In John 1, Jesus was a relatively new figure on the religious landscape. There were rumors surrounding Him – His birth, His teaching, His power – but by far, the big draw was still John the Baptist. John, with his wild beard and locust-popping habits. John, the fearless who called the Pharisees to task. John, the eccentric. For some time, he had been preaching and teaching, calling everyone who would listen to repentance. Repentance, and preparation for another one who was to come. His message was consistent; his call was constant. And then one day what was to come actually happened.
John signaled this coming with a change in his message. He was, as was his custom, preaching and baptizing by the Jordan River, but then he looked up and saw Jesus coming towards him. He responded with a mysterious but powerful declaration:
“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
It left his disciples wondering. Then, when the same thing happened the next day, two of those disciples wanted to inquire further:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus (John 1:35-37).
Just five words from John. Five simple, monosyllabic words. But those five words contain for us a summary of the entire gospel message:
“Look, the Lamb of God.”
This is a definite article, as opposed to the indefinite article “a” or “an.” As a definite article, the word precedes a noun, and the noun in question has some quality of uniqueness or quality. Whatever that quality is, it is not general but specific. And that means something big in this context because those listening to John were well familiar with lambs.
There were lots of lambs. Lambs every year, and for every family. Lambs brought to the temple to be sacrificed time and time again. This was in accordance with the Scriptures, the Old Testament law:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household (Ex. 12:1-3).
Yes, there were centuries of lambs. But John was referencing not “a” lamb, but “the” lamb – the only one. The unique one. And, as time would tell, the last one needed.
Each year, each family brought a lamb. These were their lambs, raised from their flock for the specific purpose of being offered up in sacrifice. They were meant to be without spot of blemish – the very best they had. But this was not a lamb, it was the lamb. And this lamb did not belong to any one family, but instead belonged to God Himself.
Unlike all the other sacrifices offered to God, God Himself would bring this lamb. He would provide the offering. These words bring it together. Jesus is the last sacrifice. The only sacrifice. A sacrifice that only God would provide. A sacrifice that would not cover our sins, but take them away. This was what everything else had been leading up to. As the writer of Hebrews put it:
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. Otherwise, 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. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins… (Heb. 10:1-4).
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, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Heb. 10:11-14).
So what is left for us in light of this message? The lamb of God has come to take away the sins of the world, so what do we do in light of this great message?
That’s the final word from John:
The old KJV translates this word as “behold.” That word carries a different force with it – a kind of gravity that it requires. In light of who Jesus is and what He has come to do, we should behold Him. We should focus on Him. We should make Him the focus of our constant gaze.
What is left for us?
To behold… and believe.