The Silence of the Lamb

During this season of Lent the focus of believers is on Jesus, the Christ (i.e. the Greek word for the Messiah), as the “Lamb of God,” sacrificed for the sins of the world, your sins and my sins as proclaimed by John the Baptist at the baptism of Jesus (John 1:29). However, seven hundred years before that event, God’s prophet, Isaiah, had portrayed the Messiah as the Passover Lamb God would provide, to be sacrificed for “our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53). Jesus, the sinless Christ, was the perfect fulfillment of all that Isaiah had prophesied, one who would be “cut off from the land of the living…oppressed and afflicted,” but would not even “open his mouth” –…like a lamb led to the slaughter” he would suffer silently (for New Testament fulfillment see Luke 22:37 and John 19:8-12).

The Lamb of God. Stained glass church window detail.

 

Jesus is given many titles in the New Testament, but there is no title that is more appropriate for our meditation during Lent than LAMB OF GOD. I have been thinking a lot about the significance of this title in a world where the Gospel of Jesus Christ seems so counter-cultural, so “upside-down.” For example, consider the kind of power so many national and international leaders crave. It is the power to dominate, and even humiliate, those who are perceived as enemies. In recent months many of us have been shocked by some of the labels that have been used, such as “Rocket Man.” On the other hand, there are at least an equal number of people, probably even more among us, who have been amused by this kind of radical rhetoric, such childish “name-calling,” and the use of juvenile comments like “my button is bigger than your button.” Regardless of our personal politics, or party affiliation, surely all who hope and pray for saner and safer diplomatic relations will agree that this is no way to “win friends and influence people.” Those of us who claim to be Christians are supposed to be the followers of One who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (i.e. those who work earnestly to “make” peace) – “Love your enemies” (i.e. be concerned for their welfare, as well as your own) – “For if you love only those who love you, what more are you doing than others?”  – “Pray like this: Our Father in heaven…your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make, you will be judged”“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

Consider what the most powerful nations on earth do when they want to symbolize power. They inevitably use some beast of prey. England uses the lion. France uses the tiger. Russia uses the bear. The United States uses the eagle. Only the kingdom of God would use a lamb, and not just a lamb, but a lamb that was “slain,” yet is still “standing” (i.e. victorious) – a lamb that was “led to the slaughter,” but is now “reigning” – “a lamb that before its shearers was silent, and did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7, and Revelation 5:6-12), a lamb “whose blood now speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). In the Apostle John’s vision of heaven he saw what no other human being had ever seen. He saw all the redeemed of the ages worshiping in heaven, before the throne, and he saw someone seated on the throne, the object of heaven’s worship, and it was THE LAMB!

John not only saw the Lamb of God seated on the throne, but a great multitude” on their faces before the throne (Rev. 4:1-2, 5:13, 7:9-12), singing the great “Te Deum” of heaven, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power” to the Lamb, for they were those who had “…washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb…and for this reason they are before the throne worshiping God day and night” (7:14-17). Has it ever occurred to you that this heavenly anthem is one that only the redeemed of earth will be able to sing? Not even the angels are able to praise God for something they have never experienced. “Holy, holy, holy, is what the angels sing, and we shall surely help them make the courts of heaven ring; but when we sing redemption’s story they will fold their wings, for angels never knew the joy that our salvation brings.” 

The Lamb of God was not sacrificed for the angels in heaven, but for all sinners on earth; and that “great multitude” John saw was made up of the redeemed of all nations, of all races, of all tribes and all tongues through all the ages, dressed in white robes because all their sins had been washed away by the blood of the Lamb (John 1:29, I John 1:7, Rev. 7:9-17), and they were standing before the throne in a favored position, because of their faith and faithfulness to the Lamb, who was no longer silent, as he had been when he was being judged, before he was condemned to be crucified. John now saw Jesus glorified, and heard him saying to all the redeemed who had remained faithful to him, “I know your works, your love, faith, service, and patient endurance…I will give the crown of everlasting life” (Rev. 2:10,19). 

In John’s vision, it was no longer Jesus being judged. He was the one doing the judging! Of course, even on that fateful Friday when Jesus was standing before Pilate, it was not really Jesus who was being judged. Pilate thought he was the one who held the power of life and death over Jesus. In fact, he asked Jesus, “Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you? Do you refuse to speak to me?” (John 19:10). However, Pilate was already uneasy about the true identity of this strange man standing before him. He had sensed a power in him that not only made him uneasy, but even a little fearful. His wife had warned him to have nothing to do with Jesus, for she knew he was a “just man.” When Pilate heard about his claims to divine nature and kingly power, he had become even more uneasy (John 19:8). He had actually taken Jesus back inside the Praetorium so he could question him privately, asking Jesus where he had come from (vs. 9). He was not asking about his hometown. He wanted to know if Jesus was truly a divine man, for he had heard the stories about his power and authority, and he had found himself wondering if Jesus was possibly more than an ordinary man. He had already questioned him publicly about the charges leveled against him, that he had claimed to be the “king of the Jews,” and had also been labeled a rebel against Rome by those religious leaders demanding his death. Jesus did not answer Pilate’s question. A real answer, the truth about himself, would have gone far beyond the political realm in which Pilate had any authority to judge him. If Jesus had answered Pilate’s question, it would have been impossible for him to deny where he had come from and who he was, that he was the Son of God who had come down from heaven. So Jesus gave him no answer” (vs. 9). Instead Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (vs. 11).

Pilate had told the religious leaders demanding his crucifixion that he had found “nothing” in their accusations that had the ring of truth, “nothing” deserving of death. Pilate had used that word over and over again, and in the Greek of the New Testament the word that is translated “nothing” is the little word “ou,” a word that is so small that it is hardly a word at all. It is the brief form of the Greek “ouden,” and whenever the shorter form ou” is used, it is for the purpose of emphasis. Pilate had found “no fault” in Jesus, nothing at all (compare Luke 23:1-41, where even the penitent thief crucified with Jesus said, “This man has done nothing wrong!,” vs. 41). Let me put it this way, for it is crucial that this amazing truth grip our minds and hearts if we are going to be able to understand the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ during this season of Lent: He who had done nothing wrong was crucified for all those who had done everything wrong, that we might stand before God as if we had done nothing wrong!  

gabriele-agrillo-520836-unsplash

Therefore, when we stand before Jesus on that final day of judgment, if we have accepted this good news, and have remained faithful to Jesus as the Lamb of God slain for us, then he will not be silent, for we will hear these welcome words: “I give you the crown of everlasting life, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Amen

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