What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Christ's sinless sacrifice resulted in reconciliation with God. His sacrifice enabled God to justify us, that is, to consider us sinless in a legal sense. We were still sinful, but because we accepted Christ's sacrifice, His blood covered us. Thus, under His righteousness, we are allowed now to have access to God. Having access, we can be forgiven by God and made clean. Because of that, we have the opportunity now to have eternal life, and we are saved, then, by His life being lived in us.
So do we see what reconciliation produced? It did not produce just justification. Reconciliation produces life. If we follow this thought through, reconciliation becomes more than just bringing us back to equal footing. It enables us to go on—to perfection, let's say. We can go on to the type of life that God lives.
If we are not reconciled with God, then we have stalled our salvation process, which is not good. We never want to do this but to be always moving forward. Reconciliation thus becomes very important in the spiritual sense of our eternal salvation. We see here a principle that when we become reconciled, we can then move on in life—and, in a spiritual sense, towards eternal life. This works in principle in the same way in our personal problems with others.
We have gone from being enemies, hostile to God, to being children of God—and, thus, able to be saved through Christ living in us. As Paul says in verse 11, that should bring us great joy. Joy is another result—another fruit—of reconciliation. We are no longer under the burdensome cloud of being at odds with another. When reconciliation occurs, it is a relief to be able to breathe clearly and without stress, unlike when the relationship was antagonistic.
Sunset is the beginning of Nisan 14, and chronologically we are moving into the daylight portion of that day—Passover day. As daylight hits, Abraham asks God for evidence that He will follow through. Abraham receives the command to prepare a sacrifice and a prophecy regarding his family. Verse 12 shows the preparation of the sacrifice was during the daylight part of Nisan 14, because when we get to verse 12, the sacrifice has been prepared, and the sun was going down. That brings us up to the end of the 14th.
Many have wondered why Christ was sacrificed during the daylight portion of Nisan 14 in the afternoon rather than at the beginning, and seemingly more in alignment with Passover. Was not the Passover lamb slain at the beginning of Nisan 14, after ben ha arbayim began? Yes, it was. So people think because Christ was sacrificed sometime during the afternoon of the 14th that there is something wrong. The answer as to why He was sacrificed during the afternoon rather than at the beginning of the 14th appears here in Genesis 15: Even as the covenant of promise with Abraham was ratified by the sacrifice Abraham makes here, Christ's sacrifice provides the ratification of the New Covenant. Christ's sacrifice, by God's decree, had to align with the ratification of the covenant of promise with Abraham, not the Passover. The time of the crucifixion aligns exactly with Genesis 15.
Verse 12 specifically states "when the sun was going down." Therefore, this sacrifice in Genesis 15, like Christ's sacrifice, took place in the late afternoon. What happened at Christ's crucifixion? A great darkness occurred. In Genesis 15, a great darkness occurred to Abraham. In addition to that, a great horror fell upon him. Now what does that picture? There are two possibilities.
- Abraham was made by God to experience a very small taste of the horror that Christ had to face in His crucifixion and burial. God almost scared him to death by putting the fear in him.
- It could also be a precursor of the darkness and the earthquake that took place at Christ's crucifixion.
I prefer the first one, that Abraham, as the father of the faithful and the first covenantal ancestor of Jesus Christ, had to experience a bit of what God's Son in the flesh would have to go through 1,700 years later.
Something else appears here that is not so readily apparent at Christ's crucifixion: Abraham had to beat off vultures. When the fowls came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Vile birds are the Bible's symbol of demons. This gives the impression that, as Jesus was hanging on the cross, a great spiritual battle occurred during which the demons were taunting and persecuting Christ to induce Him to give up. Some of the psalms speak about everybody gawking at Him and taunting Him. It was not only human beings. We can understand it was demons as well, who were doing everything to break His courage and to break His spirit.
