The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
In one sentence we have the essence of the Christian message. It is difficult for Western ears to appreciate the power of John’s announcement, but these words brought an avalanche of meaning to the Jews’ minds.
For centuries Israel’s consciousness had been programmed with the idea of the sacrificial lamb. With John’s statement, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” their Jewish minds went as far back as Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22) when Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” John’s hearers undoubtedly also thought of the Passover lamb, the application of its blood over the door, and those beautiful phrases from Isaiah 53:6–7:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
John’s statement made it clear that Jesus would be a sacrifice for sin. God had provided the Lamb for their deepest need!
Our message too must be the sacrificial death of Christ! It is dangerously easy to move away from the blood of the atonement in our thinking. We love and sing William Cowper’s great hymn, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” Yet I have heard Cowper excoriated and that hymn almost spat upon by those who consider themselves to be Christians. How easy it is to abandon the essential! But the words of his hymn are true:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
Christianity is a bloody religion—the blood of Christ cleanses us of all sin! This reality must be primary in our witness and in our thinking! Yes, Christ came to give abundant life. Yes, Christ worked miracles, and he can work miracles in our lives today. But these are benefits of the gospel, not the gospel itself. The gospel centers upon Christ as the sin-bearer—“the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Most of us understand what John is saying. However, our salvation does not depend on our formulation of the doctrine of the Atonement, but on our experience of it! Is he our Lamb? Do we really believe he died for us? If we keep the wonder of the Atonement before us, we will be different people!
The Lamb is our eternal message. Abraham and Isaac prophesied his sacrifice. The Passover applied the principles of his sacrifice. Isaiah 53 personified his sacrifice. John 1 identified the sacrifice. And it is magnified in Revelation 5:9–14. The sacrificial death of Christ—this is the essence of our message.
But a faithful witness must also tell others how to appropriate the benefits of the Lamb. John the Baptist points this out in verses 31–33. In verse 31 he says, “I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” John’s water baptisms were baptisms of repentance. That is how he prepared the way. People had to turn from their sins so that they might receive the Messiah and the benefits of his salvation. Christ brought a new, different baptism.