Picking up from last month, the fundamental mechanism of salvation is just forgiveness. There’s no mysticism about it. It is simply that God chooses to forgive us. God says, “You have sinned and I’m going to take your sins away.”This month we will expand on this fundamental mechanism a little to look at sacrifice. The core message remains the same: sin is not paid for; it is forgiven.
The Law and Christ
Let’s think about the Law of Moses for a moment. God gave the Law to provide governance for the nation of Israel. He gave it 1,500 years before Jesus came. And this fact alone can create confusion for us when we think about the relationship between Christ and the Law. Because the Law came first in time, we might treat the Law as if it were something fundamental, and Christ merely as the fulfilment of this Law. “If only we could only understand the Law properly,” we might say, “Then we’d be able to understand Christ.”
This is backward! Christ is the fundamental. He stands there in his own right. It is Christ who is the embodiment of everything God wants to say to us. Salvation from God has always been focused in Christ. He was crucified from “before the foundation of the world”.
Even before Adam and Eve were made, God had His Son in mind. In fact, God had His glorified Son in mind. “Glorify me”, Jesus says, “with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). God knew what glory He would give to Jesus, and Jesus looks for the reassurance that comes from that glory as he goes through his agony — as he goes to submit himself completely to God.
The Law is a shadow
So what was really going on at Passover? What really is going on in the ritual of the Red Heifer? Or the Scapegoat? Or in any other requirement of the Law? What is the Tabernacle really?
All of these things were a shadow of another reality; all of them were merely a reflection of some other fundamental truth.
“They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’ ” (Heb. 8:5).
Christ is the fundamental truth. It is only when we understand Christ in all his three-dimensional, full-color glory, that we will be suited to go back to study the Law, to see if we can understand the various aspects of it.
Take the tabernacle, for example. The tabernacle was simply a reflection of what Moses saw when he went up on the mount and saw the Temple of God, there, in heaven! He saw God on a throne, the four living creatures around, the angels and the seraphim, the cherubim — and God said to Moses, “I want you to make a tent which depicts this!” So Moses went back, and he did just that. He worked with others who were also given particular skills and capabilities by the Spirit of God, and he made a tent that depicted God’s reality that was (and still is) there in heaven. It’s not that God moulded the reality in heaven based on how Moses made the tent on earth. No! It’s the other way round. The reality is in heaven; the tent depicted it.
Entering the tabernacle in heaven
When Christ came, he participated in the reality that is in heaven. He did not participate in the shadow, or the reflection that had been constructed here on earth. This is how the writer to the Hebrews describes it:
“When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation” (Heb. 9:11).
From the foundation of the world, God saw this fundamental act. Christ entered the most holy place in heaven, bearing the gift of his blood — his life. I am convinced that the account of this act is given in Revelation 5 (indeed, it would be astonishing if this were not described anywhere in Scripture).
John is drawn into heaven (whether it was in the body or out of the body I don’t know — God knows), into the very throne room of God. He sees the Book of Life sealed, and unable to be opened, and finds himself weeping, devastated that no one is worthy to open the book. Salvation is not possible, and all are condemned to remain in the dust of the earth.
But then one of the elders says to him: “Don’t weep! The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has triumphed!”
You can imagine John thinking, “Where’s this Lion?” He turns and sees… a Lamb! He sees a lamb coming in, looking as if it had been slain.
Triumph in submission
The triumph of Christ is that he was slain. More, that he was willing to be slain. As he says,
“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:18).
Paul says it this way,
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8).
So Jesus enters heaven, bearing the marks of his submission. His blood is symbolic of the fact that he had completely devoted every part of his life to his Father. ‘Here is my life, and I give it to you.’ And through this pattern of total submission, the Book is given to him — the Lamb’s Book of Life, as it is called later — and he begins to remove the seals.
The sacrifice of Christ consisted of giving his life to God. Giving all of his life, both while living and while dying. Now that we have seen Christ, we find that the Old Testament teaching of sacrifice drives the same message home.
