Sunday, 31 March 2013

The real meaning of Easter: Why did Jesus have to die?


‘Agnus Dei’ (literally Lamb of God) is an oil painting of a bound lamb upon an altar by Francisco de Zurbarán which was started in 1636 and completed in 1640. 

The version opposite is one of six painted by the artist and hangs in the San Diego Museum of Art, USA.

It represents the teaching right at the very heart of the Christian faith whereby God makes peace with estranged and condemned human beings through the death of his Son Jesus Christ on a Roman cross.

Jesus is called the ‘Lamb of God’ because his death was an act of ‘substitutionary atonement’.

In other words Jesus died in our place receiving the judgement and wrath that our sins deserved.

We remember it on Good Friday, the day after the Jewish Passover.

This concept of ‘dying in our place’ has its roots in the very first book of the Bible -  in Genesis 3 -   where God protected Adam and Eve from his deserved judgement by turning them out of the garden of Eden and clothing them in the skin of slaughtered animals.

The theme is similarly central to Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac when God produced a sheep as a substitute.  

Also in the Passover, preceding the Exodus, the blood of a firstborn lamb smeared on the doorposts and lintels of Israelite homes protected them from the wrath of God that fell on the Egyptians. God ‘passed them over’ and did not give them what they deserved.

Substitutionary atonement is also the basis of the Jewish sacrificial system whereby bulls, goats, sheep and pigeons were killed instead of the people to forestay God’s wrath, and also the Day of Atonement, six months after Passover, where one goat carrying the nation’s sin was slaughtered in the place of the people and a second was sent out into the wilderness never to return.

All of these were imperfect means by which a temporary reprieve was achieved for sinful human beings. They all foreshadow the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God on the cross. As Revelation, the last book in the Bible declares, Jesus was ‘the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world’ (13:8).

As the writer of Hebrews informs us, ‘the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year’ can never ‘make perfect those who draw near to worship’ because it is ‘impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins’.

We can only be ‘made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy’ (Hebrews 10:1-10).

It is said that God’s wrath and mercy meet at the cross. If God was purely a God of justice our judgement as a human race would have been immediate and final. But because God is also a God of mercy, He has provided a means by which our sin could be completely paid for.

Jesus through dying on the cross took the wrath and judgement that our sins deserved; and because he has taken that wrath and judgement in our place we receive mercy and are thereby forgiven. 

The idea of substitutionary atonement, that Christ died in our place for our sins, is central to both Old Testament and New Testament.

Nowhere is it spelt out more explicitly in the Old Testament than in Isaiah 53, the last of the four servant songs, written 700 years before Christ was crucified but written in anticipation of it:

‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ (Isaiah 53:4-6)

The central theme in Isaiah 53 (v7) is that of the ‘agnus dei’, the Lamb of God, who ‘did not open his mouth’, was ‘led like a lamb to the slaughter’ and ‘as a sheep before its shearers is silent’.

The idea of substitutionary atonement is frequently returned to in the following verses of the chapter: ‘for the transgression of my people he was punished’, ‘the Lord makes his life an offering for sin’, ‘my righteous servant will justify many’, ‘he will bear their iniquities’, ‘For he bore the sin of many’.

In the same way substitutionary atonement is the central teaching of the New Testament.

Paul says that Jesus died ‘for us’ (Romans 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:10) and also that he died ‘for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3; Gal. 1:4).

Jesus describes his own ministry as giving his life ‘as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45) and Peter says ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24).

Christ, Paul tells Timothy, ‘gave himself as a ransom for all people’ (1 Timothy 2:6). The writer of Hebrews adds that Christ ‘died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant’ (Hebrews 9:15).

Peter sums it up in saying that ‘Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).

To further unpack this theme the New Testament explains substitutionary atonement with four main metaphors.

First is the metaphor of the altar of sacrifice. Christ is the sacrificial lamb whose blood is shed in our place. It is we who deserved to die but Christ substituted himself instead.

Second is the slave market. Christ paid the redemption price that we could not pay in order to free us from bondage. He bore the cost for us.

Third is the law court. Christ is our justification, that is, he took the punishment that we deserved in order than we might not be condemned.

Fourth is the metaphor of relationship. Christ’s death on our behalf brings reconciliation after our unilateral abandonment of God. 

Like any metaphor, each of these illustrations provides merely a picture of what actually happened when Jesus died on the cross in our place. But in each case he did what we, in our weakness and sin, were unable to do (Romans 5:6-8).

He saves us from sin, judgement and Hell, to which we would inevitably be going had he not intervened at great personal cost.

The question for us is how we respond to this act of Jesus Christ.

Knowing that Christ, the creator and sustainer of the universe, whom we abandoned through passive indifference or active rebellion, sought us out and paid the ultimate price because it was the only thing that was sufficient to achieve our forgiveness and reconciliation, how can we possibly respond?

The only right response is surely to fall as his feet, to acknowledge him as master and deliverer and to give our lives to love and serve him – to come to him in repentance (turning from sin) and faith (trusting obedience).

