By The Rev’d H. Frederick Gough, GCSM, GCHT

Rev. Fred Gough

“Behold the Lamb of God…which taketh away the sin of the world.”
An almost incredible statement for a Jewish prophet to make and yet John the Baptist speaks so of Jesus Christ. In making this assertion, John reaches back into Jewish lore and tradition to label the role that Jesus would play in the drama that is human history. Call up these memories now – the lamb of deliverance, whose blood was shed to mark the doorposts of the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt, that the Angel of Death might pass over their houses. Call up the sacrificial lambs of atonement for the faithlessness of Aaron and his followers during the Exodus. Call up the memory of the lamb of substitution, the ram provided at the last minute by God on Mount Moriah to die in the place of Isaac as Abraham’s offering. These are the kinds of memories John’s words would evoke – a lamb of substitution for ourselves, a lamb of atonement for our sin, a lamb of deliverance from the finality and ultimate penalty of eternal death.
The lamb…which taketh away the sin of the world.
Much has been said, and no doubt will be said, about the sin of the world. Sin is like geography (which was my undergraduate major), I guess. It covers the world and knows no particular era of history. The third verse of that great Christmas hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem, speaks so poignantly of the condition – “Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; Beneath the heavenly strain have rolled two thousand years of wrong; And man, at war with man hears not the tidings which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife and hear the angels sing!”
Theologians like to discuss and debate original sin, the depravity of man (generically speaking, of course) – and we, of course, resist taking the rap for Adam, the henpecked gullible fellow in the Garden, and Eve, his persistent, pestering, cajoling helpmate. If nothing else it offends our sense of sophistication. Yet, in a way, it is our very sense of sophistication which lures us on into steadily, increasingly exotic forms of sin. But, do you suppose that any of us, for all our wisdom in the ways of the world, would have turned down a bite of the apple – if it were the only game in the garden? While by no means definitive – we can consider the elements of defiance of the express will of God and a certain irrationality to be among the hallmarks of sin.
And I think it perhaps worthy of note that so often it seems to be those times when we are taking most satisfaction in our rationality and obedience to God that we are most vulnerable, most susceptible to sin. And, as I’ve said many times before – none of us is immune. It is, I think, those times when I’m feeling so very good about myself that I am farthest from God, that I am most likely to trust my own will rather than His, that I am most likely to be focused on how glorious I am rather than on how glorious He is – that I am least likely to “hear the angels sing” of the saving intervention of God on my behalf. How ridiculous, how irrational that kind of smug self-satisfaction, that impudent pride looks dissected in the clear light of day.
“…Behold, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world.”
Not just one or two, not just the Children of Israel, not just Christians, nor even just Anglicans – the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of all the Children of God. This Lamb of God, this Jesus Christ is to be the atoning sacrifice, the deliverer of all God’s children. Sooner or later, we are driven, perhaps in a moment of honest self-evaluation, to wonder, “Why?” That answer comes clearly in the words of this same Jesus, this same Lamb of God, two chapters later in the same Gospel of John – “For God so loved the world…” He does it for love, for love of us, for love of you and me and everyone we know…
Take a moment… Think of the most perfect love you’ve ever felt. Consider it. Recognize its imperfections, those moments it wavered, the times it was submerged or forgotten in the face of other pressures. It’s O.K., we’re all in this together. Imagine now that all those imperfections are gone and multiply that love by all who have lived or ever will live and we begin, begin, I say, to perceive the love of God for us, and, yes, the vastness of the power which makes it possible, a sobering thought.
“Behold the Lamb of God…,” said John the Baptist. Not long hence, as the shadow of his destiny cut across his life, it would be Pilate saying, “Behold the man.”
Already, however, having foreseen that destiny, Jesus, the lamb of sacrificial atonement and deliverance had ordained a means for us to behold him, even two millennia later – saying, “This is my body…given for you…” “This is my blood…shed for you…” Thanks be to God!

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