Behold the Lamb of God

Behold the Lamb of God

I was doing just
fine until I saw those tears in the eyes of those
young people in this choir. And those tears are a
more eloquent sermon than I could ever give. Looking up from water’s edge,
past the eager crowds seeking baptism at his hand,
John, called the Baptist, saw in the distance his
cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, striding resolutely toward
him to make a request for that ordinance at his hand. Reverently, but audible enough
for those nearby to hear, John uttered the admiration
that still moves us two millennia later:
“Behold the Lamb of God.” It’s instructive that this
long-prophesied forerunner to Jesus did not call
Him “Jehovah” or “Savior” or even “the Son of God”–all
of which were applicable titles. No, John chose the earliest
and perhaps most commonly recognized image in
the religious tradition of his people. He used the figure of a
sacrificial lamb offered in atonement for the sins
and sorrows of a fallen world and all the fallen people in it. Please indulge me in recalling
just a little of that history. After expulsion from
the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve faced a
devastating future. Having opened the door to
mortality and temporal life for us, they had closed the
door to immortality and eternal lives for themselves. Due to a trasngression
they had consciously chosen to make in
our behalf, they now faced physical death and
spiritual banishment, separation from the
presence of God forever. What were they to do? Would there be a way
out of this plight? We’re not certain just how
much these two were allowed to remember of the instruction
they received while still in the garden, but
they did remember they were to regularly offer
for a sacrifice unto God a pure, unblemished lamb, the
first male born of their flock. Later an angel came to explain
that this sacrifice was a type–it was a prefiguration
of the offering that would be made in their behalf by the
Savior of the world who was to come. “This thing is a
similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the
Father,” the angel said. “Wherefore, … thou shalt
repent and call upon God in the name of the
Son forevermore.” Fortunately, there was going
to be a way out and a way up. In the premortal
councils of heaven, God had promised Adam and
Eve (and all the rest of us) that help would
come from His pure, unblemished Firstborn
Son, the Lamb of God “slain from the
foundation of the world,” as the Apostle John
would later describe Him. By offering their own little
symbolic lambs in mortality, Adam and his posterity were
expressing their understanding of and dependence upon the
atoning sacrifice of Jesus the Anointed One. Later, the wilderness tabernacle
would become the setting for this ordinance and,
after that, the temple that Solomon would build. Unfortunately, as a symbol of
genuine repentance and faithful living, this ritualistic
offering of unblemished lambs didn’t work very
well, as so much of the Old Testament reveals. The moral resolve that
should have accompanied those sacrifices sometimes
didn’t last long enough for the blood to
dry upon the stones. In any case, it didn’t last long
enough to preclude fratricide, with Cain killing his brother
Abel in the first generation. With such trials and troubles
going on for centuries, no wonder the angels of heaven
sang for joy when, finally, Jesus was born–the
long-promised Messiah Himself. Then following His
brief mortal ministry, this purest of
all Passover sheep prepared His disciples
for His death by introducing the sacrament
of the Lord’s Supper, a more personal form of the ordinance
that had been introduced outside of Eden. There would still
be an offering, it would still
involve a sacrifice, but it would be with symbolism
much deeper, much more introspective and personal than
the bloodletting of a firstborn lamb. To the Nephites, after
His Resurrection, the Savior said of this: “Ye shall offer up unto me no
more the shedding of blood. … “… Ye shall offer for
a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and
a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto
me with a broken heart and a contrite
spirit, him will I baptize with fire and
with the Holy Ghost. … “… Therefore repent,
… and be saved.” My beloved brothers and sisters,
with the exciting new emphasis on increased gospel learning in
the home, it is crucial for us to remember that we
are still commanded to “go to the house of
prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” In addition to making time
for more home-centered gospel instruction, our
modified Sunday service is also to reduce the complexity
of the meeting schedule in a way that
properly emphasizes the sacrament of
the Lord’s Supper as the sacred,
acknowledged focal point of our weekly
worship experience. We are to remember in as
personal a way as possible that Christ died from a heart
broken by shouldering entirely alone the sins and sorrows