And to those who do this he offers not only the forgiveness of sins – a clean slate – but also a renewed life and new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17), the power to change through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), the gift of service (Ephesians 3:7), the certainty of eternal life (Jude 24) and the promise that nothing will ever separate us from his love for all eternity.

‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:35-39).

(See also 'Jesus’ resurrection: what evidence is there that it really happened?')

15 comments:

  1. Doc

    Thank you for reminding us of the four main metaphors.

    Can I suggest another (I'm no theologian).

    It came to me quite unexpectdedly. The victory on the Cross was the greatest military victory ever.

    I was shown the victory of Henry V, Cromwell's victories, Montgomery's and Patton's (their senior commands all committed their soldiering to God).

    I understand the legal victory - the ancient law demanded a blood sacrifice (CS Lewis brings this out well in Narnia).

    Any chance of telling us how to enforce the Victory?

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  2. I don't know about you, but I would never allow my daughter to torture and kill my son just for me to forgive her for the bad things she did. It would be sadistic, unmerciful (towards my son), illogical (kill someone to have one's lesser sins be forgiven?), and rather bloodthirsty of me.

    And this is coming from a regular human being who is "imperfect."

    I wonder why a "perfect" being would demand the same from his children. I wonder why an "all-loving" "all-forgiving" being needs a human sacrifice in the form of his own child just to forgive his other children.

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  3. 'I would never allow my daughter to torture and kill my son just for me to forgive her for the bad things she did'.

    Neither would I and besides even if you had 5 million or 30 billion of your sons totured and executed - it would not fulfill what was required by God.

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    1. I think you fail to grasp the concept of analogy, so let me explain it for you:

      Me = God
      My son = Jesus
      My daughter = the rest of the sinning world

      I'm saying that if I were in God's shoes, I wouldn't *require* my children to kill my other child just for them to receive my forgiveness.

      As a mother (and even fathers), my forgiveness is almost freely given as long as the child knows what she did wrong and does not do the same thing again. If she doesn't, then I punish *her*, not my other kid who has nothing to do with the sin anyway.

      But let me complicate things a little further:

      Let's say my daughter stole candy from a candy shop, and I *knew* beforehand that she was going to do it, I *saw* her do it, and I *could have stopped her* from doing it, but I didn't. And when she did do it, I punished *my son* because she did it.

      It's no wonder that my daughter would *revere* my son: every time she does something wrong, she knows big brother would bail her out! Does that mean she learned her lesson and will stop doing wrong things? Of course not, she won't get punished for it anyway; her brother will!

      Where is the logic in that?

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    2. It is partly in these two lines from the article:

      'Jesus is called the ‘Lamb of God’ because his death was an act of ‘substitutionary atonement’.

      'In other words Jesus died in our place receiving the judgement and wrath that our sins deserved.'

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    3. Further, it was predicted centuries before in the Book of Isiah) that He would die for our wrongdoing:

      'Surely our griefs He Himself bore,

      And our sorrows He carried;

      Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,

      Smitten of bGod, and afflicted.

      But He was pierced through for aour transgressions,

      He was crushed for our iniquities;

      The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,

      And by His scourging we are healed.

      All of us like sheep have gone astray,

      Each of us has turned to his own way;

      But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all

      To fall on Him.'

      Because of our wrongdoing we are all under the penalty of death; Jesus being without wrongdoing volunteered to be the sacrifice that would fulfill the law.



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    4. 'It's no wonder that my daughter would *revere* my son: every time she does something wrong, she knows big brother would bail her out! Does that mean she learned her lesson and will stop doing wrong things? Of course not, she won't get punished for it anyway; her brother will!'

      She would not 'revere' your son - once someone has knowledge as to what Jesus did on the cross and by His resurrection - and continues in his wrongdoing - then the sacrifice is useless to that person and eternal death awaits.

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    5. But why was the "substitutionary atonement" necessary in the first place? Why did God *allow* it to happen?

      Surely as an *all-loving* *all-forgiving* *omniscient* *omnipresent* being, he could have simply forgiven humans. Or better yet kept them from doing sin in the first place.

      As a mother, if I had *known* a sin was about to be committed, if I had *seen* the sin being committed with my own eyes and if I had *known* I could *stop* my daughter before she could commit the sin, without taking even a second to think about it, I would have done so.

      Why didn't God? Why did he *allow* his son to sacrifice his life for the sins of others? Why did he demand a blood sacrifice just so he could forgive those sins?

      Let me ask you (just two simple yes-or-no questions):

      You KNOW your child is going to kill someone else. You SAW with your own eyes your child is about to kill someone else. You KNOW that you can STOP your child from committing murder.

      (1) Will you stop him from doing so or will you allow him to kill someone else?
      (2) And when his brother offers to take the fall for the murder, will you allow your murderous child to torture and kill his brother?

      Two answers for two questions. You need not say anything else.

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    6. ‘But why was the "substitutionary atonement" necessary in the first place? Why did God *allow* it to happen?’

      To permit us the opportunity to escape the just penalty for our wrongdoing.


      ‘Surely as an *all-loving* *all-forgiving* *omniscient* *omnipresent* being, he could have simply forgiven humans.

