Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative — Day 1

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[Editor’s Note: We want to take a moment to celebrate the release of Russ Ramsey’s first book. He’s worked long and hard on it we’re anxious for each of you to enjoy the fruits of his labor. So congratulations, Russ. I’m happy to add the title of “Author” next to your name on the masthead.]

Here’s the first chapter of Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. If you’d like to download a sample and see what the actual book looks like inside, you can do so here. –Pete Peterson.]

He did not have a home.

People said he survived on little more than wild honey and locusts, and by the look of him, it couldn’t have been much more. He wore a coat of camel hair he cinched together with a leather belt, just like the prophet Elijah had done.

Normally he was the one people stopped to behold, but at this particular moment, as he stood waist-deep in the Jordan, anyone looking at him saw that his attention was fixed on the man from Galilee headed his way. His face wore a mix of astonishment and joy as the man approached.

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” His voice trembled as water dripped from his outstretched finger and scraggly beard into the river where he stood.

People might have dismissed this wild man as they would have any other tortured soul driven to live in the caves and wadis of the Judean wilderness—were it not for the fact that people knew his story. Or rather, they knew his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth.

These were honorable people. Zechariah had served many years as a priest in the temple, Elizabeth faithfully at his side in spite of the fact that, well into their old age, they had been unable to conceive any children.

Being a priest, Zechariah knew the old stories of the barren women God had worked through to deliver impossible promises to an unbelieving people—to their people. When Zechariah and his wife were young, these tales gave them hope. God could break through her barrenness if he wanted. He had done it before. But that was a long time ago, and the stories were about people whose lives were central to Israel’s identity. Zechariah and his wife hardly regarded themselves as that important.

Eventually they accepted that they would be childless, though they wondered why the God they loved and served had determined, in his infinite wisdom, that they wouldn’t know the blessing of children.

Then one day the Lord sent his angel down with a message. The Author of Life was going to open Elizabeth’s womb and give Zechariah a son. But this son wasn’t given merely for his father’s legacy. This boy would have a specific function in the unfolding story the people of Israel had been living and telling as far back as anyone could remember.

The angel told them, “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. He will make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

And they were to give him the name John.

As a boy, John grew and became strong in the Spirit. His little mind was filled with wonder as he turned over the stories his parents told him about his birth. Angels were involved, and miracles. He was their miracle, a gift given by God himself not only to his grateful parents, but to the world. Everyone knew John as the boy with an intensity beyond his years—as though his entire boyhood was a time of preparation and he knew it.

Not long after the boy became a man, he moved out into the wilderness of Judea. It was an inhospitable place— windy, craggy, and hot. It was also the sort of place where God had dwelled with his ancestors during the Exodus. There, without the simplest of creature comforts, John was left to find solace and companionship with God alone.

Though his days in the desert could be lonesome to the point of pain, wilderness life suited him. It was a contemplative way to live, but one that strengthened him. He had no basic needs that he could not meet. Many of his days were filled with simple tasks such as finding water, scrounging food, staying out of the heat of the sun, and gathering wood for fires at night. Living off the land meant he needed to travel light. He needed to be able to go where the resources were and move on when they were spent.

But it wasn’t just minimalist living that brought John to the desert; it was his call from the Lord to proclaim the message he had been born to tell. John didn’t move to the desert to withdraw from his people. He went to prepare for his role among them.

Soon he emerged as a man with a voice and a clear con- science about how to use it. Wild and fearless, looking like he had grown out of the banks on which he stood, he called to all who passed, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” And he did it as one who seemed to possess the authority to demand such a response.

He was, as the prophet Isaiah had said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make his paths straight.’”

Prepare for what? A collision of worlds. Like a meteor falling to the earth, heaven was bearing down on the land of his forefathers. An old promise, so old that it had become little more than a legend, was about to be fulfilled—and nothing would ever be the same.

The Messiah was coming.

