Jesus Christ: the Agent of Redemption
Palm Sunday is the first day of the Passion Week–the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life before the Cross and the Resurrection. The Passion Week is when the spotlight of the Story of God shines most brilliantly on Jesus Christ. We find that the Passion Week focuses intently on Jesus’ life, purpose, and mission in coming to this broken world. Luke 9:51 tells us, “when the days were approaching for His ascension, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He was determined to go to Jerusalem to face the Cross. This was the reason He came. This would be something that would change everything.
For years, I missed the journey of the Passion Week and the power of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I knew that it was an important season in the Church’s calendar, something to celebrate, but I never fully entered in. I never fully fixated on the Cross and the Resurrection. I never let it fully seep into my heart and my life. And then I began to “hyper-focus” on the Passion Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. I began to give it my full attention. I began to allow its glory carry its full weight in my heart and in my life. I never want to miss the power of the Passion Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday again.
Understanding that Jesus Christ is the Agent of Redemption helps us take that journey with Jesus this during the Passion Week. It helps us focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ and especially His cross that we celebrate on Good Friday and His resurrection that we celebrate on Easter Sunday. And this messages’ big idea comes straight from the verse that we’ll be in…
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
We’re right into the heart of the Story of God focusing on the person and work of Jesus Christ. We’re talking about Jesus Christ being the “agent of redemption”… the One who, by His death, paid for and took away our sin. The One who has given us the opportunity to experience redemption, rescue, and re-creation.
“The Lamb of God”
The context of this passage is John the Baptist baptizing Jewish people in the Jordan River. The Jewish people were longing for the Messiah, longing for the Savior, longing for the Rescuer. John the Baptist is the prophet who bridges the Old Testament and the New Testament together. He is one who calls the people of Israel back to their God. He is the one who “cries out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord” (from Isaiah 40). He’s the prophet whose job it was to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah and Savior. John’s grand statement about “beholding the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is his response at witnessing the baptism of Jesus when the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove and when the Father’s voice came from heaven saying, “this is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” So when John the Baptist as a prophet calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” it triggers all kinds of associations for the Jewish people and all kinds of connections that should clarify who this Jesus is and what He has come to do. The foreshadowing of the Lamb of God is rooted in the larger Story of God, beginning with the Old Testament. Let’s take a look at some of the connections that would be made when John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God.”
The Suffering Servant. The first image of the Lamb of God is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:6-7.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
Jesus, as the Lamb of God, would be the One who would bear the weight of our sin and transgression. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, would be the One who would suffer for us… this is what the story reveals. Our grief He bore. Our transgression He was pierced for. Our sin and iniquity fell upon Him. And by His stripes we are healed. Jesus Christ, the Servant of God, suffers on our behalf so that we might be brought back into the fullness of life and relationship with our God. The Lamb of God is led to the slaughter so that we might be saved to everlasting joy with our God.
The Passover Lamb. Another image that would likely spring into the mind of Jewish people when John calls Jesus the Lamb of God would be the Passover Lamb from Exodus 12.
‘Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. ‘You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. ‘Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
As the last and final plague falls upon Egypt in the death of the firstborn, God would pass over His people and protect them from this coming death, but it would be the blood of an unblemished lamb that would be the sign of protection. The story continually points forward to Jesus Christ being this perfect, righteous, and unblemished Lamb of God who would take away our sin and protect us from wrath and death.
The Unblemished Lamb. What is key to understanding the Lamb of God is that all lambs that were sacrificed and slaughter to cover over and take away sin were unblemished… no defects… they were perfect. Here’s how Peter clarifies that Jesus is the unblemished Lamb of God.
…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Now we need to understand this. Lambs in the Old Testament had only one purpose–to be slaughtered as a sacrifice. They weren’t used at pets. They weren’t stars of children’s television shows. They weren’t mascots for the Jerusalem High sports teams. They were killed as sacrifices. So when John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God” – one image would come to the surface. He would be killed as a sacrifice for sin.
“Who takes away the sin of the world”
Jesus Christ, God Himself, would be the sinless, unblemished sacrifice who would take away the sin of the world. The word “takes away” means to lift up, to carry away, or to remove. When Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away, lifts up, carries away, and removes the sin of the world, how does He do this?
This is the reason that Jesus ultimately came. 1 John 3:5 says, “You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.”
