Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Agnus Dei

Life of Christ 22

          In the mid-seventeenth century, a regionally well-known court painter in Europe named Francisco de Zurbaran set out to paint a representation of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. The result, which now hangs in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, is of a lamb, bound hand and feet, and lying still awaiting sacrifice. He titled it 'Agnus Dei', which is Latin for 'Lamb of God.' Jesus is exactly that, the precious Agnus Dei.
          Immediately after John the Baptist comes to realize that Jesus is the Christ, and baptizes Him, Jesus leaves for about six weeks. He spent those weeks in the Judean wilderness fasting and undergoing the temptations. During that period John the Baptist began to preach openly, not just a generic 'repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand', but a specific message that Jesus was that King, the One to whom his messages had been pointing all along (John 1.15-17).
          When Jesus came back to civilization following His ordeal John the Baptist sees Him, and makes an absolutely wonderful proclamation: 'Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world' (John 1.29). This statement shows a depth of understanding of Jesus' life and ministry that I don't think anybody else on the planet had in Jesus' lifetime.
          The common Jew of the day, even the repentant ones following John, was looking for a messiah that would be a political deliverer. They grasped the prophecies in the Torah regarding the coming kingdom with both hands and refused to let go in order to grasp, say, Isaiah 53, for instance. They wanted someone who would storm the walls of Rome, overthrow the hated empire, and put Israel at the top of the new heap of the world. But John the Baptist saw things differently. He didn't say, 'Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.' He saw a messiah sent to suffer and die in order to pay for our sins.
          It wasn't just the common Jew, or even the spiritual ones who completely missed this. All but one other of Jesus' followers, including every single one of His disciples, completely missed this as well. Up to the very end, when the coming clash between Israel's religious leadership and Jesus couldn't help but be noticed, those close to Jesus still thought He was going to pull a rabbit out of the hat and end up with a crown on His head. It was faith of a kind, and I respect that, but it completely, totally, absolutely missed the point of His first coming.
          But John didn't. John saw it, and John said it.
          Not only did John see Israel's Messiah in terms of a sacrificial atoning death, but he saw that atoning death applied to the entire world, even <gasp> the Gentiles! The only other one that saw that, I think, was the old prophet Simeon. John understood that Jesus, our Paschal lamb, would not die for the sins of the Jews alone, but for the sins of the entire world. Perhaps this is because it was John's habit to see things in a spiritual light rather than a political, economic, or military light. Perhaps this is because God specifically revealed it. I do not know, but I do know John saw what everyone else completely failed to see.
          In this there is also a great mystery and a great sadness. The entirety of Jewish history and religion is filled to bursting with illustrations pointing precisely to this aspect of the necessity of the atoning death of the messiah. Abraham, their highly esteemed father, had himself explained that God would provide the sacrificial lamb necessary to take Isaac's place on the altar. In Moses' day, what was Passover but a gigantic representation of the necessity for the shed blood of a lamb to be applied to appease God's wrath? Indeed, for the next almost 1500 years, first in the Tabernacle and then in the Temple, the day itself was begun and ended with a sacrifice on the Brazen Altar. I have not even mentioned the Day of Atonement yet. How tragic it is that His people, including those who loved Him the most, so completely missed this.
          But there is yet a greater tragedy than this. Yes, it was heartbreaking that the entire nation missed the point of His first coming, but it would be even more heartbreaking for that sacrifice to be wasted. Have you placed your faith in Christ? I do not mean do you believe He existed. I do not mean do you believe He was a good man. I mean, have you placed your total trust for deliverance from the penalty of your sin in the man Christ Jesus?

          This is why He came the first time, to be the Lamb of God that would take away your sin. My unknown friend, whatever you do, don't waste such a stupendously wealthy sacrifice. 

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