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Behold The Christmas Lamb

by Ryan Thomas posted December 22, 2020

Our focus during Christmas tends to be on the cradle rather than the cross. Some of you may have a cross hanging on your wall, but I would wager nativity scenes, not crucifixion scenes, adorn our mantles this time of year. While it may feel more natural to connect the cross with Easter’s Resurrection, let’s not forget that Jesus was born to die. It’s why he came. Christmas, then, is not just about the cradle; it’s also about the cross.

John the Evangelist understood this. It’s why he quotes John the Baptist when he first introduced Jesus in his Gospel: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Even at that early stage, the cross cast its shadow over Jesus as the only solution to the world’s sin. If all we see at Christmas is Jesus the infant, we miss the wonder of what he came to accomplish. 

Here are two things Christ the Lamb was born to do:

#1: He was born to recover our true humanity.  

In this picture of the Lamb, we see Jesus as both God the Son and the Son of Man. 

The Son of Man takes us back to the creation of the world, where God made man in his likeness: “In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). It was the great tragedy of the Fall that this glorious reflection became disfigured. And it was with the greatest irony that Satan tempted them, not with fruit, but with something that was already theirs: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). In their attempt to become like God, in their own way and on their own terms, they ceased to be what God had already made them.[1]

We continue in their same pride today. As children of Adam, we’re tempted to recover the image we lost through our own efforts. With continued irony, the more we try to become like God on our own, the less we reflect him, and the more we reflect the image of Satan.[2]

The story of the Lamb is not the story of our futile efforts to recover the image of God, but the story of the God who becomes the image of man.[3] It’s the story of how God comes to us in our sin, in our shame, in our nakedness and destitution, and clothes us with his grace and love. When we behold the Lamb, we behold the God who became like us in every way, yet without sin, so that he might take away the sin that burdens us in every way. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and martyr in one of Hitler’s death camps, puts it this way:

Christ took upon himself this human form of ours. He became Man even as we are men. In his humanity and lowliness we recognize our own form. He has become like a man, so that men should be like him…Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity.[4]

#2: He was born to rescue us from our sin.

Here’s the good news of Christmas! Not only that a child bears the names of “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), but also that this child is born to us! When the angels sang the first Noel to certain shepherds in fields where they lay, it was not just another birth announcement. They “brought good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The good news of Christmas isn’t merely that God is, but that he is for us

And now, the same Lamb that stood before John 2,000 years ago stands at the right hand of God as the Lamb who was slain for us (Revelation 5:6). He receives the song of praise sung by “people ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9), and “many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, 

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, 
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might 
and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:11—12)

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Three responses seem appropriate to this marvelous revelation of the Lamb:

  1. Join in the song of the angels: worship! 
  2. Receive the grace that’s offered. I find this passive reception to be difficult. Give me something to do! my heart cries. But that’s exactly how the serpent tempted Adam and Eve. 
  3. Follow Jesus, just as the disciples responded to John’s declaration, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”–”The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus” (John 1:37). 

The promise of Christmas is not found in the cradle alone, but also in the cross. By going to the cross to be slain, the Christmas Lamb will cradle us in the glory of his resurrection forever.

[1] Bonhoeffer, “The Image of Christ,” 299.

[2] Bonhoeffer, “The Image of Christ,” 299.

[3] Bonhoeffer, “The Image of Christ,” 299.

[4] Bonhoeffer, “The Image of Christ,” 301.

Photo of Ryan Thomas

Ryan Thomas

Ryan met his wife Ely in her native country of El Salvador while hitchhiking through Latin America, and they hope to start their family soon through adoption. Ryan earned his M.Div. from Westminster Seminary California, where he now works on staff. When he doesn't have his nose in a book, he enjoys climbing mountains to get his head in the clouds. He and Ely worship at North Park Presbyterian Church (PCA) in San Diego, where Ryan is a pastoral intern.

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