of the human family. Inasmuch as we contributed
to that fatal burden, such a moment
demands our respect. Thus, we are encouraged to
come to our services early and reverently, dressed
appropriately for participation in a sacred ordinance–the
sacred ordinance. “Sunday best” has lost a little
of its meaning in our time, and out of esteem for Him
into whose presence we come, we ought to restore that
tradition of dress and grooming when and where we can. As for punctuality, a
late pass will always be lovingly granted to
those blessed mothers who, with children and Cheerios
and diaper bags trailing in marvelous disarray,
are lucky to have made it to church at all. Furthermore, there
will be others who unavoidably find their ox
in the mire on a Sunday morning. However, to this
latter group we say an occasional tardiness
is understandable, but if the ox is in
the mire every Sunday, then we strongly recommend
that you sell the ox or fill the mire. In that same spirit, we
make an apostolic plea for the reduction of clamor in
the sanctuary of our buildings. We love to visit with
each other–we are great visitors–and we should be–it
is one of the joys of church attendance–but it ought not
be pursued so vocally in space specifically
dedicated for worship. I fear visitors not
of our faith are shocked by what can
sometimes be noisy irreverence in a
setting that is supposed to be characterized by prayer,
revelation, hymns, and peace. Perhaps heaven is a
little shocked as well. It will add to the spirit
of our sacrament meetings if the presiding
officers are on the stand well before it is to begin,
listening to the prelude music and reverently setting
the example the rest of us ought to follow. If there is chatter
on the stand, we should not be
surprised at any chatter in the congregation. We congratulate
those bishoprics who are eliminating
announcements that detract from the spirit of our worship. I, for one, cannot imagine a
priest such as Zacharias–there in the ancient
temple of the Lord, about to participate in the
one and only priestly privilege that would come to him in his
entire lifetime–I just cannot picture him pausing before
the altar to remind us that the pinewood derby is just six
weeks away and registration will soon be due. Brothers and sisters, this
hour ordained of the Lord is the most sacred
hour of our week. By commandment, we gather for
the most universally received ordinance in the Church. It is in memory of Him
who asked if the cup He was about to drink
could pass, only to soldier on because He
knew that for our sake it could not pass. It will help us if we remember
that a symbol of that cup is slowly making its way
down the row toward us at the hand of an
11- or 12-year-old. When the sacred hour comes to
present our sacrificial gift to the Lord, we do have our
own sins and shortcomings to resolve. That’s why we’re there. But we might be more
successful in such contrition if we are mindful of the other
broken hearts and sorrowing spirits that surround us. Seated not far away in any
direction are some who may have wept–outwardly or
inwardly–through the entire sacramental hymn and the
prayers of those priests. Might we silently take note of
that and offer our little crust of comfort and our tiny cup of
compassion–might we dedicate it to them–or for the weeping,
struggling member who is not in the service and, except for
some redemptive ministering on our part, won’t be
there next week either? Or for our brothers
and sisters who are not members of
the Church at all, but are our brothers
and sisters? There is no shortage of
suffering in this world, inside the Church and out,
so look in any direction and you will find someone
whose pain is seeming too heavy to bear and
whose heartache seems never apparently to end. One way to “always
remember him” would be to join the Great Physician
in His never-ending task of lifting the load from
those who are burdened and relieving the pain of
those who are distraught. Beloved friends, as we unite
across the globe each week in what is an increasingly
sacred acknowledgment of Christ’s majestic atoning
gift to all humankind, may we bring to the
sacramental altar “more tears for his sorrow
[and] more pain at his grief.” Then, as we reflect,
pray, and covenant anew, may we take from that
sacred moment “more patience in suff’ring, … more praise for relief.” For such patience and relief,
for such holiness and hope, I pray for all of you
in the name of Him who broke the precious
bread of forgiveness and poured the holy
wine of redemption, even Jesus Christ, the great and
merciful and holy Lamb of God, amen.

2 Replies to “Behold the Lamb of God”

  1. I know that this man stands as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. His words heal because they are not his, but the Lord's. I am grateful that men and women like him to teach and instruct us in our lives and to help us progress towards our Heavenly Father.

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