Saturday, April 12, 2014

Worthy is the Lamb

When my wife and I were in studying at Virginia Commonwealth University, we had plenty of good friends.  We also had some strange ones.  One of our friends, a devout Christian, decided that in order to be truly fulfilled in his faith, he had to adopt all the Jewish practices of Jesus our Messiah.  So, Gentile though he was, he began wearing yarmulkes, phylacteries, and prayer shawls.  He kept the Sabbath from sundown on Friday til dusk on Saturday.  He observed all the Jewish feasts and festivals.  In fact, he probably followed the letter of the law more closely than the most orthodox of Jewish believers.
            When Passover came, he wanted to share this earliest of Jewish traditions with his eight-year-old son.  So he did as Hebrew law prescribed.  He raised a pet lamb from the time of its birth until Passover.  It was his plan to slaughter the lamb with his son, put the blood on the doorposts and lintel of his house, and then make a meal out of it.  It was an adorable little lamb, and I hated the thought of its eventual death—but what could I do?  Anyway, if it was going to die, I thought, at least it could be a witnessing opportunity.
            VCU’s inner city campus has very little green space.  My friend’s home was one notable exception.  Right in the middle of the university was an old mansion that was owned by the school—but the back yard and carriage house were rented to my friend, who made his residence in the upper level.  The lamb spent its young life frolicking in green grass beneath the shade of brownstone houses and tall academic buildings.  Only a chain link fence separated the lamb from all the students who loved to stop and admire its sweet beauty.  Seeing gathered crowds of students, I would approach the fence and call the lamb by name.  “Come here, Worthy,” I would call, and the little lamb would come.
            “What did you call him?” the students would ask.
            I would answer, “I called him by his name, Worthy.”
            “That’s a strange name,” they’d say.  “Why’d the owner name it that?”
            “I’m glad you asked,” I’d reply.  Then I’d share how Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice, whose shed blood rescues us from death more completely than sheep’s blood could save Jews who sought shelter in their homes that first Passover.  I’d tell them about John’s vision that we find recorded in Revelation 5.11-14:

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

            The students who heard my testimony thought Worthy’s name was fantastic, and I thought it was pretty wonderful that his name allowed me to tell them about Jesus.  What they didn’t’ find very wonderful was hearing my friend’s plans for the little lamb’s demise.  I suppose it was partly my fault what happened next—but I don’t really feel very guilty about it.  One day, my friend woke up to find his lamb liberated.  In my mind I can picture animal-loving students stealing the bleating creature in the middle of the night.  I imagine Worthy skipping happily through a grassy field at some no-kill shelter, or on a hippy farm.  Set free, he wouldn’t have to die to satisfy the demands of my friend’s faith.
            This, of course, destroys the analogy between Jesus and this little lamb.  While Worthy went free, Jesus went to the cross, shedding His blood so that we could be liberated from sin.  This selfless sacrifice is the reason that Jesus is worthy of worship.  Indeed it is His death that springs us free from the destruction that would be ours.  And so I thank God for the Lamb who was slain.  And I also thank God for the little lamb who wasn’t slain.  The next time you see a lamb I hope you’ll remember Worthy—and the Lamb who is worthy to receive all praise.

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