daily biblical sermons


JESUS WAS LIKE A GENTLE LAMB LED TO THE SLAUGHTER TO ATONE FOR OUR SINS
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Saturday, Fourth Week of Lent, March 17, 2018
Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 7, John 7:40-53


Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

"But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more'" (Jeremiah 11:19).


The liturgy is now taking us through various Old Testament types and figures of Christ's passion. Yesterday we saw the righteous man of Wisdom 2 being persecuted by the wicked. Today we see Jeremiah's persecution and suffering as a prophet at the hands of those who reject his message whereby he called them to repent of their idolatry. He compares himself to "a gentle lamb led to the slaughter" (Jeremiah 11:19).


A gentle lamb of sacrifice led to the slaughter was often in the Old Testament a sacrifice offered to God to atone for the people's sins. The lamb took the people's place and died vicariously for their sins so that the people might be set free from them, because the lamb had paid their price for their sins for them, had suffered their sentence for their sins for them. So their sins were atoned for by the lamb's death, and God forgave their sins.


This is the same idea that we see in Isaiah 53, where there is a human sacrifice for the people's sins. Their sins were placed on the servant of the Lord by God, and then "he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5). This human being, called the servant of the Lord, takes the place of a sacrificial lamb, as Isaiah points out, "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 dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:7).


In the New Testament this suffering lamb of sacrifice that removes the people's sins is Jesus Christ himself, as John the Baptist points out, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice par excellence, the one and only sacrificial lamb of all times that really does take away our sins - really, not just symbolically, as in the Old Testament sacrifices.


Jesus was God's own lamb. He was not just any old lamb, but "the Lamb of God," and he takes away all the sins of the whole world, not just of one individual Jew or of the whole Jewish people. He is literally "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).


It was only because of his sacrifice of himself that God forgave sins in the Old Testament, when they offered their lambs of sacrifice for their sins. God gave them these sacrifices as symbols of the one and only sacrifice that really does take away sins, namely the sacrifice of the Son of God himself in his human flesh on the cross. God condemns and punishes our sins in his flesh on the cross to fulfill the law for us that requires our death for our sins (Romans 8:3-4).


Our penalty for our sins having been paid for us by Jesus' death on the cross, God justly sets free from their sins all that believe in him and genuinely repent of and actually abandon their sins. So when the Israelites offered their sacrificial lambs to atone for their sins, God pardoned them in advance, because of the future uniquely effective sacrifice of Jesus Christ the Son of God on the cross, which their animal sacrifices, given to them by God, symbolized.


Christ's blood ransoms or redeems us from our sins, just as the Jews always believed that the blood of their sacrifices atoned for their sins by the death of the lamb that died vicariously for their sins.


But this is an unusual use of the word "ransom," because Christ did not pay a ransom price to the devil who held us captive so that he would release us, but rather Christ paid to the Father in his own blood shed on the cross what we owed God for our sins, namely our death. His death counts before God as though it were our own death in reparation for our own sins.


So a price is paid that releases us from our sins. Therefore the Scriptures call it a ransom price, because it releases us from captivity, even though the price is not paid to our captor (the devil) but to God to whom we are in debt for our sins. Christ's death thus takes the place of our death for our sins and so pays our debt with God for them. And once paid, God sets us free, acquitting us and declaring us righteous.


So St. Peter can say that Christ ransomed us with his blood that he shed for our sins, just as the Jews were redeemed or ransomed from their sins by the blood of a lamb: "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, 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).


This one and only effective sacrifice for all times to take away sins was offered by Christ, the Son of God, in his human flesh on the cross, and the blood of his sacrifice, which redeems us by paying our debt with God of punishment for our sins, is presented by the risen Christ to his Father in heaven, in the heavenly sanctuary, thus redeeming us, that is, freeing us from our sins and making us righteous before God, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews says, "When Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:11-12).


Christ's sacrifice is, of course, far more effective than the Jewish animal sacrifices that were only types or symbols of his one and only truly effective sacrifice, as Hebrews says, "For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:13-14).


Christ is now in heaven interceding with his Father for us with the blood of his sacrifice. "For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Hebrews 9:24).


Jesus fulfills the human sacrifice of Isaiah 53. This suffering servant of the Lord, whose sacrifice of himself suffers our penalty for our sins for us so that we might be accepted as righteous by God, is a prophetic literary figure of what Jesus Christ would actually do for us in history by his death on the cross. As our sins were placed on this prophetic literary figure so that he might atone for them by his suffering, which would pay our debt of suffering that we owed God for our sins, so Christ actually historically did this. By his death on the cross he paid our debt of suffering for our sins to God, to whom we were in debt for our sins, thus setting us free from them. Jesus Christ is thus the fulfillment of this prophetic literary figure. What is said by Isaiah about this prophetic literary figure is fulfilled in Christ, namely:


"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. 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. 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 dumb, so he opened not his mouth" (Isaiah 53:5-7).


We are now preparing to celebrate the great mystery of our redemption by Jesus Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross in payment of our debt of suffering in punishment for our sins so that God might acquit us and declare and make us righteous before him, when we put our faith in Christ and genuinely repent of and abandon our sins.

 

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