by T. Austin-Sparks
"On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).
"And he looketh upon Jesus as he walked, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:36).
You will note two things with regard to these passages. The one is that they are connected with the commencement of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. The other is that they are connected with the Passover. In John 2:13 we read, "And the passover of the Jews was at hand"; and again, verse 23, "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover"; and it is a matter of great significance that the entire life of the Lord Jesus was so closely, at every special stage, connected with the Passover.
The Life of the Lord Jesus in its Connection with the Passover
It is not generally known that there is the greatest probability that the birth of the Lord Jesus took place round about the time of the Passover; and that was in the Spring of the year. It is very doubtful, to begin with, whether the shepherds could have been watching over sheep in the fields of Bethlehem in the month of December by night: and then further there is the fact that the twenty-fifth day of December was only fixed for the celebration of the birth of Christ in the year 380 A.D. There was a great heathen festival which fell on that date in Rome and the Roman Church wished to override those heathen practices, and the Roman Church decided that on that very day, the twenty-fifth day of December, they would celebrate the birth of Christ. Thus the twenty-fifth of December became a day of High Mass for the celebration of Christ's birth, and took the name of Christ Mass. It was not the date of the birth of Christ, but purely a Roman procedure to overcome some abominable heathen festival. The greatest probability is that Christ was born about the month of April and at the time of the Passover. As we go on we shall see things which seem very clearly to bear that out.
From that point nothing is known or recorded for twelve years, and, at the age of twelve, He went up to Jerusalem to the feast of the Passover. That is the next mention.
Nothing more is on record until He begins to be about thirty years of age, and that brings us to what we have here in John 1 namely, His coming out to take up His public ministry, and it is connected with the feast of the Passover.
There are other feasts of the Passover referred to in John's Gospel anad we come at length to the close of His ministry, and Luke records it in these words, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer"; and His death, as we know so well, took place at the time of the Passover.
Thus, although it cannot be proved that He was born at that time, it does seem that, whether that be true or not, His life was very closely associated in its major movements with this feast: and that gives very great significance to this word, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" That term bounds His life from birth to death, and then that life, that full-orbed life, in all its significance is taken up into the throne. All the value of the Lamb life, the Lamb ministry, and the Lamb death, is seated in the throne.
Behold the Lamb of God!
Behold, the Lamb of God! We have said that He took up His ministry in connection with the Passover, and therefore all these people who had come up to Jerusalem from near and far to the feast, well understood what John meant. The very atmosphere was full of the idea of the lamb, the paschal lamb. Everybody was thinking in terms of the paschal lamb. They had been, and were being, occupied with the ritual of the lamb; its selection from the flock, its examination by the expert, its being held up in the fields of Bethlehem for four days under observation, and then its being brought to the temple and slain, and then taken home and eaten. All this was going on, and right in the midst of it all, timed by God out of eternity, when everybody was thinking of a lamb, this cry is heard, Behold, God's Lamb!
The rainy season was over and had done its work. The torrents in the land destroyed the lanes, carried away the bridges and made travel exceedingly difficult. Thus it had been the practice for many years that, before the Passover, bands of men should be sent out into the country to clear the roads and repair the bridges for the people to come up to Jerusalem to the Passover. It is in connection with that practice that the prophet Isaiah sounded forth his prophetic word about John the Baptist. "The voice of one that crieth in the wilderness. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God"; and again, "Go through, go through the gates: prepare ye the way of the people, cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones". You see John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord and then pointing to the Lamb, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. This is God's Lamb; not Israel's lamb by Israel's choice, but God's Lamb; and when you look into the Divine, heavenly, eternal connection, you find that God chose His Lamb before the foundation of the world. So we have, in Rev. 13:8, "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world". God chose His Lamb before the world was. God anticipated everything in the selection of His Lamb.
Then John tells us, in chapter 6 of his Gospel, that God sealed His Lamb. "Work not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the Father, even God, hath sealed". When the Jews selected their lamb from the flock, the average Jew being no expert in the maladies common to lambs, the authorities appointed certain specially qualified men who knew all the maladies to which sheep and lambs were prone to undertake their examination. I believe that the rabbis said there were no fewer than seventy possible blemishes. Thus, after the head of the Jewish household had selected a lamb from the flock, he would take it to one of the experts and pay him a small fee to go over it and make sure that it was sound, flawless, and under expert eyes the lamb would pass through this investigation, and if it was found free from all stain or blemish or spot or malady, the expert put his seal upon it; it was sealed. Then for the four days it was taken into the field with the other sealed lambs to await the Passover. It is to that the Lord Jesus refers. "Him the Father, even God, hath sealed" (I want you to get all these points, because they are all coming to bear upon very important applications.)
God chose His Lamb, and God sealed His Lamb as having passed His expert eye. Never was there a Jewish expert whose eye was so clear and piercing and expert as the eye of God. Nothing can be hidden from Him, all things are naked and bare before His eyes. Thus God looked upon His Lamb and sealed Him as having passed His judgment as flawless, perfect: and John says, Behold, God's Lamb: Him hath the Father sealed! You see the point. If this One is God's Lamb, then this One is utterly sinless, flawless, without blemish or spot. He is sealed of God.
Then He was put under observation even after that. He was kept up from the tenth day to the fourteenth day. He was kept up over a whole period of four days. Four is the number of creation, and here is the testing of Him as the true representation of the new creation; under testing until the Passover, and no flaw developed in Him. Of course, I am not staying with all the details, it is not necessary. Those sheep about which we sing, and those shepherds, what are they? It is most likely that those shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem were watching over these passover lambs.
Then the lamb was brought and the lamb was slain; and in the deepest truth, as we know, no man slew the Lord Jesus. God slew Him. God slew His own Lamb. "Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin." He was God's Lamb, chosen, sealed, attested, proved, offered.
The Issue of Life
Now, all this has something to say to us, and it is particularly in one connection. The connection is pre-eminently with life. That is the issue in the whole matter. We are brought back, therefore, to the first passover of which we read in the twelfth chapter of the book of Exodus. There we find the whole world, as represented by Egypt, lying under judgment, and we need to have an adequate insight into and understanding of the matter. Why this progressiveness of judgment? Why this filling up of the cup of iniquity? Why this reaching of the point where judgment overflows? Why? Well, the answer is found in the repeated challenge, "Let my son go. Israel is my son, my firstborn: Let my son go". The challenge of God through His servants, Moses and Aaron, was really this one challenge all through. All this judgment, then, is related to the refusal of the world to fall into line with God's purpose. God's purpose is a people in relation with Himself in terms of sonship; out in freedom, out in spiritual prosperity, out in ascendancy, victory, fullness, life; a people for Himself, constituted according to His own mind. That is God's purpose. The refusal to accept God's purpose and to come into line with it is the ground of judgment. Always remember that. Thus we find, in type, the whole world lying under judgment for that very reason, and this is all gathered up in the first born; for at last everything is focussed in the firstborn.
The firstborn represents two things, in the first place, the firstborn is always the delight of the father. In the firstborn all the father's pleasure is centred. The father has his life bound up with his firstborn. That is what we find in the Word of God.
Then of course, the firstborn is representative of all the rest of the family, and so the question of judgment, deliverance, death and life, is focussed in the firstborn: the firstborn of Egypt and the firstborn of Israel. It is deliverance from death as the issue of judgment. Deliverance from death is the supreme factor in the whole matter; and here the lamb is brought in. The only ground of deliverance from judgment and death is the lamb. The lamb is going to determine this whole matter of who dies and who lives, who falls under judgment and who triumphs through judgment, who is a victim to the power of death and who is triumphant over death. The lamb will determine who goes down into destruction and who goes up into reigning. The lamb determines that. The whole issue in every connection is bound up with the lamb, and that lamb slain speaks of judgment, of the judgment of God having been borne, and borne for all who will take the lamb in faith as their deliverance from judgment. That is simple Gospel fact as we know, and it is fundamental to everything.
The Blood and the Flesh of the Lamb
But there are two sides to this lamb. There is the flesh and there is the blood. The blood of the lamb being poured out has to be sprinkled on the side posts and on the lintels. That blood of a lamb without spot, without blemish, testifies to something. It testifies to the fact that God's righteousness has been fully satisfied. It is an incorruptible life, it is a sinless nature, it is a life without spot or blemish or any such thing. It satisfies God. His eye has rested upon it. It has been tested and proved and God can accept it and God is satisfied with it. God's righteousness is satisfied. That is the significance of the blood. The mighty testimony of the blood is there, beloved, and you and I, no matter how long we remain the Lord's people and how far we go on with the Lord, can never afford to get away from that one hair-breadth. We shall need that as much in the last moment of our sojourn here on earth as we needed it when we came to the Lord. It is the only basis and ground of assurance over against the Adversary, that God's righteousness has been satisfied, is satisfied: and if you are satisfied, what more do you want? If God is satisfied, what more does He want? God, may I say it reverently, is not wanting to surfeit Himself. If He is satisfied, He is satisfied, and until you and I get perfectly settled on this matter we will never be settled at all in any way, and the enemy will play havoc with us.
But there is a lot in view; there is a wilderness in view, and there is a warfare in view. That is to say, there is a lot of experience and history to go through in our walk day by day, a lot of testing, a lot of trying of faith, a very great deal to meet of adversity in conditions and circumstances. We have a pilgrimage before us, and much spiritual conflict in the heavenlies with principalities and powers and world rulers of this darkness and all that. We have to meet it all in virtue of the Blood. It is the same means for the overcomer to reach the throne, as is seen in the book of Revelation, as it is for the sinner to find acceptance with God in new birth - the Blood of the Lamb; and that means God's righteousness fully satisfied.
The virtue of the Blood is its sinlessness, and it is reserved for God: always remember that. Throughout the Old Testament, if one thing is thundered, it is this, Drink it not. It is reserved for God. Blessed be God, in the new covenant God gives it to us to drink: but never, never until God's Lamb has been slain. When His Lamb has been slain, really slain, not in type but in reality, there is the sure ground for us to receive from God the life which is indestructible, because, incorruptible. No man under the types ever possessed incorruptible life: but we do. That is why the Lord said about John the Baptist, "There hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is but little in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he". When you begin in the kingdom, you begin at a higher point than ever the prophets or John reached. You have eternal life, incorruptible life. What an elevation upon which to begin! It is a mighty beginning.
I was saying there are two sides to the Lamb. Firstly, as we have seen, there is the Blood, the mighty testimony to God satisfied, God's righteousness satisfied, a mighty testimony therefore, against death. But further, there is the flesh for eating; and, beloved, it is just as important a thing for you and for me to take account of the significance of the flesh for eating, as it is for us to take account of the mighty values of the Blood. In Paul's words, it is put thus: "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me". That is making Christ our life, that is taking the flesh of the Son of Man. That means that we cease and He takes our place. Now, that is blessed truth, but it is challenging truth; and it is just there, in the taking of His flesh by faith that we come into such a vital relationship with the Lamb that, from God's standpoint, what is looked for and what is required is that for us to live is Christ.
Now, what is the Lamb? Going back to our previous meditation, the Lamb represents these two things: firstly, purity, which implies freedom from the blemish of all self-life; and secondly, unquestioning yieldedness to the will of God, which is the same thing in other words.
The Goal to which God is Working
Now, that is what God is looking for; and I want to say to you, beloved, that I believe that is exactly what God is working at in you and in me. Oh, I wish that we recognized it sooner! God's dealings with us are all for this one thing, to produce the Lamb in us. To Peter the Lord said, "When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not". That is the transition, you see, and that implies spiritual history. Self-direction, self-realization, self-expression, ambition; oh how much there is of this in our young days of devotion to the Lord, when we are so strongly convinced it is all for Him. You and I have to go through a lot of history before we discover that even our devotion to the Lord was tainted, that all that service for the Lord did have somewhere behind it our coming into place and being something for the Lord. It is so subtle, it is so deep, and nothing but history, deep history with God, can make us believe that it is not really pure devotion to the Lord. But we do come to see that, do we not? Is it not true that the longer we go on, the more we realize the depth of the impurity of our own hearts. How we like to be used! How we like to be in the work! How we like to have opportunities and open doors! We like it. Yes, it is only the old Adam coming up in another guise, and it is a deep, deep history that brings us to the place where we shrink and would run far from work for the Lord unless we are a hundred percent assured that the matter in hand is truly of the Lord and He Himself the real doer of it. He is producing the Lamb in us.
What is purity again? Purity is singleness of eye for the glory of God, and you and I never know, until God has taken us through deep fires, whether our hearts are really pure in devotion to the Lord. I mean, it takes a lot, a great deal, of deep dealings with us by the Lord to bring us to a place where we are really safe from ourselves in the service of the Lord, where it really is transparently the glory of God that we have at heart. We would all say it is, but oh, God knows! God knows!
Singleness of eye, unquestioning yieldedness in obedience to the will of God: how many of us are there when it comes to the test? But God is working to produce, or reproduce, the Lamb in us, the overcoming by letting go. How far are we on that road, of triumphing by yielding? That is the Lamb: and that is the Lamb in the midst of the throne. God's ideas of being in the throne are very different from ours. The greatest strength is in the greatest love, and you and I know nothing about spiritual strength until the love of God has really got hold of our hearts, so that it is no longer a case of love for the Lord's work, but love for the Lord Himself. Oh, this is very testing, very challenging, and no one knows it more than I do. What is the goal? It is conformity to the Lamb. "Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year." Says Peter, "a lamb without blemish and without spot". We have seen what the blemishes and the spots are, and they can be summed up in one word, namely, the self-life.
"Come hither. I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb." What are we going to see? Well, Paul will tell us, "Christ loved the church." "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it... that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing". A Lamb without spot, without blemish. A bride without spot, wrinkle or blemish, conformed to the Lamb. That is the marriage. The marriage can take place then. No incompatibility of temperament is to be found here. There will never be any dissolving of this union. No, for here is utterness in likeness: conformed to the image of His Son. That is what God is doing in you and me now, and our fullest service, beloved, lies ahead in the ages to come. The most important thing now is the development of the Lamb nature in us and our value to Him later on depends entirely upon that; for all the values of that heavenly position and that heavenly ministry are connected with the Lamb. Is it reigning? Then it is the throne of the Lamb. Is it a river of life to go out to all? Again, it is the very throne of the Lamb. Is it a light in the city? Then it is the light of the Lamb. Is it a meeting-place, a temple? Then the Lamb is the temple. It means that what Christ is as the Lamb is to be all-governing at the centre of this universe in the ages to come. The Lord is seeking to bring us into that. It is so weak, so despicable, from this world's standard. Lamb-like! That is a term of disparagement to this world. But God sets everything by that. Oh, that the world had eyes to see, to interpret present happenings on the earth! You can see what the beast does, can you not? And you can see the necessity for the beast giving place to the Lamb today. God works out His purpose in history and at last all the universe has to bow and say, "You are right! What we need is not the beast, but the Lamb". It is the power to let go, to yield, to be emptied, to serve, to glorify God.
Well, I think we will not go further than that. I wanted to say more about the issue of life; because that is the issue, after all. Marvellous is that sixth chapter of John. You notice the context of the words "Him the Father, even God, hath sealed...". From that point the Lord goes on to say (His metaphors change, but the principle is the same) I am the Bread which came down from heaven for the life of the world. "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed". "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves." The chapter is just full of life by appropriating Christ, God's Lamb. Life by appropriating the Lamb! All is in terms of the Lamb. When we think, when we talk about feeding upon Christ, receiving Christ, Christ being our life, let us not think in abstract terms of vital forces and so on. Let us remember that it is a moral state before God. Christ my life. Oh no, not if I think of Him as just being my energy. I mean that Christ does not give me energy, as such. If I am going to know the power and energy of Christ, I have to know the Lamb nature of Christ.
I can put that in other words. You see, the Lord will not just give us energy to do anything we choose. The Lord will be our life to do holy things, and if you and I have anything unholy about us, His life does not function. That is what you have in James 5. "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church: and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he has committed sins, it shall be forgiven him." That sin question always goes alongside of life wherever you look in the Word of God. Sin must be dealt with in order that life may be available on the basis of righteousness: and then, for Christ to be our life, to be our vital energy, means the Lamb disposition. That is the single eye, purity of heart, the glory of God, and no one can take the life of God to use that life to do anything for self-glory. You see the point. Oh no, that life is a nature, and it never contradicts itself, never denies itself, never works against itself. It works on its own ground, and for you and for me to know Him more and more as our life means for you and for me to become more like Him as the Lamb of God.
"Behold the Lamb of God!" May we keep on beholding Him.