The time has now come to gather together the strands of thought from several earlier chapters. We have studied the teaching of the Bible on the tragic fact of sin in human experience. Sin has so cursed the world, that in spite of all our progress, education, knowledge and religion we still see pride, selfishness, greed, lust, cruelty, violence, hate, war, sorrow and grief wherever we look. Humanism, the belief that man is basically good at heart, has been proved false. The Bible teaching about sin fits in perfectly with the obvious facts of daily experience. We have seen that sin came into human experience through pride, self-will and disobedience to God’s laws. We have seen also, that although man is responsible for this awful harvest of misery and sin, God has promised that He will be responsible for the great work of saving us from sin. We have read the promises of a coming Savior so wonderfully foretold by the prophets in detail and so amazingly fulfilled by Jesus Christ that we cannot doubt that He is the revealed Savior of men.
This brings us to a very important question. How does Jesus save sinful men and women from their sins and make them fit for eternal life in the presence of God? We have seen that Jesus died and rose from among the dead, but this prompts another question. “Why was this necessary? What was the purpose of such a tragic death?” We have asked, HOW, WHY, WHAT? We now must look at the Bible to find satisfactory answers to these questions, if we say that Jesus died as a sacrifice, we must find out the meaning of sacrifice, and why only the sacrifice of Jesus can be called a perfect sacrifice. For this we must go back again to the very beginning.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their sin destroyed the perfect communion they had enjoyed with God, for God is holy and He cannot have fellowship with unholy creatures. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Sin separates man from God. But your sinful acts have alienated you from your God; your sins have caused him to reject you and not listen to your prayers (Isaiah 59:2). But, even worse, God has said that the penalty for disobedience is death. But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die (Genesis 2:17). God emphatically declares, The one who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4). Notice also the following words, When sin is full grown, it gives birth to death (James 1:15). Notice also the statement, So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned (Romans 5:12).
Death is said to be the result of sin. What is death? In the Bible death never means cessation of existence. The popular idea is that at death we just “go out like a lamp.” The Bible contradicts this. In Scripture, death is spoken of in two ways:
Physically, death is the separation of the spirit from the body
Spiritually, death is the separation of the sinner from God.
Both are the result of sin. At the very moment that Adam and Eve sinned, they “died” spiritually—that is they were separated from God; eventually they died physically, when the spirit was separated from the body. Thus, because of sin in human life, the Bible speaks of men and women as being “dead in sins” even while they still live physically. Examine the following quotations:
For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).
So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned—for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed. But the gracious gift is not like the transgression. For if the many died through the transgression of the one man, how much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ multiply to the many! And the gift is not like the one who sinned. For judgment, resulting from the one transgression, led to condemnation, but the gracious gift from the many failures led to justification For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous. Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:12-21).
And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!—and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:1-9).
But the one who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives (1 Timothy 5:6).
Now, although sin caused this “spiritual death” (separation from God) God has not ceased to love His creatures. He loves us because that is His character. His plan for man was that man should love, worship and serve God. He therefore planned a way to restore man to fellowship with Himself. This plan was based on the principle of sacrifice. We find this taught plainly in the story of Cain and Abel, the first two men to be born on earth, the sons of Adam and Eve. As grown men, they became responsible to God for their own obedience to God. The story is given here. Now the man had marital relations with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created a man just as the Lord did!” Then she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground. At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock—even the fattest of them. And the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must suppress it.” Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him (Genesis 4:1-8).
Now read the comment on this in Hebrews 11:4: By faith Abel offered God a greater sacrifice than Cain, and through his faith he was commended as righteous, because God commended him for his offerings. And through his faith he still speaks, though he is dead. Both men believed in God. Both desired to worship Him. Cain brought an offering to God, but it was not a blood sacrifice, and God rejected it. Abel brought a lamb as a sacrifice and God accepted it. Why? Was God unfair? No! God had revealed that only through a blood sacrifice could sinful men approach a holy God, and Cain refused to do this.
From that time onwards every person who desired to worship God in a way that God accepted, offered a blood sacrifice like Abel. Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and all the great prophets knew, and taught and practiced the fact that God had commanded the offering of a blood sacrifice to put away their sin. The story of Cain and Abel and all later teaching emphasizes that to offer to God gifts of fruit, money or other things is of no value unless we have first had our sins put away by a blood sacrifice.
The reason for this is clearly given in the words of God Himself—the penalty for sin is death. Because of sin, the sinner must die and be separated from God for ever; but God in His love and wisdom permitted the sinner, in Old Testament times, to offer a substitute to die in his place. To use a modern expression, when a sinner offered a lamb as a sacrifice, it was “death by proxy.” Cain objected to this, and millions upon millions up to the present time continue to object. But this was God’s plan, not man’s. Abel (and millions like him, who accepted God’s word, even though they could not understand the reason for God’s commands) came in sincere repentance, confessing his sins and offering a blood sacrifice as an act of faith. The blood which flowed when the sacrifice was killed showed vividly that a life had been given as a substitute for the life of the sinner. Because of the faith of the worshipper, God forgave him his sins and restored him to the blessing and favor of God. Thus a sacrifice was evidence of personal faith in God, personal obedience to God, personal repentance and confession of sin.
