To the person who is uneducated in spiritual matters, the relevance of someone having died nearly 2000 years ago, and it’s meaningful application to present day life is obscure at best. For most, it is clearly a mystery why anyone would risk inconvenience, and possible humiliation, by anchoring one’s life to this historically ancient event. Never the less, countless people do and they call themselves followers, even the brethren, of Christ. This article aims at helping to answer the obvious questions concerning the sacrifice of Jesus. Questions like “What was it?” “Why is it important?” “What are the similarities and differences between His death and that of yours and mine?’” and, more importantly, “How does it have any relevance with anything which is done under the Sun today, even in your life?”
Two thousand years is a long time to be forcing the remembrance of one specific event in history. Even here, in the United States, the Day of Independence is celebrated after a mere 200 years. But how much significance does it really have in the everyday lives of this present generation? The greatest benefits, which we seem to receive from this holiday, are sales in every retail shop and mattress store. It would seem that for most the real significance of liberty is lost. How much greater will the impact of time be when multiplied by a factor of ten? This is exactly the position we are in when considering the sacrificial death of the Lord’s anointed, whose name is Jesus. Nearly 2000 years ago a man was falsely accused and sentenced to die through the vehicle of Roman torture. The method was to be nailed to a wooden stake or cross, raised up, and left to hang until dead. This was accomplished only after the attending soldiers had shamefully beaten, spat upon, and mocked the focus of their attention. While this was the climax of the sacrifice, it certainly was not the whole story. The story really began “In the beginning” when God formed the Heavens and the Earth and created mankind. He has done all things with a purpose in mind. The purpose was stated early in the book of Genesis when He said to his heavenly angels, “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness…” This purpose has been unfolding ever since.
SO, HE DIED…
The first item, which should be addressed, concerning this death, is the question “How was the death of Jesus Christ different from the death of any other person who has walked the face of this Earth?” To fully comprehend the answer to this question one must understand the nature of man and the reason for death. In one respect only, there is no difference between the death of Jesus and that of ourselves. He was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4). He bore our identical nature in every respect (Hebrews 2:14-18). He was tempted in every way that we can be tempted (Hebrews 4:15). Moreover, just as he was made of flesh and blood like you and I, he died the same death that all of mankind experiences. His body breathed it’s last and he poured out his soul unto death. Thereafter his lifeless body was placed in a grave where it remained for three days.
This, however, is where all similarities stop. Because, in another very real aspect, Jesus was not at all like you and I. He was not born by the will of man but of God (John 1:13). It was the power of the Holy Spirit which overshadowed Mary, his mother (Luke 1:35). Therefore, not only is he the Son of Man (Matthew 12:8) but he is the Son of God. Jesus is the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). These two aspects of Jesus are important to consider together. Only in the balance of the Son of Man and the Son of God could the purpose of the Heavenly Father be fulfilled. This purpose is briefly summed up in the writings of the Apostle Paul when, quoting the Old Testament, he wrote “…as God has said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people“(2 Corinthians 6:16).
In the New Testament, we are informed that Jesus was the image of the invisible God (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that he who had seen Jesus had seen the Father (John 14:9). We also are directed to be conformed to the image of His Son by the renewing of our mind (Romans 8:29, 12:2). This requires, we are told, a transformation by the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). This is the essence of God’s purpose in His creation. To fill the Earth with a people who will be to him for a name, a praise, and a glory (Acts 15:14, Jeremiah 13:11). “But as truly as I live, all the Earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14:21). This transformation process is designed to move us from who we are by nature, to who God desires us to be by His Spirit. By nature we are subject to vanity (Romans 8:20), prone to sin, full of hypocrisies, selfish and mortal. While this nature of ours is not our fault, it is our misfortune. What we do with this nature becomes our responsibility. As we tend to make a mess of things in our own lives, as scripture says “it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23), Jesus did not. He bore our nature, yet without sin. “For we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He subjected his will to the will of His Heavenly Father even though it led him to a horrifying death on the cross (Luke 22:42).
