The Face of the Lamb

The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29 (NASB)

“Just watch the one who is approaching—not the Baptist there in the water but the one who is walking toward the Baptist along the edge of the water. Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm. Nothing matters except him. See how the air stirs, bending the rushes in front of him. Watch his face as he picks his way along—nobody else’s face. His. Everything that matters is in his face. Everything that matters is in his hands. In his hands is the meaning and purpose of creation, the first voice says. In his hands is your life, the second voice says. Behold, he taketh away the sins of the world. Das ist Gottes Lamm.” –Fredrick Buechner

I love this quote by Buechner. “Everything that matters is in his face. Everything that matters is in his hands.“ It reminds me of this verse in Psalms:

It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. Psalm 44:3[i]

I also love the German translation of John’s prophetic exclamation – Siehe, das ist Gottes Lamm! – See, this is God’s Lamb! Something happened that day as Jesus walked down the riverbank. John the Baptist had come as a forerunner to announce the coming of the Messiah. But, he hadn’t known who he was looking for until that day when Jesus, his familiar cousin, had come down to the river to be baptized.

John’s eyes were opened, and he received the revelation. See! It makes me wonder if maybe there was something different in Jesus’ face that day. Maybe Jesus had already set his face like flint to accomplish his suffering, his mission to take away the sin of the world. Or maybe, to John, Jesus’ face shone like Moses’ had when the veil was lifted. Or maybe the veil over John’s own mind and heart was lifted. Maybe all of those. Whatever it was John knew, “See, this is God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world!”

God’s Lamb, or the Lamb of God refers to the ancient prophecy in Genesis 22:8 when Abraham assured Isaac, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Géza Vermes has written: “For the Palestinian Jew, all lamb sacrifice, and especially the Passover lamb and the Tamid offering, was a memorial of the Akedah [the binding of Isaac] with its effects of deliverance, forgiveness of sin and messianic salvation.”[ii]

The Lamb of God who “takes away.” The Greek word is airó (αἴρω) and its definition tells the story of Jesus’ ministry and his death on the Cross.

to raise up, elevate, lift up

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. John 12:32

to draw up a fish

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Mark 1:17

to take off or away what is attached to anything, to loose, remove

And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed (loosed) from your sickness.” Luke 13:12 (NASB)

to raise from the ground, to take up stones

“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. John 10:29-31 (NASB)

to take by force

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Luke 22:54

to take from among the living, either by a natural death, or by violence

By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. Isaiah 53:8

to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:24

to expiate sin

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2

“See, this is God’s Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world!”

For God, who said,

“Let light shine out of darkness,”

made his light shine in our hearts

to give us the light

of the knowledge of the glory of God

in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6

 

Image, detail from John the Baptist by Jack Baumgartner. Used by permission of the artist. See more at his blog here The School of the Transfer of Energy

 

[i] All Bible quotations from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

[ii] Géza Vermes. Scripture and Tradition in Judaism, 1961.

Come For To Die

I loved Jesus, I really did, but it never sunk into my kid-brain, it never entered my mind to wonder why. Why was he born, why did he come?

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky[i]

Looking back, I am always amazed that I went to church my whole life, I was in the choir and loved the old hymns, and I sang all the Christmas songs in the candle-light services. I heard the story about his birth, and about there being no room and the shepherds and wise men and angels. I stood transfixed before the pathos of the manger scene in the park across the street from the church – but I never really knew why Jesus came. I loved Jesus, I really did, but it never sunk into my kid-brain, it never entered my mind to wonder why. Why was he born, why did he come?

It wasn’t until I was 21 years old, and I heard a message about the blood of Jesus, that I finally understood.

How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on’ry people like you and like I

Believe it or not, I had never got the message about the necessity and power of the Blood. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of all us “poor on’ry people.” The blood sacrifice, once and for all, for the sins of all the world that were ever committed, or ever would be. Prefigured in the Old Testament in the Passover in Egypt, when the angel of death passed over the house painted with the blood of the sacrificial lamb (Exodus 12:22-23). Prophesied in Isaiah 53 that He would carry our sins and pains and sicknesses to death.

