I feel inadequate to describe the significance of the Lamb of God, but tonight is Passover, so I’ve got lambs on my mind.
I don’t know anyone who has lambs, and I really haven’t been around these animals in my lifetime. I can imagine a kitten, or a puppy, or a pet bird. I visit a local dairy often, so I can picture little calves. I even milked a goat once, on a school field trip in elementary school. So I sorta understand.
On the 10th day of the first month, each Israelite family was commanded to choose a little lamb.
“Each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household… year-old males without defect… Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month…” (Exodus 12:3-5).
Take care of them? My children would have loved that! A lamb in the house, hopping up on the furniture, chewing up socks, and giving rough-tongue kisses when Mom wasn’t looking. (At least, that’s how I imagine it… again, I’ve never done this…)
The mother and father would watch their firstborn give the lamb hugs around his neck — and they would exchange glances over his head. Four days of play would not make Dad’s job any easier on the 14th.
“Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight” (Exodus 12:6).
Yup, the parents were probably dreading that job.
The children did not understand why they brought a lamb into their home — but they did it anyway. Faith!
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:1, 6, KJV).
The parents knew the lamb would die, but they certainly couldn’t understand that it was symbolic of what the Messiah would someday do — but they did it anyway. Faith!
“And [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'” (Luke 22:19-20).
Prophets couldn’t understood exactly how a Messiah could also suffer and save them from their sins — but they delivered God’s messages anyway. Faith!
“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of [Messiah] and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11).
From Adam until the end of time, we are all sinners in need of a savior. No matter what century we live in, we are all justified by the graciousness of God, through the ransom paid by Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
“There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).
I know all of this. Sometimes my “great theological wisdom” dims the love my heart has for my heavenly Father, because I’ve heard it so many times. The specialness is gone.
That’s why this year, the very next verse of Romans 3 caught my eye.
“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—” (Romans 3:25).
He left the sins committed beforehand unpunished? Huh? What does that mean?
The Scriptures clearly say that the sacrifices the Israelites brought to God “atoned” for their sins. For instance,
“Sacrifice a bull each day as a sin offering to make atonement” (Exodus 29:36).
To atone means satisfaction or appeasement of God’s wrath. (Note: The word is translated as “propitiation” in the KJV.)
This must mean that the multitude of sacrifices brought were not intended to actually forgive the people; rather, the sacrifices temporarily satisfied God’s wrath. Their sins were atoned — but they weren’t paid for!
Like when we have a debt we cannot possibly pay, so the bank gives us a 6-month forbearance to give us a chance to earn some extra income, God commanded the people to bring animal sacrifices as an atonement (or satisfaction) of God’s just wrath against sin. Only, here’s the difference! At the end of the forbearance period, God “freely” (Romans 3:24) paid the debt (“redemption”) through His own Son’s blood.
“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—” (Romans 3:25, NIV).
Here’s the puzzler. I’ve quoted this verse from the NIV (1984), but it leaves out a bit — or rather, it places some of it in the footnotes. Check out how the KJV renders it:
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Romans 3:25, KJV).
The deleted phrase is rather significant to me this night, as I stare at the stuffed-animal lamb sitting as a centerpiece on our table. (He’s awful cute…)
The word remission, as it’s translated in the KJV, means “to pass over, to leave undone, to neglect until a later time.” Again, this verse makes it clear that the sacrifice of a lamb on Passover night did not forgive sins. The sacrifice only “passed over” sins, left judgment undone, and appeased God’s righteous wrath “until a later time.”
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4).
When Jesus died before twilight on that first-century Passover, His blood finally “passed over” every sin of the past. God’s forbearance period was finally over, and redemption was finally complete.
“We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:10-14).
Sacrifices do not save. They never did. From the first “sacrifice” made in the garden, when God clothed Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal, to the sacrifices predicted to be made again in the new temple described in Ezekiel 40-46, these sacrifices “can never take away sins.” They are an “annual reminder of sins” (Hebrews 10:3). The blood of a little goat on Passover didn’t take away the Israelites’ sin — it only gave them a “forbearance” period until the true sacrifice could be made.
“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me…”
Oh, how blessed I am, to be forgiven in His name!
P.S. This reminded me of the old song by Ray Boltz, “Watch the Lamb.” See a nice version of it on YouTube here.