother’s wife. If he refused, his brother’s memory was erased as if he had never lived. You saw this when, in the story of Ruth, Boaz had to get her dead husband’s kin to release his responsibility before marrying Ruth. The whole thing was done not only with words but with the loosing of the sandal of the living brother, a symbol of mourning for the dead man.
Surely this was also in the back of St. John the Baptist’s mind when he said he was not able to unloose the sandal of the coming One. St. John was admitting that he was no redeemer. Only the Lamb of God could redeem us from having our names erased from memory and our lives extinguished in death. Jesus is that Lamb of God. He is our kinsman redeemer. He gives life where death was, hope where despair was, and peace where turmoil was. This is what the ears heard when Jesus was called the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The Lord has become YOUR Lord, YOUR Savior, YOUR Redeemer. That is what it means to call Jesus the Lamb of God. He pays the cost of your redemption in full with His own flesh in suffering and His blood shed upon the cross. He dies not for an idea but for you, for your captivity to sin and for your prison of death.
He dies to set YOU free that your life is not and can never be simply a memory. You live because your kinsman redeemer has accepted the role and cause of the Lamb of God in order to save you. He does this not because there is something in it for Him – something more than your sins forgiven and your life rescued from eternal death. No, He is the Lamb of God in love – the steadfast and enduring love that only God has and that we see Him display in His sacrificial death for sinners like you and me.
We sing this every time we approach the Lord’s Table. “O Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on me.” It is the constant reminder and confession that we cannot redeem ourselves or rescue our lives from death and ignominy. That is why it is so foolish to think of the funeral as a celebration of life. Our lives are a breath – here and gone in a moment. We have no abiding city or identity except that which is given to us by others. But the sad reality is that none of us is remembered past one generation. Thanks be to God that the Lamb of God has come, exchanged His life for ours, written our names in the Book of Life, taken in Himself our death so that we might be inhabited with His life, and fed and nourished in this hope until we see Him face to face.
To confess Jesus as the Lamb of God is to admit we need a Redeemer, we need a Lamb whose blood can cleanse and whose flesh can feed. We need the rescue of an eternal God for a people self-condemned to a brief moment of existence because of sin. But that is what John points us to and to which we point in the Divine Service. It is our amazing joy to call Jesus Lamb and to hear at the rail, His body and blood given for you. In the holy Name of Jesus. Amen.