Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Supreme Sacrifice

Men are sinners by nature. There is no cure by human means for the maladies of the soul; then it “must” be that the Son of Man comes down from heaven to be lifted up, that is sacrificed on the altar of the cross, that men may be cured of the sin sickness of their nature.

While speaking with Nicodemus Jesus gives us a likeness to the work of His death on the cross by referring to an event that happened to the children of Israel while in the wilderness.

He states,

“And as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.”
(John 3:14-15 NAS)

The following is an account of the event in the wilderness He refers to:

“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. And the people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”
(Numbers 21:4-9)

There is something very unique in the metaphor that our Lord is using here. The crafted “fiery serpent” mounted on the end of a standard is symbolic of the thing that had caused their impending death now being dead. Thus it is written that among the Israelites, the brazen serpent was considered a type of the resurrection, as though through looking upon it, by the command of God, the dying lived; therefore he is effectively raised from the dead.

This is the message to Nicodemus and to those who would read this account: Men are dying because of sin, as the serpent was raised up, so shall the Christ be lifted up: as they who were stung by the fiery serpents were restored by looking up to the brazen serpent, in the same manner men who are sin sick and dying are healed and effectively raised from the dead, by looking up to and believing in Christ crucified; thus His death becomes, to such men, resurrection life.

While Christ was on the cross “He (God the Father) made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2nd Corinthians 5:21 NAS).

While on the cross Jesus became “sin in the flesh” in order that He might put to death the sinful flesh of all who believe upon Him. Because He became sin in the flesh the curse and the wrath of the Father that was due sinful man was poured out upon Him. He defeated Satan and restored all that he had taken from man; for those who confess their sins, repent and “look upon him” and believe---that is to say, have faith in Him.

Jesus came to save men from the sufferings of a never-ending decomposition and destruction of their souls in the eternal state of existence known as death. At His trial Jesus was accused, beaten and mocked and on the cross He became a curse that He might bear the curse for all mankind. Yet, during the time of his ordeal, He never denied who He was; but He never defended, or denied the things of which the Sanhedrin and others accused Him (1st Peter 2:22-23). If He was to take on the sins of mankind, he could not declare His innocense. In this way He took on mankind’s sins, although He himself never sinned (2nd Corinthians 5:21; 1st Peter 2:24; Galatians 1:4).

At the time of His sufferings, because of the presence of sin, God the Father withdrew His life giving Spirit from Him. At this point in time God had given His Son as a sacrifice for man’s sins (John 3:16).

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ Which is translated, ‘My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?’”
(Mark 15:34)

Our Lord was now separated from the Father in the likeness of sinful Adam; His soul was in the state of spiritual death as His body also suffered the penalty of sin.

“When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!!’ And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.”
(John 19:30)

Christ proclaimed His part of the covenant of faith finished, He had run the coarse, He had kept the faith; the completion of the covenant was now in the hands of His Heavenly Father. His soul had now departed into death and His body was left lifeless as God’s wrath continued upon His soul.

Isaiah prophesied of this part of the covenant saying,

“But the Lord (God the Father) was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring (the church), He will prolong His days (raise Him from the dead), and the pleasure of the Lord (God) will prosper in His hand.”
(Isaiah 53:10)

Because Jesus became sin on our behalf, He was counted among the transgressors -- signified by His crucifixion between two thieves (Isaiah 53:12). Then it must be also that in our stead He suffers the penalty of death that was ultimately due us.

Some do not believe that our Lord suffered beyond the cross. But just think, if the “rich man” is suffering punishment in the state of death or hell (Luke 16:19-31) and Jesus did not go and suffer with him then God is not a just God. But God is a just God and Jesus did suffer the punishment of hell on our behalf. The innocent for the guilty, such as typed by the release of a robber named Barabbas, while Jesus is held and ultimately caused to suffer the guilty went free (Matthew 27:16-26).

The following is Scriptural evidence that Jesus suffered such a fate as death and hell on man’s behalf.

