One Sunday a young pastor decided to use the 23rd Psalm for his children’s sermon. He began telling them about sheep; that they aren’t smart and need lots of guidance. A shepherd’s job, he said, is to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering away.
He pointed to the little children in the room and said they were the sheep and that they needed lots of guidance. Then the pastor put his hands up in a dramatic gesture, and said to the children, “If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?” He was clearly hoping they would say he was.
A few seconds of silence, then one little boy said, “Jesus is the shepherd.”
The young pastor was caught by surprise, said to the boy, “Well, then, who am I?”
The boy thought for a moment and said, “I guess you must be the sheep dog.”
If I could be that close to Jesus, I’d take that job. I believe that most dogs are pretty noble creatures. Hey, I’ve been called worse!
But that little boy was right, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He has also been called; The Cornerstone, The Messiah, The True Vine, The Word of God and The Son of David. Some folks have even created long lists of over 150 names that are used to describe Jesus.
The Israelites were waiting for a Savior and King. They liked to use words that instilled confidence and power. They liked to think of Jesus as the Deliverer (like Moses); The Judge of Israel; The King of the Ages; The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
So it is kind of interesting the way John the Baptist describes Jesus after his baptism. The next day, it says in John 1:29, Jesus was returning to the place where John was preaching. When John saw him he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have know him, but ‘the one who sent me to baptize with water’ told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is the son of God.”
Again, the very next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
Now, this is not a coincidence, John the Baptist said the same thing two days in a row, the question is why? At this point, a lot of pastors begin preaching about atonement, substitution and restitution. They preach about the perfect sacrifice and how Jesus paid the penalty for sin on the cross. While all of that is great theology, at this point, it just doesn’t make sense.
Lambs get slaughtered and placed on the altar. This is supposed to be the Messiah, the Deliverer, The Son of God. The Israelites were waiting for someone to come and free them from oppression by the Roman government. They wanted a warrior not a lamb.
If John the Baptist would have said, “Look, the Mighty Lion of Judah” it would make more sense…but a lamb? So what was he thinking?
There are only two theories that hold up in relation to John the Baptists words.
The first theory is that John’s Gospel was written long after Jesus died and that John took some ‘creative liberties’ with his gospel. Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, John’s Gospel is more into symbolism and metaphor. It was also written much later.
John’s Gospel is also deeper into theology and Christology. Jesus is the Logos (the word of God), He is the Bread of Life, The Gate, The Vine, the I Am and the Lamb of God. In other words, John is proclaiming to his audience that ‘Jesus is God’ and then he goes on to explain how he fulfilled prophecy.
The second theory though, is closer to the other three Gospels. It is saying that we just have to understand the context that John used when he called Jesus ‘The Lamb of God’. We tend to look at it ‘as if’ John understood everything like we do now. He clearly did not.
When we think of Jesus as the Lamb of God, we tend to think about the cross and his death in our place. While it is true, the unblemished, uninjured lamb was the perfect sacrifice; that was not the only way the Israelites understood what it meant to be the Lamb of God.
You see, animal sacrifice was only a temporary fix and had to be repeated at least twice a year. The blood of the lambs covered sin but did not eliminate the long term problem.
In early Hebrew history, they also knew the Messiah as ‘the triumphant Lamb of God’. This is the Lamb we see later in the book of Revelation. This Lamb of God, did not come to be slaughtered but came to end the practice of sacrifice. This conquering Savior would literally take away the sin of the world. That is the Messiah that John the Baptist was speaking of.
Later, John the Baptist even questioned Jesus asking, “Are you the one who has come or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:10)
This Gentle, humble, compassionate Jesus wasn’t getting things done, at least not in the way they expected; so naturally, John had to wonder was there another savior coming?
In June of 2008, Rev. Mark Galli wrote a book called “Jesus Mean and Wild”. In it he writes, “The Contemporary Church loves to paint Jesus as gentle, meek and…, well, nice; but Jesus loved to make people uncomfortable and he was impulsive.
Author John Ortberg writes, “Mark writes of a Jesus that is unleashed, untamed, undomesticated, and unpredictable. I want to know this Jesus, though he scares me a little.”
While it is true that Jesus screamed at the Pharisees and teachers of the Law and even turned over the tables in the Temple, most of the time Jesus tried to avoid confrontation. He often just slipped away or refused to be cornered by his enemies.
He told stories and answered questions with a question. He told his disciples to pay to God what was God’s and pay what was Caesar’s to Caesar. When he was arrested, he told his disciples who were itching for a fight, “No More of this!” (Luke 22:51)
And when Pilate addressed him, Jesus remained silent. (Mark 14:61) Isaiah 53:7 reads, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; he was led like a lamb to slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”
Still today we have trouble understanding just who Jesus was and still is. We are more comfortable with Jesus as a cross between; John Wayne, Rocky or Rambo than as a sacrificial Lamb.
Who doesn’t like to sing, “God’s not dead, surely he’s alive. He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion.” The problem is; we want Jesus to be tough on everyone else but us!
We want him to ride in on a white horse and bring justice but we want mercy and grace.
Truth be told, what we really need is a God of compassion. We need a God who forgives. A God who really shows us love, mercy and grace; and a Savior who came to take away the sin of the world.
In the Old Testament, Hosea mentions that God has a loud voice, like the roar of a lion. And later he uses metaphors to say that God will avenge his enemies like a lion, a leopard or a bear. Yet in the midst of this, God states, that even though he is aroused, he will not carry out his fierce anger, nor will he devastate cities. Instead he says in Hosea 11:9, “For I am God, and not man the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.”
And get this, the title ‘The Lion of Judah’ only appears once in scripture. In Revelation 5:5, we ‘see’ Jesus – but listen closely, “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.”
And when John looked, here is what he saw, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” (Revelation 5:6)
A careful look at scripture, 1 Peter 5:8 reveals who the lion is, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
And Proverbs 28:15, Zephaniah 3:1-3 and Ezekiel 22:24-29 describe wicked rulers, evil nations – and evil men as roaring lions waiting to pounce on the innocent. In fact, the New Testament never refers to God as a lion. Yet it does speak of Jesus as a lamb over 37 times. In the final pages of the Bible, it is the Lamb who brings peace.
Revelation 21:3-4 reads, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
God gives us what we need, not what we think we want. Imagine this; he was triumphant through vulnerability and non-violence.
It was his compassion and love that overcomes all hatred. In his weakness is strength. It’s crazy, laughable, almost unimaginable, surprising, remarkable, wonderful, beautiful, — and completely true.
Who could have imagined that the Lamb of God was the real image of our God in heaven? “God’s not dead, he’s surely alive. He is living on the inside, and he’s as gentle as a lamb.”
Your assignment is,…to look up the lyrics for the song Agnus Dei, which means lamb of God. Post them where you can look at them all week long. Jesus is worthy of all honor and praise. Worthy is the Lamb.
And never forget, Jesus calls all of us to live like him, gentle, forgiving, loving, merciful and sacrificially. How will you live that out this week? Let me know next Sunday.