A Lamb Slain
Ralph Wood, professor of theology and literature at Baylor University, once asked a group of seminary students to compare two scenes: an astute collegian who tells you insistently that sin and the fall of man are fallacies invented by the superstitious, and a young pagan in a remote village whom you find in the woods sacrificing a chicken on a makeshift altar. "Which man is farther from the truth?" he asked. The students hemmed and hawed but hesitantly agreed that the pagan boy, however primitively, understood something the other did not. There is a need in our lives for atonement. There is a need for blood. The depravity of man is at once the most unpopular of the Christian doctrines and the most empirically verifiable. We have within us a basic sense of our desperate condition. We are aware, or often reminded, that we not quite what we were intended to be. Something went wrong, something we yearn to see made right, but somehow find ourselves incapable of restoring. For generations, the Israelites labored to follow laws that were meant to atone for their sin and restore them to the presence of God. "And you shall provide a lamb a year old without blemish for a burnt offering to the LORD daily; morning by morning you shall provide it" (Ezekiel 46:13). The language of sacrifice and offering was found throughout Near Eastern culture. But the blood of Israel's sacrifices was not like the blood shed by those attempting to appease and approach the gods they feared and followed. The prophets sent throughout Israel's history were forever insisting that God wanted more than the empty performance of sacrifice. He desired the offerings to exemplify the heart of a worshiper, one yearning to be in the presence of Him who created us, drawing nearer through the blood of a spotless lamb. When Scriptures speak of Christ as the Lamb of God, it is easy to think of it as something like symbolic code. Each time we read of the lamb or the lion in Scripture, it is easy to move through the text with an instantaneous recognition: The lamb is Christ. The lion is Christ. But Oxford scholar John Lennox reminds us that these passages tell us not only who it is, but what it is. It's Christ as the lamb, the spotless lamb whose blood my life requires. The description moves well beyond symbolism. He is the Lamb whose blood atones my depravity, the Lamb who moves me forever into the presence of God. When John describes his vision of heaven in the book of Revelation, the Lamb is found in the center of a singing multitude. "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders" (Rev. 5:6). Asks Lennox, "But how can a slain lamb stand?" On this Good Friday, it is an image that poses much for our hearts and minds. The Lamb who bore my sins, forever bears the scars of my atonement, even as he stands. As the Lamb, Christ has reached a need we could not. He has become the sacrifice we could not give. He is the Lamb who was slain so that we could bow and sing in the presence of God. The hymnist declares the glory of Christ, the only one who is worthy: Behold the Lamb of God! Into the sacred flood of Thy most precious blood my soul I cast: Wash me and make me clean within, And keep me pure from every sin, Till this life be past. Behold the Lamb of God! The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Cornerstone, the Shepherd, our Advocate has bowed to death and overcome. The Slain Lamb stands.