Behold, the lamb of God


Throughout the Christmas season, countless pastors will refer to Jesus’ journey from the cradle to the cross.

I love it myself. It has a great cadence, is easy to remember and is alliterated (which is a pastoral win). But what I really love is it makes the essential connection between the wonder of Christ’s birth and the somber purpose for which he was born. The baby in the manger, the son of God, was sent to serve as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Both Mary and Joseph were told by an angel that they were to give the son born to them the name Jesus. It was a fairly common name at the time which more or less meant to deliver, to rescue or to save. The divinely appointed name revealed his divinely appointed purpose.

In Matthew 1:20, the angel clearly tells Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” This is the reason for the “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” the angels brought to the shepherds in the field. It’s the reason we still celebrate today.

Immanuel, God with us, had come as a human in order to save humanity by making them right with God. And he would do it not through military might or force of will but through humble and selfless sacrifice, by shedding his blood as the sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, whose birth was also announced by an angel and amazingly miraculous, is one of the first to unambiguously acknowledge who Jesus was and why he came.

In John 1:29, John sees Jesus coming and proclaims, “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” One wonders if John knew how profoundly and painfully true that statement was when he made it.

In that short sentence, John reveals the truth contained and communicated in the Christmas story. God had sent the spotless lamb that would render all other sacrifices unnecessary. The truth of John’s revelation is clear to us with the benefit of the whole story, but the signs of what was to come are scattered throughout the Christmas story.

Luke 2 lays out the details of the night of Jesus’ birth, painting the picture of the Nativity. Joseph, along with his pregnant wife, Mary, makes the trek to Bethlehem to be registered for the Roman census. While there, Mary gives birth to Jesus, wraps him in cloths and lays him in a manger.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a field nearby, some shepherds are doing what shepherds do, caring for their sheep. An angel suddenly appears and proclaims the good news of great joy, that a savior has been born to them and that he is the messiah. Then the angel says this, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Why would a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger be a sign to these shepherds?

The shepherds near Bethlehem weren’t just any shepherds. It is believed the shepherds in this region were given the very important task of taking care of the sacrificial lambs used in the Passover sacrifices.

Just outside Bethlehem was a tower called Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flock where these lambs were born. It is said that when a firstborn male lamb was born, they would wrap it in cloths to keep it calm and warm. They would place it in a manger to check it for blemishes or injuries to make sure it was pure and to keep it safe from injury so it would remain so.

Perhaps, beyond being a sign that Jesus came as one of them, this was a sign that Jesus came for them and that the baby in the manger was the perfect lamb of God that would permanently take away the sins of the world through his sacrifice.

There are all sorts of symbols and signs in the Christmas story. Many of them have evolved into traditions we observe today. But the greatest sign also is the smallest and most subtle. It is the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. It was a sign that those simple shepherds would be the most likely to see and understand. It was the sign of a humble and gracious sacrifice for a glorious purpose, the forgiveness of sins.

This Christmas, may we see the sign of the baby in the manger and remember that his cradle led to a cross where he suffered and died to provide us with the most costly and necessary of gifts, our eternal salvation by faith through in his sacrifice. “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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