“The Shepherd and the Lamb”
Welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. One of the most familiar passages of Scripture is found in the Book of Psalms. You may know it as the 23rd Psalm. The first few lines are, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Well, we perhaps know the rest of that psalm. And when we say those words, we think about how indeed the Lord is our shepherd. He takes care of and provides for us in so many ways. We feel protected and loved as His sheep. Those words were written when sheep were the most important animal in the ancient world. They served many different needs. The most important was to be the animal which was sacrificed to God. Hundreds of thousands of sheep were offered as sacrifices for many years. Well, in today's lesson, on “Key to the Kingdom,” we will focus on the roles these sacrificial lambs played. We will also notice how that role was passed on to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And that is as important to us today as the sheep were to the Israelites of old. And yet, the ultimate purpose of Jesus and His sacrifice is much more significant. I hope you will stay tuned to this station, for the next few minutes, as we think about the sacrifice Jesus made, which lasts for all time. Open your Bible now as we begin to study together.
One of the most common and important jobs in Bible times was that of being a shepherd. Raising and taking care of sheep was a really big deal, and the land of Israel and the surrounding area was a good place to do just that. The land was open, the land had plenty of pasture to graze, and there were many streams from which the sheep could water. Many of the people we read about in the Bible were shepherds. Abraham and Moses, David and Amos, and many others are mentioned as being shepherds and tending to their flocks. I think about David, when he was a shepherd. We can just imagine him being out in the open field. And perhaps as he was tending to the flocks, he was inspired to write what we call today the 23rd Psalm. We are familiar with those opening lines: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Yes, being a shepherd was important because the sheep were vital and necessary to the Israelite people. The wool was used for clothing, the meat was a food source, but primarily the sheep were used as sacrifices. The Lord had asked His people, the Israelites, to take the very best of their flocks and to sacrifice them to Him. And making sacrifices to the Lord was a reminder of the people's dependence upon the Lord. And it was also needed in order for their sin to be forgiven. The blood of those animals was pleasing to God. It satisfied God and He accepted it as a means by which the people could be right in His sight. The problem was, however, those sacrifices had to be continually made, over and over again. The sheep were offered on a daily, a weekly, even a yearly basis. And they were not only offered for the atonement of ones sin, but they were offered to honor and to worship God. Yes, sacrificing lambs for various reasons was an ongoing part of their everyday lives. And those lambs were to be spotless. They were to be without any kind of blemish or defect. Leviticus chapter 22, beginning with verse 21, provides a good overview of that process. <When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to the Lord to fulfill a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable. Do not offer to the Lord the blind, the injured or the maimed, or anything with warts or festering or running sores. Do not place any of these on the altar as a food offering presented to the Lord.> Yes, the work of the shepherd was very important. The shepherd had to watch and to look at, to inspect, those sheep on a daily basis. And if any of them had a sore leg, a running sore, if they had some kind of disease or sickness, then they would be separated from those that were well. Because the well ones, without any spot or blemish, they were the ones that the God of heaven would accept. And so the point, very simply, was, the sacrificial lambs had to be as perfect as possible. Yes, God wanted the very best the people had to offer. In fact, He was not pleased with anything else. And even with that being done, the blood of those lambs still could not completely take away the sin of the people. We find another passage in Scripture, that helps us understand that process, over in the letter of Hebrews chapter 10. Let's notice the first four verses. <The Law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming -not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.> Well, in addition to the lambs, bulls and goats were also offered as sacrifices. One can just imagine what that sacrificial system must have looked like. There was a continual line of people with their animals standing outside of the temple area, waiting their turn in line to get up to the altar where the sacrifices would be made. And, no doubt, there was a great deal of noise and confusion and commotion going on, the people holding tight their animals so they would not run away. Then we think about the noise of those animals; the bleating of the sheep, the mooing of the cattle. And then, of course, we think about the smell. All of the things going on there in that area where those sacrifices were being made, and then we can just imagine the smell. The smell that came from those animals and then the smell of the blood, as we think about the blood flowing from the animal down over the altar and onto the ground. Yes, it must have been a very chaotic scene. And we don't like to think about all of those details; and yet, at the same time, we need to realize all of it was required in order for one to approach God in worship. All of that was demanded by God so that the people would be pleasing in His sight. Well, the Israelites had to do that for many years. Over and over again, the priest would take their place at the altar. They would receive the sacrifices and then present them to the Lord. It was no doubt a very tiring and long and never ending process. Well, as the