This study was originally presented over a five day period in July 1998 as a series of radio talks by Pastor Keith Graham. The material will be more profitable if digested in its five separate sessions, of which this is the first.
The joy of the forgiveness of our sins...personal assurance of salvation...a sure hope of eternal life in heaven, which empowers our life on earth - these are just some of the blessings of God's love and grace that Christians experience. In this series of studies, we will discuss what the Lord Jesus Christ has done and is doing to bring those blessings into the Christian's experience. The OBJECT of our faith is not experience itself, but the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the apostle Paul summarized the Gospel, the message of what Jesus Christ did about 2,000 years ago to save sinners, he began with Christ's death. "For I delivered unto you first of all", Paul wrote, "that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures". And so we will begin also by discussing the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus. Jesus, Who did not deserve to die, did die - in the place of condemned people who did deserve to die. He died for them, He died as their Substitute.
Since earliest times, mankind has understood that God requires a sacrifice. The account in Genesis 4 of Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve, demonstrates this. Both sons made sacrifices to God. Abel's sacrifice was found worthy, Cain's sacrifice was found unworthy. As we shall see, even Abel's sacrifice was not ultimately the one that pleased God. God Himself had to provide the well pleasing sacrifice. Nevertheless, God's differing responses to each man show that God desires a worthy sacrifice.
As history went on, especially after the Great Flood, some people groups became more and more darkened in their understanding of God and Divine matters. Savage practices of human sacrifice came about. An example is the Canaanite worship of the false god Molech. The vain Molech worshipers would sacrifice their own children to this idol. The Bible calls it making their children pass through the fire, an abomination to the true God. Other cases exist of man made - that is false - religions which include human sacrifice. Another example exists in our nation today, and in other nations of the world. Millions of babies are sacrificed every year to false gods who bear names like Choice and Convenience. Abortion brings back the horror of Canaan's Molech.
Having said that, let us now affirm what some may already be thinking. Yes, the death of Jesus Christ was indeed a human sacrifice! As we've said, He died in the place of sinners, He was their substitute. Jesus Christ was and is God, but He is also a true Man! Therefore when we proclaim that He gave His life as a substitute for sinners, we are proclaiming that a human sacrifice took place. Through the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself without blemish to God. This human sacrifice took place not merely with the approval of God. The perfect human sacrifce included the intimate involvement of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Well how can this be? Is human sacrifice good or evil?
To answer this, let's consider two other accounts in the Scriptures where the issue of human sacrifice is involved. The first is that of Jephthah and his daughter. Jephthah was one of the judges of ancient Israel. Jephthah made a foolish vow to God. He vowed that if God gave him victory over his enemies, he would sacrifice to God whatever came forth from the doors of his house to meet him, when he returned from battle. God gave him victory. When Jephthah went home, his only child, a daughter, came forth joyfully to meet the returning warrior, and to celebrate. Jephthah was severely distressed, but he fulfilled his vow. After allowing her two months to mourn with her friends, Jephthah sacrificed his daughter.
It must be kept in mind that this account is from the 11th chapter of the book of Judges. The book of Judges records events that took place when "there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes". The Bible is not condoning or approving this sacrifice, it is only telling us what Jephthah did.
Moreover, we can observe two things about that human sacrifice: 1) The sacrificial victim was a very reluctant victim, and 2) the sacrifice was ineffectual. That is, it was unworthy, it did not please God. It was a human sacrifice designed by a human heart, and it was only foolish and tragic.
The other account where we see the issue of human sacrifice is that of Abraham and his son Isaac, in Genesis 22. In order to test Abraham, God Himself told him to take his beloved son Isaac and sacrifice him. As they went to the appointed place, Isaac remarked to his father that they had the necessary equipment to make a sacrifice, but then he asked, "where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham replied, "my son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering". Abraham then tied Isaac down on an altar. Just as Abraham was about to slay him, God called from heaven and stopped Abraham from making a human sacrifice of Isaac. Then Abraham found a ram caught in the nearby brush, and offered the animal instead of his son.
In this case, we see that the victim was more willing, for Isaac shared his father's faith. Yet, even as Abraham was extremely grieved at the prospect of offering his son, Isaac was no doubt grieved like Jephthah's daughter was, that he was going to die. And just like in the case of Jephthah's daughter, the sacrifice of Isaac would have been ineffectual. Abraham's words, "God will provide Himself a lamb" were profoundly prophetic. The Lamb that God provided was not Isaac. Isaac could not be a sacrifice for sin acceptable to God. Much less was it the animal that God caused to be available at that moment. Nor could all the millions of sacrificial lambs slain on ancient Israelite altars be sufficient. The Lamb which God ultimately provided was the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Lord Jesus we find both a willing AND effective human sacrifice! Jesus purposefully came into the world to make Himself an offering for sin. When He came into the world, He said, "sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared Me." With reference to the animal sacrices, He goes on, "In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God." In the Gospels we read that Jesus said of Himself, "the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many."
As we read in Hebrews 6, the animal sacrifices were only "copies" of the heavenly, perfect sacrifice. The effectual nature of Christ's sacrifice of Himself is most glorious and full of manifold wisdom. One thing Jesus did by sacrificing Himself was to satisfy the just demands of the law of God. The law demands that a penalty be paid for sin, that is, breaking the law of God. According to the Bible, the penalty for breaking the law is death. "The soul that sins, it shall die" wrote the prophet Ezekiel. "The wages of sin is death", wrote the apostle Paul. Jesus paid that penalty of death.
The law itself prophesied, in a sense, of Jesus' death: We find this in Deuteronomy 21: "If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he is to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; for he that is hanged is accursed of God." Then we read in Galatians 3, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree..."
Some religious folk want a Jesus Who is great moral teacher only, and a Christianity which is only a moral code. They recoil at the Biblical truth that the Lord Jesus was a substitutionary sacrifice. They say that the idea of a wrathful God whose wrath must be appeased by sacrifice is barbaric and backward. Their concept of God is that He is a God of all love and no wrath.
But the Bible says that the holy, eternal, almighty, glorious God is a God of love AND wrath! He is a God of mercy AND justice! His infinitely perfect justice demands that the penalty be paid for crimes committed, so that His wrath may be appeased. In His infinitely perfect love, the triune God, the Holy Trinity, found a way for mercy and justice to meet. The Father sent the Son to become a Man. As a Man, the Son offered Himself through the eternal Spirit as the perfect sacrifice for sin. God upheld His own holy standard, yet love conquered.
In summary then, this is what we have discussed in this first of five sessions on the work of Christ: by His substitutionary death, the Lord Jesus willingly made Himself the far more than adequate, effectual sacrifice for sin. The Lamb of God fully paid the debt owed by those who could never pay it, but who believe on Him. He took upon Himself the penalty of the holy law of God. There is even more, more much, to what Jesus did 2,000 years ago for people on earth today, and for His people of all ages. In our next session, we will consider Jesus' meritorious life: not only did Jesus pay the penalty of the law. By His perfect, sinless life on earth, He earned the reward of the obedient: ETERNAL life in heavenly glory!
Go to Session Two - Bible Study on the Work of Christ
Go to 2 Timothy 2:15 Dept.
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