So devoted was he to his Father’s commandments that he was able to bring every thought captive to obedience (2 Corinthians 10:5), and therefore every resulting action (James 1:14,15). The victory that he won was over sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3). Because sin could not find a place in his life, God’s divine law of sin and death (Romans 5:12, 8:2) could not apply to him. God, therefore, in His infinite wisdom and righteousness, raised Jesus again from the grave (1 Peter 1:21) and bestowed upon him what God Himself (1 Timothy 6:16), and the angles (Luke 20:36), possess: immortality, or eternal life (John 5:26,27). This is the way in which Jesus’ death was different from that of all other humans. No one else has ever avoided the consequences of our inherited nature.
WHAT’S THAT GOT TO DO WITH ME?
It becomes easy to see why God would not hold His sinless son accountable in judgment when there was nothing amiss to account for. But, how will that solve the problem for the rest of us? Truly for those who comprehend the real answer to this question, the way of life opens up to them like never before. The simplest form of the answer comes in Paul’s letter to the Romans when he stated: “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:2). Through belief in Jesus, God has made a way of escape for us and has offered us an opportunity to be reconciled to Him through His grace and mercy. This is where faith, hope and love (Agape’) come into the picture (1 Corinthians 13:13). Scripture tells us that without Faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Hope is the place where we now stand while we wait for our redemption (Romans 8:20-24). Love is what we develop within ourselves and share with others in the same self-less sort of way that Jesus showed us (John 14:21).
But, first things first. The principles of our atonement (restoration to divine favor through the shed blood of Jesus) is set out in clear patterns. The Old Testament shows to us a series of shadows, or foretelling prophetic scenarios, which demonstrate the work that the Lord’s anointed would accomplish in due time (Hebrews 10:1,7). One of the clearest shadows, concerning the foretold death of Jesus, is in the account of the original Passover (Please read Exodus 12). Here the twelve tribes of Israel were enslaved to the Egyptian people. Spiritually speaking, this is a parallel to the people of God being enslaved to sin. This is our condition by nature. God instructed his people concerning His plan of salvation. This plan involved many signs and wonders. The greatest sign involved the death of a sacrificial lamb (Exodus 12:5). This lamb represents Christ. In particular you will notice that the lamb had to be perfect. No spot or blemish would do. This is in keeping with who Jesus would be and what he would accomplish (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19). This lamb was slain on the evening of the Passover feast. The blood of this lamb would then be used to mark the door posts of the homes in which God’s people dwelled (Exodus 12:7). Outside of these door posts would be a sentence of death for all the first born of the land. Even the children of Israel were sternly instructed not to leave the marked house of their feast (Exodus 12:22,23). God’s angel of death would not spare them if they were disobedient. In this process, which here is instituted, God demonstrates that, from His point of view, there is a difference between the Jew’s and the Egyptians (Exodus 11:1-7), spiritually speaking, between God’s chosen people and those who are not. This is a principle which is demonstrated time and again.
OUR CHOICE; IN ADAM OR IN CHRIST?
By selecting the first born of the land as the subject of His wrath, God showed spiritually the difference between the First Adam (Genesis 3:8) and the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45). The last Adam is, of course, Jesus the Christ. Again, in the New Testament, Paul reveals that “in Adam”(the first man, Adam, our forefather) all perish (1 Corinthians 15:22). It will be only those who are “in Christ” who shall be saved. We are all, by nature, born “in Adam.” It is only by associating ourselves with the blood of the lamb that we can be found “in Christ” (Romans 6:3, Colossians 2:10-13, 2 Corinthians 5:17).
