Years ago, I sent out some "catechesis emails" to interested friends and family. They, like me, never really learned much in Catholic religious education and CCD classes (I was catechized in the 1970s and '80s). What I wrote was pretty basic stuff, and I thought some of the Bubble readers might like the overview.
Okay, let's get cracking with the next installment!
In the Gospels, we read some explosive words spoken by Jesus’ cousin, St. John the Baptist. John had been baptizing people in the Jordan River, preparing them for the Messiah (Jesus) who was to come:
The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” -- John 1:29
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said: "Behold, the Lamb of God!" -- John 1:35-36
Why is this title so important, shocking, explosive? Because calling Jesus the "Lamb of God" implies that Jesus was to be sacrificed. John the Baptist was actually making a prophesy that Jesus would die as a sacrificial offering. Lambs were routinely sacrificed by the Jews in the worship of God, as you'll recall from the last installment, and that fact is of great significance to Christians.
"As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New" (CCC* 129). When something in the Old Testament foreshadows, or points to, something in the New Testament, we call that a prefigurement or a type. Typology (studying the prefigurements in the Bible) is the most exciting way to look at Scripture. I could give you a zillion examples, but today I want to show you some prefigurements of Christ as the Lamb of God.
Let’s look back a couple thousand years before Christ, to the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis, chapter 22).
Abraham and his wife Sarah were a very elderly couple who were finally blessed with a son, Isaac, whom they adored as you can imagine. One day, when Isaac was a boy, God tested Abraham’s faith. He asked Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and offer him (yep, his son!) as a sacrifice.
So, Abraham took his son (who had no idea that he was to be sacrificed -- yikes!) and went up the mountain. Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice upon his back. Isaac was puzzled and asked his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb.” When they arrived, Abraham built an altar, placed the wood in order, tied up Isaac and laid him upon the wood, then lifted his knife to slay his son. At that moment, an angel of God called to him from heaven and told him, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Just then, Abraham saw a ram in the distance that was caught in the thickets by its horns, and he offered the ram as a sacrifice instead of his son. After this, God made His profound covenant with Abraham.
Of course, there are oodles of things to analyze and discover in this passage, on many levels. But let’s see how it prefigures Jesus, as the Lamb of God:
In the Old Testament story, Abraham is to sacrifice his beloved son on Mount Moriah.
In the New Testament fulfillment, God’s beloved Son (Jesus), is sacrificed on the hills of the same mountain range as Mount Moriah (Jerusalem).
In the Old Testament story, Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice on his back.
In the New Testament fulfillment, Jesus carried the wood for His own sacrifice on His back.
In the Old Testament story, Abraham said that “God will provide the sacrifice.”
In the New Testament fulfillment, God did provide the real and perfect Sacrifice – Jesus.
In the Old Testament story, Abraham did not withhold his only beloved son from God.
In the New Testament fulfillment, it is God Who did not withhold His only beloved Son from us.
As we see from the story, God would never require us to sacrifice our own children as an offering to Him.** He tested Abraham to see if Abraham would put anything, even his dearly beloved son, before his love of God. When Abraham's actions proved that he loved God above all else, God blessed Abraham and all of his descendants (that’s us, by the way!).
When God and Abraham had this exchange, God already knew that one day, far in the future, He would provide His Son as the Sacrifice -- a willing Victim Who, for love of poor sinners, would take on our sins and save us. When we understand Jesus as the "Lamb of God", we can read this Old Testament passage with new eyes.
This story of Abraham and Isaac was really about Jesus Christ all along.
Next time, I’ll give you another powerful prefigurement of Jesus as the Lamb of God. And it ties into the Mass and the Eucharist as well. Go here for Part VI.
*Catechism of the Catholic Church
**This episode certainly showed to Abraham and all his descendants that child sacrifice was never to be part of the worship of God; this was one of the many ethical truths that separated the Jews from the pagans.