Have you ever wondered why John the Baptist introduces Jesus as the Lamb of God, and why this is exactly the type of introduction his listeners wanted to hear? This service tells that lamb story as it appears in Scripture.
The communion table should be at center stage. The service begins normally but is interrupted by a “student.” This takes the congregation by surprise and suddenly brings the focus to that communion table.
The conversation between the student and the pastor should seem very natural. They should edit and adjust the text to reflect their voices. Besides the pastor and student, the script calls for four or five readers. All should try to use their scripts during performance as little as possible.
Two stools are just off stage.
All Scripture passages during the scene with the pastor and student are projected as they are read.
We used PowerPoint images “Good Friday Thorns 4 Still” and “Good Friday Thorns Communion” as background, purchased from Sermon Spice (www.sermonspice.com).
We also used Francisco de Zurbarán’s “The Lamb of God” (p.27). The image is in the public domain. A reproduction can be found in a collection compiled by The Yorck Project (the compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License).
Order of Worship
Call to Worship
God’s Word of Greeting
Songs to Introduce the Service
[Select songs that focus on the cross.]
Celebration of the Lord’s Supper
[The pastor standing at the communion table begins by inviting people to the table. You can use the words provided, or use the invitation your congregation is most familiar with. The student and Reader 1 sit among the congregation near the front.]
Pastor: Congregation of Jesus Christ, the Lord has prepared his table for all who love him and trust in him alone for their salvation. All who are truly sorry for their sins, who sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior, and who desire to live in obedience to him as Lord, are now invited to come with gladness to the table of the Lord. Come to the table!
Student: [stands and interrupts the pastor as the last line is being spoken] Wait, what are you doing?
Pastor: [surprised] Did you just interrupt me?
Student: Well, yes, I guess I did. But I’m only speaking out loud what everyone here is thinking. The Lord’s Supper comes at the end, after the sermon. What’s going on?
Pastor: It is in fact appropriate to do it at the beginning because this is how the story begins.
Student: Isn’t this where the story ends? It begins in Bethlehem with baby Jesus in the manger.
Pastor: Yes, that is the beginning of some of the gospels.
Student: Exactly. Like in the beginning of Luke, where it says [said as if memorized from a Christmas play], “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” And the whole story of Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men.
Pastor: Yes . . . and Matthew has a similar start. But there is one gospel writer who doesn’t start there. He starts here [points to the communion table]. Come, join me up here while I explain this further.
Student: [hesitantly] Can I do that?
Pastor: As you said earlier, you’re only speaking out loud what others are thinking. Come on up here, and we’ll invite everyone to listen in on our conversation. [Student is still hesitant.] It’s a really good story! Seriously, come on up.
I think I even saw a couple of stools back here. Why don’t you grab one with me.
[Student leaves the pew and helps the pastor move the stools onto the platform area as the pastor continues the dialogue]
Pastor: The one gospel writer who begins the story differently is John. As the book begins, John the Baptist is baptizing people near the Jordan River. While he is doing that, Jesus walks up to him, and John tells everyone who Jesus is. [Name of reader], would you please read John 1:29 for us?
[The reader leaves the audience and stands behind the lectern that is on stage.]
Reader 1: [This and all following scripture readings are projected as they are read.] John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”
Pastor: Notice how John introduces Jesus. He doesn’t say “Look, here is Christ!” or “Look, here is the man who is greater than me!” He says, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!’” And that is how John begins the Jesus story—by calling him the Lamb of God.
Student: Lamb? Isn’t that a strange introduction? When I think of a lamb I picture a cute little lamb, soft and cuddly, perhaps happily running around in a field.
Pastor: That image you have of a lamb is not quite what John had in mind when he said “the Lamb of God.” Lambs are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. One of the first times we see a story about a lamb is in Genesis. It really is a remarkable story. [Name of Reader], please read Genesis 22. Let’s start reading at verse 1.
Reader 1: Genesis 22:1–2. “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.’”
Student: [interrupting] Whoa! God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering? That just seems wrong.
Pastor: We do need to understand the context of this Abraham story. In that time, the firstborn son of every family received the entire estate as an inheritance. The firstborn son got everything—all the land and property. But the firstborn son would also inherit any debt the family had. If the father still owed somebody money or property or any other type of debt, the son would inherit that as well. He would be responsible for paying back that debt. And Abraham had a debt with God.
Student: Abraham owed God money?
Pastor: Abraham owed God a debt of sin.
Student: [looking confused] I don’t understand.
Pastor: You know what a debt of sin feels like. Think for a minute about this scenario: somebody wronged you, perhaps stole from you or physically assaulted you. You recognize that the person must pay for the wrong. You want justice; you want the wrong paid for. So you take that person to court, and when he is found guilty he pays for the wrong by serving time in jail.
We all realize payment for a wrong must be paid. Otherwise there is no justice. In the same way, the sins we commit are a debt that must be paid. Our God is a perfect judge. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his firstborn son, Isaac, he was calling in that debt. Isaac would die for Abraham’s sins. That may seem strange today, but in Abraham’s time the firstborn son inherited everything—all the land and all the debt as well.
Student: I think I understand that. But it just doesn’t fit my picture of a loving God for God to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son.
Pastor: We’re only at the beginning of the story. Let’s hear the rest.
Reader 1: “Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, ‘Father?’
‘Yes, my son?’ Abraham replied.
‘The fire and wood are here,’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’”
Student: [interrupting] Ah—here is where the lamb comes into the story!
Reader 1: “Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them went on together.”
