“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6)
“To (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)
Behold the Lamb!
I know God, because God first made himself known to my dad five years before I was born.
Not that I inherited my faith, but my father’s life after his conversion made Jesus real and beautiful to me from a young age. My dad was an indifferent agnostic until he encountered Jesus Christ when he was 25. This conversion radically altered his destiny and that of my mother, four children and 13 grandchildren. I have no doubt that future generations will continue to be the blessed beneficiaries of my dad’s spiritual rebirth in 1964. But what strikes me most about his conversion story is the faithful efforts of an Anglican pastor in a little mining town called Carletonville. Warwick Seymour didn’t just tell my dad the gospel in an abstract way. He took my dad by the hand and showed him from the whole Bible why Jesus appeared on earth and why He is the Saviour. My dad thought he could earn God’s favour by being more good than bad. For many months, Rev Seymour spent an entire evening every week patiently walking through Old Testament stories and symbols with my dad one by one: Abraham and Isaac (Gen 22); The Passover in Egypt (Ex 11 and 12); the sacrifices and the Scapegoat (Lev 16). They read Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 together and many more prophecies like it. Eventually Rev Seymour got to the New Testament and pointed my dad to Jesus as the fulfillment of the substitute lamb—the spotless Lamb that God provided to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The Holy Spirit took the scales off my dad’s eyes:
“For me it was the transforming revelation. Jesus was the substitute—the ultimate, final, complete, perfect and irrevocable substitute lamb.(Branded by Grace by Chippy Brand: p74).
That day my dad was “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from (his) forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Peter 1:18-19).”
Lest we be distracted by treasure hunts, Easter eggs and Lenten vows, this is the essence of Easter:
Jesus is our perfect substitute Lamb.
Led like a lamb
In 700BC, the prophet Isaiah foretold the life, death and resurrection of the suffering servant God promised. Here he describes him as a silent lamb ‘led to the slaughter’:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:6-7)
Surely this silent lamb is Jesus, whose story is told in the four gospels of the New Testament? Listen to Matthew’s account of him in chapter 27:
“Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed… (Matt 27:12-14)
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.” (Matt 27:27-31)
But unlike every other Old Testament lamb that went before him, Jesus was a willing sacrifice. Unlike the Passover lamb that was slain and the Scapegoat that was sent out into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people, Jesus allowed himself to be led to the cross without compulsion or fight. He submitted to his Father’s will even though he knew it would cause him indescribable physical and spiritual agony. Even to the point of being forsaken by his Father, “smitten by God and afflicted” (Isa 53:4; Ps 22:1-2; Matt 27:46). As the Son of God He was far from defenceless, yet he chose to be as meek as a lamb. He refused to use his divine power to defend himself (Matt 26:52-54) so that his righteousness could be proclaimed “to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (Ps 22:31; John 19:30; Heb 10:10; 12; 14; 18). He was the Son of God but also the Son of man.
Is Jesus just another powerless victim?
“But so what?” you might ask. “Other innocent men and women have been executed for crimes they didn’t commit. Through wars and oppression, many people have been slaughtered like defenceless lambs. Many have died as martyrs. What makes Jesus’s death so special that we get the whole Easter weekend off to celebrate it? Aren’t Christians morbid to replay Christ’s death over and over again like the movie Groundhog day?”
On Good Friday we recall the historical events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion in 33AD in Jerusalem. Here are three reasons why Good Friday is more than just a public holiday for Christians:
We remember that Jesus is our substitute.
Jesus’ death is unique because He died to be our substitute lamb. He died in our place. Christianity does not make sense unless we understand substitution. Easter is a gory farce if Jesus died merely to set an example of how to be a gracious martyr. There is nothing romantic or glorious about martyrdom.
Substitution is not something our culture generally mentions much, except perhaps on the sport’s field, but the Bible tells us that the essence of sin is that men and women substitute ourselves for God (Rom 1:21;23). We worship ourselves instead of God. We place ourselves on the throne where only God deserves to sit. We claim the authority that belongs only to God.