In Egypt, the Children of Israel’s only hope of being saved, from God’s angel of death, was by partaking of the Passover Feast and associating themselves with the flesh and the blood of the lamb. Jesus is recorded as saying, concerning himself, “…except you eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). Jesus here confirms that Old Testament pattern, or shadow, regarding salvation and the necessity of associating yourself with the flesh and blood of God’s sacrifice in order to find salvation. These words of Jesus are, of course, not to be interpreted literally as he indicated a little later by saying “It is the spirit that gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Spiritually, then, we must associate ourselves with, partake of, the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood. The New Testament does not leave this process of association as a darkened secret. Many times the message is recorded: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16), “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus the Christ for the remission of sins…” (Acts 2:38), “Why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16), “The like figure where unto even baptism does also now save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21) This is the only way in which we can associate ourselves with the flesh and blood of the Son of Man. Paul takes pains to make the process clear in his letter to the Romans where he states: “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3)
This process of changing from being in Adam to being in Christ is called, in the New Testament, “being reconciled to God” (Romans 5:10) and is likened to being adopted by a new parent (Galatians 4:3-7). This reconciliation is not on our terms but on the Father’s. We either accept His righteousness and conform ourselves to His image or we remain without Christ, “being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”(Ephesians 2:11-13).
Now here comes the really exciting part. All of this would be just so much ritual and ordinances if it were not for one very special thing which is: God’s promise that we can obtain forgiveness from our sins by entering into fellowship with Jesus through the blood of his sacrifice. We know he will forgive us because he is faithful who has promised. By entering into fellowship, Jesus himself becomes our advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). He will plead our cause for us. All we need to do, then, is repent from our dead works and lay our burdens before the throne of grace in prayer (1 John 1:9) and be baptized (Mark 16:16). It’s recorded in the New Testament “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), “But this man, because he continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25), “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things have become new. And all things are of God who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).
A Walk of Faith, the Final Step
The final step to salvation is a careful one. Being reconciled to God and having our sins forgiven is not a license to sin (Romans 6:1-2). Far from it. By taking on the saving name of the Lord Jesus Christ and accepting adoption by the Father as our new birth, we place ourselves under a greater scrutiny. It is not possible for darkness to coexist with an all-powerful light. Neither is it possible that if Christ were in us that we should continue to behave as if he were not (Romans 8:13-14). “…what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he that believes with an infidel? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk in them. And I will be their God and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them and touch not the unclean thing and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you. And you shall be my sons and daughters,’ says the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).
Consider the words of John in his first letter when he wrote “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). You will notice the prerequisite to having true fellowship with God and having the blood of Jesus cleanse us. That requirement involves not walking in darkness but in the light. Also speaking to us are the emblems of the Lord’s supper. The reference here is to the bread and the wine. The bread, Jesus said, “is my body which is broken for you” (1 Corinthians 11:24). The wine is the new testament in his blood. Consider the relevance of these emblems to Jesus himself. His body was broken, literally, by the vehicle of Roman torture. But he had been crucifying his flesh during his entire life by not giving it license to sin. This was his victory. This is the body that we become one with when in communion with him (1 Corinthians 10:16). Jesus’ life was in his blood. This was the blood, and the life, which he poured out in service to his Heavenly Father. He did not live to himself for a moment. In truth, to spiritually drink his blood is to drink his life (John 6:54). If that selfless life is truly in you, then you also will not live unto yourself but unto God (Romans 6:10,11; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Colossians 3:3-5).
As he is the head of the Church, we are his body. Is it possible for the members of the body to be attached to the head and still not receive, or ignore, the directions coming from the head? The point is made so clear in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 6. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. But yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Romans 6:5-13). The direction that the head gives the body then is not to serve sin any longer but to serve God instead. This becomes a daily decision which must be made in the life of a believer (Matt 6:11, Luke 9:23). The decision will rest on the believer’s level of faith in the power of Jesus’ blood to cleanse us and his willingness to forgive us when we do fall short of his glory.
Our final step, then, on the road to salvation is truly the walk of a living faith. The death of the Son of Man and Son of God nearly 2000 years ago is significant today. It is significant to anyone who wants more out of life than merely the wages of sin which is death. Time cannot erase the effect of his gift of love and sacrifice. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what so ever I command you”(John 15:14). “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us. We pray you, in Christ’s stead, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20)