Pastor: God’s own self will provide the lamb. Remember that part.
Reader 1: “When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’”
‘Here I am,’ he replied.
‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 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.’”
Pastor: Did you hear what God did? He provided a ram as payment for the debt of sin Abraham had.
Student: Could a ram really pay for that debt of sin?
Pastor: No, it couldn’t. It was God’s way of saying, “Abraham, I love you, and I cannot ask you to sacrifice your son. I will provide another way.” It was a hint of good things yet to come (Hebrews 10:1, The Message). Many years later, another Son did climb another hill, carrying wood on his back. It was that Son, God’s one and only Son, whom God loved, who would ultimately pay that debt of sin.
Student: That’s quite a remarkable story.
Pastor: We aren’t finished yet. Another lamb story appears in Exodus, while the Israelites are slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh stubbornly refused to give the Israelites freedom from bondage even after God sent several plagues. Do you remember that story? God warned Pharaoh that if he didn’t let them go, every firstborn son would be struck down.
Student: Does God send another ram to take the place of the firstborn son?
Pastor: Actually, in a way, yes. Not a ram, which is an adult male sheep, but a lamb. Listen to Exodus 12, in which Moses tells the people what they need to do.
Reader 1: From Exodus 12: “‘Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.’ . . .
Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.’”
Pastor: When the people put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts, death could not enter their houses. God commanded the people to remember this event from generation to generation. It was called Passover—when lambs’ blood was used to spare the Israelites from death.
Student: How can lambs’ blood have the power to do that?
Pastor: Do you recall in Abraham’s story when God said, “Abraham, I love you, and I cannot ask you to sacrifice your son”? Even though justice required it, God in his great mercy provided a ram instead. It wasn’t the ram that canceled that debt of sin, and here, it isn’t the lambs’ blood that has the power over death. These were hints of what was yet to come, of the one who did have that power.
Student: I am still not seeing why John calls Jesus the Lamb of God.
Pastor: Let’s see if you can discover the answer to that by listening to another lamb story. Do you remember the temple, the place of worship for the Israelites?
Well in the temple there was an altar for sacrifices. There the people could pay for that debt of sin. This is called atonement—meaning, to make up for wrongdoings. The Israelites would bring a lamb as a sin offering.
Reader 1: Leviticus 4:32: “‘If someone brings a lamb as their sin offering, they are to bring a female without defect. They are to lay their hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. . . . In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the sin they have committed, and they will be forgiven.’”
Student: How often would this happen?
Pastor: Twice a day, at nine in the morning and three in the afternoon. And it would be continuous, something offered day after day, year after year.
Student: That’s a lot of lambs.
Pastor: And a lot of people feeling bad about what they did and seeking forgiveness. But all these lamb sacrifices never made a dent in the sin problem (Hebrews 10, The Message). No matter how many sacrifices were offered year after year, they never added up to a complete solution. It was temporary. The people were waiting for the Messiah, who would permanently wipe the slate clean—which brings us back to John 1. And now it’s my turn to ask the questions. Who was John baptizing?
Pastor: What kind of people?
Student: [said as if working out the answer while speaking] Well . . . John was calling out “Repent!” So I guess it would be people who felt really guilty about something they did wrong. They probably felt so bad about what they did that they traveled quite a distance to see John the Baptist. [Pause a moment.] They were people looking for forgiveness.
Pastor: Yes, and it is to these very people that John says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This statement would have filled them with great joy! Here, finally, was the perfect Lamb, the perfect and final substitute.
Student: That now makes sense. The Lamb of God. This is a perfect introduction of Jesus!
Pastor: And just the good news that John’s listeners longed to hear. Does it make sense now why we’re starting with communion?
Student: Yes. I’m going to sit back down now so I can participate.
[Student and Reader 1 return to their seats]
Pastor: [coming to center stage] As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on this Good Friday, we too need to be reminded that God says to all of us, “I love you, and I cannot ask you to take the punishment for your sin. My Son, my only Son, whom I dearly love, will take the punishment for you.” Listen to this Good Friday story, and as we tell you how it happened, may you experience again the depths of God’s love for us. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
[Pastor leaves the stage]
[Readers come to center stage to read Mark 15:1–39. These passages are not projected and should be read with expression. A solemn mood can be created by turning off the house lights with only the stage lights remaining. Reader 4 is placed in the middle and assumes a humble posture as he reads Jesus’ words. Readers 1–3 surround him.]
Reader 2: Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.
Reader 3: “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
Reader 4: “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
Reader 2: The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him,
Reader 3: “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
Reader 2: But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
Reader 3: “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.
Reader 2: But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
Reader 3: “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
Reader 1: “Crucify him!” they shouted.
Reader 3: “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
Reader 1: But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
Reader 2: Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Reader 1: The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.
Reader 2: And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!”
Reader 1: Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.
Reader 2: And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Reader 3: A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.
Reader 1: They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.
Reader 2: And they crucified him.
Reader 3: Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
Reader 2: It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Reader 1: They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying,
Reader 3: “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”
Reader 2: In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves.
Reader 3: “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
Reader 1: Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Reader 2: At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
Reader 4: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
Reader 3: When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
Reader 1: Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.
Reader 2: “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
Reader 4: With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
Reader 2: The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
[Readers 1 and 4 leave the stage]
Reader 3: And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
[Pianist begins the music for the solo. Reader 3 solemnly leaves the stage. Reader 4 remains alone and then leaves as well.]
Solo or Duet
[Choose a song about the Lamb of God]
Time of Confession, Repentance, and Assurance
Celebration of the Lord’s Supper