It says very clearly that God forsook Jesus. "Why have you forsaken me?" Christ asks, because now He was on His own completely and totally for the first time in His life. God made Abraham go through a little bit of that great horror and darkness. Maybe part of the horror that Abraham had to experience was the fear, perhaps, of being buried alive. We can speculate on such things, but it is included so that we will understand what Abraham went through and how it parallels what Christ endured—even to the exact days and times of the days as the events progressed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day
For the events of Genesis 15:17-21, the sun has gone down, and it is dark. In the crucifixion sequence, by dark the Son was in His grave. This is now the 15th of Nisan, the day that became the first day of Unleavened Bread, the part known as the Night To Be Much Observed, "the selfsame day" of Exodus 12:41. Numbers 33:3 confirms Israel left Egypt on the 15th of Nisan, but Exodus 12:42 specifically states Israel began its departure at night, and God names that night the "Night To Be Much Observed." Its significance is that, because the firstborn of the Egyptians have been slain, the descendents of Abraham are released from their bondage and free to leave Egypt. The firstborn of Egypt thus become a type of the True Firstborn, Jesus Christ, the sacrifice for our sins that enslave us to spiritual Egypt.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Countdown to Pentecost 2001
Now it was dark. In the antitype, the Firstborn, Christ, is in His grave. Therefore, time-wise we are now into Abib 15. We have come all the way from ben ha arbayim, at the beginning of Abib 14, and the events progressing one after the other through Genesis 15. At verse 17, Abib 15—the First Day of Unleavened Bread—begins.
What occurs in Genesis 15:17 is the actual beginning of the Night To Be Much Observed. Exodus 12:41-42 merely records a fulfillment of this first Night To Be Much Observed. Genesis 15:17 is the point from which the 430 years began, and they ended in Exodus 12:41—down to the very day. It was the beginning of Abib 15.
This is a night of great significance in the salvation story of God's people. Because the firstborn of the Egyptians had been slaughtered, and the descendants of Abraham had been released from their slavery to leave Egypt, the firstborn of Egypt thus become types of the Firstborn, Jesus Christ—the Sacrifice for our sins that enslave us to spiritual Egypt.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wavesheaf and the Selfsame Day
What is the Passover? Right from the start, God knew that young people would ask this very same question: "And it shall be, when your children say to you, 'What do you mean by this service?'" (Exodus 12:26). So He prepared an answer for them: "It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households" (verse 27).
Passover is a memorial day—a very important anniversary day. However, it commemorates three events, not just one. As God said, it commemorates the tenth and last plague upon ancient Egypt in which, after giving them ample warning, God passed over the nation of Egypt and killed all the firstborn in the land. Through this decimating plague, God freed the children of Israel from their captivity and servitude in Egypt.
Secondly, and most importantly, it commemorates the death of Jesus Christ, who was and is the firstborn Son of God the Father. Through Jesus' awful death—which, by God's design, took place on Passover day in AD 31—God freed us, regenerated Christians, from our captivity and slavery to the world, to Satan, and to sin.
Finally, it commemorates the baptism of each Christian, when we formally accepted the death of Jesus Christ, when we asked Him to apply His priceless sacrifice to our sins, when we asked that He would cover and blot out our sins with His blood (Psalm 41:1, 9; Acts 3:19; Romans 4:7).
What Is the Passover Anyway?
What does this mean to us? The Old Testament answer is only symbolic of its New Testament principle. God has brought the people of His church out of this sinful "world held captive." Verse 15 now takes on new meaning:
And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animal. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.
The firstborn animals represent the Egyptian firstborn. God released Pharaoh's strong grip on Israel—His Old Testament firstborn—by killing Egypt's firstborn on that first Passover night. Likewise, God released Satan's grip on the people of His church—His New Testament firstborn—by allowing His Firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, to be killed as our Passover (I Corinthians 5:7). We are then free to escape this world and our sins, just as Israel left Egypt on the first day of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:37-42).