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’.”
(Matthew 12:38-40 NAS)

As Jesus refers to Jonah he speaks of him as a prophet and saying, “for just as,” meaning, in the same manner as; and then continues, saying, “so shall the Son of Man be---.” Therefore I believe that Jesus was saying that He would suffer “three days and three nights” in a like manner as Jonah suffered. Reading the book of Jonah we learn Jonah was very tormented and he cried out as a prophet saying,

“----I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.”
(Jonah 2:2 KJV)

Therefore, Jonah being a prophet spoke prophetic utterances concerning the sufferings of the Christ.

The word “heart” used throughout the Holy Scriptures and applied here in verse forty, usually referred to the inner most parts of the subject. The tomb in which the body of Jesus was laid was virtually on the surface of the earth, thus it must be that His soul was in the “heart of the earth” just as Jesus stated.

The Apostle Paul writes,

“But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), or ‘who will descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)’.”
(Romans 10:7 NAS)

Now we know Christ is not presently in hell, but why would the Apostle even mention descending “into the abyss” if our Lord had not, at some time, been there? Thus I believe Jesus was in the abyss, signified by Jesus as the “heart of the earth,” that is to say, the bottomless pit or the chaotic deep.”

Luke gives further evidence in recording the Acts of the Apostles, he writes of Peter as he speaks thus,

“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.”
(Acts 2:22-32 KJV)

Again God spoke of His covenant with His Son through Isaiah the prophet saying,

“I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you. And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations. To open blind eyes. To bring out prisoners from the dungeon. And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”
(Isaiah 42:5-7)

The Apostle Peter also tells us that Jesus preached to the spirits in prison (1st Peter 3:19) that,

“they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”
(1st Peter 4:6)

The Apostle Paul writes,

“(Now this expression, “He ascended,“ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things).”
(Ephesians 4:9-10 NAS)

Now how could Jesus preach to spirits in prison except that he descend into the lower parts of the earth and enter by way of death into the prison of death?? There, while imprisoned by death, God saw the toilsome labor of His soul and was satisfied that the law of sin and death had been fulfilled and that man’s sin debt had been paid in full for all who believe (Isaiah 53:11). At this time, I believe that because of our Lord’s faith, God reached into the pits of hell and by His Holy Spirit reversed the process of eternal death by restoring eternal life to His Son and He “became the first born of the dead” (Colossians 1:18) or the first to be born-again, that He might have first place in everything and be the head and “corner stone” of His church.

Thus it is written,

“When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, ---”
(Ephesians 4:8ff)

And even “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:52-53 NAS).

Here the Apostle Paul explains,

“He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.”
(Romans 4:25 NASU)

Now justification is the act of payment in full that vindicates, makes blameless, removes or dissolves debt and guilt; God is the just and the justifier for those who have faith. The merciful free gift of His Son as the sacrificial offering for man’s sins is the fact that justifies for all who believe; for Christ is the propitiation (satisfaction) for man’s sins (see Romans 3:19-26). Justification through Christ Jesus is God’s declaration that the demands of His law of sin and death have been fulfilled in the righteous act of His Son. Therefore, justification brings forgiveness of sins and purification for those who believe.

The Scripture teaches that God’s grace is received through faith. It is because of God’s love for man that He has mercy. And because of His great mercy He sends His Holy Spirit speaking the word of God convicting man of sin. Those who hear His word concerning sin---and the salvation He has provided through His Son and responds with confession, repentance and obedience---He ministers the favor of salvation by the same Spirit.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
(Romans 5:8)

Thus grace is the sweet expression of God’s love, ministered by His Holy Spirit, through generous acts of favor toward those who believe.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
(Ephesians 2:4-5).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
(Ephesians 2:8)

Christ is God’s ultimate expression of love, mercy and grace.

He is justification; in Him is regeneration and sanctification.

He is the believer’s Garden of Eden, a place of delight, and the open door to God’s presence.

In Him the cherubim, the flaming sword and the veil of sinful flesh are removed (Genesis 3:24).

And also in Him the believer has free access to the Holy Sprit of God (Acts 2:38).

In Him the sacrament of eating of the word of God and drinking of His Spirit from the Tree of Life is restored.

In Him the covenant of faith between God and man is re-established and in Him is eternal life.

He is the believer’s Sabbath; in Him is rest and peace for the soul.

He is the Word of God that lights our path to the Father; thus He is way, the truth and the life.

He is the supreme sacrifice that paid our sin debt; there is no other Savior for man’s soul.

James C Sanford

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