The cross of Calvary, which is again the subject of preaching in a special sense during the Lent season now upon us, is a power of God unto salvation. We do well to emphasize that the cross is indeed the salvation of the Church. According to Paul in 2 Cor. 5:19, it is the word of reconciliation. By it our reconciliation was effected. Upon Golgotha’s accursed tree God purchased us with His own precious blood and we have been redeemed from all iniquity. And no less striking is the truth as expressed in John 1:29, namely, that Jesus is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.
Only the reformed conception of the truth understands the power of the cross. To be sure, also the Arminian would maintain that only a few are saved, and that Christ died only for those few, the believers. Yet, it is certainly his view that Jesus, when He died upon Calvary, poured out His blood for all men, that He suffered and died with the desire that all might have an equal opportunity to be saved, and that the only reason why many are not saved is because they refuse to appropriate unto themselves this well-meaning universal love of God. Exactly as God knew beforehand who would believe and elected those unto salvation, so also Christ died for the believers. But the love of God and of Christ is universal. However, it is not difficult to understand that the very word of God in John 1:29, which the Arminian loves to quote, is one of the strongest links in the chain of Scriptural truths which condemn his version of the cross. Fact is, the Lamb of God taketh away the sin of the world. It is exactly this thought which has no place in the Arminian scheme of things. According to him Christ did not take sin away from Calvary. For if the Lord upon the cross had taken the sin, guilt of all away, had removed the guilt of all, had paid for all the penalty, it must follow that nobody can be lost. If one’s guilt is removed, no condemnation can be brought against him. Hence, instead of teaching universal atonement, the Arminian has no atonement whatsoever. And this robs the cross of all comfort for the child of God. Then my sin will eternally testify against me, inasmuch as it was never taken away. Over against this comfortless presentation we must maintain the particular character of the cross. Calvary is the word of reconciliation, that is, the powerful, efficacious, creative Word of God, which He spoke by Himself upon the accursed tree, effecting reconciliation. Reconciliation is presented by Paul as the Word of God which He spoke creatively. The cross is the blotting out of all our guilt, the meriting of eternal righteousness and heavenly glory, the redemption of His people out of all the power of the devil. It is the basis for our covenant fellowship with Jehovah, and salvation, as spiritually bestowed upon God’s people, must follow because Christ purchased it.
That Jesus is called the Lamb of God by John the Baptist is certainly with reference to the Old Dispensation. There are those who would contend that Christ is called thus because of a certain likeness which exists between Him and a lamb, and that no special reference is meant to the Old Testament sacrifices. A lamb is characterized by meekness. Also Jesus was meek. Therefore He is called a lamb. However, if we bear in mind that the Baptist spoke this word to the people of God of the Old Dispensation, that Isaiah speaks of Jesus as a lamb, and that a lamb was slain at the Passover, it can hardly be denied that Jesus is called a lamb as the fulfilment of the Old Testament shadows. Of course, that a lamb was chosen by God as a symbol of Christ was certainly with a reason. Of all the animals a lamb or sheep was the most fitting symbol of the suffering Servant of the Lord. And, understanding Christ to be the fulfilment of these sacrifices, we can understand why He is called the Lamb of God. He is the Lamb of God not only because of this fulfilment as such, but of all the Old Testament lambs He is the Lamb. This we must understand to see the blessed trinity of the work of redemption throughout the ages. Because Christ is the eternal Son of God, chosen from before the foundation of the world to reconcile His people with Himself through the blood of the cross, therefore He could give unto His people in the Old Dispensation a symbol of Himself in the sacrificial lamb. His suffering Servant of Jehovah is called a lamb because of His suffering. He never rebelled, never opposed the way of suffering, but at all times was perfectly submissive to the will of Him that sent Him.
Jesus is the Lamb of God. This expression means undoubtedly that He is of God, prepared and furnished by God Himself. He is the Lamb of God in the first place because He is God Himself. Of course, our Lord is lamb in the human nature—the sacrifice for our sins was brought in our flesh and blood. Yet, God Himself became that sacrifice. It is God Who bought us with His own precious blood. It is Jehovah Himself Who became this lamb, Who Himself bore the sin of the world. Secondly, in close connection with this thought, Jesus is the Lamb of God because, as according to the human nature, He was prepared and ever enabled by God. Of God He is become for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Of God, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, He was brought forth out of the virgin Mary; by Jehovah He was strengthened, even unto the end, to finish the work unto which He came.
