These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
I wonder if you know this, but by one account, there are over 170 different titles or names for Jesus in the New Testament. During Advent and Christmas, we will explore six of them.
Today, we consider the name used by the prophet of Advent: John the Baptist who shows up every year. Listen to the name he uses for Jesus:
READ THE TEXT
We have three major religious holidays in our lives that involve the slaughtering of 86 million animals. According to one source, we just slaughtered 46 million Turkeys for our thanksgiving meal as we offer God our thanks for the blessings of our lives and good harvest…. We will slaughter another 22 million turkeys for Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus and yet another 19 million as we gather in families to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
In the time of Jesus, our ancient Jewish brothers and sisters would have understood this though they may want to ask us, “Now, why a turkey? What does that mean? Why do you sacrifice a turkey?”
If you were around in the time of John the Baptist, the son of a priest, he could have told you all about the slaughtering of lambs for their religious celebrations and what they meant. Jewish worship and religious life was very much involved in the massive slaughter of animals.
Leonard Sweet taught me this in his new book, Jesus, a Theography
According to the law of God, every day two lambs were required for sacrifice in the Temple. That’s 730 lambs each year. The twice daily offering of a male lamb was known as a tamid- “the continuous offering.” It was the first offering and the last offering of the day.
I’m thinking if you were a lamb, an unblemished lamb, you are living on borrowed time!
On top of that, thousands of lambs were needed by Jewish families at Passover and other religious rituals.
One of the most widely observed of the Jewish holidays, Passover required a lamb to be sacrificed for every household that could afford it. All the lambs were ritually killed at the same time in the same place.
That’s a lot of lambs! And not just any lamb… but the kind of perfect lamb worthy of the Lord our God!
So where is one to get those lambs? No problem.
Just a few miles away, in a little town called Bethlehem—maybe you’ve heard of it—by the way, in Arabic the name of this town means, “house of meat” (“Butcher town”) there were fields full of lambs raised by shepherds.
And not just any shepherds. No, that would not do for a religious sacrifice.
These shepherds were descendants of David, tending David’s flock—sheep destined for the temple. And not just any sheep, special order sheep. You may think of Bethlehem shepherds as outsourced employees of the temple—self employed contract workers.
Raising special lambs for Passover was very hard work. Shepherds had to learn and follow special techniques and rituals during the lambing season. To prevent harm and self-injury from thrashing about after birth on their spindly legs, newborn lambs were wrapped in swaddling cloths. Then they were placed in a manger or feeding trough, where they could calm down out of harms way. After careful inspection by the shepherd, any spot or blemish meant instant rejection for use as a Passover lamb—because a lamb offered to God had to be perfect, whole, sound. Only the best for the Lord our God—no defective or second hand sheep from the outlet mall for the Lord!
And when the time came for families to prepare for their Passover meals, each lamb was required to be a pet in the family for at least four days.
So the day after the final Sabbath before Passover, shepherds from the Bethlehem hills drove thousands of lambs into Jerusalem, where they were taken in by Jewish families for at least two days and treated as members of the family.
Before sacrificing the lamb, the Jewish priest would ask, “Do you love this lamb?” If the family didn’t love the lamb, there would be no sacrifice.
So think about it: In the gospels, when Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?” – He as not just asking if Peter loved him. He was affirming his identity as the sacrifical lamb of God.
This would not have been lost on John the Baptist, the priest’s son. Neither would have been the symbolism of the Palm Sunday procession.
I had never thought about it before, but there were two processions on the day we call Palm Sunday. One was an unwilling procession of thousands of perfect lambs herded into the city by Bethlehem shepherds ready to sell to families for Passover.The other was a willing procession of Jesus, who John saw as the one perfect Lamb of God ready to takes away the sins of the world with one final sacrifice.
Looking back – everything about Jesus birth would have made sense to John— even the stories told by Matthew and Luke.
He would understand all the symbols that foretold the reason Jesus came into the world. God had sent Jesus to be the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. The whole world!
This would become clear on the day Jesus died. The day Jesus died on the cross—do you know what time it was when he died? About 3:00pm in the afternoon, guess what was happening? The Passover lamb was being sacrificed in the temple.
And so it is, that John the Baptist and early Jewish Christians came to know Jesus as “lamb of God” – because Jesus for them was the Passover lamb—who sacrificed his own life once and for all for the sins of humanity and opened the way for God’s salvation for all people.
So ask John what Christmas is about, I think he would tell you something like this: In Jesus, the “house of meat” temple rituals of sacrifice and slaughter are no longer necessary—(which is why we don’t still slaughter lambs in church today)
The sacrifice of meat was no longer the means by which we would be made right with God, or how God would forgive you or the means by which you would be worthy to come into the presence of God. No, In the coming of Jesus, God shut down the slaughterhouse. No more sacrifices are necessary to be reconciled to God.
In fact, God is offering the final sacrifice. Jesus, God incarnate, has made that possible through the ultimate sacrifice which we remember every time we come to this table of our Lord… and we hear him say:
“This is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me, this is the new covenant/agreement sealed in my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.”
So let us come to the table again today—this time remembering the one who invites us here is indeed the Lamb of God , who as an expression of divine love and grace, takes away the sin of the world and grants us God’s peace. Amen.