‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’
John the Baptist’s iconic words addressed to Jesus in the first chapter of John’s gospel are rooted in today’s famous passage. Ever since the time of Exodus, the image of the sacrificial lamb had come to symbolise God’s rescue of his people. Every year, at Passover, all Jewish families would re-enact God’s salvation by the Red Sea, and a dish of lamb would be at the heart of the meal.
But something new was coming. The servant songs of Isaiah, which are studded through the later chapters of the book, promise a new rescue and a new rescuer. This anointed one (Messiah) would carry great authority and integrity, would stand for justice, and would bring salvation, not just to Israel, but to the world. This servant would be ‘raised and lifted up and highly exalted’ (52:13), and earthly kings would ‘shut their mouths because of him’ (52:15).
There’s a sting in the tail, however. Because it’s not the whole story. This same servant would not just be the Lion of Judah – he would also be the Lamb, sacrificed for all. Indeed he would be ‘led like a lamb to the slaughter’ (v7). Why? Verses 4-6 make it clear. ‘He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.’ All our human selfishness, all our rebellion against God, placed upon his shoulders – so that we might have peace. (v5)
‘No peace without justice’ – so has sung many a liberation movement in recent decades. In today’s passage, we are addressing the ultimate yardstick of justice – our standing before Almighty God. And it is the Lamb who symbolises God’s perfect justice and mercy. God takes the punishment himself, that we might be healed, that we might have peace.
On Sunday, we’ll remember and honour the sacrifice of so many in war, and give thanks for the peace that we now share. But today, let’s remember an even greater sacrifice which won an even deeper peace. And may the good news that, through Jesus’ sacrifice, we have peace with God cause us to give thanks; may it lift our hearts today and fill us with his abiding presence.
Look! The Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world… Lord, we are not worthy to come into your presence – and but only say the word, and we shall be healed. Amen.