Can the Egyptian firstborn symbolize our Savior, the slain Lamb of God? Though it seems an unworthy comparison, God inspired the apostle Paul to write that Jesus allowed Himself to be degraded to the bottom of the barrel—to become the lowest of the low—to personify a curse and sin itself. Notice Galatians 3:13-14: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'), . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
The redemption or "buyback" of the Israelite human firstborn is a reminder of the miraculous preservation of their firstborn on the first Passover night. It also looks forward to the church's redemption by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who became sin like the lambs that represented Egypt and the Egyptian firstborn. Paul says in II Corinthians 5:21, "For He [the Father] made Him who knew no sin [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
Because Jesus willingly became sin for us, He has become our Firstborn Elder Brother:
· For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
· He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. . . . And He is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:15, 18)
· But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "Let all the angels of God worship him." (Hebrews 1:6)
· . . . and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood. . . . (Revelation 1:5)
The Law of the Firstborn
My sacrifice is the Passover. It is the only sacrifice within the terms of the Old Covenant, yet we keep it under the New Covenant! Why?
When did sacrifice began? It began long before the Old Covenant—in fact, it began at the beginning. The earliest record of a sacrifice is Cain's and Abel's sacrifices. Where did they learn of it? They undoubtedly were taught it by Adam and Eve, who learned it from God. They did not just dream up this idea of offering the Deity an animal in sacrifice. The implication is that they were commanded to do it by God (Genesis 3:21 may have been the occasion of the first animal sacrifice). Cain and Abel knew what God required.
We do not offer sacrifices today, due to Christ's sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 9:12-14), but we do offer the Passover. The other sacrifices that we do not offer are never mentioned in the Old Covenant. Yet here is the Passover, which is mentioned in the Old Covenant, and we are commanded to keep it (I Corinthians 11:23-26).
The Bible is an expanding revelation. Just because something appears in the Old Covenant does not mean that it is obsolete and done away. We understand that some aspects of it are no longer required of us, but we still keep Passover in its New Covenant application.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Seventeen)
Leviticus 1 gives instruction on the whole burnt offering, which represents Christ's total devotion to God, revealing in broad strokes the ideal we are to strive for in our relationship with God. The burnt offering has four distinctive characteristics that set it apart from all others. To glean the most from it, it is essential that we remember that these characteristics all describe the same person but from different perspectives, much as the gospel accounts present four views of Christ, or as one would turn a piece of art or craftsmanship to inspect it from different angles. With each little turn, the viewer picks up a new feature that pleases or instructs.
The four distinctive characteristics are:
1. It is a sweet savor to God, given not because of sin but out of sincere and heartfelt devotion.
2. It is offered for acceptance in the stead of the offerer. The animal represents the offerer.
3. A life is given, representing total devotion in every area of life.
4. It is completely burned up, also representing total devotion but from a different angle: that it was truly carried out.
The animal was cut into four distinct parts, each signifying an aspect of Christ's character and life: The head represents His thoughts; the legs, His walk; the innards, His feelings; and the fat, His general vigor and health. Every part was put on the altar and totally consumed by the fire.
The variety of animals sacrificed as burnt offerings identify additional characteristics: The bullock typifies untiring labor in service to others; the lamb, uncomplaining submission even in suffering; the goat, strong-minded leadership; and the turtledove, humility, meekness, and mournful innocence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Three): The Meal Offering
Whenever a sin caused loss to the one sinned against, restitution had to be made to him for his loss according to a valuation made by the priest. An additional one-fifth was added to the evaluation to compensate the plaintiff for any costs involved in recovering his loss. This process contains a valuable, spiritual lesson.
Suppose a person stole something from another worth a hundred dollars. He would then appear before the priest with his offering (a ram without blemish), as well as a hundred dollars. However, an additional twenty more dollars (one-fifth) would go to the victim to cover any mental anguish or attorney's or private detective's fees. This is what would have happened physically. However, we should consider this spiritually because this principle has application to us today. We are similarly under His government.
When we break His law, we are indebted to Him. The penalty of breaking His law is death. If we pay the penalty, we die, ending our indebtedness, but it also ends our potential, stops our growth, and perhaps—God forbid—keeps us from entering God's Kingdom. That would be the total end of everything! However, upon repentance, God permits us to claim the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sin. He allows the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to substitute for us.
