The Lamb

On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, “Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Generally, when we think about lambs, we are not filled with fear or respect. We would perhaps consider them “cute” or something of the sort. We would think of a young and vulnerable animal, perhaps not the smartest, yet, above all things, harmless and innocent.

Therefore, there are good reasons why you do not see many high schools or colleges whose mascot is a lamb. The designation would be either ironic or all too appropriate. It is also a term that is generally not used to describe another person. You rarely hear someone who has been given the nickname “Lamb.” Even if such a one were to exist, he would not be someone whom you would fear!

Yet John the Baptist, on seeing Jesus, speaks of Him as the “Lamb.” Why would John say such a thing? Is it an insult? What is he trying to communicate?

While we may think of lambs as cute, young, harmless, and the like, an ancient Israelite would have added to all those things “a sacrifice.” Lambs were offered as sacrifices to God even in the days of Abraham (cf. Genesis 22:7-8). In order to mark out Israelite houses, God commanded Israel to sacrifice lambs and use their blood to mark the lintel and the side posts during the Passover (cf. Exodus 12:3-5). Lambs were the perpetual daily sacrifices for atonement (cf. Exodus 29:38-42). Lambs were sufficient sacrifices for sin and trespass offerings (cf. Leviticus 4:32, 5:6).

Yet why the poor lamb? What did it ever do to deserve such a fate? Absolutely nothing– and that was the point. As elaborated in Leviticus 17:11, the life of an animal was in its blood, and animals were offered on the altar in order to atone for the sins of the one sacrificing. The penalty for sin was death (cf. Genesis 3:3, Romans 6:23). For the penalty to be paid, something had to die– and in the old covenant, the innocent lamb was the one who paid the penalty.

This is the background behind John’s statement. By signifying that Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” John forecasts His life and death. Jesus, as the Lamb, would be sinless and innocent (cf. Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:21-22). Through His death on the cross He was able to take away the sin of the world– to be the sinless, innocent Life that would atone for all the guilty who believed in Him (cf. Matthew 20:25-28, Romans 5:5-11, 2 Corinthians 5:20).

The blood of lambs, in truth, could not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). God passed over the sins of the righteous of old, looking forward to the propitiation that came through the obedience of Jesus the true Lamb of God (cf. Romans 3:25, Hebrews 5:7-10). In so doing Jesus broke down the barriers between Jew and Gentile and all people, allowing all to be cleansed of sin and reconciled to God through His blood (Ephesians 2:11-18).

We again see Jesus as the Lamb in Revelation 5:6-14, the One worthy to open the seven seals. The Lamb receives power and honor and glory for His life, death, and resurrection.

Therefore it is important for us to remember that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was not just a sacrifice– He was humble, meek, and lowly, One from whom you would not derive a mascot (cf. Matthew 11:28-30). His way is not the way of the world, but the way of love, humility, and service (Matthew 20:25-28). In order to be His disciple we must also become sacrifices, albeit living ones (Romans 12:1), and we must develop the humility and disposition of a servant as did our Lord (cf. John 13:1-17, Philippians 2:1-11).

The Lamb gave His life so that we could have abundant life, both here and in the hereafter. If we seek to obtain that life, we must give up our own lives and follow the ways of the Lamb of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Serpents and Doves

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

As Jesus sends His disciples out to proclaim the message of the Kingdom among the villages of Israel He warns them about many of the challenges and difficulties they will experience. In so doing He tells them to be as “wise as serpents” and yet “harmless as doves.”

This statement sounds rather strange to the ear. We rarely consider serpents and doves in the same breath– they are two radically different types of animals. And that is precisely Jesus’ point.

It is not as if serpents are really “wise” or that doves are “innocent.” These are human characteristics that are imposed upon the animals because of their behavior and lifestyles.

Snakes have from the beginning had the reputation of shrewdness and craftiness (Genesis 3:1). They hunt by stealth, slithering quietly to attack their prey unawares. They strive to remain hidden and oftentimes blend in with their surroundings. To this day many people experience a slight shock when coming upon a snake, a type of shock that does not take place when people come upon birds or deer or other similar animals. Therefore, it is understandable that the snake is associated with Satan the Devil and his schemes (cf. Revelation 12:9).

Doves also have represented innocence and peace for a long time. A dove let Noah know that the flood waters had receded (Genesis 8:11). Many doves are white, and white has throughout time been associated with purity, cleanliness, and holiness (cf. Isaiah 1:18). Doves are also very gentle birds– they do not harm other animals and they certainly do not harm humans. Therefore it is appropriate that when the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, He does so as a dove (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22).

We can most certainly understand the reference to doves and the expectation that Jesus’ disciples would not harm people and represent purity and holiness. But how can it be that disciples should be as wise as serpents, considering how the serpent is a representation of the Evil One?

This whole contrast is framed by Jesus sending out His disciples into the world, described as sheep in the midst of wolves. Sheep are loyal followers but otherwise rather dumb. They go where they are directed and they have almost no natural defenses. Wolves, on the other hand, are highly intelligent and ruthless creatures, and they love nothing more than an easy meal. Jesus is sending His followers out into a world where whatever defenses they may have against persecution, temptations, and sin would be easily overcome on their own, and the world has plenty of such temptations.

Since disciples are sent out into a fallen world, therefore, there must be a balance between the dove and the serpent. There is great value in purity, holiness, and innocence, but we recognize that innocence can easily lead to naive thinking and actions and therefore disaster. The innocent are easily exploited and manipulated into falling. Likewise, we understand that there is no virtue in being crooked and full of schemes like the Evil One, but nevertheless there is value in being wise in the ways of the world– not necessarily based on experience, but understanding the means by which exploitation and temptation occur so as to avoid them.

If we desire to be disciples of Christ we must recognize that we, too, are sent out into the world like sheep in the midst of wolves. It is critically important that we do all that we can to avoid sin and to practice righteousness, but we must also be aware of the naivete that can accompany innocence. Therefore, we must have a handle on the way the world works while striving to be righteous servants of God, or, as Jesus would say, to be wise as serpents while remaining as innocent as doves. Let us seek to do so and reflect Christ to the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry