JOHN answered them, “I baptise with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptising. The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
THE old man and the young boy climbed the mountain side by side. The boy carried the wood for the sacrifice across his back, and every now and then turned his innocent face up to grin at his father. He was the only hope of the nations, the promised child, the long-awaited only son. His father seemed distracted, turning his face away from the boy’s eager looks. The father’s heart was breaking. Isaac turned to him again, this time with a more questioning expression. “Dad?”
“Here I am, my son.”
“I’ve got the wood, and you’ve got the knife and the fire, but haven’t we forgotten something? Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”
The question hung in the air for a moment. Abraham swallowed hard. “God will provide a lamb.”
At the top of the mountain, as the knife was about to plunge down, the angel’s voice sounded at the same time as the bleat from a nearby thicket. The test was stopped, Abraham was blessed for his obedience, Isaac was saved, and a ram was sacrificed in his place. Not a lamb, a ram. They called the mountain, “The Lord will provide.”
Isaac’s question carried on hanging in the air for nearly 2000 years. It was hanging there when the Israelites killed lambs and smeared the blood on their doorposts so that the angel of death would pass over their houses the night when all the firstborn died and they were set free from Egypt. Here are our lambs, sacrificed in the place of our sons. Where is the lamb that God will provide?
It was hanging in the air for every lamb and other animal that was sacrificed from then on. Here is a lamb for our sins, and another, and another, and another for the next year’s sins. Where is the lamb that God will provide?
It was hanging in the air when Isaiah wrote in chapter 53 about a lamb silent before its shearer and led to slaughter, just after saying that all of us, like sheep, are led astray. Where is the lamb that dies in the place of all these wayward sheep?
Then, some two millennia after Isaac asked it, the question was answered with a shout in the wilderness: “Look! The Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world!” (see John 1.29). John the Baptist’s answer to Isaac’s question echoes back across the years, making sense of the sacrifices, the prophecies, the mourning for cherished sons. Every sacrifice in the past pointed to this one. God’s own long-awaited, long-promised son, the only hope of the nations, is the lamb that God will provide.
We have already seen God described as a shepherd. Now Jesus is identified as both the good shepherd and the lamb. Fully shepherd and fully lamb, only he can sing Psalm 23 from both points of view: God walks through the valley of the shadow of death both with us as our shepherd and for us as the lamb. Sometimes, only a metaphor can express such an extraordinary truth.
This is an extract from The Bible Reading Fellowship’s Advent book, Image of the Invisible: Daily Bible readings from Advent to Epiphany by Amy Scott Robinson (BRF £8.99; CT Bookshop £8.10).