This Lamb of God taketh away the sin of the world. It is not our purpose at this time to emphasize the thought that the world of this portion of Scripture refers to the new world; of God’s eternal love, as it shall be saved, but now lies under the curse of sin. We would rather emphasize the thought that Christ is the atoning, expiatory Lamb of God. That He takes away the sin of the world does not mean, of course, that He Himself became sinful, was polluted with sin. If in this sense the Lord had borne our sin He could not have been this Lamb. For the idea of submission is presupposed by a lamb. And, as sinners, we are rebels, who are not and cannot be subject to the law of God. That Jesus bore our sin means that He took upon Himself the guilt of sin. Sin, the spiritual power of darkness, whereby we willfully refuse to glorify God, willfully with all our heart and mind and soul and strength “miss the mark”, refuse to live according to our calling to glorify God, is guilt. Guilt is obligation to pay. Sinning against God, we become indebted to Him, become guilty of the law, are transgressors. And as transgressors against the law of God, we must pay the price because the Lord maintains Himself. Only in the way of complete satisfaction for sin is our return into the favor of God possible. Our sins involve us in the obligation before God to pay the full penalty, which means that we in the way of death must experience that God is good, the full wrath of the Lord must be borne. Because of sin we have become objects of the wrath of God, and we, together with all things, are subject to the curse. And God cannot remove that curse, live in covenant-communion with His people, and cause all things to rejoice in the blessed liberty of the children of God, except in the way that all sin be removed, that full and complete satisfaction be rendered to the justice of God. This sin, as guilt, the Lamb of God assumes. He stands in our relation to the law. He wills to be treated by Jehovah as a transgressor. He takes our debt upon Himself, assumes full responsibility for all our trespasses, would be the sacrificial Lamb upon whom all the fury of the wrath of God is to be poured out. He is the transgressor, is not merely treated by God as a sinner among many, but is the Sinner, the Greatest of all transgressors, must therefore hang upon the cross symbolically between the two malefactors, because He takes upon Himself the guilt of many and bears the iniquity of us all.
Besides, we read so strikingly of Him that He takes away our sin. This word means, firstly, to take upon oneself, and secondly, to take away. Hence, the word signifies to take upon oneself with the purpose of taking it away. Jesus takes upon Himself our sin. In this respect also He is the Lamb of God. It is particularly in the light of this fact that all natural lambs must fall short of being even a perfect symbol of Christ. As such Christ is unique. Truly this cannot be declared of any animal in the Old Dispensation. Never did it occur that a lamb in the Old Testament took upon itself the sin of God’s people. The burden of Israel’s guilt was simply laid upon it. And it lay in the very nature of the beast to receive it and bear it without murmuring. But Jesus is especially in this respect the Lamb of God. Not only does the Christ refrain from rebelling. Not only does He permit Jehovah to lay our guilt upon Him. But He voluntarily assumes our guilt and, according to the human nature, actually wills to bear it. Conscious of His calling as Head of a guilty people to bear their sin, the Savior is not merely passive but amazingly active in His obedience, willing for God’s sake and for righteousness’ sake to be the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.
Finally, when did Christ take upon Himself our sin? Apart now from the truth that Jesus is the Lamb of God which is taking away the sin of the world. Historically Christ took upon Himself our guilt, firstly, when He was baptized in the river Jordan. When John refused to baptize Him Jesus willed it. And in as much as the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan was a sign of the baptism wherewith He would be baptized upon the cross of Calvary (for of that baptism of the cross all baptism is a symbol) Jesus wills to be baptized by the Baptist, thereby voluntarily, at the very beginning of His public ministry, set His face towards the cross and assumed its reality in all its fearful consequences. Secondly, throughout His entire walk upon earth Christ ever took upon Himself our sin. Healing the sick He thereby not only wrought miracles but also signs of the power of His grace whereby He would deliver His people from all sin and its results. But when He then healed the sick and wrought signs, He assumed the cross of Calvary as the only way in which Zion would be redeemed through righteousness from all iniquity. And, finally, the Savior took upon Himself our guilt upon the cross. The cross did not bear Jesus but Jesus bore the cross. Never did the perfect Servant of Jehovah falter; in the full consciousness He bore the infinite wrath of God in perfect obedience to the will of the Father. He bore our guilt until He had taken it away, had paid the last farthing, had blotted out all guilt, had reconciled His people with God, and merited for them everlasting life.