      Why should He when most of us don’t ask for His forgiveness? In other words, we seem to shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes at our death sentence.

      ‘Or better yet kept them from doing sin in the first place.’

      Without free will your children will not and cannot love you.

      ‘As a mother, if I had *known* a sin was about to be committed, if I had *seen* the sin being committed with my own eyes and if I had *known* I could *stop* my daughter before she could commit the sin, without taking even a second to think about it, I would have done so.’

      ‘Why didn't God?’

      Again part of the answer is the exercise of free will (and there is also God’s plan for saving mankind – at least for those who will turn to Him).


      ‘Why did he *allow* his son to sacrifice his life for the sins of others?’

      God is Love.

      ‘Why did he demand a blood sacrifice just so he could forgive those sins?’

      That is to do with the ‘ancient law’. You may recall that in the article above the Doc points out that in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve had exercised their free will and did that which God had commanded them not to do, wrongdoing had entered the world – and God slaughtered an animal (we don’t know which animal – I like to conjecture that it was a lamb) as a sacrifice to atone for their wrongdoing (God was showing that He takes wrongdoing very seriously).

      Again, in the Old Testament the Passover lamb slaughtered points to the Lamb that was to come in the New Testament – and the Lamb of God, Jesus, ‘God-Man’, identified with us humans and became the sacrifice so that we have the opportunity to have our wrongdoing forgiven (if we ask Him) and thus escape the death penalty.

      ‘Let me ask you (just two simple yes-or-no questions):

      ‘You KNOW your child is going to kill someone else. You SAW with your own eyes your child is about to kill someone else. You KNOW that you can STOP your child from committing murder.

      ‘(1) Will you stop him from doing so or will you allow him to kill someone else?
      (2) And when his brother offers to take the fall for the murder, will you allow your murderous child to torture and kill his brother?

      ‘Two answers for two questions. You need not say anything else.’

      (1) Free will. As Solzhenitsyn once said the path between right and wrong runs through every human heart (of course at the human level we institute government for our protection and justice).
      (2) That is precisely what God has permitted. Let me put it this way; if my son was murdered and I refused to forgive the murderer, but the murderer asked God for forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’s sacrifice – God would forgive Him. How horrible that might seem to me – God forgiving my son’s murderer without my permission. But it seems to me that God could only forgive in this case as if my son’s murderer had murdered Jesus himself. It’s as if every time we insult, strike, rape or murder someone – we have done it to Jesus first.

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    7. Not what I asked, man.

      Don't tell me what God would do/did. What would YOU do?

      (1) Will you stop him from doing so or will you allow him to kill someone else?
      (2) And when his brother offers to take the fall for the murder, will you allow your murderous child to torture and kill his brother?

      Yes or no.

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    8. I think you fail to grasp the concept of analogy, so let me explain it for you:

      Me = God
      My son = Jesus
      My daughter = the rest of the sinning world

      Delete
    9. Huh? What does that have to do with my question?

      Oh! Oh, wait! Hahaha. Seriously?! Am I correct in understanding that you're taking my analogy literally and saying that you're answering my question as if you were God?! Oh, that is hilarious!

      Dude, read up on analogy before you start quoting my words back at me. Not to mention that analogy came and went a few comments back. Lmfao.

      But okay, since you again fail to grasp analogy, let me revise my question:

      What would you, AS THE REGULAR HUMAN BEING YOU ARE AT THIS VERY MOMENT IN TIME, do:

      (1) Will you stop your hypothetical son from murdering someone else or not given that you *knew* beforehand that it would happen, *saw* it happen and *had the power* to stop it?
      (2) And when his hypothetical brother offers to take the fall for the murder, will you allow your murderous child to torture and kill his brother?

      Yes or no.

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    10. Sarah what you are asking is incoherent .... it is a little like asking "have you stopped beating your wife" - yes or no

      you are putting yourself in the place of God - and that is the fatal flaw in your reasoning .... when we can understand how the universe was formed and designed by the Word and the power of God, then we might be able to begin to understand some of God's ways ....

      partly also we think in terms of earthly lifetimes, God thinks in eternal values ....

      So to answer what I as a human mother would do has only partial relevance to God's eternal purposes ....

      But even so, I don't know how old your children are, but mine are grown, and watching them and their friends - I can see clearly how terrible a thing it is when parents don't make children accept that actions have consequences ....
      and this is what essentially God did in Eden - He told Adam and Eve that obedience was the way of life - that disobedience meant death. But they disobeyed, and brought the curse i.e. the consequence down upon themselves ... and so it has been ever since - we die.

      But there is physical death and there is eternal death .... Jesus came - willingly - to redeem for Himself any human being who will turn to Him.

      Actually a better analogy would be ... if your child was going to die, would you give your life for them? .... yes or no

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  4. Thanks for reminding us about this. I don't want to forget the reason why Jesus have to die. It is because he wanted to save us. Jesus paid it all! Thanks you Jesus!
    Baptist

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  5. sick, twisted, blood crazed, death cult drivel

    fucking disgusting crap

    ReplyDelete

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