In Palestine two thousand years ago, John the Baptist introduced Jesus of Nazareth by proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This metaphor had particular meaning for the people of that region in that day. Lambs were offered as sacrifice to God in Israel’s temple for forgiveness of sins. John was in effect prophesying that Jesus would be offered for the sins of the people. In retrospect we know what that meant: Jesus died for no sins of His own but rather because of the sinfulness of His persecutors and executioners. Moreover, Jesus’ apostles eventually made it clear to us in the New Testament that Jesus died not just for the sins of ancient Israel and Rome, but for the sins of all humanity…of all time.
After dying on the cross, Jesus was raised from the dead. After appearing on earth over a period of forty days in many convincing ways to hundreds of His followers, He ascended into heaven. From there He continues to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Therefore, we ourselves may even now “behold the Lamb of God.” We do so not with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of our heart – that is, our understanding. This is faith. Do you now behold the Lamb of God? He certainly beholds you!
We are fortunate indeed to be able to see Him who is unseen. Thomas who doubted was able to see and touch Jesus’ resurrected flesh and bone, but we are blessed to be able to see Him who is spirit with the eyes of our faith. When we keep our eyes fixed on Him who watches us day and night from heaven, we are able to endure all things in life for He is the source of our unending strength. We live for His approval.
Beyond a sacrifice for sins, the picture of a lamb also conveys innocence, for according to God’s command the sacrificial lambs had to be without blemish. They also convey humility and gentleness, for whoever thinks of a lamb as brash or arrogant? Jesus is innocent of all sin, and is gentle and humble of heart. He bids us come to Him by faith (that is, to acknowledge Him with the eyes of our understanding), and He will give us rest for our restless hearts. How can the ruler of this mighty universe have a heart like a lamb? How can He who rules the planets and brings judgments on humanity be so sweet and tender? This is the majesty and mystery of our glorious God. He rules as a lion but has the heart of a lamb.
When you behold Him, He takes away sin. That is, He forgives you of all your sins. He doesn’t forgive you so that you can keep on sinning. On the contrary, He forgives you so that you can begin to live a righteous and holy life before Him. John’s phrase, however, contains even more meaning. He is saying that Jesus not only forgives individual sins, He also removes the foundational (or “original sin” if you will) of all humanity. What sin is that? Thinking as if God is not as present in the earth as we ourselves are. That is, the fundamental sin of the world is ignoring God. All other sins proceeds from this one.
Turn on the news, go to a sporting event, drive down the street. Everywhere you go, humanity acts as if God is absent. Even if portions of humanity insist that God exists, they still act as if He is somewhere else most of the time. This is the sin of the world. Do not love the world. Do not be like the world. Do not love the things that the world loves. If anyone loves the world, the love of God is not in him. If anyone is friends with the world, he’s an enemy of God. Your choice is clear: accepts God’s perspective on life or the world’s perspective. There is no middle ground between the two.
Love the only One who can remove this sin of the world. Whenever you behold Him, the sin of the world is taken away – you can glimpse reality. And act accordingly.