By Rick Barker
I sat in church on Christmas Eve thinking about the gift of God to us—God becoming one of us; the King of the universe being born in a lowly manger. A manger is no place for a king. But the manger (or, more accurately, the ground surrounding the manger) is a natural—even perfect—setting for the birth of a lamb. Yes, Jesus is our King, but the circumstances of His birth remind us clearly that Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to become our Savior; “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11).
The manger reminds us that we can’t contemplate the gift of God at Christmas without also considering the cross. The gift culminates in sacrifice on the cross—and that sacrifice is the source for the gift of eternal life. The manger is where the Sacrifice—“the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—was born (Jn. 1:29b).
Other passages also talk about Jesus as the Lamb of God. For instance, 1 Peter 1:19 teaches that we are ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”.
The first comparison with the Lamb of God that comes to my mind, however, is the Passover lamb. Obviously, I have the hindsight of knowing that Jesus was crucified at the same time as Passover lambs were slain. Nonetheless, the Passover lamb is one obvious comparison with Jesus even without that knowledge. In the verses describing the Passover lamb we are told (Ex. 12:3-13):
Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
“Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
The blood of the Passover lamb saved God’s people from the judgment He executed in the tenth plague. Similarly, the blood of the Lamb of God saves all who believe. However, the Passover lamb was technically never a sacrifice for sin but a life-giving Substitute. Christ was the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb, but He fulfilled far more than the Passover symbols.
According to the law, lambs were offered as the daily sacrifices at the temple (Ex. 29:38-39), and female lambs were offered as sacrifices for personal sin (Lev 4:27-35). Importantly, though, the words in Hebrew translated “lamb” were used more broadly than simply to refer to a young sheep. Some of the words could refer to any of the flock animals (or to the flock itself). We saw this wider meaning in the passage above where the Passover “lamb” could be a sheep or a goat. As a result, I must conclude that the phrase “Lamb of God” is also being used generically in a manner that could apply to all of the Old Testament sacrifices, as they were all types of Christ.
There is no single passage that captures the full meaning of Jesus being the Lamb of God, but perhaps the most pertinent Old Testament link is found in Isaiah 53:4-7, 12:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth….Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
In other words, being the Lamb of God isn’t about fulfilling the details of one specific sacrifice or feast. Instead, it is about the overall action of Christ as described in this passage.
The other thought that comes to mind when I consider Jesus being the Lamb of God is that the Lamb of God was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). This fact is important for several reasons. It tells me that God wasn’t surprised by man’s sin, and He didn’t scramble to come up with a plan for saving mankind. God knew what would happen, and He knew what He would do. God chose the path of the cross before the world was created.
John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Romans 5:6-8: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The cross wasn’t Plan B. The Lamb of God was destined for that cross from the foundation of the world. The Lamb of God is the greatest, most loving gift any of us has ever received. And that gift arrived as a King born in a manger.