The Cross is Not an after thought

The Paradox Par excellence

The tempter dared offer three ‘short-cuts’ to Jesus. (1) to become the King by filling the stomachs of men (2) to thrill them with scientific wonders (3) to make a political deal with the prince of darkness. He won the battle with the might and light of the word of God. He was out to encounter the world as a sacrificial victim for sin. After the long fast and trial, the angels came and minister unto Him. Then He returns to Jordan. For a while He mingles unnoticed with the crowd that surrounds the Baptist.

On the previous day John spoke of Our Lord to a deputation of priests and Levites from the temple of Jerusalem. They came to ask John who he was. Of course, they knew the time was ripe for the Messiah or Christ to come.  But John tells them, “I am not the Christ. I am only the voice announcing Him.”

The next day too Our Lord was in the crowd. John sees Him at a distance. Hurriedly he falls back on the Jewish heritage of symbol and prophecy, known to all the hearers.

“Look, there is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29).

John is affirming that a pilgrim’s primary concern must be to look for one who has been appointed a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. The Passover is fast approaching. The highways are crowded. Many of them have with them the one year old lambs to the temple to be sacrificed on their behalf. It is in full view of those lambs that John points out the Lamb who, when sacrificed, would do away with all the prevailing sacrifices in the temple because He would take away all the sins of the world. John the Baptizer answers Isaac’s question “Where is the lamb of sacrifice?” (Gen. 22:7), pointing to Jesus of Nazreth saying: Here is the Lamb of God”.

The good God has at last provided a Lamb, His own “only begotten Son”. To the Israelites the lamb was a symbol of Israel’s deliverance from the political slavery of Egypt. John also implies that it was also a symbol of man’s deliverance from the spiritual slavery of sin. Prophet Isaiah foretells that this particular Lamb would come in the person of a complete Human Being. “He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth” (Is. 53:7).

In the Old Testament the lamb is very often used as a “sacrificial victim”. Hence, it is certainly an emblem most suited to the character of the Messiah. The fact that the Baptist designates Our Lord as the Lamb of God is singularly significant. He is neither the people’s lamb, nor the lamb of the Jews, nor that of any human owner, but of God. When the Lamb is finally crucified, it is not because He is a victim of those who were stronger than Himself. He is Himself fulfilling His willing duty of love for sinners. It is not man who offers this sacrifice. Certainly it is man who slays the victim. It is God who gave Himself.

As a disciple of the Baptist, Peter, in all probability was there in the crowd to hear clearly his declaration. Later he makes more clear the meaning of “the Lamb” when he writes, “For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value” (1 Pet. 1:19).

After the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus, the Deacon Philip encounters a courtier of the Queen of Ethiopia. He had been reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah which foretells “the lamb”. The exact passage is Isaiah. 53:7. Philip explains to him this Lamb has just been sacrificed and has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. St. John, the Evangelist, who too was at Jordan that very day. (He too was one of the Baptists disciples) Later, he stood at the foot of the cross. When the Lamb was sacrificed years later he wrote that the Lamb, slain on Calvary, was slain, by intent from the beginning of the world. “And all the people who belong to this world worshipped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made” (Rev. 13:8). The cross is not an after thought.