The history of the world converges at this one point in time. St. John wrote it in the beginning of his Gospel as John the Baptist said it. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” There, on the banks of the Jordan River, the Prophet points to the Son of God in the flesh and points Him out as the propitiation for the sins of the world. His blood will cover a multitude of sins—the sins of the whole world.
This history has it’s beginnings in the beginning, even as the Evangelist first wrote: “In the beginning...” There, in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. He created light and separated it from the darkness. He populated the earth with plants and animals. He created man out of the dust of the earth and placed Him on the very same rock from which he was made. He fashioned woman from the man’s rib and placed her next to her husband, a helper suitable to him, as there was none other to be found among all of the other creatures of God.
And it was one of those creatures that was found to be the craftiest of all that God had made—the serpent. Satan used this serpent to trick Adam and the woman, and by his cunning, they doubted what God had really said, even though the man had heard it directly from the lips of God. They saw each other differently. No longer was their nakedness something for which they need not be ashamed, but it now revealed one to be evil to the other. God’s curse confirmed this, and life was never the same again for the two of them and their progeny; death had entered the picture. It is begun!
They also saw God as evil. After all, they did hide themselves from Him, as if that were even possible, because they were naked and afraid. Their physical appearance didn’t bother them, but they feared what God would do when He would look upon them and see their wickedness.
There’s a saying uttered by those who deny any sort of moral authority: “Only God can judge me.” If they really believed that, they should be sorely afraid, like Adam and the woman. While you have little authority to judge your fellow man by any standard that is your own, God has the ultimate and final judgment on all mankind, and it isn’t pretty or even bearable.
For instance, as His own people were being led out of Egypt to their own land, they rejected the moral authority of God. They cried out against Him, blaming Him for all of their troubles, grumbling that He had brought them out of Egypt and into the wilderness to die, and even rejected the bread from heaven—the manna sent from God—as worthless. In God’s infinite judgment, He sent fiery serpents into the camp; many people were bitten and died. That crafty creature was used against the people as an agent of God’s wrath; it wasn’t pretty, nor could the people bear it.
They cried to Moses to plead with God to bring an end to the serpents. The serpents had laid bare the sins of the people, and they confessed their sins against God and Moses. God heard their cries for mercy and instructed Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Numbers 21:8) Moses did as he was instructed. When someone from the People of Israel was bitten, he would look upon the bronze serpent and live. The agent of death was placed on a pole, and when the strike of death came upon a person, he could look at this representation and live.
Jesus pointed this out when He met with Nicodemus at night. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up...” (John 3:14) This evening, you have heard of the Son of Man’s being lifted up. You have heard of His trial, His conviction, His sentence. You have heard of His being beaten and scourged, being crowned with thorns, being pierced with nails, and finally being driven through with a spear.
This is the wrath of God for the sins of the world! For there on the cross is the fullest measure of God’s wrath being exacted against the fullest measure of the sin of man. Into His own flesh did Jesus assume every sin and all sinfulness. Behold the Lamb of God! Look at Him, if you dare, for there is no greater sinner than the Man hanging on the cross. It’s a gruesome sight, more than a mere snakebite.
There is no greater proclamation of the Law than Jesus Christ crucified. Behold the Lamb of God! Look at Him, seeing Him hanging on the tree of the cross. You should be there. There’s no sense in denying it. You are the sinner, and He is the innocent Man, yet He dies, and you live.
Yes, you are snake-bitten with sin. You are inclined to evil like your father, Adam. Naturally, in this fallen state, you see everyone else as evil and your God—your Creator and Father in heaven—as wicked. You should fear Him, as only He can judge you. But there is an antidote to this snake-bite: the Son of Man being lifted up.
And so, the greatest proclamation of the Law becomes for you the Gospel. Do not think that you crucified Jesus; though your sins are the cause for Him being on the cross, He still chose to die for you. He chose to take upon Himself your sin and the punishment you deserve so that you would not have to. There, on the cross, He carries the full weight of your sin, and that of your neighbor. He suffers the full wrath of God in your stead, so that you may look upon Him and live. You live for His sake because the full wrath of God was exercised against His Son, and there is none left for you.
That is, of course, unless you deign remain in your trespasses and sins. For, if you deny the moral authority of the Father, then you also deny the grace and mercy that is the Son and His all-atoning sacrifice. The Law declares you a sinner; the Gospel declares you forgiven for the sake of Christ.
Behold Him, look on Him and live.
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness
So Jesus, the Son of Man is lifted up,
so that all who look on Him will live.
He is the antiserum of death,
He has taken the sting of death into Himself
He has absorbed the killing power of sin—the Law.
Behold the Lamb. (Anonymous)
“Behold the Man,” Pilate said. “Behold the Lamb,” said John. They are one and the same. The Man who is the Lamb who is your sin, your propitiation, your death, your life, your atonement. He breathed His last, giving His life as your ransom, and the sting of the snake-bite of death is removed from you. And He died.