Potent Simplicity: What is the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice?

Jesus came to give himself as a sacrifice for all peoples – so that we could find God.  This message was announced at the beginning of human history, emblazoned with a Divine signature in the sacrifice of Abraham and in the Passover sacrifice, with further details predicted in various prophecies in the Old Testament.  The echo of this primal promise was even remembered in the ancient Chinese and South Asian histories.  Why was his death so important and emphasized?  How does it show anything about the goodness of God?  Or about the love of God? These are questions worth considering.

The Bible declares something akin to a Law when it states:

For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23)

“Death” literally means ‘separation’.  When our soul separates from our body we die physically.  In a similar way we are separated from God spiritually.  This is true because God is Holy (sinless) while we have become corrupted from our original creation and so we sin.

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs

We are separated from God by our sins like a chasm between two cliffs

This can be visualized in this illustration where we are on a cliff with God on another cliff separated from us by this bottomless chasm.  As a branch that has been severed from a tree is dead, so we have severed ourselves from God and become spiritually dead.

This separation causes guilt and fear.  So what we naturally try to do is build bridges to take us from our side (of death) to God’s side.  We do this in many different ways: going to church, temple or mosque, being religious, being good and helpful, meditation, trying to be more helpful, praying more, etc. This list of deeds to gain merit can be very long for some of us – and living them out can be very complicated.  This is illustrated in the next figure.

Good Efforts – useful as they may be - cannot bridge the separation between us and God

Good Efforts – useful as they may be – cannot bridge the separation between us and God

The problem is that our efforts, merits, sacrifices and ascetic practices etc., though in themselves not bad, are insufficient because the payment required (the ‘wages’) for our sins is ‘death’.  Our efforts are like a ‘bridge’ that tries to cross the divide separating ourselves from God – but in the end cannot span the chasm.  This is because though religious or moral efforts are not bad, they will not solve our root problem. It is like trying to heal cancer (which results in death) by eating vegetarian.  Eating vegetarian is not bad – but it will not cure cancer.  For that you need a totally different treatment.

So far this Law is all Bad News – it is so bad we often do not even want to hear it and we often fill our lives with activities and things hoping this Law will go away.  But just as cures for cancer become meaningful to us when the diagnosis that we really have cancer sinks in, so the Bible emphasizes this Law of sin and death to awaken our interest in a cure that is simple yet potent.

For the wages of sin is death but… (Romans 6:23)

The small word ‘but’ shows that the direction of the message is about to reverse, to the Good News of the Gospel – the cure.  It shows both the goodness and love of God.

For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

The good news of the gospel is that the sacrifice of Jesus’ death is sufficient to bridge this separation between us and God.  We know this because three days after his death Jesus rose bodily, coming alive again in a physical resurrection.   Though some people today choose to disbelieve the resurrection of Jesus a very strong case can be made for it as shown in this public lecture I did at a university (video link here).  Jesus’ sacrifice was prophetically acted out in Abraham’s sacrifice and with the inauguration of the Passover sacrifice.  These signs pointing to Jesus were put there to help us find God.

Jesus was a human who lived a sinless life.  Therefore he can ‘touch’ both the human and the God sides and span the chasm separating God and people.  He is a Bridge to Life which can be illustrated as below

God is good by givving Jesus as the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man.

Jesus is the Bridge that spans the chasm between God and man.

Notice how this sacrifice of Jesus is given to us.  It is offered as a … ‘gift’.  Think about gifts.  No matter what the gift is, if it is really a gift it is something that you do not work for and that you do not earn by merit.  If you earned it the gift would no longer be a gift!  In the same way you cannot merit or earn the sacrifice of Jesus.  It is given to you as a gift.  It is that simple.

And what is the gift?  It is ‘eternal life’.  That means that the sin which brought you and me death is now cancelled.  Jesus’ sacrifice is a bridge which you can cross to connect with God and receive life – that lasts forever.  This gift is given by Jesus who, by rising from the dead, shows himself to be ‘Lord’.  God is inviting us to Life like when Pinochio became a child of Geppetto.  God loves you and me that much.  It is that potent.

So how do you and I ‘cross’ this Bridge of Life that is offered to us?  Again, think of gifts.  If someone comes and gives you a gift it is something you do not work for.  But to get any benefit from the gift you must ‘receive’ it.  Anytime a gift is offered there are two alternatives.  Either the gift is refused (“No thank you”) or it is received (“Thank you for your gift.  I will take it”).  So also this gift offered must be received – simply that.  It cannot simply be mentally assented to, studied or understood.  This is illustrated in the next figure where we ‘walk’ on the Bridge by turning to God and receiving his gift he offers to us.

Jesus' sacrifice is a Gift that each of us must choose to receive.  The gift is god's goodness to us

Jesus’ sacrifice is a Gift that each of us must choose to receive

So how do we receive this gift?  The Bible says that

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:12)

Notice that this promise is for ‘everyone’.  Since he rose from the dead Jesus is alive even now and he is ‘Lord’.  So if you call on him he will hear and extend his gift to you.  You need to call out to him and ask him – by having a conversation with him.  Perhaps you have never done this.  Here is a guide that can help you have this conversation and prayer with him.  It is not a magic incantation.  It is not the specific words that give power.  It is the trust like Abraham had that we have in his ability and willingness to give us this gift.  As we trust him He will hear us and respond – we will find God.  The Gospel is potent, and yet so simple at the same time.  So feel free to follow this guide as you either speak out loud or silently in your spirit to Jesus to receive his gift.