people made their sacrifices, they longed for something better. They did not know what that might be, but perhaps it would come with the arrival of the Messiah. The prophets foretold of One who would come to bring hope and peace to the people's lives; and they wrote about and prophesied about One called the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. In referring to Him, for example, Isaiah wrote these words: He shall judge between the nations (chapter 2, verse 4), He was to be the branch of the Lord (chapter 4, verse 2), an eternal government will be upon His shoulders and He will be called the Prince of Peace (chapter 9, verse 6), the Holy Spirit would rest upon Him (chapter 11, verse 2), and He would be a tried stone, a precious cornerstone and a sure foundation (chapter 28, verse 16). And Isaiah had other things to write in prophecy about the One called The Messiah; but these and many other prophecies were very important to the people. They did not know when the Messiah would come, but they were anxious for Him to arrive. They longed for better times. They hoped for a new beginning in so many ways, in regards to their life. And no doubt, part of that included making all of these sacrifices. Well, nothing happened until John the Baptist came on the scene. John the Baptist was the one who was sent by God to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah; and John's ministry included sharing a message of repentance. He encouraged the people to soften their hearts and to turn away from their sinful ways. And in fact, John even baptized many for the forgiveness of their sin. But all of that was in preparation to receive the message and the ministry of the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Well, as he was carrying out his ministry, Jesus, the Messiah arrived on the scene. And we find this, as they met, in John 1, verse 29: <The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”> John recognized that Jesus was the Lamb of God. He recognized that He was the Savior of the world; that, Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. He was also the fulfillment of all of those prophecies. He was the answer to the people's prayers, and He was the Good News message that came to those people. Well, with all of that in mind, I want us to go back to that letter of Hebrews, found in the New Testament, and let's continue to read the next section of Scripture, in chapter 10 beginning with verse 5. <Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am —it is written about Me in the scroll -I have come to do Your will, my God.’” First He said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings You did not desire, nor were You pleased with them” -though they were offered in accordance with the Law. Then He said, “Here I am, I have come to do Your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.> What had been done in the past was not sufficient for the present, nor for the future. The sacrifice of the lambs and the bulls and the goats, which for so long had been offered for the sins of the people, had served its purpose. And now we notice, in the Hebrews letter, that it was being set aside. Yes, with the arrival of Jesus, it was time for a change. Not the first, but the second had now come to replace the first. Those animals offer no permanent solution. Something better was needed, and the only thing that would work was for God's Son to do His Father's will. And so the wait was finally over. Jesus was the One whom the people were anticipating. He had come in the flesh, and now He lived among the people. Well, Jesus brought an end to the continual and ineffective sacrificial system. He provided a way for the people to be right with God. He ended the need for those animal sacrifices continually being offered day after day and year after year. Let's continue here in Hebrews chapter 10 with verses 10 through 14: <And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.> The work of the priest was important. Before the priest could even offer sacrifices for the people, he had to make purification for his own sin. Sacrifices need to be made by the priest so that he could be right with God; and then the priest would receive those sacrifices that came to him throughout the day. Now, there was a rotation of priests. A number of priests took their turn in that sacrificial system, and it was a very tiring and tedious work for the priest to be right themselves and then to receive other people's sacrifices. That happened over and over again. Well, no doubt it was a very tiring process. Those priests had to stand on their feet, hour after hour, day after day. In other words, their work was never finished. But we think about all of that in contrast to what Jesus did. As we just read, He offered only one sacrifice for all time; that was the sacrifice of Himself. And then, as He ascended into heaven, He sat down at the right hand of God. His work was finished. Yes, Jesus did what the priests and what the sacrificial animals could never do. He eliminated the need for someone to stand between people and God, and Jesus Himself became the great High Priest. Yes, the imperfect lambs and bulls and goats were replaced by the perfect Lamb of God. And through His sacrificial offering, He makes people holy in the sight of God. With that, He fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy from chapter 53, verse 7: <He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like the lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.> Well with that, Isaiah was looking forward to the time when the Messiah would be led to the cross. He was looking for the One who would do His Father's will. And He provided exactly what He needed, or what we needed, as He became the ultimate sacrificial Lamb. Yes, Jesus was the only One who could completely take away people's sins. And so Jesus did what John stated, back in John 1:29; we read it a moment ago: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the people.” Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets. He came as God's representative for the primary purpose of making people right with God. And He offered a one time sacrifice for all people everywhere. As the one and only Lamb who could provide the solution for sin, Jesus did what all of the other sacrifices could never accomplish. There is a story told in the very first book of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, in chapter 22; and perhaps you are familiar with that story. God called upon a man by the name of Abraham to take his promised son named Isaac to the land of Moriah and to offer him as a sacrifice. Oh, that seems quite confusing, but it was a test that God was placing upon Abraham. He was testing his faith. He was testing whether or not Abraham would act upon that faith in obedience. Well, Abraham took Isaac and two servants with him, and they went to the land of Moriah, which today is Jerusalem. And as they arrived nearby, the next day, the two servants stayed behind, and Abraham and Isaac went up to the place of the sacrifice. They prepared the altar, and everything seemed to be ready; and Isaac was concerned that everything wasn't ready. We find this exchange between Isaac and Abraham, there in Genesis 22, in verses 7 and 8. <Isaac spoke up and said, “Father.” “Yes, my son,” Abraham replied. “The fire and the wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham answered, “God, Himself, will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”> And it was with that that Abraham took his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar. He secured him there, and then he took the knife and Abraham raised his hand. And he, even in his own mind, had already sacrificed and taken the life of his son, Isaac. But at the very last moment, the Angel of the Lord stopped the hand. The Angel of the Lord stopped the process, and Isaac's life was spared. Oh, no doubt. That was a great relief to Isaac. It was a great relief to Abraham, the father of Isaac. And then Abraham turned and he looked and there was a ram caught in the bushes. He secured that lamb, brought it to the altar, and there he sacrificed it instead of sacrificing his son. And the story ends with these words, in verse 14: <So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”> Yes, God provided a substitute sacrifice for the promised son, Isaac. And Abraham offered that lamb. Well, God still provides today, but the provision is reversed. No longer are the sacrificial lambs and rams and bulls and goats to be sacrificed; but now, His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, is the One who has been sacrificed on our behalf. Yes, what Jesus did on the cross took the place of those priests. By making that sacrifice Himself, He took the place of all of the sacrificial animals. And it is only through the one and only Son, Jesus Christ, that any of us, now, can receive the proper forgiveness of our sin. And now we can be right in God's sight. Oh, I trust that you have received the sacrifice Jesus made for you. I trust that you recognize the sacrifice He made, and you have responded to it, and Jesus has become your sacrificial lamb, and He is the Savior of your life, just as He is the Savior of this world.
The people taking care of these sheep are what we might call modern day shepherds. They are important. They are valuable, because they make sure the sheep have sufficient food and water, every day, and they also make sure the sheep are protected. And those sheep are valuable, they are important, for their wool and for their meat. But one thing the sheep are not used for is a sacrifice. Many years ago, when Jesus lived up on the earth, and many years before that, sheep, or lambs, were offered to God as a sacrifice so the people could be made right in God's sight. The blood that came from those sheep was pleasing in the sight of God. And the animal had to be just perfect; there was no spot, there was no defect, no blemish in the animal at all. And those were the only ones that God accepted. Well, I'm so thankful that we don't have to do that today. Can you imagine any of these sheep being perfect and being without any kind of defect? But we don't have to do that today, because we have One who made a perfect sacrifice. He is the perfect Lamb of God. His name is Jesus Christ. And Jesus died so that we could be right with God. His blood makes that possible. And now we don't have to make those sacrifices on a daily, a weekly or a yearly basis, because Jesus made a sacrifice one time, and for all time. And as a result of that, we can be right in God's sight. Even through our imperfections and even through our problems, we know that blood of Christ makes us right. I hope you have received Jesus’ sacrifice, and that you are walking in a right relationship with the Lord.
Thank you for joining us for today's broadcast on “Key to the Kingdom.” I hope this message about Jesus being our sacrificial Lamb reminded us of His great love. If Jesus had not done what He did, then we would have no other significant sacrifice upon which we can depend. If you would like to hear or view this message again, it can be found on our website, keytothekingdom.com. Available in several different formats, the message can be downloaded without any charge or obligation of any kind. Other lessons are on the website, and they too are readily available; and hopefully you can find those which are of interest. If you have not already done so, I invite you to download our free app on to your smart-phone. It will take you directly to our website where you can find not only these full length messages, but more information about this ministry, as well. By finding and liking us on Facebook®, you can find devotional thoughts and short videos along with many other resources. By calling the number on the screen, you can leave us a message, which will be returned. The same is true by sending an email, which can be done through the website. I appreciate you joining us for today's lesson. I trust you were blessed by the message. I also hope you will join us again next time as we continue to study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”