At the time of Moses, the people of Israel were given a comprehensive Law regarding sacrifices, and the way of true worship. Every day, in the temple of God, lambs were offered in sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people. Now no animal sacrifice could deal adequately and permanently with human sin. So day after day for hundreds of years, countless animal sacrifices were offered at God’s command. Now as we have seen in previous lessons, Old Testament prophets were sent to teach many things which would not be fully understood until the coming of the promised Messiah. This was true of the blood sacrifices. When we turn to the New Testament, it all becomes plain. The sacrifices were actually types (pictures or acted parables) pointing forward to one perfect sacrifice, by which God would deal with sin for ever—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Jesus said, For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). This is explained in the letter to the Hebrews in the following words, By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again—sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:10-12). Many other verses fully support this. Please read the following examples: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7). In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14). From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead) and all the brothers with me, to the churches of Galatia. Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father (Galatians 1:1-4).
Jesus was sinless. He did not forfeit His life as sinful men do; He was therefore able to come willingly and offer His sinless life as a perfect sacrifice for sinful men. John, one of the greatest of the prophets, pointed to Jesus and said to his listeners, Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29). But did He give His life willingly? Oh yes! He says so Himself, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . . This is why the Father loves me—because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again (John 10:11, and 17-18). It is true that the Jews demanded His death and the Romans carried out the execution, but Jesus Himself declared they would have had no power at all against Him unless He had given Himself willingly to die.
Jesus was not compelled to die. Because of His love for us, He took our place and died as our sacrifice to atone for our sins. The blood which flowed from His body was the proof that the penalty of sin had been paid—the ultimate penalty, death. At this point a question arises in the minds of many people, if Jesus died as a substitute for sinners, why do Christians die? If death is the result of sin, then why should people die if their sins are forgiven? This takes us back to the beginning again! God did not promise to reverse at once the penalty of physical death, or as we saw, the separation of the spirit from the body. That penalty still remains in force. But what God did promise to deal with at once was “spiritual death”—the separation of the sinner from God forever. When sin is forgiven, God gives to the believer “eternal life” which means that nothing now separates the believer in Christ from fellowship with God. And when the Day of Resurrection comes the dead will be raised; then body and spirit will be re-united and thus the complete person will enter into the presence of God forever.
God has said that the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ has made an end of all other sacrifices. All the Old Testament sacrifices became obsolete upon the death of Christ. Just a few short years after Jesus died and rose from among the dead, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. Since then, no Jew has been able to offer a blood sacrifice to God. God’s law permitted them to sacrifice only in the Temple and nowhere else on earth.
With this long explanation of the meaning of sacrifices in the Old Testament and the explanation of how they came to an end in the New Testament, we ask the question, “How can a sinner be saved from the penalty of his sins today?” Actually, the way of salvation is the same as in the past. Let us read what David the prophet said in Psalm 32:5: Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing. I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord.” And then you forgave my sins. David uses three descriptive words to confess his spiritual needs. He humbly confessed his wrongdoing, his rebellion and his sin. This is the first step in the way of salvation. We must make a sincere confession of our sins to God. This includes confessing that our nature is perverted, that our behavior is rebellious, and that in all things we have failed to reach God’s standard of holiness. Repentance is not just a glib admission that we have been found out! Repentance is a realization that we have sinned against God, and our sin is an offense to Him. He loves us and desires us to be holy; therefore, there must be a desire in our hearts to be saved from our sins. David the prophet prayed to God to cleanse his sin (Psalm 51:2) and to create in him a pure heart (Psalm 51:10). Unless our repentance and confession is sincere, God cannot accept our prayers or worship, or even accept a sacrifice from us. David points out this very fact later on in the same Psalm. In other words, David realized that even though God had commanded sacrifices, it was useless for him to offer them unless he intended to turn away from his sin.
The only sacrifice God accepts today is the perfect and final sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. When a sinner truly repents and trusts in God to forgive his sin because of what Jesus has done, God immediately forgives him and sets him free from the penalty. He receives “eternal life”!
Are you willing to accept Jesus Christ as your Sacrifice and your Savior? This is the most important question you will ever be asked to decide in your lifetime.
Possibly your immediate reaction is “I cannot understand all this!” God does not expect us to understand it but because it is His will, to accept it by faith. We are not saved from sin by our intellectual grasp of this Divine plan but by simple, personal trust in what God has said. This can be summed up in a few words.
1. God now commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
2. God recommends His love to us in that Christ died for our sins (Romans 5:8).
3. God asks us to believe what He has said. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3).
Are you willing to repent, to believe in Jesus Christ’s death as a sacrifice for sin, and to trust Him as your Savior?