The more I study my bible the more I understand how essential it is to learn about context. When I simply read over a passage, think about it and move on, I don't find much significance or depth to the passage. What I often fail to do is think about who the author and recipients were and what their world was like when the text was written. I usually learn that Jewish culture plays a huge role in understanding what is presented and also that I usually need to refer to some part of the Old Testament to really understand the big picture.
Case in point--what is really meant when Jesus is described as the Lamb of God? Just off the top of my head I think about him being a blameless, perfect sacrifice. I think about the huge role sacrifice played in Old Testament times where there were very specific procedures and requirements for sacrifices. I think about the blood of calves and goats being sprinkled on books and clothing in the temple. But what I fail to think about is the value of the sacrifice--be it an actual lamb before Christ or more importantly, the value of Christ as a sacrifice for my sins.
What really got me thinking about this was the book I am currently reading, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I don't want to lead you to think this is a book on Christianity because it most certainly is not. But in telling the story of an American mountaineer's quest to build schools in Pakistan, the author shares a story when a regional nurmadhar (chief) tries to stop the "American infidel" from educating local girls. He and his henchman visit the village where construction is currently underway and demands 12 of their largest rams if they wish for construction to continue and for no one to be hurt. Without batting an eye Haji Ali, the local nurmadhar, sends the village children to retrieve the rams. After handing the rams over, he leads his people back to the village and joyfully says that while the other chief may have food for a time, his people will have education forever. He didn't question his decision and fully understood that the sacrifice of those rams was more than worth it.
The picture depicted in the book was beautiful and made me think so much more about the sacrifice that was given up for me. In my book, Greg, the American mountaineer, described the rams as the most cherished and valuable posession of each family in the village. They were treated like firstborn children and it was devastating to willingly sacrifice these rams for the betterment of their community. After reading this chapter though, my eyes were opened in a whole new way to the value and importance of a sacrificial lamb. Rams must have been treated and thought of in a similar fashion in Jewish culture. The people were looking for something that could be given to God to cover their sins--they needed as perfect a sacrifice as they could find. Rams (and other animals) were sacrificed on an annual basis to act as an atonement for the sins of the people (for more info on Old Testament sacrifices, read Leviticus). These sacrifices could never complete the job though and that's where our Lamb of God comes into the picture.
Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1:29) because he was the perfect sacrifice for my sins. He completely satisfied God's wrath. Forever. Death and sin have been conquered. Knowing this, and having come to understand more about the value of a perfect sacrifice, I want to think of Jesus more like those Pakistani children thought of their rams. Do I cherish Him? Do I value Him and lavish attention and care on my relationship with Him? I want to place more value on my relationship with Jesus knowing that He was willingly sacrificed so that I might have life. I also yearn to know the depth of His sacrifice because He is the one, perfect sacrifice for all time.