Advent on The Blog: The Christmas Lamb
“Christmas Begins with Why”
Start with Why is the title of popular business book, and a key success strategy.
When most people think of the Christmas Story, they often focus on the “how”—Jesus came as a baby, and the different “who” people—shepherds, Wise Men, an Innkeeper, Mary, Joseph and others, but we often forget the most important part of the Christmas Story—whyJesus came.
In the story “Christmas Lamb”, from the book Christmas Hearts, written by Fit & Flourish president and co-founder Dr. Tim Roehl, we listen in to the conversation of a shepherd father and his apprentice shepherd son. We find how important it is to focus on whyJesus came to earth in their words.
Read the story…come to the manger…kneel to your Savior…and remember why He came.
Merry Christmas from our team to yours!
“Why, Father? Why are they hurting that Man?” The tear-filled eyes looking up at him and the pleading tone of his little boy’s voice shook him back to attention. Father and son had been standing transfixed in stunned horror at the sight of three men hanging on rough blood-soaked crosses. It was the Man on the middle Cross that captured their attention. Some around them were openly sobbing, gasping through their tears that He had done nothing wrong. An innocent man was dying in front of them. His little boy’s confused question brought to his memory a question Judah had asked his own father decades earlier…
He shivered against the chill of a clear December night. Snuggling closer to his father, they stood overlooking the valley below. The stars sparkled with an unusual brilliance against the darkness of the night sky. For a boy Judah’s age, it was an honor just to be out in the fields shepherding the flock at night, so he didn’t want his father to know he was cold. Nevertheless, the warm woolen cloak his mother wove for him could not keep the night chill from nipping at Judah’s nose, fingers and toes.
He shivered again. His father Isaac looked down at him with a knowing twinkle in his eye. “It is cold out here, isn’t it, son,” he said quietly. “Do you want to go back with the others as they rest and get under a warm blanket? I can join you when my watch is up.”
“No, father, I want to stay with you!” Judah had waited many months for the grown up privilege of standing night watch. Giving in to the cold now would remind him that he was still a boy when he wanted so much to be recognized as a young man. “Besides, I want to be out here with Mitzar, too”.
His father looked at him fondly for a moment. “All right, Judah ben Issac, my son so eager to be grown up, I will allow you to stay here with me. But as for that lamb you have named “Little One”, you’ll have to let him sleep by his mother. You best not get too attached to him, because he will not be sleeping out here in the fields with his mother too much longer.”
Judah knew the answer before the words came out of his mouth, but he asked the question anyway. “Why, Father? Why?”
It was one of those moments that come between a father and son...a teachable moment that can influence a son’s heart for a lifetime. Isaac was quiet for a moment, praying for the Lord to give him a simple yet wise answer to his son’s request. What his son needed to know went far beyond the fate of one little lamb. His son’s understanding of his own destiny could be affected by how he answered Judah’s question.
“Judah....there is a simple answer to your question, but many things you need to understand go beyond my simple answer. The flock of sheep we watch over tonight is a very special flock. Here in the fields outside of Bethlehem, we are only a few miles from the temple in Jerusalem. These sheep are destined to go to the temple to be offered as sacrifices. Mitzar and all the other lambs are nearing the age when they must go to the temple.”
“...And at the temple they will sacrifice Mitzar?” Judah’s small voice broke with the sorrow he felt at the thought of his Mitzar dying. “But why, Father? Mitzar is just a little lamb. He is innocent. He has never done anything that would deserve such a fate.”
Isaac’s eyes grew moist as he saw the internal struggle going on in his son. “Yes, Judah, Mitzar will die at the temple. Yes, he is an innocent lamb, but that is why Mitzar must die. The priests will take a knife, sacrifice him on the altar of the Lord, and his blood will pour out as a payment for our sins. It is the only way we can have God’s forgiveness.”
“But Father....such a terrible price to pay for one so innocent. Isn’t there another way?”
“I wish there could be, my son. From the very beginning of time, God created all creatures and told us that “the life is in the blood”. The blood represents the life of the creature. It was never God’s desire for blood to be spilled out this way.”
“What happened, Father? Why is it that one as innocent as Mitzar would have to have his blood poured out? Why would he have to die?”
“Something terrible happened, Judah. Something so horrible that it separated us from the God who made us and loves us. Something so awful it required the awful price of countless lambs like Mitzar dying upon the altar of the Lord. That terrible thing happened when our first father and mother chose to reject God’s good plan for their lives and rebel against his rightful place as Lord of their hearts. Sin came....and with it came death. Sin now infects every person like a deadly disease.”
