He Came to Save Sinners
There are times when we have to seize the moment. In football, the quarterback sees his wide receiver breaking free from the defenders and knows that the time has come to throw the ball. In romance, a young man reaches for a phone to ask a pretty girl out for dinner, knowing that the opportunity will never come again. The same is true in evangelism. God presents us with opportunities to point others to Jesus, and it is important that we know what to say when those opportunities arise.
I had this experience recently while sharing the gospel in a small town outside Kampala, Uganda. Several Ugandan Christians and I were walking through an impoverished neighborhood when we came across a group of women boiling stew on their porch. When we approached, they invited us inside their home. In some ways, it was a difficult situation. The women, along with a couple of men inside, were Muslims. Only one of them spoke English, so I had to speak with them through an interpreter. But when we brought up Jesus Christ, they were eager to talk and asked many questions. How important it was that I was able to share briefly and clearly who Jesus is and what He did for our salvation. God blessed that conversation, and it resulted in six Muslims professing faith in Jesus Christ.
Even more dramatic was the opportunity presented to John the Baptist when Jesus returned to the area where John was preaching. John had spoken of One greater than himself who would come, and now here He was. Seizing the moment, John cried out, “There He is!” As part of this important witness, John made clear and essential statements about Jesus’ person and work, statements that make up Christianity’s essential message of hope to the world. We need to be able to make such statements if we are to present the gospel’s message of hope.
John’s witness provided one of our Lord’s most glorious and beloved titles: “Behold,” he said, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
What does it mean to say that Jesus is “the Lamb of God”? Scholars debate this, because John did not spell out his meaning. But given the background of the Old Testament, there was hardly a need for him to explain his words. If there is one prominent image in the Old Testament, it is that of the sacrificial lamb, the blood of which was shed as a symbol of the remission of sins.
Perhaps the most prominent of these images is the Passover lamb. In Exodus 12, we read of how God delivered Israel from slavery by sending the angel of death to slay all the firstborn of Egypt. Only the Israelites were offered a way of escaping this wrathful horror. Each family was to sacrifice an innocent lamb and spread its blood upon their doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over their home. There are many links between Jesus and the Passover lamb. For instance, He was handed over to be crucified at the sixth hour on “the day of Preparation of the Passover” (John 19:14). That was the very hour the Passover lambs were slain throughout Jerusalem. So calling Jesus “the Lamb of God” was John’s way of saying that His blood causes God’s wrath to pass over all those who trust in Him.
This is not the only connection between Jesus and the sacrificial lambs. During the old covenant, lambs were sacrificed every day to make atonement for sin (see Ex. 29:38-39). Day by day, year by year, lambs were sacrificed in the temple as a perpetual reminder of the people’s need for forgiveness. The very morning of the day when John identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God,” a lamb was sacrificed, as was another that evening.
Also, naming Jesus “the Lamb of God” undoubtedly was an allusion to Isaiah 53:6, which says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” J. C. Ryle explains, “Christ was the great Sacrifice for sin, who was come to make atonement for transgression by His own death upon the cross.”
Lastly, we remember the great scene in Genesis 22, the earliest direct reference to a sacrificial lamb. At God’s command, Abraham had gone up Mount Moriah to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. Noticing the fire and wood for an offering, the boy asked, “‘Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son’” (Gen. 22:7b-8a). Isaac’s question resounds throughout the Old Testament. It is clear that a lamb must be offered to take away sin. But “where is the lamb?” People realized that no mere animal could take the place of a human in suffering the wrath of God for that person’s sin, so they would have asked the priests, “Where is the true Lamb who will take away our sin?” The Old Testament comes to an end with no better answer than the one Abraham gave to his son: “God will provide the lamb.”
However, on this great day beside the Jordan River, John the Baptist spied Jesus coming toward him. He raised his hand and cried aloud the great answer that was centuries in the making: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
When we understand this statement, we realize the great purpose for which Jesus came into the world. People today wonder about this. “What’s the deal with Jesus?” they ask. In John’s day, the people were looking for a spiritual reformer like Elijah or a deliverer like Moses to throw off the Romans. These might have been helpful, but they would not have solved the people’s most fundamental problem—their need for cleansing from sin. John’s witness to Jesus tells us why He came: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Do you realize that this is what the world truly needs—to have its sins taken away and to be reconciled to God? Do you realize that this is your great need? Every sinner—every man, woman, or child who has broken God’s holy law (and that is every one of us)—stands condemned before God’s judicial wrath. By rights, God is opposed to us and not for us. Nonetheless, He loves the world, so He sent His only Son to be the Lamb to take away our sin. Ryle explains: “Christ … did not come on earth to be a conqueror, or a philosopher, or a mere teacher of morality. He came to save sinners. He came to do that which man could never do for himself—to do that which money and learning can never obtain—to do that which is essential to man’s real happiness: He came to ‘take away sin.’”
This excerpt is taken from Jesus the Evangelist by Richard Phillips.