Centuries before Jesus was born, as a test, Abraham was called by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. This was after having lived until his old age without any children. Abraham and Sarah had longed for a child and finally were blessed with one only to have God make this dreadful demand upon them. However, being a faithful follower, Abraham took his son to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. Abraham's only comfort was believing that God would then resurrect Isaac. On their way to the sacrificial alter, Isaac asked his father what they were going to sacrifice that day (because they had no animal in their possession). Abraham answered with some very insightful words that had a much deeper meaning than even Abraham understood: "God will provide himself a lamb". God miraculously provided a lamb that day and Isaac was spared (it was all a test for this very signficant biblical patriarch). That sacrificed lamb foreshadowed God's true intent to provide his own Son as a sacrifice thousands of years later.
The blood of a lamb played an important role in Israelite history in later years, still well before Jesus. What is celebrated as Passover in Judaism (Jesus was Jewish), commemorates a time when the Hebrews were freed from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and the unblemished lamb's blood was spread on the doorways of their homes in order to mark those who were to be protected from the angel of death. Death "passed over" those homes on whom this blood was shed. These slaves were protected from death by the blood of the lamb.
Sacrifice had become a central tenant to the daily lives of these people as a way to attempt reconciliation with God for their sins (ancient sacrificial alters can still be seen in the ruins of Israel). In that culture, animal after animal was sacrificed in order to attempt payment or ransom for their transgressions and to please God. So, the system of sacrificing unblemished animals became the norm. But, we know that in a crazy mixed-up, broken world, there aren't enough animals to make up for all of the bad stuff. So, it was somewhat for naught and the Israelites were still enslaved. This time by their own rebellion against God. Their sin.
|The circular rock formation is an ancient sacrificial alter in Israel.|
I took this picture in 2013.
Man had gone astray. But, biblical prophets (like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel), foresaw a time when man would be reconciled to God. The prophet Isaiah (as can be read in Isaiah 53) had some striking visions approximately 600 years before Jesus was crucified: "But he was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." (the "stripes are the whipping which was typical during a Roman crucifixion). "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." The iniquity of us all was to fall on one person, Jesus. On God himself fell the ransom to be paid.
Upon seeing Jesus for the first time, John the Baptist yelled out to the crowd: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!". Approximately three years after this encounter, The Lamb of God, Jesus, was crucified in Jerusalem during the Passover celebration. So, at a time when the Jewish population was celebrating their release from the bondage and oppression of slavery, the blood of the Christ was shed. The foreshadowed blood of a lamb was the atonement for all who believe. The atonement was exercised that day and God himself, the perfect and unblemished lamb - the only One who could pay the price for a world gone astray, bore the brunt of it.
A final note: all of this talk about sin, ransom, and personal shortcomings shouldn't result in the believer's focus continuing to be on themselves - in guilt. While we do need to recognize our own frailty, the bulk of our focus should remain on the goodness of God that is demonstrated through this magnificent story. I believe that when we do this, and by having confidence in the redemption, we then let the Spirit continue to shape us into our true selves and thereby glorify the One who made us.
"Then I saw a lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne"~ Revelation 5:6.