One-liners from the Bible, Part Two – Behold the Lamb of God

They say among musicians that the hardest instrument to play is second fiddle. John the Baptist was a gifted and courageous prophet yet he had no problem playing second fiddle to Jesus, the one for whom he was sent to prepare the way. He is also the source of the second one-liner we have chosen for this series of posts on one-liners from the Bible.

According to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29, ESV)

Behold is the word you use when you want someone to study something intensely. John wanted his followers to study Jesus intently. In true second-fiddle fashion John pointed out that he was not even worthy to untie the strap of Jesus’ sandal. (John 1:27, ESV).

Lambs were by far the most common animals used in Old Testament sacrifices. They were also the featured animal of the annual Passover celebrations. Every person familiar with the Old Testament who heard John call Jesus the Lamb of God knew that John meant Jesus was a big deal.

Then, as with so many things in the New Testament, John the Baptist gives the lamb a whole new meaning. This Lamb is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

An interesting play on words with this one-liner goes like this: “Behold the world that takes away the Lamb of God.” After three years of public ministry the world had had enough of Jesus. So, just as Scripture had foretold, the world took away the Lamb of God. The world did so by nailing Jesus to the cross where he died.

But in fact the world was unknowingly participating in God’s almighty plan of salvation. Jesus’ death on the cross was accepted by God as payment in full for the sins of the world. Thus, the Lamb of God did indeed take away the sins of the world, even the sins of those who murdered him.

The resurrected and triumphant Lamb of God is mentioned 27 times in Revelation, the last book of the Bible, including this dramatic passage from chapter five:

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, [12] saying with a loud voice,

 “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

 “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:11-14, ESV)

The central panel of the Ghent Altarpiece imagines what this dramatic scene might look like.

Ghent Altarpiece Lamb of God

 

This tender portrayal of the Lamb of God by Francisco de Zurbaran emphasizes the Lamb’s willing acceptance of his sacrificial duty.

Agnus-Zurbaran

Finally, John’s words have been incorporated into the historic, ancient liturgy of the Christians Church. The hymn “Agnus Dei”, Latin for Lamb of God, is sung in preparation for receiving Jesus in the Sacrament of Holy Communion:

“Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world, grant us your peace.”

As today we repeat the simple, profound words of the Bible’s most famous second-fiddle, the distant past of the Old Testament, the days of the New Testament when Jesus and John walked the earth, and the future glories of heaven are all united in a harmonious affirmation of faith.

 

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