Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.
How many times have I heard this passage and so many like it? I cannot number. I grew up in the sweet embrace of a Jesus-loving church. My need for a savior, my need for the righteousness of another, has been ever before my eyes. It has been spoken, sung, joyfully shouted, and whispered into my ears from before I could even speak.
The Holy Spirit whispered in that hall, the night that it was sung, “We were the reason that he gave his life. We were the reason that he suffered and died.” And the words rang in my little ears and traveled downward and inward until it was pounding the drums of my heart. And I became alive. Me. I. I was the reason. And I was struck at four years old with how good and kind a Savior we have that he would suffer and die for little me. And I knew this was my Lamb of God.
If we have heard the gospel presented at any point, we have heard that we are in desperate need of the righteousness of another. Our own would not do. Unblemished. God cannot look upon imperfection. He has impossibly high standards that I, a sinful being, could never ever hope to meet. Even my best efforts are still tainted with my sin, and yet God accepts my offering of broken obedience and looks upon it as he is looking upon Jesus himself who stands in my place eternally covering me. It has been in this context that I have always exclusively understood God’s Old Testament commands for a perfect lamb to be sacrificed. This is all true.
But, I think I missed something.
What else might God have been showing us in requiring unblemished sacrifices? Only the best. The strongest. The most beautiful. The one most likely to live a long and healthy life, if not killed, is laid down. How different from the way of the world is this?
If we are ever called to sacrifice something, we would much rather sacrifice the weakest, the lamest, the most ugly thing. After all, it is not as costly as the best. The world, and indeed our own hearts, tell us that in order to maintain power, reputation, control, we must sacrifice the weak… the “dead weight.”
Life is so replete with examples of self-preservation and sacrifice of the weak for the strong that books are written and movies made about those who fight the tide, laying down their lives for those less powerful than they. Most of us have seen someone treated cruelly by a more powerful individual if we have not experienced or perpetrated it ourselves.
When the strong, pure, perfect lamb is sacrificed, which lambs are spared? When the unblemished bull is sacrificed, who experiences reprieve? Who, but the weaker, the blemished, the imperfect lambs?
For so long I saw this requirement of the Lord as one that pointed only to his perfection and holiness. It is a beautiful picture, of course, of what Jesus did on the cross on our behalf, making all other sacrifices unnecessary. We no longer needed pictures. The real thing happened. But it was not just the perfect for the imperfect. It was the strong for the weak. It was the unbroken for the broken. It was the paradoxical, unshakeable authority that is expressed in strength subdued that outlasts and outshines any temporal power or control gained or retained through the sacrifice of others.
Friends, the gospel as preached in the Old Testament is the same as the gospel preached in the New Testament and by every believer who has trusted in Jesus for salvation. But it doesn’t just save us, it is to be our model for how to live and love. Yes, Jesus is the one perfect sacrifice. But the love that made the perfect one, the strong one, become weak… become sin so that the weak could be made strong and the sin-stained to be washed whiter than snow, is the same love that can give you the strength to lay down your life, your loves, your dreams, and your plans so that those weaker than you might experience reprieve.
If you have ever had your heart crushed, your body bruised, or your life dismantled by a more powerful person, whether it was a playground bully, a boss or co-worker, a parent, or just a person you that you trusted with your vulnerabilities, you know how profoundly devastating it is to have that vulnerability used to harm you. This is the way of the world and it is all too easy to fall into. Christians are by no means exempt from this temptation or the headlong fall into it, particularly those who hold positions of power or influence.
The unblemished lamb who spares the weaker lambs, our strong and loving Savior, who steps forward as the sacrifice so that the weak and broken are spared, not only to satisfy God’s just demand for perfection, but also to satisfy his unequivocal compassion toward the weak and wounded, teaches us how we ought to live in relationship to one another.
I Peter 1
“18…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ…22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
Have you, weak and blemished one, broken and having broken others in your own strength, been spared by the strong and spotless Lamb of God? Go and do likewise.