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.

Amen

What was the History of the Jews?

The Jews are one of the most ancient people groups in the world today. Their history has been extensively recorded in the Bible, by historians outside of the Bible, and with the discovery of archeological artefacts. We have more facts about their history then any other nation and these data provide a continuous account going back about 4000 years. To make the history of the Israelites (an earlier Old Testament term for Jews) easier to follow, I will build a series of timelines showing their history based on the Bible and facts from these other sources.

Abraham: Family Tree of the Jews begins

The timeline starts with Abraham, one of the most recognized characters in ancient history. He was given a promise of nations coming from him and had encounters with God culminating in a symbolic enactment of sacrificing his son Isaac. This sacrifice is still mysterious to many today but it was a sign of future events. The timeline continues in green when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. This period of time started when Joseph, grandson of Isaac, led the Israelites to Egypt, but they subsequently became slaves there.

bible timeline with abraham and moses in history
Living in Egypt as slaves of Pharoah

 

 

Moses: The Jews become a Nation under God

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt by inaugurating the equally mysterious Passover Festival, allowing their Exodus from Egypt and their arrival at the land of Israel that had been promised to Abraham hundreds of years before. Moses pronounced Blessings and Curses on the Israelites at the end of his life as he finished the writing of the Torah – when the timeline goes from green to yellow. These Blessings & Curses have followed the Jews ever since – as one can see by learning their history.

bible historical timeline from Abraham to david
Living in the Land – but no King in Jerusalem

For several hundred years the Israelites lived in this land but they did not have a King, nor did they have a capital city of Jerusalem – it belonged to other people in this time period. However, with David about 1000 BC this changed.

historical timeline Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem
Living with Davidic Kings ruling from Jerusalem

 

David establishes a Royal Dynasty at Jerusalem

David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city. It was he who received the promise of a coming ‘Christ’ and the anticipation of this title started with him.  His son Solomon ruled as his successor and built the First Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of King David continued to rule for about 400 years and this period is shown in green-blue (1000 – 600 BC). This was the glory period for the Israelites – they started to see the Blessings promised. They were a world power, had an advanced society, culture, and their Temple. But the Old Testament also recounts their descent into social and religious corruption and idol worship during this time. Many of the Old Testament books written in this period were warnings that the Curses of Moses would come upon the Jews if they did not change. But these warnings were not heeded.  A series of prophecies of a coming ‘Branch’ from David started in this era.

The First Jewish Exile to Babylon

So finally around 600 BC the Curses came true. Nebuchadnezzar, a powerful King from Babylon came – and just like Moses had predicted in his Curse when he wrote:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away … a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. … They will besiege all the cities throughout the land. (Deuteronomy 28: 49-52)

Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, burned it, and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built. He then took the Israelites and deported the majority across his vast Babylonian Empire. Only the poor Israelites remained behind. This fulfilled the predictions of Moses that

You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. (Deuteronomy 28:63-64)

jewish historical timeline Conquered and exiled to Babylon
Conquered and exiled to Babylon

So for 70 years, the period shown in red, the Israelites lived as exiles outside the land promised to Abraham and his descendants.

Return from Exile under the Persians

After that, the Persian Emperor Cyrus conquered Babylon and Cyrus became the most powerful person in the world. He issued a decree that permitted the Israelites to return to this land.

jewish historial timeline Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire
Living in the Land as a part of Persian Empire

However they were no longer an independent country, they were now a province within the vast Persian Empire.  This continued for 200 years and is shown in pink in the timeline. During this time the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt (known as the 2nd Temple).  Also, the ‘Branch’ theme develops further by identifying the name of the coming Branch as ‘Jesus’.

The period of the Greeks

Then Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and made the Israelites a province in the Greek Empires for a further 200 years. This is shown in dark blue.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires
Living in the Land as part of Greek Empires

 

The Period of the Romans

Then the Romans defeated the Greek Empires and they became the dominant world power. The Israelites again became a province in this Empire and it is shown in light yellow. This is the time when Jesus lived and this explains why there was a Roman Governor and Roman soldiers throughout the gospels – because the Romans ruled the Jews in the Land of Israel during the life of Jesus.

jewish historical timeline Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire
Living in the Land as part of Roman Empire

The Second Jewish exile under the Romans

From the time of the Babylonians (600 BC) the Israelites (or Jews as they were called now) had never been independent as they had been under the Kings of David. They were ruled by other governments of other people. The Jews resented this and after Jesus they revolted against Roman rule. In this war the Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem, burned down the 2nd Temple and deported the Jews as slaves across the Roman Empire. This was their second exile. Since this Empire was so vast the Jews were effectively dispersed across the whole world.

Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile
Jerusalem and Temple destroyed by Romans in 70 AD. Jews sent into world-wide exile

And this is how they lived for almost 2000 years: dispersed, fragmented, living in foreign lands and never accepted in these lands. As they lived in these different nations they periodically suffered great persecutions. This was the same period where Christianity spread and the persecution of the Jews was particularly true in Christian Europe. From Spain, in Western Europe, to the pogroms in Russia the Jews lived often in a precarious state in these Christian kingdoms. These specific pronouncements of Moses back in 1500 BC became vivid and accurate descriptions of how they lived.

… Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart. (Deuteronomy 28:65)

The Curses against the Israelites were given to make peoples ask:

All the nations will ask: “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

And the answer was:

“ … the Lord uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land…” (Deuteronomy 29:24-25)

The timeline below shows this 2000 year period which follows after the history of the Jews from the time of the Bible. This period is shown in a long red bar.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring their two periods of exile
Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring their two periods of exile

You can see that through their history Jews went through two periods of exile but the second period of exile was much longer than the first period of exile (which was only from 600 – 530 BC).

The 20th Century Holocaust

Then the persecutions and pogroms against the Jews reached their peak. Hitler in World War II, through Nazi Germany tried to exterminate all the Jews living in Europe. And he almost succeeded by creating a mechanised system of exterminating them in gas ovens. However he was defeated and a remnant of Jews survived.

Modern Re-birth of Israel

And then in 1948 the Jews, through the United Nations, saw the remarkable re-birth of the modern state of Israel. It is remarkable just in the fact that there were people still around who identified themselves as ‘Jews’ after all these millenia without a homeland. But this reality allowed for the final words of Moses, written down 3500 years ago, to come true.  There was a “Jewish’ people around to see this final prediction fulfilled in our time.

…then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:3-4)

It was also remarkable in that this state was founded in the teeth of opposition. Most of the surrounding nations in that region waged war against Israel in 1948 … in 1956 … in 1967 and again in 1973. Israel, a very small nation, often found itself at war with five nations at the same time. Yet not only did they survive, but their territories increased. In the war of 1967 the Jews regained Jerusalem, their historic capital city David had founded 3000 years ago.  The aftermath of the creation of the state of Israel, and the fallout from these wars has created one of the most intractable conflicts and political problems of our world today.  Strange how Moses’ words so long ago echo still today even though very few are even aware of what he wrote.

How does a Prostitute reveal the Good News of the Gospel?

Here is the account of how a prostitute – a person with a background such that we would dismiss her – clearly illustrates the Gospel for us, and demonstrates why it is Good news.

This is a video of a presentation where I explore the person of Rahab.  And then we use the Biblical image of grafting dead branches unto live ones to flesh out what Jesus in the Gospel is offering to us.