However, in doing so, He now has a claim on us He did not have before we made use of Christ's sacrifice (symbolically, the unblemished ram). Before, He had a claim only on our obedience, but now He also has a claim on our life because He has spared us the death penalty. God not only forgives our sin, but He also clears us of guilt and then gives us the wherewithal to keep His law in the future. God adds grace, that is, gifts, as this is generally what "grace" means.
In Romans 5:20, Paul puts it this way: "Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more." When God forgives our sins at the beginning of our conversion, He does not simply wipe sins away. He also invites us into communion with Him, gives us His Spirit to enable obedience, promises to provide all our needs, and adds everlasting life on top of all this! In other words, God sets the example of going above and beyond what is merely required of Him.
God expects us to follow His example in our relationships with each other. The twenty-percent payment over and above what was literally owed represents the way we are to act toward men in general. In answer to the disciples' request to increase their faith, Jesus clearly instructs them to go above and beyond what was required (Luke 17:5, 9-10).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins His ministry espousing this very principle:
You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. And if any man wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. (Matthew 5:38-42)
He crowns his teaching on this principle in verses 43-44: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." He says we must be quick to forgive. He did that very thing hanging on the stake in behalf of the very ones who were killing Him! That is going above and beyond even in the midst of great personal pain and stress when one would most likely have his mind focused on himself. At the very least, we should have a mind to extend grace even before our enemies want it.
In concluding instructions on loving our enemies, Jesus makes an arresting statement on the attitude and conduct by which His disciples are to live:
And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much aback. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:34-38)
Even as God lives by grace, we too are to learn to implement it into our lives. If we want to super-abound, we must learn to give grace. We are to go above and beyond mere requirement because it will support developing the mind of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Seven): The Sin and Trespass Offerings
Knowing the gruesome details of leprosy, one can easily imagine the crowd hastily parting as this man worked his way toward Jesus. Yet, He, in contrast, reaches out to touch the leper, signaling His willingness and power to heal. In Exodus 15:25-26, God reveals Himself as Yahweh Ropheka, or "the Eternal-Who-Heals," at the incident at Marah. Nathan Stone writes in his book, Names of God,that this name means "to restore, to heal, to cure . . . not only in the physical sense but in the moral and spiritual sense also" (p. 72). Dying to sin and living for righteousness are a kind of healing through Jesus Christ.
Ordinarily, uncleanness is transferred among men, but holiness is not (Haggai 2:10-14). This scene of the leper coming to Christ pictures divine reconciliation, since what is holy and what is profane usually do not mix. This is overcome through the work of our Savior. Jesus stretches out His hand and commands the leper to be cleansed, showing God in action as the Eternal-Who-Heals. This is why the leper's uncleanness does not transfer to Jesus - at first.
Later, however, the death penalty for sin was transferred to Jesus. A price had to be paid for the leper's cleansing. "Clean" has a sense of purity and holiness, so to be cleansed was to be made pure. Proverbs 20:9 says, "Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin'?" The leper could no more pronounce himself clean than we can pronounce ourselves sinless (I John 1:10). Proverbs 20:30 adds, "Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, as do stripes the inner depths of the heart." Comparing these two verses from Proverbs suggests that a certain chastening is required for cleansing.
Isaiah 53:4-5 adds another piece to the picture:
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
These verses place the emphasis of our cleansing from spiritual impurity on Christ: He paid the price to heal us and restore us to fellowship with God.
Thus, when Jesus Christ became sin for us, on Him was transferred all uncleanness. For those who have repented and accepted His sacrifice, there is increasingly more responsibility to continue this cleansing process in cooperation with and submission to Him. Peter summarizes this idea in I Peter 2:24, "[He] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed."
The Gift of a Leper
Though it is one of the better known parables, the Pearl of Great Price also happens to be misunderstood frequently. The common explanation is that the merchant represents a Christian, and the pearl of great price is the Kingdom of God to which he gives his all so he can be a part of it. Another interpretation is that the pearl is Christ, and a Christian gives his all to Him. As meaningful as these interpretations may be, another is far more meaningful, and the evidence given in the narrative favors it.
In this parable the merchant is seriously and deliberately searching the world to secure the best and costliest gems. It is the very business of his life. He travels widely with zeal and a lofty purpose because he can do so and appreciate the best when he sees it.