The very fact that so many people considered the Messiah’s coming more of a fairy tale than a future event was, in itself, a cause for repentance. It wasn’t just that God had promised to do it. It was that the reason he promised to do it was like an intimate promise between lovers. God’s promised Messiah was a merciful gift of love to a people who needed both mercy and love. He would come to them in all their pain, brokenness, and struggle, and make everything new. They were desperate for this, and the proof of their desperation was perhaps most evident in the fact that they couldn’t bring themselves to live as though this promise was real.

Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!

There was something magnetic about John, something in the way he suspended those he attracted between the poles of preparation and perdition until they understood that without repentance, there they would hover—not necessarily feeling lost perhaps, but not assured that they were found either. Hope began to rise in the hearts of the hopeless. Even in the call to repent, they heard the promise that if they confessed their sins, admitted their doubts, and acknowledged how their hearts had become cynical and jaded, God would hear them. God would hear them.

People came from all over to the Jordan to step into that water with John the Baptizer. They confessed their failures, their lust, their greed, their pride. They admitted to him things they swore they would never tell a soul.

But why? Who was he?

Israel’s religious leaders had no answer, so they sent priests to investigate. Did this man think he was the Messiah? Or Elijah come back from his celestial chariot ride?

John was clear in his answer. He was neither Elijah nor the Messiah.

So the priests asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

John told them, “I baptize with water because there is a man, one who stands among you, and the strap of his sandal I’m not worthy to untie. Though you do not know him, he lives among us even now, and he is the Messiah!”

Should they have known him? Or, if nothing else, should they not have been surprised at John’s rebuke? These were the priests of Israel, experts in the law and lore of God’s chosen people. Israel was a nation with a story, a well-rehearsed narrative these priests were sworn to preserve and pass down. John himself was a part of that tale, and so were they. And yet, like so many of their countrymen, they had begun to forget the story of God’s promises to them.

But it was such a beautiful story. It was the story of how their holy God had cut a covenant promise in blood to redeem and restore the children who had rebelled against him. It was the story of how Jacob’s line came to be a nation—sometimes mighty, sometimes fragile, but always prone to wander and forget their God.

It was the story of generations of war, infighting, and exile that should have wiped them off the face of the earth. The fact that they survived all this and so much more testified to God’s fidelity to his promise never to leave them or forsake them. That alone proved God was not through with the story he was writing. And if that was true, it meant he wasn’t through with them either.

Even though it was still unfolding, it was already quite a story to tell, and it was the priests’ job to tell it. But in order to tell it, they had to know it. And to know it, they had to listen—which was why, since their earliest recorded history, every time the people of Israel gathered before the Lord for worship, the first word spoken to them was a command:

“Hear!”

Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


20 Comments

  1. Teresa Jenkins

    Oh my. This takes my breath away! I can’t wait to get my copy. Thanks, Russ for listening and telling.

  2. Susan

    I’ve downloaded a sample to my Kindle and it looks wonderful. But, I’m wondering if the actual book will be available from amazon.co.uk?

    Thank you,
    Susan

  3. Nathaniel Miller

    Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God has become my quint-essential Christmas soundtrack. If this chapter is any indication, Russ Ramsey’s book is going to become my quint-essential Christmas reading. I am so excited about this and can’t wait to get my copy.

  4. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Yeah, sorry Susan. I wish we had more control over that sort of thing! There might be a place on Amazon where you can request it, but I don’t think we can do much more than hope they put it up. I sure hope I can come play in England next year. I’m aching for it.

  5. Alex Hagerman

    Hoping I can maybe get this around the holiday sounds amazing and actually brings excitement (it doesn’t have just a ho hum whatever voice, but a building exciting tension in the anticipation) into the heart about what we are celebrating.

  6. Nick and Susan

    Pete & Andrew,

    Ah, that is a shame, but thank you both for getting back to me. I shall certainly see if there is a way of requesting the book and putting in a good word about it.