“Is that what happened when Grandmother became sick last year before she died?” Judah’s lip trembled as he thought about the lingering, anguishing death that had drained the life from his beloved grandmother just months ago.
Pain haunted the back of Isaac’s eyes as he too remembered the trauma of losing his own mother. He swallowed the lump in his throat before he could speak again, and his voice became hoarse with the strain. “When sin came into our world, my son, all of creation came under a curse. With that curse comes diseases like the one that took your grandmother from us. With that curse of sin comes all the evil that overflows out of men and women’s hearts...hatred, jealousy, bitterness, greed, anger, prejudice, selfishness, impurity...and many more sins I cannot mention to one as young as you are. With that curse of sin comes physical death....and also spiritual death. Sin separates us from our holy God. It is a monstrous affront to His love. We have all sinned, Judah....we’ve all like sheep gone astray and gone our own way. By our own choices we have been cut off from knowing the God who loves us....and if we die in our sins, we will have chosen to be separated from Him forever. It is because God loves us so much…because sin is so terrible that God has made a way for us to be forgiven and come close to Him again.”
“What is that way, Father?” Judah’s eyes were large as he looked up at his father’s strong face.
“In order for the sins of the guilty to be forgiven, one who is innocent must die in their place. The lifeblood of the guilty is tainted by their sin, so the lifeblood of one who is innocent washes away the sins of the guilty. That is why every day, morning and evening, an innocent lamb like Mitzar is sacrificed at the temple. It has been happening for hundreds of years, my son, and will continue until....”
“Until what, Father? Will there come a day when lambs like Mitzar will not have to be sacrificed for my sins and others?”
“Yes, there will be a day like that, Judah.” It is a day we all have waited and longed for....a day when the cruel tyrant of sin is defeated forever. The prophet Isaiah heard the word of the Lord nearly 700 years ago, and he wrote...
“But, oh how few believe it! Who will listen? To whom will God reveal His saving power? In God’s eyes He was like a tender shoot, like a little lambkin, growing up in a world dry and barren. In our eyes, there was no attractiveness in Him at all...nothing to make us want Him. We despised and rejected Him...
a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned out backs
on Him and looked the other way as He went by. He was despised…
and we didn’t care.
Yet...it was our grief He bore...our sorrows that weighed Him down.
And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God,
for His own sins!
But He was wounded and bruised for our sins. He was
chastised that we might have peace...
by the stripes He bore, we are healed and made whole!
We are the ones who strayed away like sheep. We, who left
God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet...God laid on Him the guilt and sins of every one of us.”
Isaac looked out across the valley toward Jerusalem as though he was looking across centuries. “God Himself will provide a Lamb for the sins of all people. No matter how bad our sins may have been, God’s Lamb, the Messiah will become a perfect sacrifice for our forgiveness.” He paused for a moment, thinking. Looking down at Judah again, he said, “Do you remember the story when our people left the land of Egypt?”
Judah nodded. The story of God’s mighty deliverance from Egypt was familiar to every boy in Israel. It was one of the most important stories in their people’s faith history.
“The night before God set His people free from the hand of Pharaoh, He sent the death angel in judgment across the land. He told his people to take a spotless lamb, sacrifice it and wipe its blood over the door of their homes. When the death angel saw the blood, he passed over that home. All inside were safe from death. Wherever the angel did not see the blood, the judgment of death for sin came to the firstborn of that home. That is why we still celebrate the Passover now. It was the blood of innocent lambs that saved our people then. It is the blood of countless innocent lambs that stands between our sins and God’s judgment now. And....when God sends His Lamb, His blood will cover and wash away all the sins of those who will come to Him in faith. Without the blood, we have no hope.”
Judah’s mind quietly soaked in his father’s words for a moment. “Is it really that bad, Father? Are people really so bad? Aren’t there some sins that don’t need God’s forgiveness? Can’t we just try hard to be better so God can accept us?”
Now Isaac knew he was getting to the heart of what his son needed to know. If Judah missed this all-important lesson, he would believe a lie that would cripple him spiritually. “Son, do you remember the night we put the sheep in the fenced pen, and in the morning we found that they had all gotten out? There was just one break in the fence, but it was enough for all the sheep to go astray. Sin is like that...it only takes one sin to stain our hearts and separate us before God...to lead us astray from Him. All sin is like this...whether we commit many or few, because all sin is choosing to go our own way instead of God’s way. Yet, God in His mercy chooses to forgive all our sins because of the blood of the lamb when we humbly ask Him. There is only one sin that God cannot forgive, however...”
“What would that be, Father?”
