The Lamb of God is one of many titles given to Jesus. What and how do saints in Christian history say and explain about Jesus being the Lamb of God?
In 375, Saint Augustine wrote: “Why a lamb in his passion? Because he underwent death without being guilty of any iniquity. Why a lamb in his resurrection? Because his innocence is everlasting.”
The 11th century Christology of Saint Anselm of Canterbury pointed out the Lamb of God is different from the Old Testament concept of a scapegoat, involuntarily punished for the sins of others. Anselm emphasized that as Lamb of God, Jesus chose to suffer on Calvary in full obedience to the will of the Father.
John Calvin observed: Knowing his role as “The Lamb – the agent of God,” in his trial before Pilate and at Herod’s Court, Jesus could have argued for his innocence, but instead He remained mostly quiet and submitted to the way of the cross in obedience to the Father.
A lamb is a young sheep. What is the significance of sheep in the Bible? Sheep are often mentioned as sacrificial animals offered to symbolically atone for sins of the people. The Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. Without shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sins.
In Isaiah 53:7, Jesus is compared to the lamb as he faced death on the cross:
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
The analogy of the silent sheep before its shearers does not imply that sheep are mindless, defenseless and helpless, capable of nothing much except to graze and rest. In the Urban dictionary to be “a sheep” is to be someone who mindlessly follows others: “a waste of flesh and brain cells.”
On the contrary, sheep are surprisingly intelligent, with impressive memory and recognition skills.
A 2001 study by Keith Kendrick, now at the University of Electronic Science and Technology in China, found that sheep can recognize and remember at least 50 individual faces for more than 2 years. That is longer than many humans. “Sheep showed clear behavioral signs of recognizing… individuals by vocalizing in response to their face pictures,” says Kendrick. The team also found evidence that sheep can differentiate facial expressions, and prefer a smile to a frown. “The way the sheep’s brain is organized suggests they must have some kind of emotional response to what they see in the world.”
Jesus said: I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)
We, who belong to Jesus, know our shepherd, we know his face and we recognize his voice. Where he leads us, we follow.
While sheep were a major source of income in agrarian societies, shepherding was one of the lowliest occupations. We know from the story of Joseph: the Egyptians looked down on shepherds as Pharaoh allowed Joseph’s family to live in the land of Goshen away from them. David, the shepherd boy was not considered a suitable candidate for king as his own father presented him last to Samuel. Yet God chose to announce the arrival of the Lamb of God to lowly shepherds in the fields and not to the powerful Herod in the palace.
Jesus is both the Lamb of God and Shepherd of man. As a lamb, he represents man to God to pay the penalty of sin. As a shepherd, he is God to man to give him abundant life free from sin.
Sheep are used throughout the Bible to symbolically refer to God’s people. They remind us of our need for a Savior – the innocently pure Lamb of God who takes away our sin. They assure us of the protection and provision of the good Shepherd for his sheep – to lead us from getting lost in the world of wolves. God desires to deal tenderly with us: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
What significance is the Lamb of God in my life? Is He the one who saved me from my sins? Sin of pride and self-sufficiency? Is Jesus my shepherd? Do I find my sufficiency in Him? How am I following Jesus to be humble and meek? How is my life and body each day a living sacrifice pleasing to the Lord? In what ways can I show my love for God and neighbor as I follow the good shepherd?
Praise be to you, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Thank you, Savior, for taking my place on the cross to pay the price my sin deserves. By your death, I am reconciled to God because you have torn the curtain in two and take away the barrier. By your blood once and for all, I draw near to God, confident that all my sins, past, present and future are forgiven. Thank you, Jesus!
Because you are the pure Lamb of God, you are the way for me to be transformed from sin. While the law could only reveal my sin, you conquered sin and saved me from it. Sin no longer reigns in my life. By your resurrection, your Spirit lives in me and empowers me to holy living. Thank you, Jesus!
Because the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I can love others fully, forgive freely and live abundantly. I pray for grace to live a life worthy of the great love you have shown me.
Thank you, Jesus, that there is nothing I can do to keep you from loving me. Thank you for your amazingly unending and transforming love. Help me, Lord, to live in light of that love – to die to myself and live for you.
In Your Name I pray,