From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins––that he was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. Isaiah 53:8-10 (NLT)

“But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him.” That was the plan all along, and he knew it. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49 NKJV) He didn’t come to be a good role model – though he was, the best. He came to set us free from the overwhelming burden of our guilt and sin, to reconcile us to the Father, to bring us home where we belong.

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’” Hebrews 10:4-7 (NLT)

Thank you, thank you, thank you Lord Jesus that you came for to die! Thank you that you came to be the offering for sin that I might be a child of God and heir to your Kingdom! I will forever be in wonder at the miracle of your amazing grace!

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, he was sent to the earth for all to see. And he did this for you. 1 Peter 1:18-20 (NLT)

[i] From I Wonder as I Wander, by John Jacob Niles

This blog is also available as a Bible study, free to use and distribute Come for to Die Bible Study

Image in the Public Domain

The Subversive Act of Worship

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace.

So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:13-14 (NLT)

For some reason I always read this verse, “let us go out with him,” as in “let us go with him carrying our cross.” And we are supposed to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). But this verse says, “let us go out to him.” And with that little change there is a different message, a different focus. Let us go out to where he is – outside the camp. He has always been outside the camp.

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. Exodus 33:7 (NASB)

“Our permanent home,” mentioned in the above verse, is the place we meno. The Greek word meno means to stay, abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand. It is not this temporary world-camp where we are to abide. Meno is the word used in John 15.

Remain (meno) in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains (meno) in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (NIV)

This world is not our meno-home. Jesus is our meno-home, and where he is, there we are to be – plugged into the Vine. And Jesus is outside the camp because He chose the cross.

Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let’s go out to him … Hebrews 13:11-13 (NLT)

To the people of Jesus’ day death on a cross was worse than a disgrace. Cicero said that it should not even be in the thoughts of a Roman citizen; it should not even be mentioned in connection with a citizen.[i] Yet, this is where Jesus willingly chose to go. Outside the city gates. Outside the temporary camp. Outside the culture of the day. Outside the religious systems. Outside the politics and governments of the day. Outside the traditions and popular beliefs. Outside of all the hopes and dreams for this life. James V. Brownson says it better than I can:

The cross collides with the values and assumptions that shape the world around us. It shocks us out of the status quo, out of the norms and assumptions that surround us, and calls us to an alternative vision … “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The “foolishness” Paul is writing of here is not a certain theological axiom about the cross of Jesus; it is the blatant offensiveness of the cross, both to Jews and to Gentiles. The point of the divine foolishness is simply this: If God has raised from the dead someone who was crucified, if we worship someone who was crucified, we can no longer hold on to the common values of respectability that are characteristic of normal human society. All our assumptions about what constitutes right and wrong, about what is worthwhile, about what really matters – all that has to be revised and reversed, if you engage in the subversive act of worshiping someone who was crucified. In other words, if you are going to worship someone who was crucified, you have to undergo radical conversion.[ii]

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace. He had already chosen to be identified with the lowly and meek, the poor and unclean and diseased and despised. If we engage in the subversive act of worshiping our crucified Lord, we need to identify there too. Let us go out to him. Let us meno there.

 

For more on “meno” see The Art of Remaining Present

Image: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the Cross, by Darren Barefoot https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=jesus%20cross

[i] Hengel, Martin Hengel. Crucifixion. 1977

[ii] Brownson, James V. Holiness and Hermeneutics. 1999.

With Tears

I have this picture in my head of my grandmother packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage.

As I get older, I have become interested in genealogy. I especially like to explore the less-trod histories of the “Grammas.” In doing so I recently dug up a real hidden treasure. The story starts with my great-grandfather, Nathan Douglas. According to the History of Oakland County Michigan, my grandfather, as a young man, accompanied his father, the Rev. Caleb Douglas and the pastor of their church, Rev. Elon Galusha on a mission trip from Whitesboro, New York to the wilderness of Michigan in the fall of 1822. There, they preached to the scattered pioneer families and founded the first Baptist church near Pontiac. In June of the following year Nathan came back to Michigan in the company of his father “who preached and broke bread to the church.”[i]

Exhilarated with the success of the missions and, I’m sure, loving the beautiful Michigan wilderness, the young man, who would later come to be called “Deacon Nathan,” went home determined to return. Apparently, as the story goes, my great-grandmother was not so thrilled with the idea. But, in 1824, the Deacon and his bride of six months, Frances, packed up all their belongings into an oxen-drawn wagon and started the 570-mile trek to, what is now, Troy, Michigan. The History of Macomb County Michigan relates that they “located in the primal wilderness, cleared a space and built a log home, in which they lived four weeks before doors and windows could be procured.  The time was made interesting by the screeching of owls and howling of wolves.”[ii]

I have this picture in my head of Gramma Frances packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets[iii] and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage with the white picket fence and flower arbor and perhaps a secluded rose garden retreat in the back.

