The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” - John 1:29 (NLT)
So many people!
Papa, Mama, my two brothers and I had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. Last year I had fallen ill, so Mama and I had to stay home while Papa took my older brothers. For a year they had not missed one opportunity to brag about their trip with Papa. But this year was different!
Today, only Papa and I walked through the marketplace together. My two brothers were several years older and did not care to be around me, “the baby of the family.” So Papa decided to make this a special day – just the two of us. After a year of enduring my brothers’ taunting remarks, I gave into the urge to brag. Papa scolded me, but when my brothers weren’t looking, he winked at me, ruffled my hair and we ventured forth.
The marketplace was so crowded! Being from the countryside, I was used to quiet and calm. In this crowd it was impossible to think! People shouting to be heard over other people shouting to be heard. Strange languages blending together as people shouldered their way from one booth to another.
I stayed very close to Papa, so glad his expert hand never left my shoulder.
Occasionally Papa stopped to talk with a merchant, but we mostly walked while he explained the wonders before my eyes. He gently guided me to a merchant who had several lambs still for sale. One in particular captured my attention. He was smaller than his stable mates; his white wool curiously clean considering the dust being stirred up from the crowd. He looked at me inquisitively, but made no movement toward me. He seemed content to study me. From that moment, I was captivated by this creature.
Apparently Papa noticed, for he asked the merchant the price of the lamb. Papa shook his head at the merchant’s price and started turning me away. The merchant stopped Papa. Papa told me to go pet the lamb. Without hesitation, I walked over and knelt down beside him.
He wasn’t afraid of me, but nibbled the bit of halfway clean hay I picked from his bedding and offered. He stood perfectly calm while I ran my hands over his wool – course yet soft beneath my touch. He nuzzled my hand, then continued chewing the last of the hay.
Several minutes later, Papa came over and knelt beside me. He ran his hands over the lamb, his critical eye inspecting every inch of the animal. Satisfied at last, he stood and walked back to the merchant. I continued to play with the lamb, who nuzzled my check while I stroked his neck.
Papa returned and smiled. “It’s time to start back. Mama will be wondering about us.”
I gave the lamb one last pet, stood and began to walk away, my heart sad over having to leave the lamb behind. Papa stopped me. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” He glanced down at the lamb then back at me.
“HE’S MINE?!” Surely all of Jerusalem had heard me.
“You have to take care of him. No one will do it for you. Understood?”
I looked into Papa’s face. He meant business.
Papa scooped up the lamb, explaining he would carry him u
ntil we were out of the crowd. Then Papa placed me in front of him, and we started back the way we had come. “What do you think Mama will say about my lamb?” I asked over my shoulder. I was so proud of my new pet.
Papa grinned. “She’ll get used to him.”
We weaved in and out of the crowd, trying our best to stay out of other people’s way. But suddenly, we found ourselves being swept along. From a distance we could hear yelling, but not like the merchants’ we had left. No, this was different. This was scary.
I drew back against Papa. The crowd had us hemmed in. We soon found ourselves propelled forward until we stood on the edge of a pathway lined with more people. Angry people. Many shaking their fists. Some laughing and saying cruel things.
Still others were crying or had their heads bowed in grief.
I heard Papa gasp and looked up at him. He stood motionless, his eyes riveted on something I could not see, his mouth opened but no words spoken. My lamb bleated. I reached up to pet him, a little shocked to discover how tightly Papa held him.
I tugged on his sleeve. “Papa?”
“Papa, what is it?” I was frightened by the commotion, but Papa’s expression was terrifying. I had never seen him like this. It was if the blood had drained from his face.
Papa looked around for a way to escape, but there was none, so we stayed. With one arm cradling my lamb, he rested his hand on my shoulder.
“I want you to look only at me.”
“Why, Papa?” I could feel panic rising inside me.
“Just do what I tell you to do, and don’t look around until I tell you it’s okay.”
“Papa?” My voice sounded so far away.
“I need you to trust me.”
His intense look left no room for argument. I did as I was told, fear hammering my heart and mind, unable to comprehend what was going on. The angry people started yelling louder.
“He’s guilty! Let him die!”
I cringed at the hate I heard in their voices. Not once had Mama or Papa spoken to me or my brothers that way, not even when we misbehaved.
By the crowd’s reaction, I could tell the object of their hate was closer. I peeked around for just a second and saw a soldier pass by, then buried my face in Papa’s robe, even more terrified. I now knew why Papa made me face him.
“Lamb of God.”
It was barely a whisper, but I heard it above the crowd. I dared to look up. Beside Papa stood an old man with sad eyes and a long, straggly, gray beard. He leaned on a wooden staff. His robe was quite dirty – and smelled! Oddly enough, I had not noticed the odor before now, while this stranger seemed oblivious to the stench.
“Lamb of God.”
He kept repeating the phrase. Determined to be obedient to Papa, I refused to turn around, but instead watched in fascination as the old man’s eyes stayed fixed on one particular person. Never once did his gaze alter. The thought struck me he was watching only the condemned man. By watching the old man’s eyes and I could tell exactly where the prisoner was as he and the soldiers made their way slowly along the path.
Sometimes audibly, sometimes not, the old man repeated, “Lamb of God. Dear Lamb of God, forgive us.” Tears coursed down his weathered cheeks, his knuckles white from gripping the wooden staff. He appeared to be fighting for enough strength to stay on his feet. I was afraid any moment he would sink to his knees; in this crowd Papa would have been unable to help him.
As the last of the soldiers passed by, so did the angry jeering. The crowd began to move away, except for Papa, the old man and me. My lamb bleated again.
The old man turned and for the first time noticed us – Papa, my lamb and me. He tried to smile at Papa and me, but failed. Then he reached out and gently stroked the soft woolen back of my lamb; a sad wisp of a smile played across his face.
“I was a shepherd for many years. Near Bethlehem,” he said. His expression softened and his smile widened a little, as if remembering some special moment from the past. For an instant, his face appeared youthful, happy. Then he turned and hobbled away.
I looked at Papa, only to find tears in his eyes, as if he, too, remembered something… but I couldn’t tell what.
“Papa, why did he keep saying ‘Lamb of God’?”
Papa’s hand gently touched my cheek and hugged my white lamb, all the while gazing down the now empty path. “Innocent.” he whispered, more to himself than to me. “He is innocent.”
“The man they condemned. He is innocent. The Lamb of God – sacrificed like a lamb.”
My pulse quickened as a wave of panic hit me. “Are you going to sacrifice my lamb?”
Papa studied my face for several moments, then shook his head and smiled. “No, not this one. We’ll use him to build a herd.” And he handed the lamb over to me.