Dear Lord Jesus.  I understand that with the sins in my life I am separated from God.  Though I can try hard, no effort and sacrifice on my part will bridge this separation.  But I understand that your death was a sacrifice to wash away all sins – even my sins.  I believe that you rose from the dead after your sacrifice so I can know that your sacrifice was sufficient.  I ask you to please cleanse me from my sins and bridge me to God so I can have eternal life.  I do not want to live a life enslaved to sin so please free me from sin.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for doing all this for me and would you even now continue to guide me in my life so I can follow you as my Lord.


That Promise to Abraham … Overlooked but Everlasting

Tonight as I write this post the world sits on the eve of the largest one-day sporting event ever. Everyone’s attention is being drawn to the Super Bowl on Sunday and the drama that will be ours given that the Super Bowl features two brothers who are coaching the opposing teams. This Super Bowl will be a family feud! And then there is the anticipation of the Beyonce half-time show.  So much excitement abuzz in the air.

It is amazing to think that with all the attention focused on it now, the Super Bowl will be largely forgotten in just six months. What the world is taking great note of now will quickly be forgotten as we move on to other amusements, entertainment or political events. The rage one day quickly becomes ancient history the next.  Chances are, when you read this you won’t even know which Super Bowl or which teams are the rage just now.

We saw in our last post that this same pattern was true in the really ancient history of Abraham’s day. The important and spectacular contests, achievements and drama that captured the imagination of people living 4000 years ago are now totally forgotten, but a solemn promise spoken quietly to an individual, though totally overlooked by the world back then, is growing and unfolding before our eyes. I pointed out the obvious, but usually overlooked fact, that the promise given to Abraham about 4000 years ago has literally, historically and verifiably come true. This should give us reason to recognize that at the very least this Promise to Abraham provides an opening case for the existence of the God of the Bible. The story of Abraham continues with a few further encounters with this Promise-Making God of the Bible.  Abraham (and we who follow his journey) learn much more – even to the point of seeing this promise move from the realm of history to that of The Everlasting.  The story of Abraham is not a trendy but quickly forgotten event like the upcoming Super Bowl, it is one of an overlooked man setting a foundation to understand the gaining of eternity, so we’d better take note.

Abraham’s Complaint

Several years have passed in Abraham’s life since the Promise recorded in Genesis 12 was spoken. Abraham had moved to Canaan (the Promised Land) in what is today Israel in obedience to that promise. Other memorable events then occurred in his life except the one that he anticipated – the birth of the son through whom this promise would be fulfilled. So we pick up the account with Abraham’s complaint:

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3)


God’s Promise

Abraham had been camping out in the Land awaiting the start of the ‘Great Nation’ that had been promised him. But nothing had happened and by this time he was around 80 years old. He complains that God was not keeping that Promise given to him. Their conversation continues with:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)

So in their exchange God basically reiterates His initial Promise by declaring that he would get a son that would become a people as uncountable as the stars in the sky – many for sure, but hard to number.

Abraham’s Response: Everlasting Effect

The ball was now back in Abraham’s court. How would he respond to this reiterated Promise? What follows is a sentence that the Bible itself treats as one of the most important sentences in the Bible (since this sentence is quoted several times later on). It lays the foundation to understand the Gospel and reveals the way to The Everlasting. It says:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is probably easier to unpack this sentence if we replace the pronouns with names, thus it would read:

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is such a small and inconspicuous sentence. It comes and goes with no Super Bowl fanfare and so we are apt to miss it. But it is truly significant – and it contains the seeds of The Everlasting. Why? Because in this little sentence Abraham obtains ‘righteousness’. This is the one – and the only one – quality that we need to get right standing before God.

Reviewing our Problem: Corruption

From God’s point-of-view, though we were made in the image of God something happened that corrupted that image. So that now the Biblical charge is that

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

The visual images that have helped me better understand this were the corruption of elves to orcs in the Lord of the Rings saga as well as the ‘missing’ the mark analogy used in the Bible. How this corruption occurred is explained in the account of Adam which I looked at here. The bottom line of all this is that we find ourselves separated from a Righteous God because we have no righteousness. Our corruption has taken and launched us into a Brave New World of autonomy from God and a propensity to not do good – reaping futility and death in its wake. If you doubt that just scan some news headlines and see what people have been up to that last 24 hours.

In fact our corruption has made us rather repulsive to God in the same way that the decaying body of a dead rat would be repulsive to us. We would not want to go near such a thing. The sight and stench would impel us to keep our distance. We are separated from the Maker of Life and so the words of Isaiah come true

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Abraham and Righteousness

But here in the conversation between Abraham and God we find, slipped in so unobtrusively that we can almost miss it, the declaration that Abraham had gained ‘righteousness’ – the kind that God accepts. So what did Abraham ‘do’ to get this righteousness? Once again, so unassumingly that we are in danger of missing the point, it simply says of Abraham that he ‘believed’. That’s it?! We have this insurmountable obstacle of being corrupt ‘orcs’ and so the natural, and dare I say universal, tendency of mankind down the ages is to look for sophisticated and difficult religions, efforts, ethics, teachings etc., – illustrated before our very eyes with the efforts of the devotees of the Mela Kumbh festival – to gain righteousness. But this man, Abraham, gained that prized righteousness simply by ‘believing’.

But what does that mean?  And what does this have to do with your righteousness and mine?  Everything!  We take it up in our next post.