Sacrifice was never “doing a deal” with God. The life of a lamb was not offered instead of the life of the sinner. God takes no pleasure in burnt offerings, as David declares in Psalm 51:16, so the lamb isn’t offered for God’s benefit. Rather, the life of the lamb was supposed to remind the offerer that his or her life also belonged to God, and needed to be offered and devoted to God.
Just to convince ourselves that we’re not in the bargaining game, that we’re not about to buy our salvation or to convince God that He has to accept us, let’s look at an absolutely defining scripture given through Micah,
“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression [rebellious acts — NASB], the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:6-8).
The sacrifices — presenting dead animals — that’s not what God wants! The big gifts, the rivers of oil — ‘I could pour them out…’ — that’s not what God wants! Shall I take my son and kill him? God would be appalled!
“No!” says Micah. God doesn’t want any of those things. He wants your heart! He wants you to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
The most precious sacrifice: our freewill
In Psalm 40, David is talking about himself as a shadow of Jesus. What does he say?
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart’ ” (Psa. 40:6-8).
Actually, God did want them to bring burnt offerings and sin offerings; the Law was very clear. The Law said, “You are required to bring a lamb, cut its throat and pour out its blood.” Yet here, inspired by the same Spirit that provided the Law, David says in effect, “It’s not the dead animal that you care about, is it, God? It’s not the blood being spilled that you want. What you, God, care about is what is going on in my heart when I perform the sacrifice, not the sacrifice itself.”
It’s Gethsemane! ‘I desire to do your will, O Lord, not mine.’ A daily Gethsemane for each one of us. ‘Not my will, but yours be done. I walk humbly with you, my God.’
“Humbly” means that I don’t assert, ‘I will do what I want to do.” “Humbly” means that I don’t challenge the judgment of God when He calls something sin. “Humbly” means I don’t argue with Him that something can’t possibly be sin simply because I — my flesh — wants it so much. No! “Humbly” means that I say to Him, “I will learn from you. I will take my standards from you. I come to do your will, not my own desire.”
Accepting God’s standard
Look at Psalm 51:3,4, quoted in the New Testament in connection with salvation (in Romans 3:4).
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psa. 51:3,4).
The context is that David has finally realised the enormity of what he has done. It started with lust for Bathsheba, and worked its way, step by step, until he murdered Uriah. Now he pours himself out before God.
There’s a strange phrase in that fourth verse: “…so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge”. What’s going on? What does it mean?
It seems to me that David is saying: “I’m going to stand up and I’m going to say: ‘I sinned!’ I’m going to make that an open, clear declaration so that it may be known that you, God, when you say that I have sinned, you are proved right; that you are justified in your judgement of me, because I agree with your statement. I am supporting your declaration, God; I am making a statement that: ‘God is right when he looks at me and calls me a sinner’.”
Admit to sin
When we have our sins, the ones that we like to hold on to, we can fall into the trap of self-justification. We might start saying to ourselves, ‘They’re not really sins…” If we start saying that, then we are doing exactly the opposite of what David did. We are not justifying God. Rather, we are making God out to be a liar.
If God says that to do this or that is destructive, if He says that this action damages you, or it damages other people — or it damages your relationship with Him! — and we say, “No! It doesn’t!” then we are calling God a liar.
The first step to sacrificing our will is to admit our sin.
I came across a great cartoon, showing a man in a card shop trying to buy a card. He has a worried expression, and asks the assistant, “Do you have a card that stops short of saying: ‘I’m sorry’, yet vaguely hints at some wrongdoing?”
That’s what we are like, all too often! At meeting, we sometimes pray, “Lord we recognise that we’re sinners before you; forgive our sin.” We admit that we are sinners, but only in very general terms. If someone came up to one of us and said, “You’re a sinner because you did this… and this… etc.”, then the accused would probably be highly offended! Who does that accuser think he/she is to be so bold!
So we don’t mind vaguely hinting at some wrongdoing…
We have to be honest with ourselves, and honest with God. We must be frank about what is sin in our lives, so that God is proved right when He judges. He wants us to sacrifice ourselves over to Him, to admit that our lives belong to Him, that our wills belong to Him. If we can truly admit that our sin is sin, then He will take them away from us.
“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.”
(With many thanks to Paul Launchbury for his help in the development of this series)