Thursday, September 22, 2016

It’s All in the Name – or Is It?

Have you noticed the recent surge in the use of hyper-aggressive, vicious-sounding names? (I’m not referring to the Presidential race, by the way.) We hear them on TV, the radio, newspapers, the Internet, in conversations in the break room at work. Because we’re immersed in another football season, when Giants and Titans roam the land, Bears and Bengals snarl at foes, Cowboys ride the plains, Panthers and Jaguars stalk their prey, Broncos run wild, Steelers flex muscles, and Buccaneers and Raiders gather the spoils.

The Rams, in case you’ve been wondering where they went, have changed addresses from St. Louis to Los Angeles, poised to challenge fearsome opposition on the West Coast. Yes, it seems names are all important if you’re engaged in a hard-hitting, violent activity like football.

Would you root for the Los Angeles Lambs?
Would you expect a decisive win from them?
Is it any wonder, then, that no teams have adopted nicknames like Puppies, Guppies, Kits…or Lambs? Being called a Lamb isn’t likely to strike fear in an opponent’s heart, right? Imagine this announcement: “The Wolves are taking on the Lambs in Sunday night’s featured clash!” Any idea which team would win that one?

And yet, that is precisely one of the names ascribed to Jesus Christ: the Lamb of God. At first glance, that doesn’t sound very imposing, does it? The Bible does refer to Him as “the Lion of Judah,” which sounds much more forceful. But other than Jesus’ proper name, “the Lamb” is the most common reference for Him in the Scriptures, being used more than 25 times in the book of Revelation alone.

How come? Why is the One the Bible proclaims as the victorious, all-conquering Son of God called “the Lamb of God,” since we know – or have been told – that sheep are fairly stupid creatures that can’t keep out of their own way when trouble comes near? Lambs are even more clueless. Hence the need for an ever-watchful, ready to respond shepherd.

Not that the term “lamb” is necessarily negative. Occasionally we hear someone describe another as, “he’s such a lamb,” meaning gentle, unimposing, perhaps even harmless. But somehow that doesn’t seem appropriate for Jesus, also known as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, and the Word of God.

But from God’s perspective, Lamb couldn’t be more fitting. In the Old Testament we see numerous examples of lambs being central to ceremonial sacrifices, designed to vividly demonstrate the need to atone for the sins and rebellion of God’s people. As Hebrews 9:22 states, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”

A part of us wants to say, “Poor lambs! They didn’t do anything. Why should they have to pay the penalty?” And that’s exactly the point. Even when they repented, the people of Israel had no means for atoning for their own sins. Specially appointed priests performed specific rituals to represent the process for forgiving the people’s egregious sins.

But even those sacrifices were merely a picture, an illustration, of the ultimate sacrifice the Lamb of God would perform. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Like the little sheep that had done no wrong deserving death, in an even more profound way the Lamb of God willingly gave His life to pay the price for wrongs He did not commit.

Quick question: How many sins had you personally committed by the time Jesus died on the cross as the once-and-for-all atoning sacrifice for sin? Of course – none. You hadn’t been born yet, and wouldn’t be for a long time. So if you ever wonder whether there’s a sin you could commit that could not be forgiven, the answer is, there is none.

As Romans 6:10 states, “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” But that’s a deep theological topic, perhaps for another day.

Getting back to why Jesus is referred to as the Lamb, we are told He was the complete fulfillment of God’s divine requirement for forgiving sins. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we see the principle being expressed this way: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

If God had so chosen, He could have taken the football approach, acting as a militant Spartan, or Knight, or Trojan, or Fighting Irish. Instead, in the person of Jesus Christ, He came as a Lamb, humbly and without complaint taking on a debt He did not owe to pay a price we could not pay.

As incongruous as that might seem to our limited, human capacity for understanding, that’s exactly what He did – as the Lamb of God. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

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