Lamb of God

November 24, 2017

I love to sing Twila Paris’ “Lamb of God.” If you have a songbook handy, you may want to reread the words to this great hymn. It’s one of those songs that can send a chill up and down your spine because of the powerful lyrics. Out of 37 occurrences of the word “lamb” in the New Testament, 33 refer to Jesus.* The lamb of God is a major New Testament theme.

In John 1:29, John the Baptist announces “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (ESV)!” His words are certainly prophetic—pointing to what Jesus was going to do in dying on the cross. His words also resonated with the Old Testament. The Passover Lamb’s blood spared Israel from the last plague and led to the deliverance from slavery. Jesus is called our Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). The words also contain reminders of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. As Hebrews notes, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV). So it is not surprising to hear Peter speak of being redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:19, ESV).

John’s words may also point back to the prophecy of Isaiah 53. A number of New Testament passages link this prophecy to Jesus (e.g., 1 Peter 2:22).

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. Isaiah 53:7, ESV

And it is clear that this one like a lamb brings about forgiveness for others.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us

peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5, ESV

In fact one of the most striking aspects of John the Baptist’s statement is that unlike the Passover Lamb and the Old Testament sacrifices, this lamb of God is for all—“the sin of the world.”

The greatest number of occurrences of the word, “lamb,” referring to Jesus is in Revelation. “Lamb” occurs 28 times in Revelation.* This brings an additional thought to the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”—VICTORY. It is in Revelation that we see the Lamb in heaven receiving praise (5:12). The redeemed sing the song of Moses and the Lamb (15:3). We also learn about the “marriage of the Lamb” (19:7) and “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (21:9), that is the church.

Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, fulfills the Old Testament prophecy and hope. He provides the once and for all sacrifice for sin, and He is the victorious Lamb who sits upon the throne. With the hymn, it is easy to exclaim in praise, “O Lamb of God!”

*Amnos meaning “lamb” occurs 4x with all of its NT occurrences referring to Jesus. Arnion, another Greek term for lamb, occurs 30 times with 28 of them referring to Jesus. Pascha is the Greek term for Passover. Of its 29 occurrences, three of them refer to the Passover lamb (with the word, lamb, being understood from context), and one of those three refers to Jesus (1 Cor. 5:7).

*Word count based on the Greek word, arnion. English word counts may vary because the word, Lamb, may be supplied where the Greek literally has “he” (e.g., 6:7, 9 and 8:1).

Abundance with Thanksgiving

November 17, 2017

We have hot water heat at the house. Last week the boiler went out. This is not a complaint. The boiler hasn’t needed any maintenance in about 20 years, so it was due. Mechanical things eventually break. But a November night in Michigan can be quite chilly without heat. We were fine. We bundled up and had extra blankets on the beds. We survived, but I’m very thankful for heat.

By the way, I’m also thankful for thermostats. We command heat in our houses with very little effort. My grandmother Holden lived in a tenant farm house with my great-aunt and great-uncle. It had a burner that had to be stoked manually. The houses I grew up in still showed the evidence of coal chutes. We are not that far removed from a very different time. I’m thankful for thermostats.

After the boiler was repaired, I awoke and took a cold shower which is not my preference. Apparently when the boiler was repaired, it necessitated the hot water heater be turned off, and it wasn’t relit once the boiler was fixed. I successfully relit the hot water heater. I had to use my phone to take a picture of the tiny print instructions, but the hot water heater is now relit. I’m thankful for hot water.

I like Thanksgiving Day with the traditional meal and time with family. The Calorie Control Council has calculated that the average Thanksgiving Day meal with drinks, desserts, and appetizers is about 4500 calories. If you are wondering how far you should walk to walk off your Thanksgiving meal, a moderate walk of 12 hours would work off 4500 calories. Although it seems to me that there is nothing moderate about a 12-hour walk. Why do we traditionally have such a meal? It is a celebratory feast. We are thankful for the abundance of harvest, and the feast reflects that abundance.

Our American experience is one of abundance. It can be found in the little things that we take for granted except when they don’t work like heat, running water, or hot water on tap. It runs the gamut to the complicated things like smart phones that we use for many things besides talking like taking the picture of small print so that we can read it. What is the appropriate response to such abundance?

First, I need to thank God for the blessings in my life. It is God who has made an abundant world and given us the ability to acquire possessions (see Deut. 8:18). Second, in abundance I need to learn contentment. There will always be things I don’t have, and that is okay. I have more than I need. Paul instructs us that if we have food, clothing, and shelter, we should learn to be content (1 Tim. 6:8).* Finally, abundance brings the responsibility of good stewardship. I am responsible to God for how the good things in my life are used, and when I face abundance, I must also learn to give and to share. Putting these into practice will help us face abundance with thanksgiving.

* “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8, ESV). Paul’s word skepasma means covering and likely includes both clothing and shelter even though it is translated only as clothing in the ESV. The word is also the plural form in this verse — coverings. I suspect that Paul could say in two words (food and coverings) what we usually say in three: food, clothing, and shelter.

Hungering and Thirsting

November 3, 2017

We live in a land of plenty. Fresh, clean running water is available at the tap. Grocery stores and restaurants abound. We hunger and thirst, but our needs are fulfilled so frequently and so easily, we forget how intense these longings can be. Such was not the case for the world in which Jesus spoke these words:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6 ESV

People lived a subsistence life, and travel could expose you to the dangers of thirst.

Kenneth Bailey tells the story of a trip to Bir Shaytoun in his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. This famous well was located deep in the desert of southern Egypt so his expedition had to travel by camel. The temperature for the journey was 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. Unfortunately, there was no shade. To make matters worse, a water bag made of goat-skin leaked all of its contents. They ran out of water.

For a day and half they pressed on to Bir Shaytoun with the guide reassuring them that the well never ran dry. Bailey was concerned that the armed guards traveling with them might commandeer the camels and leave the travelers stranded in the desert and left to die. If there was no water in the well, they would die of thirst. His mouth became so dry that it was impossible to eat. Swallowing felt like rubbing two pieces of sandpaper together. His vision became blurred. It was arduous to keep moving. He writes:

As I staggered on, my mind turned to this verse and I knew that I had never sought righteousness with the same single-minded passion that I now gave to the quest for water.

Listening to his story makes vivid the longing that living in a world of plenty may dull.

Righteousness is doing what God requires. It is upright and moral living. I long to be pure of heart, and yet I deeply sense that I have not yet arrived. Bailey comments:

The statement presupposes that righteousness is something the faithful continuously strive after. The blessed are not those who arrive but those who continue, at whatever cost, in their pilgrimage toward a more perfect righteousness.

Let us hunger and thirst after righteousness because the God of mercy and love will satisfy.