UNDERSTANDING THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST
Some of those who have written in years gone by about the beliefs and doctrines that the Nazarene Fellowship espouse, have sometimes been accused of being too argumentative and combative and even unpleasant. They have been blamed for directing their writings to the views put forward by particular named personalities, who in turn have written in direct opposition to what Nazarenes believe to be the truth about the nature of Jesus Christ and His redeeming Sacrifice for us. But such writings and methods have their rightful place in establishing scriptural truth. However, the following declaration of faith and belief uses none of those methods. It is a carefully reasoned and altruistic explanation of the Good News of our salvation from Eden through to Christ's death and His resurrection. This does not mean that the writer is not deeply and emotionally moved by the ancient and saving message he seeks to persuade you of, rather he wishes to touch the heart and conscience of the reader by appealing in a different way to the sensibilities. The piece explores and displays in all its glory the overwhelming love that has from the beginning of time been the driving force behind the universe. God loved man when He first made him and loves him still, in spite of the failings he so often unfortunately manifests. When Adam disobeyed the Almighty's first commandment, God did not turn away in disgust from His creation; He lovingly and with exquisite Justice instituted a plan of salvation to ensure humanity's survival. Survival even into eternity if they so desired, where there would be beauty and peace: where there would be no more death and where all tears would be wiped away. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save it and all who would be born into it. We cannot begin to comprehend the anguish God suffered seeing what His beloved Son had to endure at the hands of wicked men; but suffer He must have for He was a loving Father with a Son full of grace and truth in whom He was well pleased Jesus loved us before He knew us and died that we might live. So the story of God's dealings with His people begins with love and continues with love as it will surely end with love when Messiah returns to the earth to be all in all. As the old hymn has it "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all." Here are the words of love and life, words that can make anyone wise unto salvation; he who has ears to hear let him hear.
* * * Understanding The Sacrifice of Christ
If we do not understand how and why the death of Jesus Christ, by crucifixion saves us how can we say we believe? We ought to devote time and prayer to the matter so we can be fully persuaded in our own minds independent of others, especially of those who would say these doctrines are too deep, or require long experience or training to understand them. This is not so for the truth is straight forward and easy to follow, and once we grasp it clearly in our minds we can go on to plumb greater depths of Scriptural truths with clarity of thought and conviction. Follow Scripture carefully and prayerfully; the path we take from Eden to Gethsemane has to be straight and true for we must understand what happened in Eden to understand the sacrifice of Christ, then the message of the Cross gives great comfort to the heart and purpose to life. To fulfil His purpose God is calling out a people for His Name, people who will strive to do what is right in His sight, even if necessary to the giving up of their lives, to bring honour and glory to Him. Such people are the children of God. These are "True worshippers" who "shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him." (John 4:23). As parents we love our children. We set them rules of acceptable behaviour and when a child makes a mistake we do what we can to make matters right again and encourage him or her to do better in future. All is done out of love to help the child make right choices and develop good character. This is the pattern of God's dealings with His children. Adam was God's son by creation and he made a mistake; he made a wrong choice. Our story starts here and shows how God, his Father put matters right for him, and for us.