The story continues with the bride walking ahead of the slow-moving oxen, weeping as she went, and sometimes sitting down on a fallen log to have a good cry, “of homesickness and dread of the trials of pioneer life.”[iv]

Yup. That would be me – the one being dragged kicking and screaming. I wonder if it is genetic.

I think Jesus understood the feeling. With grace and mercy, he told a parable of two brothers.

 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered. Matthew 21:28-31 (NIV)

So, what was Jesus saying here? That the son, who at first, kicking and screaming, wailed, “I don’t wanna!” but who went anyway, was the one who did the will of the Father, the one who pleased God. It’s part of that picking up your cross daily decision, “dying to the flesh,” getting out of your comfort zone, leaving your cozy little cottage and trekking into the wilderness where there are wolves and mosquitoes and hard work. It’s about perseverance and endurance. It’s about how you end, not so much how you start out.

My grandmother raised eight children, six sons and two daughters. Four sons were dentists and one was a minister, and the rest of the children sturdy farmers. Deacon Nathan and Frances celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1874. They continued on working in the church that whole time. It is said that grandmother “sang in the church choir a great many years, having a fine contralto voice.”[v]

But I think I will remember her mostly walking and weeping, putting one foot in front of the other. Persevering. Anyway. Yet.

I hope that is genetic too.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6 (NIV)

Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength [increasing in victorious power]; Each of them appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:6-7 (Amplified Bible)

Photograph is of my grandmother, Mrs. Nathan Douglas (née Frances B. Smith), which has been passed down in the family.

[i] Durant, Samuel W. History of Oakland County, Michigan, p. 96.

[ii] Leeson, Michael A. History of Macomb County Michigan, pp. 653-654.

[iii] My grandmother was a talented sewer. A sampler and two coverlets made from cloth that she spun herself now reside in the Romeo Historical Society Museum, Romeo, Michigan.

[iv] From James H. Downie and Elizabeth Clark Douglas’s scrapbook. Transcribed by great-granddaughter Aug. 2010.

[v] Ibid.

Nothing Wasted

Did you ever feel or had others tell you that you were wasting your life being a Christian?

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” John 6:12 (NIV)

I have been studying the accounts recently about the miracle of the loaves and fishes (see I Am the Good News ). In the above verse in John, after everyone had eaten, Jesus admonished the disciples to “Let nothing be wasted.” This made me pause. I wondered why Jesus would care about food getting wasted when he could just make some more. He just took a couple of loaves and few fish and fed thousands, didn’t he? But then I saw that he wasn’t talking about the physical bread and fish fragments being wasted.

Let nothing be wasted.

Did you ever feel or had others tell you that you were wasting your life being a Christian? Wasting your musical talent on worshiping God, wasting your money or yourself on missions, wasting your time serving and befriending certain people?

The word translated “wasted” in John 12 is apollumi and means to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed. Jesus had a lot to say using this word:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose (apollumi) none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. John 6:39 (NIV)

All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish (apollumi). Luke 21:17-18 (NIV)

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish (apollumi); no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:28 (NIV)

Let nothing be wasted.

It is also the same word as Mark 8:35:

If you insist on saving your life, you will lose (apollumi) it. Only those who throw away (apollumi) their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live. (Living Bible)

Throwing your life away sure sounds like wasting it. At least that is the way the world sees it. Even Jesus’ own family thought he was wasting his life. They thought he should be pursuing fame, reputation, power. Instead, he was wandering around with a bunch of losers, touching lepers and sticking up for prostitutes (John 7:4, Mark 3:21).

