The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
Every now and then I will have somebody tell me that the God we believe in is cruel to allow his own son to suffer in the manner that he did, and worse, to permit those who don’t accept him as their savior to perish. The reason they believe this is because they lack an understanding of their sinfulness and the consequences thereof. Today’s passage about “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” offers an opportunity to explain why this sacrifice was needed.
We are all sinners. Scripture states that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Scripture also states that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But we don’t need Scripture to tell us this, do we? We know this is fact.
Now “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). Why are the wages of sin death? Simply because you cannot offend the creator of the universe and expect to get away free. If you offend the rulers of some countries, you can get your head chopped off, so imagine offending the Lord of Creation.
So, if we deserve to die for our sins, then what hope is there? None. We can all expect to be consigned to hell, which is the spiritual state of permanent separation from God. But God, in his mercy, permitted a substitutionary sacrifice that would die in our stead. For years, this used to be a lamb we would take to the temple. But two thousand years ago, God sent his own Lamb to be the perfect sacrifice for all time. Why did he have to die? Why not just forgive? Because justice needed to be served.
I heard a story once that explains this beautifully. There were two children who were good friends. They remained close as they grew older, but then fate separated them. One became a judge; one a criminal. One day the criminal was brought before the judge for a crime he committed. The judge wanted to let him go, but justice had to be rendered. So he fined his friend a huge sum of money. But, then, because his friend couldn’t pay the fine, he paid it himself.
If we understand this, we understand everything. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).