Formations 12.28.2014: Finding Life’s Purpose

John 1:29-34; 19:28-30

Josefa de Ayala, The Sacrificial Lamb, c. 1670-84

Josefa de Ayala, The Sacrificial Lamb, c. 1670-84

Author and business consultant Keith Yamashita can still remember the first time he met Bill Thomas, a physician who hopes to change the way Americans think about aging and the elderly.

According to Yamashita,

He argued that the medical system, the elder-care system, and the nursing home system have to evolve: “Aging should be conceived of as an era of continual growth and renewal, rather than a period of decline,” he said.

He had absolute clarity in every part of his argument, and his energy was both motivating and mobilizing.

What set Thomas apart was his deep and carefully honed sense of purpose: “To bring respect back to elderhood in America.”

Both companies and individuals need clarity about their purpose. We may drift away from that purpose, but it sets an accurate compass heading to which we can always return. If we can distill our purpose, as Bill Thomas did, into a single eight-word sentence, we have taken the first necessary step to fulfilling it.

As John’s prologue closes, the curtain opens on John the Baptist pointing to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). Was that Jesus’ own declaration of his purpose in life? More likely, it is an affirmation of John the Baptist (or of John, the author of the Fourth Gospel): an expectation or a later reflection on the meaning of Jesus and the signature accomplishment of his life.

Near the end of the Fourth Gospel, Jesus fulfills his mission by dying on the cross, a true Lamb of God offered up for the sin of humanity. He declares, “It is completed” (v. 30) and gives up his life for the world.

Keith Yamashita, “How to Find Your Purpose—and Live It,” 25 November 2014


• What might the title “Lamb of God” have meant for John’s first readers? What might it mean to believers today?
• What other Scripture passages seem to distill Jesus’ purpose on earth into a single sentence?
• What details in the Gospels indicate that Jesus was clear about his purpose?
• What is your mission in life? How does your mission intersect with the mission of Jesus?

Reference Shelf


The lamb of God is a title for Jesus that appears only in John 1:29, 36, although the image of Jesus as a lamb occurs in Acts 8:32, 1 Pet 1:18-20, and twenty-eight times in Revelation.

John the Baptist identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Three contexts for interpreting this title have been proposed: (1) the apocalyptic lamb, (2) the suffering servant, and (3) the paschal lamb.

The Apocalyptic Lamb. The figure of a lamb (or ram) appears in Jewish apocalyptic literature representing the agent of God who crushes evil and delivers God’s people (TJos 19:8; 1 Enoch 90:38). Similarly, in Relevation the lamb overcomes evil (17:14), overcomes death (5:5-6), opens the scroll (4:7ff.), and leads the people (7:17) as the Lord of lords and King of kings (17:14; 19:16). This context has been championed especially by C.H. Dodd. The Greek term used consistently for “lamb” in Revelation (arnion) is not the same as that used in John 1:29 (amnos).

The Suffering Servant. The NT speaks of Jesus as the suffering servant, an image derived from the servant songs in Isaiah. Isa 53:7 likens the servant to “a lamb that is led to the slaughter,” and this verse is specifically applied to Jesus by Acts 8:32. The accounts of the baptism of Jesus also evoke Isa 42: 1—“my servant…my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him.” Moreover, just as the servant bears the sins of many (Isa 53:4, 12), so the lamb of God takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). This interpretation has been defended by Joachim Jeremias, who argues (with questionable support) that the Aramaic word for “servant” could also mean “lamb.”

The Paschal Lamb. C.K. Barrett maintains that the primary background for this title is the Passover lamb, which, however, was not technically a sin offering. Nevertheless, paschal imagery is important in John’s account of the crucifixion: Jesus dies at the time the priests to sacrifice that Passover lambs (John 19:14; cf Exod 12:6); Jesus is offered wine from a sponge raised to him on hyssop (John 19:29; cf. Exod 12:22, Rev 5:9), and none of Jesus’ bones were broken (John 19.36; cf. Exod 12:46).

R. Alan Culpepper, “Lamb of God,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990) 496–97.

”It Is Finished”
[Verses 28-29 allow] those present at the cross to do something for Jesus. “Knowing that all was finished [tetelestai, cf. 13:1, eis telos],” Jesus says, “I thirst” (in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled [teleiothe], i.e., Ps 69:21). Three Johannine emphases appear in a cluster. (a) Jesus’ knowledge again comes to the fore (cf. 18:4; 16:4; 13:1; 12:23). He knows the place of what happens to him within God’s plan. (b) He thirsts as a truly human being would (cf. 4:6-7; 11:33-38; 12:27; 13:21). Again, an anti-docetic note is heard. (c) What happens fulfills Scripture (19:24; 18:9; 17:12; 13:18), indicating that it is according to the divine plan. “A bowl full of vinegar stood there [probably the soldier’s]; so they [the loved ones of vv. 25b-26] put a sponge full of vinegar [because the soulder would not want to use his bowl for such a purpose] on hyssop [a small bushy plant used in connection with the Passover; cf. Exod 12:22] and held it to his mouth [because the cross need not have been that much higher than those who stood on ground level].} In this way his loved ones sought to quench his thirst (cf. Prov 31:6).

[Verse 30] records his death. “When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said: ‘It is finished’ [tetelestai]; and he bowed his head and gave up his [human] spirit.” Two Johannine themes recur. (a) Jesus finishes the Father’s work (cf. 4:34: “My food is to do the will of my Father, and to accomplish [teleioso] his work”; 17:4: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished [teleiosas] the work which you gave me to do”). (b) Jesus has the initiative; he gives up his life (cf. 10:18: “I lay down my life…. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord”).

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 253.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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