Jesus is the lamb of God. We know that. But what does it mean?
Well, lambs were commonly sacrificed under the Law of Moses. And Jesus was sacrificed. That’s true, but is that all there is to it?
Lambs could be sacrificed under the Law for several different reasons and on different occasions. We just kind of assume that the idea of Jesus as lamb is about a sacrifice for forgiveness of sins — and that’s certainly a very true, very real point. That’s a good lesson — but there’s another one.
Jesus is often referred to as a Passover lamb (1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19 (compare Exo 12:5)). The Passover lamb was sacrificed, but in a different way from the Temple sacrifices. The Passover lamb was killed and then eaten as part of the Passover meal. It was a sacrifice, because the meal was dedicated to God, but not because the lamb was burned up or left with the priests. The family making the sacrifice was allowed to keep and eat what they’d given to God!
Unlike atonement sacrifices, where the slaughtered animal was surrendered to God, this sacrifice was kept and eaten in memory of the first Passover — the night of the tenth plague in which God took the lives of the firstborn of every household other than those that spread the blood of the lamb on their door posts and lintels — that is, on both sides of and above the entrance to their houses.
The blood was a sign of loyalty to God. It’s how God determined whom to guard and whom to destroy.
Now, Ray Vander Laan points out that the ancient Egyptians would have found the use of animal blood in such a way disgusting. They considered it an offense to their gods. The Israelites who spread blood on their door frames risked death by mob action.
And here’s the lesson: The way the Israelites sought and obtained God’s protection was by doing the very opposite of the safe thing. They did something reckless, even suicidal. They were slaves in Egypt, and after nine plagues, were surely hated. And God told them to risk their lives by not only advertising their loyalty by God on their doors — a very public display — but also by doing it in a way guaranteed to bring hatred, disgust, and even death.
Do you want God to keep you safe? Then maybe God calls you to something dangerous, scary, and deadly. You see, God was teaching the Israelites a vital lesson. They were about to travel across a deadly desert, to be pursued by the Egyptian army, without nearly enough water and food to make it. And this was going to be how they’d seek God’s protection and safety.
To prepare them, to help build their faith in God’s protection, God began by insisting they make a crazily dangerous, even suicidal decision. And those who made the decision were indeed kept safe and soon escaped slavery.
When we take this meal, a meal derived from the Passover, we often express our gratitude to God for living in a land free of persecution. But we’re only free of persecution because we don’t threaten anyone. We don’t do anything that gives offense. Indeed, we’re often far more concerned about our reputations than our faithfulness to God.
But Jesus lived a crazily dangerous, even suicidal life. He paid with his life. And yet even though his enemies killed him, God protected him and kept him safe — even in death.
When we take this meal, we should see it as preparation for the same sort of thing — a crazily dangerous, even suicidal life. We should see this as a moment when, like the ancient Israelites, we pledge ourselves to be faithful — whatever the cost.
And if our faithfulness costs us family and friends, if it costs us criticism and even hatred from people we wished loved us, well, that’s what this is about.
This is the body and blood of someone who died because he preferred faithfulness to safety, the dangerous true gospel to the safe, false, adulterated, comfortable gospel taught by so many others.
Does taking communion in this church bring persecution, slander, criticism, derision, and even crazy danger? It should. That’s where this meal began. And when Jesus re-invented the Passover by becoming the Passover lamb himself, well, that was the point. And countless Christians have been martyred over the centuries because they dared take communion.
We eat the body and blood of Jesus. We eat the offense. We eat the death. We eat a faith that’s so strong we’ll suffer laughter and lost family and friends, even scorn and hatred, so we can be faithful to our Lord — because there’s no real safety and no real comfort anywhere else.