When God willingly sacrificed himself on the cross, He put himself where you and I deserve to be. He accepted the punishment that belongs to us alone.
This is what Christ’s substitution looked like in Isaiah’s words:
“He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities…(Isa 53:5). The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…(Isa 53:6b)…his soul makes an offering for guilt… (Isa 53:10b)….he bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
For many Jewish people, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel which has suffered unjust persecution in its history. But the prophecy is about more than just suffering. How can any human being or nation bear the sins of others or make an offering for guilt? Only God Himself can intercede on behalf of sinners.
And that is exactly who Isaiah’s ‘suffering servant’ is: God in the flesh. He is Jesus, the God-man that John the Baptist pointed to when he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
We remember our atonement.
‘Atonement’ is defined as making amends for a wrong or paying compensation or restitution. It is a concept humans understand instinctively. People seek redemption by atoning for past mistakes or regrets. Guilt may lead us to make a great sacrifice to repay or atone for a misdeed. Atonement is a major theme in books like Disgrace, The Light Between Oceans, Atonement and The Kite Runner. Many authors create Christ-like heroes whose deaths liberate others. One of the most moving historical novels is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, set during the German occupation of France in World War 2. The main character, Isabelle Rosignol, joins the French resistance and develops a plan to help downed Allied airmen to escape over the mountains into neutral Spain. After successfully leading dozens of airmen to safety, operating under the code name “Nightingale”, she is caught and tortured. To rescue her, her father Julien falsely claims to be ‘the Nightingale’ and surrenders himself. He is shot while Isabelle watches. The scene is tragic but moving, as Julien stands in for his daughter to save her life. The analogy breaks down, but it is a glimpse of what atonement is about.
The problem is that no human being can offer true atonement. Not for ourselves or on behalf of anyone else. Each one of us is a sheep that has gone astray, turning to our own way (Isa 53:6). We do not follow the Shepherd of our souls and we have all sinned against a holy God, who cannot allow sin into His heaven. Just as Adam and Eve forfeited their home, peace and life in Eden, we forfeit ours because we have wandered like rebel sheep. Paradise is lost.
The good news about Good Friday is that Jesus, the perfect God-man, is the only One qualified to pay the debt we cannot pay ourselves. The Lamb of God offers us full, final, ultimate atonement, and there is nothing we can do to add to this (Heb 9:28). Just as Jesus promised the believing thief on the cross “paradise”, He offers every rebel sheep an eternal home with Him. In a grand twist, the slaughtered Lamb becomes the Good Shepherd of those who trust in Him for themselves (John 10:11-18).
We remember the gifts of Good Friday
The first free gift of Good Friday is eternal life for those who believe (Rom 6:23b). There is nothing insignificant about the great exchange. We give him our sin and death. He gives us his righteousness and life. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21).
Because of Good Friday we also have the free gifts of forgiveness and peace with God.
“Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isa 53: 5b).
He paid the penalty that our past, present and future sin deserves.
“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant make many to be accounted righteous.” (Isa 53:11; John 12:27; John 17:1-5). Those who believe are free from blame, condemnation, judgment and the curse of death forever.
If you have been redeemed by Christ, there is nothing more to fear in this world or the next. Thank Jesus right now for each one of the wonderful gifts of Good Friday.
If you have never experienced Christ’s redemption, what is stopping you from taking up the great exchange and grasping the gifts of Easter for yourself? Without atonement from the Lamb of God, how do you hope to stand before God in judgment? (2 Cor 5:10; Rom 14:12; 1 Cor 4:5) In what or whom are you trusting for atonement?
As we approach Easter, let us drink deeply of the truth that in Jesus’s death, death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Cor 15:54).
Click on this link and listen to the song “Forever” as you think about the Lamb of God and the victory of Good Friday.