    Thanks again,
    Susan

  7. Susan

    Pete,

    I have to confess I feared the postage might be a bit too much, but I’ve just took a peek and it’s actually quite reasonable to post to it to England, so I’ve ordered a copy.

    Thank you for your help, oh and do pass on my regards and thanks to the dear soul who will have to stand in line at the Post Office to fill in a customs form.

    Susan

  8. Liz

    Thank you for writing this advent narrative! We have a 3 year old and 10 month old this year. My 3 year old is starting to “get it” and already loves singing to the songs from Andrew Peterson’s album. What a great companion your book will be this season!

    I had ordered a copy on Amazon because I have the free shipping but still showing out of stock. Wondering if best to cancel and order from The Rabbit Room so we can have it later this week? Thanks so much!

  9. Kristin

    Loving this book at day three…I am finding it would be a perfect walk through the bible with new believers. I lead a group who are very dear and earnest but are not yet even at a church. They admit they get confused at getting all the bible characters mixed up and have bought several children’s bible story books to help them keep it straight. How wonderful this book is to tie it all together with love story so clear.

    So my question is this? Have you ever thought of adding a companion study or list of questions to facilitate using this book in a small group?. It’s fascinating and wonderful..
    Thanks

  10. Tom Murphy

    Andrew, if you go to England next year, let me know and I can connect you with Richard Turnbull. He is the Principle of Wycliffe Hall at Oxford where they train the vicars of England.

    http://www.wycliffehall.org.uk/content.asp?id=67

    The location is a 10 minute walk across the street from the Eagle and Child. The sanctuary of Wycliffe Hall or some of the other colleges near by would be perfect, followed by after concert conversation in the humble backroom hearth of our adored Rabbit abode, where the Spirit has burned brightly in the hearts of men over the past 80 years.

    Richard came to Redeemer Seminary in Dallas a few weeks ago and met him in former trips to Wycliffe Hall with RZIM. At the end of Seminary in Dallas and Philadelphia, I am planning a year of study of apologetics under his tutelage.

    Can’t wait to get Russ’s manuscript!

    Walking Directions Below:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Wycliffe+Hall,+Banbury+Road,+Oxford,+United+Kingdom&daddr=Eagle+and+Child+Pub&hl=en&ll=51.760084,-1.260273&spn=0.01109,0.027874&sll=51.759487,-1.259995&sspn=0.01109,0.027874&geocode=Fe7WFQMdmsXs_yFOh9ZMe93VjCmFiG49HcR2SDEdkesZxZlopQ%3BFavAFQMd6MTs_yGiu9RVjU-C8A&vpsrc=0&dirflg=w&mra=ltm&t=m&z=16

    P.S. – Wycliffe Hall is a great college to lodge at over the Summer if you ever find yourself in Oxford and want an “inside the walls” experience…

  11. Tom Murphy

    Russ, have you considered working on an e-book version that interweaves the songs from Behold the Lamb (and maybe some other Square Peg Christmas favorites) along with the text that you have written?

    Music usually helps me dwell in texts for longer periods of time than I would otherwise spend.

    I am working with a guy in DFW that is writing a metanarrative allegory (Pilgrim’s Progressesque) and recording songs on an album as a book “soundtrack” to be listened to alongside the reading of the text.

  12. Sunday Exhortations: Advent Calendar and readings

    […] To accompany the calendar we’ve also been reading Russ Ramsey’s Behold the Lamb of God.  This is an amazing advent narrative that both Husband and I have been enjoying immensely!  I am not sure that Munchkins is quite ready for it but we continue to include her as we read, you never know what truths they are picking up on as they listen.  Ramsey makes several disclaimers in the preface about what the book is and is not.  Primarily it is “not a substitute for the Bible but rather “a servant of the Bible.”  He does this in a way that I’ve never read and I sincerely appreciate his time, thought, and writing that has helped the story of advent come more alive for me this year.  If you’d like to read a chapter you can do so here at The Rabbit Room. […]

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