The Law of Sin and Death
Adam was created from the dust of the ground and was a living soul, or person dependent on the natural processes common to all animals and therefore corruptible. The difference between man and the lower animals is that God endowed him with the intellectual powers of a reasoning mind and free will so when placed under law he could choose, and so develop good character well pleasing to his Creator. In Eden Adam was placed under law which required perfect obedience, whilst disobedience would incur the penalty of death. Forgiveness had no place in the law of sin and death in Eden and should Adam sin the debt of life owed to the law had to be paid. So when Adam transgressed the law he incurred judicial death as the penalty and was in dire straits and could do nothing to regain his freedom from the death penalty, while any hope of eternal life was also lost. Perfect obedience from that moment on would not have sufficed, for the requirements of the law would not have been met as his life was already forfeit. Even the giving of his life would not have been sufficient payment for he now had only an imperfect life to offer, and an imperfect life was not equal to the perfect life he had forfeited. Indeed being forfeited his life had no value. The Scriptures teach that there was a change in Adam's relationship to his Creator when he disobeyed the law. This was a legal matter. His legal position changed, previously he was innocent now he was guilty; he had been free of condemnation, now he was under condemnation; he was no longer free and his life was in pledge to sin; no longer a Son of God but a bondservant of Sin, for when he transgressed he sold himself to another owner, he became the servant of Sin and had left the house wherein he was a Son of God and sold himself into slavery (John 8:34, Romans 6:16). Yet he did not suffer the penalty for his sin, that is to say, that the penalty of "in the day thou eatest thereof thou shall surely die" was not carried out.
The First Sacrifice
God in His mercy and love provided a way in which the requirement of the law would be met and Adam redeemed from his death sentence. In the first instance we learn that an animal was slain in Eden. Instead of Adam perishing an animal perished, and the death of the animal provided a covering for him, a covering he wore as a constant reminder that the animal had died in his stead. The slain animal was the first sacrifice and it was symbolic of the one great Sacrifice to follow. It was a type of the Lamb of God who was to come to take away the Sin of the world – "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" as foretold in Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head while the seed of the serpent should bruise his heel; the head wound to the serpent being destructive of its power was to free man from bondage to the law of sin and death which bars the way to eternal life. It is law that reigns and in it we see the loving-kindness, mercy and justice of God. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son," His closest possession, to be the sacrifice for the Sin of the world so we might be persuaded of His love "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3; 16). A sacrifice in which Jesus Christ voluntarily offered Himself, who said, "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30). His Father asked of Him the willingness to give His own life to take away the Sin of the world and thereby deliver the human race from bondage to the law of sin and death. In doing this He showed great strength of character, determination and courage.
Jesus Christ The Antitype
Before Jesus Christ could offer Himself as the sacrifice to take away the Sin of the world it was needful He be "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). He had to be tried under law, like Adam, and prove Himself to be perfect for had He failed He would have been in the same position as Adam after he sinned, and quite unable to save Himself or anyone else. Having served His years of probation and the time having come for Him to be received up, Jesus Christ was "rich" with His own perfect character in His natural life and could have entered into eternal life without dying, but how then would the Scriptures have been fulfilled? In Jesus own words "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone" and that would have been His position, abiding alone for eternity but out of His love for us He chose to take Adam's place by dying the judicial death due to Adam. It was a life for a life. It was an equivalent perfect life to the one Adam had been given as Son of God at creation and which he had forfeited. The equivalent price which Jesus paid for Adam's redemption – "They that hated me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head; they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty; then I restored that which I took not away" (Psalm 69:4). He restored (covenanted) life to the human race and with it the opportunity of eternal life. But how did the one life of Jesus Christ, given in place of Adam's life, save all? The Apostle Paul explains in his Epistle to the Romans and elsewhere:
The Federal Principle
The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 3:22, "But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." That is to say we are all included in the Sin of Adam so that the one sacrifice which redeemed Adam and thereby gave him the opportunity of eternal life by faith does the same for us. The Federal Principle is seen in Romans chapter 5 where the Apostle Paul shows how through the one transgression of Adam all were constituted sinners. Not made sinful, but were sold to the power of "Sin" which he personifies elsewhere as a slave-owner; and through the righteousness of one, Jesus Christ, the faithful are constituted righteous. We see then the two Federal Heads - Adam and Jesus Christ. Adam is the Federal Head of all under the law of sin and death while Jesus Christ is the Federal Head of all under Grace:-