“The only sin God cannot forgive is the worst of them all. It is the sin of thinking we are so good in ourselves that we do not need God’s forgiveness. When we do that we lie to ourselves. We try to make our sins not appear to be so bad, but it is like trying to cleanse our cloaks of sheep manure by just rubbing it deeper into our clothes. We call them mistakes instead of sins. It is the terrible sin of telling God we are so good that we can be our own savior and god...that we will not acknowledge our need...so we reject His love. Our own pride separate us from Him. Some of the people who think they are the closest to God are actually the farthest away because they trust their own selfish pride and will not humble themselves before our Almighty Holy God. Because they will not come to God for forgiveness, He cannot forgive them....do you understand, my son? Until you understand how horrible sin really is, you will not understand nor appreciate what an awesome thing the blood of the lamb really is.”
In Judah’s heart, the truth of his father’s words broke through heavily into his understanding. The innocent took the place of the guilty. The black deadly monster of sin that would separate him from the God who loved him would require the lifeblood of his little Mitzar. God would send His own Son to be the sacrificial lamb for every needy heart. Tears streamed down Judah’s face. Through their blur he noticed that his father’s eyes were brimming with tears as well. “I understand, father. Oh, how it hurts my heart, but I understand. Father...will God’s lamb come soon?”
“I don’t know, my son. We can pray and ask, but God Himself will set the time when He sends His Messiah....”
Suddenly the night sky lit up with the brightness of a million candles. The sudden brilliance of it knocked Judah and his father to the ground. Startled cries came from the other shepherds as they instantly awoke. Surprisingly, the sheep did not seem frightened at all. Although the light blinded them, it was peacefully soft. Supernatural electricity charged the air. Hovering in the air above them, they saw an huge being...an angel? An angel! Behind him the sky filled with angels blocking out the stars.
For a moment they were too stunned to speak. Judah, wide-eyed, clung to his father. He could see his father struggle to comprehend the indescribably incredible experience enveloping them.
Then.....the angel smiled at them and raised his hand in greeting! “Don’t be afraid”...his voice was deep yet warm. “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced! It is for all the world, but I have come to tell you first. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you...He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The angels’ glow intensified beyond any noonday sun. With the increasing glow, they began to sing! The mighty army became a majestic choir. Night air swelled with the sound of praise to the King of the Universe...“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” The music filled the shepherd’s hearts with glorious wonder. Awe and joy so overwhelmed them they were at a loss to describe it to others for the rest of their lives. This was the music of the choir who sang to the King of the Universe...until now only heard in Heaven! The angels’ glow changed with the melody of the music as light and sound blended in perfect harmony. God the Father’s joy saturated a father, his son and their shepherd friends.
Finally, the music finished, echoing in Judah’s heart. As suddenly as they had appeared, the angels vanished. The night was there again, but somehow not nearly as dark.
Spontaneously the shepherds headed for Bethlehem, moving so fast that at times Isaac had to pick up his son Judah and carry him. After a search through the village swollen with pilgrims, an innkeeper directed him to a stable cave outside an overcrowded inn. In hushed awe they entered the cave, finding a young man, his younger wife and a baby obviously just moments old, lying in the soft straw in a rough stone manger. Words ran over each other as several shepherds all tried to tell the story of their incredible angelic visit at once. As if they already knew the story, the baby’s parents nodded in understanding, their eyes bright.
Slowly Judah approached the manger, his father behind him with both hands resting gently on his shoulders. They knelt down in front of the manger, the other shepherds crowding in close to see as well.
Judah’s eyes grew big as he looked down at the infant. His mouth formed a small “ah” of awed amazement. The baby looked up at him and for a brief moment their eyes met. This baby...so small....so vulnerable...so innocent. He reached out and touched the baby’s hand. Little fingers wrapped themselves around his finger in an act of trust, prompting Judah to smile. Looking over at his mother and father, Judah asked, “What is His name?”
Joseph, the baby’s father smiled back at Judah. “His name,” he said, “is Jesus.”
“Jesus.” The name meant “Savior”. Judah turned to look at his father and saw unashamed tears running down his face. “My son,” Isaac whispered to him, “Behold...the Lamb of God.”
Judah nodded slowly. For a brief instant he thought of his Mitzar, and then he could see only the face of Jesus looking up at him in the manger. Never again would Judah look at a lamb the same way...nor would he ever look at God the same way….
“Why, Father? Why is that man dying?” Again the voice of his son brought Judah back to the present. There, on this spring day on a skull-shaped hill called Golgatha, he would share with his own son the truths his father had given him. It was time his son knew the truth…the Man on the middle cross was the fulfillment of all his father taught him.
With tears streaming down his face, he knelt down close to his son and whispered, “My son...behold, the Lamb of God.”