January 15, 2023
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
At each mass, we hear the words, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” The second part of this phrase comes from the Book of Revelation 19:9a, “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” The first part comes from John 1:29 and our Gospel reading today, above. Being so repeated in our worship, it may become mindless or so familiar that it loses any significance. On John the Baptist’s lips, however, it is striking. At the very beginning of his public presence, at what the Eastern Churches consider his first manifestation, or revelation, or epiphany—being baptized by John in the Jordan—John points to Jesus as the Lamb of God. John’s testimony to Jesus as the Lamb of God gives credibility to Jesus in the minds of John’s disciples and leads to the call of Jesus’s first disciples to himself. Where does the image of the Lamb of God come from and what is its significance?
First is the possibility from the author of the Gospel of John, the beloved disciple, who later wrote the Book of Revelation, as well, that the Lamb of God is the eschatological (final fulfillment and end) Lamb that defeats all evil. In chapters 5-7 of the Book of Revelation the Lamb is identified (Rev 5:6a, “Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.”), acknowledged (Rev 5:9-10, “They sang a new hymn: “Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.”), and is active, breaking open the scroll’s seven seals. Later, in Rev 17:14, the Lamb is assured final victory, “They will fight with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and king of kings, and those with him are called, chosen, and faithful.” The Lamb of God is the final victor.
The second possibility is from the great Passover, where God saves his people from the slavery of Egypt. A sacrificed lamb, which becomes a meal, provides blood to mark the homes of those who eat (Exodus 13:7, “They will take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.”). In Ex 13:12-13, we read, “For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every firstborn in the land, human being and beast alike, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt—I, the LORD! But for you the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thereby, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you.” God saves his people from judgement through the blood of a lamb, sacrificed and eaten, which leads to freedom and the promised land. The Lamb of God saves.
The third is from the suffering servant in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. We read of this servant in Isaiah 53:5-6, “But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, all following our own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.” Significant to this image, verse 7 states, “Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth.” The servant who bears our iniquities, through whom we are healed, is the Lamb of God.
Perhaps, it is all three. The Lamb of God bears our iniquities, heals us, is sacrificed and consumed, saves us from judgement, and is the victor over sin and death. Jesus is the Lamb of God. Behold!