The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” … The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” (John 1:29, 35-37)
Have you ever really thought about that title “Lamb of God”? In Jesus’ day, lambs were killed for sacrifice on God’s altar. If you had sinned, or if you wanted to make a special offering to God—a thank offering, maybe—you brought a lamb to the temple with you. There you would hand over the lamb to the priests. It would be killed, and you would be forgiven. You would live.
But the lamb was yours, wasn’t it? You bought it with your own money. If you were a shepherd or landowner, maybe you raised it from your own flock. It was the lamb of you, if I can say it that way—not the lamb of God. Yours was the sin, yours was the sacrifice, yours was the lamb.
But now John points to something different. “Here is the Lamb of God,” he says. Why should God have a lamb? He hasn’t sinned. He doesn’t need to make an offering for Himself. Ah, but He does need to make an offering—not for Himself, but for us.
Jesus is the Lamb of God because He is provided by God, not us. He is how God will cleanse and forgive all His sinful, rebellious children. Jesus will carry our sins, and we will be forgiven. He will lay down His life for us, and we will live. He is not our lamb—we did not buy Him or send Him. God did. Why? Because He loves us. Because of mercy, because He would not stand by and see us destroy ourselves with our own evil.
Notice that Jesus is walking around freely during this whole interaction with John the Baptist. I suspect ordinary lambs had to be led by a rope, or even tied up. No sane lamb would want to go into the temple. They could smell the blood!
But Jesus is walking around freely. There is no danger of Him suddenly deciding He doesn’t want to offer Himself for our salvation. And this is what makes Jesus different from all the other lambs. The Lamb of God goes willingly to the altar of the cross. He knows what is coming, and this is His own free choice.
The story of the Lamb of God is not a story of child abuse—the idea that God the Father is somehow forcing Jesus to suffer and die for our sake. That’s not how the Trinity works. No, the true God is One God—and in His infinite wisdom and love, decides internally—in the counsel of the Trinity—what to do about us. Father, Son, Holy Spirit—these Three-and-yet-One God chose the path to the cross. God Himself came into the world as Jesus, to be that sacrificed Lamb. And what God willingly does to Himself cannot be abuse.
No, this is love. This is willing, joyful mercy—Jesus giving Himself for you and me. And now that He has risen from the dead, we will have Him, and He will have us, through all eternity. Thanks be to God!
Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for giving Yourself for me. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
Originally published in The Lutheran Hour on January 12, 2023
Used by permission from International Lutheran Laymen’s League, all rights reserved
1. What do you think it would be like to live in the days when worship involved sacrificing animals?
2. Do you think John the Baptist understood the full meaning of Jesus’ title as Lamb of God?
3. Why do you think God chose a name that emphasizes helplessness instead of power?