Summary: Since Jesus is more than the Virgin Mary’s little lamb we will look to him for forgiveness and we will point others to him.
“Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb. Mary had a little lamb his fleece was white as…snow.” Did anyone have trouble finishing that nursery rhyme? Even the youngest ones here know how that rhyme goes. What you probably don’t know, however, is the history of that verse. One source said that this rhyme was written in 1830 by Sarah Hale, a classmate of Mary Sawyer who one day brought a lamb to their school in Sterling, Massachusetts. Another source said that this rhyme was developed in England as a way to teach children about Jesus, the Virgin Mary’s little lamb. That isn’t a bad way to think of Jesus, as long as we remember that he is more than Mary’s little lamb for he is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
It was John the Baptist who first called Jesus the Lamb of God (although Isaiah had prophesied 700 years earlier that Jesus would be led like a lamb to the slaughter). I don’t suppose most people would consider it a compliment to be called a lamb. Lambs are weak and they aren’t very smart. John’s intent, of course, was not to insult Jesus for he went on to say about him: “This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’” (John 1:30). Although John was six months older than Jesus he said that Jesus existed before him. This could only be if Jesus was more than Mary’s little lamb. Jesus could have existed before John only if he was an angel, or God! John didn’t have to guess Jesus’ identity. It was revealed to him at Jesus’ baptism. John testified: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34).
No Jesus is not just the son of Mary; he is the Son of God! Why didn’t John just say then, “Behold the Son of God…”? Why did he call Jesus the Lamb of God? John called Jesus the Lamb because it was descriptive of what he had come to do – take away the sin of the world. During Old Testament times God had commanded his people to sacrifice lambs (among other animals) for their sins. God did this to teach his people that he does not deal with sin lightly. The punishment for sin is death. Accordingly the lambs offered for the sins of the people were butchered and burned, not just penned up. In the same way Jesus came to give up his life to pay for our sins, not just spend a few years away from the glories of heaven. He had to do this because the lambs sacrificed during Old Testament times couldn’t really pay for the sins of the people. Animal sacrifices were only I.O.U. notes that put off paying the real debt of sin because human sin can only be paid for with human blood. That’s why God’s Son became Mary’s son so that he had the right currency, human flesh and blood, to pay for our sins.
There are other similarities between Jesus and the lambs sacrificed during Old Testament times. The lambs offered to God were to be without any physical defects because God wanted his people to know that he would only accept a perfect sacrifice for sin. Jesus was that kind of lamb. His fleece was as white as snow as his life wasn’t even smudged by one sin. Like quality wool that’s worth knitting into mittens to protect from the cold, Jesus’ perfect life covers our sins and protects us from God’s wrath.
Since Jesus came to do all this for us, it’s no wonder John was excited to see him. Like a person seeing mountains for the first time John exclaimed, “Look!” Do we get that excited about Jesus? Do we shout, “Look!” so that others take notice of Jesus, or have we become too familiar with him, like the person who gets so familiar with the wonderful view of the mountains outside his kitchen window that he doesn’t even look up when a first-time visitor exclaims, “Look at the view!”
We won’t take Jesus for granted when we keep reminding ourselves what it is he did for us. We’ll be like the carpenter who carved a sheep out of wood and attached it to a cathedral steeple. He did this because he didn’t want to forget what a sheep had done for him. You see one day while that carpenter was working on that steeple he slipped and fell. He should have been killed but he walked away without a scratch. Why? Because when he fell, a flock of sheep happened to be passing by underneath. Instead of landing on the ground, the carpenter landed on one of the sheep and it broke his fall. That sheep, however, was crushed to death. Thankful that the sheep had given its life for his, the carpenter wanted to leave a lasting memorial. That’s why he carved a sheep out of wood and attached it to the steeple. It was the carpenter’s way of saying to the world, “Look at the sheep that saved me!” (Story found in sermon by Pastor Ed Frey.)