Agnus Dei

Today is Good Friday, the Passion of the Lord. The day that he bore his cross, and our sins, along the route to Golgotha. The path that Jesus walked to Golgotha was one that had been prepared long before. It was planned for before even Creation itself, but found its necessity in the transgressions of our ancestors:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
    cursed are you above all cattle,
    and above all wild animals;
upon your belly you shall go,
    and dust you shall eat
    all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”

20 The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

(Genesis 3)

The Fall doomed mankind to death, and with death came a dreadful isolation from God. This makes perfect sense, as sin is rebellion from God, a deliberate effort on our part to separate ourselves from our Creator. It is only natural that this rebellion, this separation from God, should carry on beyond our mortal lives. As the Old Testament makes clear many times, sacrifice is required to atone for sins. And only a great, and terrible, sacrifice could suffice to atone for mankind’s rebellion.

After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori′ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

(Genesis 22:1-8)

That sacrifice was not asked of Abraham. It could have been. God had every right to demand whatever He wanted from Abraham. But God did not ask of him to sacrifice his only son. No, it would be God who would provide the necessary sacrifice to pay for the sins of mankind.

Who has believed what we have heard?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejectedby men;
    a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
    and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him;
    he has put him to grief;
when he makes himself an offering for sin,
    he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand;
11     he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous;
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out his soul to death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

(Isaiah 53)

God himself would provide the sacrificial lamb. But what He wouldn’t not ask of Abraham He would instead bear upon Himself. For it would be His only son who would be sacrificed for the sake of us all.

12 “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
13 He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
15 the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
16 We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
17 Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
18 for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
19 Let us test him with insult and torture,
that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

(Wisdom 2:12-20)

The Jews did not understand this. They imagined the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed One, would be a king like David, a mighty warrior and leader who would defeat their foes and set them free. But a king like David would not be enough. David was a mighty man, yes, a fearsome warrior who devoted himself to the service of the Lord. But the enemy that needed to be defeated was no ordinary foe. It was not the Romans from whom they needed to be freed. Rather, it was sin which held them captive, and Death was the price of that captivity. No mere mortal could hope to best Death, much less free mankind from Death’s eternal grasp. Someone greater was required.

29 The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

(John 1:29-34)

That Someone was the Son of God, who would wage war against sin and death and emerge victorious. But victory could only be achieved at the cost of His own life, on the cross:

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly.

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barab′bas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barab′bas or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barab′bas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barab′bas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified.” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified.”

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barab′bas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, 29 and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him.

32 As they were marching out, they came upon a man of Cyre′ne, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Gol′gotha (which means the place of a skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots; 36 then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “This man is calling Eli′jah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Eli′jah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

(Matthew 27:11-50)

We did not deserve this sacrifice. We still don’t. We never will. Yet God made it anyway. Why?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

(John 3:16)

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3 Comments

Filed under Christianity, God, Sin

3 responses to “Agnus Dei

  1. mdavid

    Neat discussion of Abram and the ram in the thicket.

    The Gospel of John has many details the other gospels don’t have; one, that Jesus carried his own cross in addition to having help (relating to Issac carrying the wood for the sacrifice), and then the crown of thorns uses the same word as “thicket” from in Genesis (the ram’s head caught in the thicket, and the thicket that Adam was cursed with, and Jesus bore our sins i.e. Adam’s thicket). And of course the two men who helped prepare the sacrifice relates two thieves on either side of Jesus.

    Thanks for the post. Hit the spot today.

  2. @ mdavid

    I was stuck between John’s account of the Passion and Matthew’s. I went with the latter because John is the traditional reading for today and I wanted to mix it up. Also, Matthew resonates a little better with the account of the righteous man from Wisdom, in that the crowd says that if Jesus was truly the Son of God that God would deliver him from death.

  3. Pingback: Woman, Why Are You Weeping? | Donal Graeme

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