The common interpretation shows the sinner, the merchant, diligently searching the world and sacrificing all to find the Kingdom of God or Christ. This cannot be true! On several counts it is totally out of alignment with Scripture as well as experience. This approach puts the seeker totally in control of his destiny.
Three scriptures disprove that we are the merchant seeking to "buy" the Kingdom of God, Christ, or eternal life.
Romans 3:11: There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.
Luke 19:9-10: And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
John 6:44: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is Christ who seeks the sinner! The Shepherd seeks the sheep, not vice versa. Furthermore, if the pearl is either Christ, the Kingdom of God, or eternal life, it contradicts other scriptures regarding God's grace. Notice II Corinthians 9:15, "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" Romans 6:23 adds, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Finally, in Luke 7:41-42 Jesus says in the Parable of the Two Debtors:
There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?
The Parable of the Pearl of Great Price shows the merchant willing to buy a pearl at high cost. Can we possibly buy the Kingdom of God or eternal life or forgiveness if we have nothing with which to buy? If we think we have something with which we might barter with God, or if we think we have something to sell in order to buy from Him, then grace ceases to be grace!
The Bible consistently reveals we have no righteousness, skills, or intellect that is of any value in purchasing anything from God. Isaiah 64:6 confirms this: "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." Peter's denunciation of Simon Magus plainly shows that men cannot buy the things of God. "But Peter said to him, 'Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!" (Acts 8:20).
We are not the active agent in choosing Christ. John 15:16 specifically refers to Christ's apostles, but the principle extends to us: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you." Jesus clearly states in Luke 19:10, "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
By this time it ought to be clear that Jesus Christ is the merchant, the price paid was His life, and the church (the individual Christian in a very narrow sense) is the pearl. The church is one pearl, one body, composed of those He has sought out through the ages to be a habitation for God by His Spirit and who will be His bride at His return. This beautiful and meaningful little parable shows some of the extent of His labor of love for us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl
The word "merchant" has had an interesting evolution. It originally meant a passenger on a ship, but gradually became applied to the wholesale dealer as distinguished from a retailer. This is how John uses it in Revelation 18:3, 11, 15, 23. The merchant made trips far and wide to buy specific merchandise in which he had expertise. The context of the parable gives no indication he was pursuing anything but pearls. He knew the real worth of pearls, and in this case, he assessed the value and was very willing to pay the price.
This is another indication that the merchant is not a human seeking Christ, the church, eternal life, or the Kingdom of God because before conversion we had only a vague notion of what to seek for. Before God sought us out, we were commandment-breaking sinners. I John 2:4 says, "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.'"
Jesus knew merchants well. Nazareth, where He grew up, was very close to a major trade route linking Babylon, to the northeast of Palestine, to Egypt, to the southwest. Caravans bound in either direction had to pass by His door.
Even the use of "seeking" (Matthew 13:45) helps to identify the merchant as Christ because it means "to depart from one place and arrive at another." Jesus did this Himself to pay the price of the pearl. He departed from heaven and arrived on earth to complete His mission.
From this perspective, this parable presents a beautiful picture of the purchase of the church. Paul writes, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). Psalm 45:11 adds a tender touch to this, "So the King will greatly desire your beauty."
It ought to inspire and encourage us to know that He never seeks us as a legalistic, grudging response to duty. He does not merely stumble across us, but He seeks us out. He desires us and pursues us as a man courts a woman to be his bride and wife. His is a whole-hearted and loving response to our Father's purpose and our eternal well-being.
It is no accident that we are part of His church. He sold all to possess us! Will we ever fathom what it cost Him to redeem us? Paul says in Philippians 2:6-7, "[Jesus], being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men." He adds in II Corinthians 8:9, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." We should also understand, lest we get the wrong impression, that the pearl's value resides not in its own intrinsic worth, but in the immensity of the cost paid for it.
