When one of the elders told John that the 'Lion of Judah' had triumphed, he stopped sobbing and saw  something that wasn’t there before.

The Greek text mentions the position of the Conqueror before it identifies the Conqueror – Then I saw, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the elders a lamb standing …

Where the Lamb is, is the significant thing. Someone has got past the twenty-four elders that encircle the throne. Someone has got past even the four living creatures, those prohibitive cherubim that exclude from God’s presence and from life all who are imperfect, all who are sinners. The barriers, the exclusion zone, have been penetrated. Someone is there in the very presence of the Almighty, holy God. Someone who is worthy to reach out and take the scroll from the hand of the holy God.

John looked. He saw not the Lion, but a Lamb. A lamb at any time appears soft, fragile, vulnerable. But this lamb is even more so. Its simplicity and its purity have been violated. There is something of an ultimate tragedy here in this brief description. Something of an intense incongruity. An unspoken wrongness.  The marks of a violent death are upon it.

And here we track back through the pages of the Old Testament where we are repeatedly confronted by such lambs [or their equivalent] and such death [Genesis 22:1-14; Exodus 12:1-13; Leviticus 4:32-35; Leviticus 16]. In each of these a substitutionary death took place. In each of these the death of the lamb, or its equivalent, secured the life of the human(s) for which it was the substitute. In each, apart from the first, the blood of the substitute plays a significant role. In the two Leviticus references the purpose of the substitutionary death is the forgiveness of sin.

But the Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that the blood of animals cannot remove sin and guilt, that it provides only a ritual [and therefore symbolic] cleansing [Hebrews 9:13,14; 10:3,4]. It teaches us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the perfect man, entered the presence of God with his own blood, by which both our sin and our guilt are removed, no longer held against us because they were held against him [Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:1-18]. Jesus Christ is the real Lamb, anticipated and predicted by all the sacrificial lambs in the history of Israel. From him, not from themselves, they took their meaning and their power.

In the Scriptures the full force of the incongruity and the wrongness is intensified. This is not just a lamb dying here – one among many lambs, which can be easily replaced by another. The one who dies here is the one and only Son of God, beloved by the Father. Unique. Irreplaceable. This is not just a lamb that is going to die sometime in any case: the one who dies here is the eternal Son of God, the source of all that exists, the life-giver of all that lives [Isaiah 53:4-11; Mark 10:45; John 1:29; Romans 3:22-25; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13; Colossians 1:14,20; Hebrews 10:19; 1Peter 1:18,19; 1John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].

Here the Creator is killed by his creature, man.
Here the Saviour is killed by the ones he dies to save.
Here the Lord of Glory is subjected to the ultimate dishonour.

But this horrific tragedy, this death of the Lamb, is the very thing, the one thing, that is able to bring reconciliation between man and God. From the human perspective it is the ultimate sin, the ultimate wrong. But from God’s perspective it is the ultimate expression of his love and his grace, planned before the beginning of time, determined before the creation of the world, for our redemption [Revelation 13:8; 1John 4:9,10; 1Peter 1:20; Titus 1:2; 2Timothy 1:9,10].

This death – this substitutionary, sin-bearing death – was the purpose, the reason, for which Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, came into the world [Matthew 20:28; John 10:14-18; 12:27; Hebrews 2:9; 9:26b].

The Lamb has been slain. The saving death has happened. The marks of it are still upon him. There he stands in the presence of God the Father. Worthy. Worthy to break down all the barriers. Worthy to open all the doors. Worthy to be our substitute and representative in the presence of God. Worthy to take and open the scroll.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015