We are in the season of Epiphany – revelation – and the main revelation of this week’s gospel is this;
John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples and says “Look, here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”.
There are many different ways to interpret the sacrifice of Jesus and the “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is one of the most enduring. The Agnus Dei is still a part of our modern Eucharistic service.
Identifying Jesus as the Passover lamb that the Jews slaughter at Passover is ancient and made explicit by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians where he says “Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7)
It is Important to recognise here that oddly the Passover lamb did not actually take away sin in the Jewish ritual scheme of things. If you remember the story from the Old Testament the significance lay in that the blood was smeared on the doorposts which steered God away from the Jews only killing Egyptians and averting death from the children of Israel that led to their release from captivity. The observance of Passover then is a rite of liberation – it commemorates and remembers the deliverance of the Jewish people from oppression.
As an annual ritual commemorating liberation then it renews the community freeing them from evil to serve God. This is the background to the phrase “lamb of God”
The most natural way to read John the Baptist’s observation then is not that Jesus’ death was an appeasement for sin to an angry God that demands recompense ( a common enough interpretation) but something much more nuanced and richer. It implies that Jesus’ death , and more importantly the offering of his entire life (his blood) will be a means of liberating the whole world from sin, not just one people – the Jews.
Jesus is not the appeaser of an angry God that saves a few select people through faith. God liberates everyone through the life of Jesus, because that life is a true sacrifice, an offering of love, devotion and obedience. Metaphorically speaking, Jesus’ blood is the blood smeared on every doorpost in the world symbolising the liberation from bondage of the entire human race.
Sacrifice has three main components in the Bible. First they are offerings of love and devotion. Secondly they are a means of celebrating restoration of fellowship with God (atonement) requiring repentance and faith, and thirdly sacrifice is the passover liberation of the world from evil.
A truly biblical understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus includes all three components. Jesus, as fully transparent to God becomes a vehicle for revealing God’s will – and God wills the liberation of the whole world from Sin.
Ad what is Sin? Sin is separation from God in its purest sense. Sins in the sense of wrongdoing or evil is what results from separation from God.
What is revealed to John the Baptist here is that Jesus is a vehicle that reveals God’s will for the world and God’s will for the world is that we know that through Jesus we are set free from all that binds us and not separate from God. We are not estranged orphans we are children of a living God. Our Sunday Eucharist is our weekly Passover reminder of these things.