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.
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.
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
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.
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.