“You know that He appeared” – that’s the word that we looked at in Romans 16:26 when Paul says that the mystery of Christ, the mystery of redemption, is now “manifested.” And what John tells us that the reason that Jesus Christ was now manifested, the reason that He appeared, the reason that God put on flesh, was so that He might take away sins (it’s the same word as John 1:29) as the sinless Lamb of God. We cannot miss the primary reason that He came to this earth… for the cross… to die for our sin… and to take away our sin. It is true that in His earthly ministry, He taught and modeled what it looked like to live in and love a broken world around Him… to walk humbly and to do justice and mercy… but that is not the primary thing He came to do. He came to die on a cross to bear our sin, so that we might be re-created, renewed, and transformed from the inside out and then in that transformation, then and only then can we learn to look, live, and love like Jesus does.
Philip Yancey wrote in his The Jesus I Never Knew:
Of the biographies I have read, few devote more than ten percent of their pages to the subject’s death—including biographies of men like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, who died violent and politically significant deaths. The Gospels, though, devote nearly a third of their length to the climactic last week of Jesus’ life. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John saw death as the central mystery of Jesus.
Jesus Christ put on flesh to come and pay for our sin!
The Theology of the Lamb of God’s Sin-bearing. We need to understand more deeply what actually happened when Jesus, the Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. Sin is the rebellion of a depraved humanity that has been and continues to be separated from the Creator God because we want to be our own gods and build our own kingdoms instead of His. In understanding the Lamb of God’s bearing and taking away our sin, we need to know and understand two crucial words to understanding the cross of Christ: propitiation and expiation.
Propitiation. Propitiation means to satisfy and remove the wrath of God. Because of our sin and rebellion, we rightly and justly deserve the wrath of God because a holy, perfect God cannot stand sin and in His perfect and holy justice, He cannot and will not let sin go unpunished or else He would not be just. Therefore, humanity and the world are under wrath. When Jesus comes to die on the cross for our sin in our place, as our substitute, He appeases and satisfies the wrath of God, and He takes the wrath instead of us taking the wrath. 1 John 2:2 tells us, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
P.T. Forsyth, the great Scottish theologian who dedicated himself to understanding and clarifying the purpose of Jesus Christ and the cross wrote:
The blood of Christ stands not simply for the sting of sin on God but the scourge of God on sin, not simply for God’s sorrow over sin but for God’s wrath on sin.
The Lamb of God in His death on the cross pays the price for our sin by satisfying and removing the wrath of God, which was due us.
Expiation. The next word that we need to understand about the cross is the word expiation. And both propitiation and expiation are crucial if we are going to understand the fullness of Jesus’ role of bearing our sin. Expiation means to cleanse from sin. John tells us in 1 John 1:7, “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin .” The blood of Jesus, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God upon the cross, not only satisfies and removes the wrath of God, but it also cleanses us from sin. The word “cleanses” in the Old Testament was used of ceremonial cleanliness–the cleansing that removed impurities before a person could come into the presence of God and worship in the temple. But as we get into the New Testament, we find that cleansing is much more than clean hands and ritual purity. Cleansing provides a clean heart. The cleansing that Jesus provides from His substitutionary and sacrificial death provides us a life cleansed from past sin with the new ability to be wholeheartedly dedicated to God. And because of expiation, the cleansing of sin, we are no longer to be paralyzed by guilt and shame over our past sin, which has been forgiven by the cross of Christ. We are forgiven, made clean, and set free!
So Jesus, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. Jesus satisfies and removes the wrath of God in propitiation. Jesus cleanses us from sin and provides us with the purity of heart to see Him and savor Him clearly in expiation. And He does this for the sake of the world. We’re not talking “universalism” here where everyone gets in because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But we are talking about the reality that Jesus’ death provides the way to life, the bridge to life across the chasm of sin and death, whereby anyone who comes to Him can walk across. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
The word “behold” means to look and see. It is exclaimed with an exclamation mark to stop us in our tracks so that we might look up and gaze upon something unexpected. And this is something completely unexpected: God Himself, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God would be sacrificed to take away our sin to remove the wrath of God upon us and to cleanse us from sin and shame. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
Years ago, there was newscast about a Vietnam veterans parade in Chicago. Part of the commemoration was a mobile version of the Vietnam Wall. Like the original, it bore the names of all the soldiers who had died in Vietnam.
A newscaster asked a vet why he had come all the way to Chicago to visit this memorial and to participate in the parade. The soldier looked straight into the face of the reporter and with tears flowing down his face said, “Because of this man right here.” As the soldier talked, he was pointing to the name of a friend that was etched in the wall. He traced the letters of his friend’s name in the wall. The soldier continued to answer the reporter by saying, “This man right here gave his life for me. He gave his life for me.” As the news clip ended, the sobbing soldier let the tears flow as he stood there tracing the name of his friend with his finger. John the Gospel writer quotes Jesus’ words later in His gospel: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”