No one of Adam's line could successfully lay down his life as a ransom. It had to be a life free of the condemnation under which all in Adam lived and in order to meet this necessity a ransom had to be paid by someone of the same flesh and blood as Adam yet with a life free from condemnation and this is the reason why Jesus was born the Son of God; He was given a new life direct from His Father, not through the line of Adam; and was related to the race being born of a woman. We have the illustration of Moses. "For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you" (Acts 3:22). Why did Moses say "like unto me"? It was because Moses was the only Israelite not a slave - not in captivity to the Egyptians - and therefore free to mediate with Pharaoh; likewise Jesus was the only human being not inheriting Adam's slavery to Sin and therefore free to give His life a Ransom for many. God's principle of Redemption is further illustrated in the law God gave to Moses regarding slavery for we read that where it was impossible for a bondservant to buy his own freedom because of poverty, the law gave the right to a near kinsman to pay the price of his redemption and so free the bondservant and his family from their servitude. The near-kinsman to Adam (who was in bondage to Sin), was Jesus Christ who was free of any bondage. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9); rich with His own life whereas we are poor. He was strong whereas we are weak, and being obedient all His natural life He gave the "wealth" of His natural life as the exact equivalent price to redeem Adam and all in him. A Man who was tempted in all points as we are and made as we are of the same flesh and blood Jesus Christ was touched with the feeling of our infirmities and learned obedience by the things which He suffered. We see Jesus Christ then of His own free choice, determined to please His Father, accepting the task of redeeming mankind from annihilation, going voluntarily and courageously to His death on the Cross and giving up His natural life for the sake of and in the place of His brother Adam; a life for a life, the Just for the unjust, one person paying the debt owed by another, the innocent person paying the debt owed by the guilty sinner. It was of course substitution, as is any purchase; we have been bought with a price, even the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and it was necessary for our salvation for had not Christ died on the Cross we would not have been redeemed and would still be in our sins. It was a matter of a righteous man freely paying the debt of life owed by the guilty because the guilty could not pay it. Was it unjust for Jesus Christ to give His life and die for us in this way? No, He voluntarily paid it as the debt owed by another and no one took His life from Him. He laid it down of His own free will for the joy that was set before Him and in bringing many sons to glory. The Cross speaks of Love while at the same time establishing the principles of justice. Jesus Christ came into the world to give us our natural life and with it the opportunity of life more abundant, eternal life, which is the gift of God to all who love and honour the Son. There was no commandment demanding Jesus Christ lay down His life which, had He failed would have made Him a sinner. He voluntarily laid down His life – "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself" John 10:18. The very fact that He could have called upon twelve legions of angels to deliver Him from crucifixion had His courage failed proves this could not have been sin had He not died, for God would have saved His life by providing the angels. But He did not flee in the face of evil. He gave His back to the smiter, He hid not His face from shame and spitting, He was wounded for our transgressions; bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and with His stripes we are healed. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah shows beyond all cavil that Jesus Christ died in place of us. His life for ours.
Out of Adam and Into Christ
Jesus Christ suffered for us so that we can come out of Adam and into Christ by baptism into Him. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death...?" (Romans 6:3). We do not have to die for Sin except in symbol in the waters of baptism, from which we rise, no longer in bondage to Sin; no longer under the condemnation of the law of sin and death but under the law of life by Grace through Jesus Christ. In the foreknowledge of God He saw that Jesus Christ would take Adam's place in death so that Adam need not die for his transgression, and thereby we, in due time, have received our natural life from him, and indeed more than this, for we also have received the opportunity of eternal life. And so now, if we choose to do His will and keep His commandments, we shall have that life more abundantly, for our eternal life is dependent upon our baptism into Him and upon doing His will. "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" (John 15:13,14). Jesus Christ asks perfection of us – "be ye perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" - Matthew 5:48 - it is His command for us. Having been redeemed by Jesus Christ and baptized into Him, should we fail to do whatsoever He commands us - fail in that perfection asked of us, we can receive forgiveness for our sins through Him. "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who should stand? But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared" (Psalm 130:3,4). "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." - 2 Timothy 2:5.