“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
This acclamation has been ringing in my ears, rising from my lips, filling my thoughts for the past few weeks. Now we are into Christmas and meditations on the Incarnation seem more fitting than those on Atonement, but the Spirit moves as it will. Advent 2017 was for me a “little Lent,” more than I have known before – a time of repentance, reflection, and longing for a Savior.
I have been thinking about what it means to “take away the sin of the world.” Why does John the Baptist say “take away” instead of “forgive” or “pardon?” Those are words which I heard more frequently in church growing up. Teachings on personal justification, the cross, and Christ’s sacrifice were plentiful, but I don’t recall hearing a sermon on this particular verse from John.
Before proceeding, I must warn the reader that I am no theologian. What is written here is not meant as doctrine or a lesson in biblical languages. I have never studied Hebrew or Greek. Even so, I know the Holy Spirit delights in our contemplation of Scripture. It is the Spirit’s work to grant wisdom and revelation. I feel the Lord’s pleasure when I open Blue Letter Bible and begin poking around, asking questions, so I am bold to record these thoughts for further contemplation.
The Greek word for “take away” used in John 1:29 is “airo” which means “to lift up” or “to lift and carry away.” It is very similar to the Hebrew word “nasa” which also means “to bear” or “to carry.” John the Baptist, of course, knew the Hebrew word “nasa.” So did John the Evangelist who recorded, in Greek, this profession of Jesus’ identity. Here is why that word “nasa” is so important.
In Exodus 34, when YHWH reveals the Name to Moses, He says:
"YHWH, YHWH God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
The word translated “forgiving” in the Name of God is “nasa.” A more literal translation might be “YHWH… who bears away iniquity and transgression and sin.” When John the Baptist cries out “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” he ties Jesus to the name of YWHW in the ears of his Jewish audience. Jesus emphasizes this connection to YHWH’s name when He prays to His Father in John 17. “I have manifested Your Name.” This was Jesus’ work on earth – to reveal the Father. It has always been the nature of the Father to carry our sins.
Is there a difference between “forgiving” and “taking away?”
I know that God forgives sin, and I am beyond thankful that He does! I desperately need forgiveness. I would die under the weight of guilt and shame without His mercy. I long to be cleansed, changed and made pure. I love Jesus for His sacrifice, for His personal promises.
But as I mature, I realize I need much more than personal forgiveness. My sin hurts other people and personal justification does not heal the hearts of those I have wounded. This world will never be right unless there is a Savior who can take away our sin, who can make all things new and set all things right. I long for a Savior who will not only forgive me, but who can redeem the wrongs I cannot undo. Who will judge on behalf of the oppressed and lift the needy from the ash heap. Whose salvation is so mighty, so complete that slaves stolen from Africa will bless His Name and rejoice forever in His justice. A Savior so glorious that those lost in war, even in genocide, will count their sufferings as “momentary afflictions” in light of their joy and consolation. This world needs a Savior who can carry away the consequences of Adam and Eve’s primal sin – the sin which opened the door of death, sickness, and pain of all kinds.
In the in law of Moses, YHWH instructs Israel to observe a Day of Atonement once a year. On this day of fasting and rest, three sacrifices are made. A bull is sacrificed for the high priest’s personal sin and the sin of his family. Then a goat is sacrificed for the sin of Israel. One goat for a whole people. Rather amazing. Regarding the blood sacrifice, the Lord says, “The life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood which makes atonement for one’s life.” This is the way I have grown up understanding the sacrifice of Jesus. His blood makes atonement for my sin. Thanks be to God!
But there is another sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement - the scapegoat. In this sacrifice a live goat is brought to the high priest who lays both hands on the animal’s head and confesses all the sins of Israel. Verbal confession of sin is not necessary for the blood sacrifice, but it is required over the scapegoat which then carries Israel’s sin away. Lev. 16:22 “The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” And yes, the word “bear” is “nasa.” And the wilderness is where John the Baptist finds Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Jesus, I love you for taking away the sin of the world! I long for You to return and make all things new. Merciful Father, YHWH , bearer of our sins, I believe You are true to Your word. There is a day coming when “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Even so, Jesus, Lamb of God, come quickly!