But Jesus saw it all in the eternal light of the Father’s perfect plan. Whether small or big, everything that was done for him was noted and appreciated – from the widow giving her pitiful coins (Luke 12:41-44), to the nameless children praising him in the temple courts (Matthew 21:15). God even saves our tears in his bottle; records them in his scroll (Psalm 56:8).

From his prison cell Paul described this “throwing away” of his life as being like a drink offering.

But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. Philippians 2:17 (NASB)

A drink offering was poured out at the altar or on the ground (1 Chronicles 11:18), completely “wasted.” You couldn’t even pick up the scraps. To the world Paul’s descent to the prison cell was a waste – from a highly respected Pharisee and disciple of the great rabbi Gamaliel, to a criminal waiting for execution in a Roman jail cell. Even Paul seemed tempted to fear it had been a waste as he exhorted the Philippians to hold fast “so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”

He needn’t have worried. Here we are two thousand years later still being encouraged and fed by his words and sacrifice. The seed that dies produces much fruit. God multiplies every effort. As my smart sister says, “His kingdom is about multiplication and addition, not division and subtraction.” God sees, he knows, he doesn’t forget. Nothing is insignificant. Let nothing be wasted.

As the hands and the body of Christ on the earth let us not be afraid to pour out our lives and substance. Let us not be afraid to “waste” ourselves as broken bread and fish. For nothing we do or give or spend for Him will be wasted.

She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste?” … “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14: 3-4, 9 (NIV)

“We are here to submit to His will so that He may work through us what He wants. Once we realize this, He will make us broken bread and poured-out wine with which to feed and nourish others.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

“Life is not fame. It’s love. Life is not power. It’s generosity. Life is not selfish. It’s giving myself away … Life is having a gift inside of you that you give to the world and use it well for the glory of God.” Gary Wilkerson

The Lord Looked

This verse has always struck me with such sorrow. What an opportunity lost! To be known fully and (yet!) loved by God – but walk away.

And he [Andrew] brought him [Peter] to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).  John 1:42 (NIV)

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Mark 10:21 (NIV)

In both of the above verses Jesus “looked.” The Greek word is emblepo and means to look upon, observe fixedly or absolutely, to discern clearly, behold, consider. Jesus looked at these two men and saw into their hearts, discerning them clearly. He saw Peter’s full commitment, leaving all behind, flinging himself into the sea, stepping out of the boat. Knowing all the missteps and mess-ups that would come along the way, Jesus said, “Yes, this is the one. I’ll build my church here – on a heart that will give up all and follow.”

Emblepo is also the word used in Luke 22:61 when Peter denied he knew Jesus three times. “Jesus turned and looked at Peter” (see The Lord Turned). Jesus looked past Peter’s weakness and sin and saw his heart.

He also saw the heart of the other man (Luke calls him a ruler) and loved him. He saw the earnestness to follow God’s laws, to be holy and righteous, to please God. But, Jesus also saw his idol, the thing that entangled him, the slave-chains that pulled him away – materialism and greed, “He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This is why Jesus warned against greed so much (Luke 12:15, 32-33).

This verse has always struck me with such sorrow. What an opportunity lost! To be known fully and (yet!) loved by God – but walk away. To turn and walk away from that pure love and fierce passion in the Face of God. How grievous that “stuff” – or anything else – would keep us from that zealous, longing love and life-giving presence. And he does love and long for us. Job declared:

You will call and I will answer you; you will long for (pine after, desire, be greedy for) the creature your hands have made.  Job 14:15 (NIV)

God is greedy for us! He desires for us to love and long for him the same way. To, yes, be greedy, but greedy for God and for him only. To be willing to throw down everything that would keep us from him – and follow.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders (every burden, weight, bulging load, encumbrance) and the sin that so easily entangles (skillfully surrounds, clings so closely, besets, thwarts) and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Whether we follow or not, he sees us, he knows everything about us – our sins, our idols, our weakness and doubts. And yet! Yet, yet, yet (hallelujah!) he loves us. Let’s love him back, wholly, undivided. Let’s be greedy for Him – and follow!

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts! See if there is any offensive way (idol) in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11 (NIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (NIV)

 

Image, detail from For He Had Great Possessions, by George Frederick Watts, 1894. Photograph by Martin Beek https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/413448324