HOUSMAIL #HM114C - THE LAMB OF GOD AND THE RANSOM                                               7 April 2004

Have you noticed that not even once does Jesus mention the word "ATONEMENT"? Why does the word "Atonement" never appear in the Gospels anywhere? Or in the preaching of the Apostles in Luke‘s "Acts of the Apostles"? Could it be possible that we can preach the Gospel without using it? Jesus apparently thought so! And He did! Of course He was not completely silent about His death -- but when He did mention it, he used words like "Ransom", "Covenant" and "remission of sins" (not atonement!) to describe what He saw Himself doing.

For Jesus it is summed up mainly in the simple parallel concepts of "RANSOM" and the "PASSOVER PROPHECY". [1] And just in passing we also notice that Jesus managed to say it all in just a few verses. (which some of you might also observe was about 1 1/2 pages less than this short article!)

It is important to first notice that the major Gospel emphasis from Jesus, is about " repentance " as the doorway of entry to the Kingdom of God. There is far less about His death than there is about how to live in a way which pleases God, and thus become reconciled to God as "SONS". Repentance comes first! (Matt 4:17) Without repentance and obedience, and consequent friendship with God, the death of Jesus has no meaning at all! There can be no ransom paid; and no forgiveness! Without true repentance, there is no way open for us to enter the future Kingdom of God.

When John the Baptist first introduced Jesus to the Jewish nation, he referred to him as "The Lamb Of God". (John 1:29, 36) But what does John mean by that? It is a term which appears nowhere else in the Bible, exactly that way. In the OT there are rams and goats and lambs everywhere. They were used extensively in the blood sacrifices offered by Jews, in their daily temple rituals and annual feasts. So why did John single out THE LAMB on this occasion? Does John have a particular OT Lamb in mind? Why did he not choose "Bullock" or "Goat" -- both of which would have been more appropriate to the subject of "Atonement".

As we shall see below, Jesus chose one particular lamb from among all the others, to give meaning to His death. He chose the PASSOVER Lamb.

According to the dictionaries, a "Ransom" is the price paid to buy back a prisoner.

That is how Jesus describes His death in Mark 10:45. His life was given as the RANSOM PRICE which has purchased "freedom for many". There is nothing difficult about applying the concept of "Ransom" to the death of Jesus. The "ransom price" Jesus was talking about is readily perceived to be His own life. His life was cut short by that undeserved criminal‘s death, not for any need of His own, but as a "Ransom" to purchase US out of "slavery".

But, we may well ask, freedom from what slavery?

John 8:34-36 provides the additional information we need to understand what Jesus meant by "freedom" and "slavery". Jesus regards all sinners as "slaves of sin" in need of freedom from their slavery to sin. He is the "SON" in that parable -- NEVER a sinner Himself, and therefore NEVER a slave Himself. All the rest of us who have sinned, need "the Son" to set us free -- free from the practice of sin which first enslaved us -- and free from the penalty of sin which would otherwise prevent us from living for ever in the "Father‘s house".

Jesus achieves that goal in two ways:

1. For those who truly repent, His death "ransoms" us from the penalty we incurred.
    It purchases our pardon from that penalty.
2. His teaching and example shows us how to LIVE in freedom from sin, so that we
    can be ready for "eternal life". (Rom 2:6-7)
The "ransom price" of that "freedom" was paid in full, in the highest possible "coin of the realm", when Jesus died FOR US on the cross. But it is not unconditional. It comes with very strict conditions that we MUST meet NOW to make it effective for us. Jesus calls us to repent and become Children of God, (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1-2) and learn to live as He teaches us in the Gospels.

Digging just a little deeper, we see that the words of Jesus at the last supper, are unquestionably associated with the meaning of the PASSOVER feast. They point us back to that first Passover in Egypt. That was the night of the final plague on Egypt by which God finally convinced the Egyptians to set the Israelite slaves free. The Egyptians had planned to destroy them. They were powerless to help themselves. But they had cried out to God -- and God heard their cry. (Exod 2:23-24) By God‘s determined display of His Power, the arrogance of the Egyptians was finally broken, and they were at last eager to be rid of their slaves. The Israelites were set free to leave Egypt, and worship God as a holy nation of free men. (cf Exod 19:6 with 1 Pet 2:4-10) For those enslaved Israelites, it was simple choice:

Sacrifice a lamb and live.
Refuse to sacrifice and die with the Egyptians!

Although the phrase "lamb of God" does not appear again in any of the Gospels, all four lead inevitably to an ending in which one particular OT lamb gives meaning and purpose to all the rest of the ministry of Jesus. That is of course the Passover lamb.

At the last supper, and in Gethsemane afterwards, Jesus linked the meaning of His death to what would happen at the Passover Feast which was about to be celebrated . (Read HOUSMAIL No 104 - " The Passover Prophecy And The Crucifixion ".)

It is painfully obvious that Jesus knew he only had hours to live. The next day at the precise time the first Passover lamb was slain for that year‘s festival, by his own freewill choice, (John 10:17-18) his own death would fulfil the prophecy dating back to the events surrounding that first Passover in Egypt.

Jesus does not repeat the story in all its detail, but there can be no question that we are meant to read it for ourselves in the context of our own desperate need for forgiveness and purity of heart. (See Exod 12:1-23)

The meaning of the PASSOVER applied to our own lives, confronts us with the same choice as faced those enslaved Israelites of Moses‘ day. Don‘t keep flocks? Haven‘t got a "lamb"? Of course you haven‘t! But God has already provided one! Jesus is our "Passover" sacrifice, given by God to save us from our own personal "Egypt". (1 Cor 5:7-8) The sins we committed made us "slaves", and there is a death penalty attached to that, which will be carried out at the Judgement, if we refuse to repent and accept the sacrifice provided for us.

When Jesus returns to judge the world, unrepentant sinners will suffer the same judgement as the Egyptians of Moses‘ day -- death! To escape that awful fate we need our own personal "Passover Lamb". Jesus is that lamb! We need our personal "house doorposts" (our bodies, hearts and minds where God dwells with us) marked with the indwelling Holy Spirit and its fruit, to identify us as God‘s chosen -- protected from the judgement which will be poured out on a world as corrupt as that of Noah‘s day.

We need to leave "Egypt" NOW, pass through our own personal "Red Sea " (a symbol of baptism! -- 1 Cor 10:1-2) and wander in the "wilderness of probation", led by the daily continuing presence of God in our lives . (Num 14:14) There we may feast daily on the spiritual food and drink provided by God. (1 Cor 10:3-4) This food is the words of Jesus, the words of eternal life, (John 6:63,68) which will sustain us in good spiritual health, until we are ready to enter the Promised Land -- the Everlasting Kingdom of God.

Promised Land? You can‘t miss it! In fact you are already standing on what will become the territory! (Matt 5:5) All you need to find the well marked narrow entry gate, is a broken and contrite heart. From there it is just a few short years down a hard road, (Matt 7:14 RSV)with a short sleep (no more than the twinkling of an eye) at the end. There is even a trumpet to guarantee our awakening at the right time!


[1] There are of course a few other ways in which Jesus speaks about His death. e.g.
       * A grain of corn;
       * The brass serpent "lifted up";
       * A good shepherd defending his flock at the cost of his own life.
       * The destruction and rebuilding of a temple.

We will try to discuss those another time. For this paper, we have confined it to "The Ransom" and "The Passover".