One final thought: Ordinarily, a merchant would buy a gem of this nature with the idea of selling it and making money on another's desire to adorn himself with its beauty. In this case, however, the merchant's intent is different: "That He might present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27). Jesus Christ purchased us so He can eternally possess us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Parables and a Pearl
"The kingdom of heaven" represents God's government, including His church, so God deals with church members as this king with his servants. The debt of the king's servant was an enormous sum. A talent was a denomination of money, or weight of silver or gold, equaling three thousand shekels. By Roman calculation, if this talent were of silver, then ten thousand talents would be equivalent to several million of today's dollars. By Jewish calculation, ten thousand talents would equal three times more, probably over ten million dollars. If this talent were of gold, ten thousand talents would amount to about fifty times more than the silver talent! Nevertheless, Jesus uses this amount to show that the debt—sin—was immense and humanly unpayable. To us, and those we touch, the impact of our sins is immeasurable, but Jesus' sacrifice is greater, covering all sins.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
At Jesus' final Passover service (Matthew 26:27-29), He poured wine into His cup, blessed it, and passed it around to His disciples. Each disciple took a sip from it. Though nowadays we pour wine into many separate vials for Passover, the principle is the same since the wine comes from one source, all of it is blessed together and all of it pictures the same thing—drinking from the cup of the Lamb. Perhaps the meaning is more poignant and easier to grasp by recalling Jesus' Passover service, when the disciples literally took a sip from His cup. When we commemorate this in our Passover service, we are also drinking from the cup of Christ, blessed by our Savior.
Have we consciously rejected the cup of this world, of Babylon, in favor of the "cup of the Lord"? God will not mix the contents of these two cups; they are totally incompatible. We must choose one or the other. Paul says, "We cannot drink of the Lord's cup and of the cup of demons" (I Corinthians 10:21). We must totally reject this world, this Babylon, and that awful cup of the Woman, full of her abominations and of the blood of the saints (Revelation 18:6).
If we have lived in this world—and we all have to some degree—we have sipped from that awful cup and have been affected by its contents. We must now unconditionally reject it, empty it, discard it, and replace it totally in favor of the new cup of blessing from God.
Notice, Christ commands us to drink of His cup! "Drink from it, all of you," Jesus says (Matthew 26:27). He does not say "drink the wine," but to drink of the cup. We know the red wine symbolizes the blood of Christ, shed for the remission of sins (verse 28). We know we need to remember that it took the blood of the Son of God to forgive our sins, and we certainly rehearse that aspect of this service every year. We know that by drinking the wine, we accept His shed blood in our behalf, forgiving our sins and wiping our sinful slate clean. Thank God for that! But drinking of His cup adds so much to the meaning of the Passover wine.
In I Corinthians 10:16, Paul refers to this cup as "the cup of blessing." He asks, "Is it not the communion [margin, fellowship, sharing] of the blood of Christ?" In the Jew's Passover meal, several cups are consumed. Notice what Vine's Expository Dictionary says under article "Cup":
The cup of blessing, I Corinthians 10:16, is so named from the third (the fourth according to Edersheim) cup in the Jewish Passover Feast, over which thanks and praise were given to God.
So as we drink of the cup of the Master, we should understand that it is a wonderful "cup of blessing," thanksgiving, and praise that we offer to God as we drink it!
Are You Drinking of the Master's Cup?
Perhaps it was not just the approaching physical torture that Jesus dreaded as He made this plea to His Father. For every microsecond of eternity (with the possible two exceptions of His time in Mary's womb and His human babyhood), He had enjoyed a level of consciousness, involvement, control, and communication with God the Father that no other human could even begin to comprehend. It must have been almost intolerable for the Son of God, the great YHWH of the Old Testament, to contemplate being totally unconscious and "out of the picture," even for a mere 72 hours.
Jesus' agony no doubt included the foreknowledge of the spiritual torture of billions of sins committed throughout human history being laid on His innocent head. Jesus knew that His mind would soon become besmirched, infected, and injected with every filthy sin that man had ever committed in the past and would commit from that time on.
God tells us in I Corinthians 15:56, "The sting of death is sin." Most of us have been stung by a spider, bee, wasp, or hornet. The pain of an insect sting increases rapidly as its poison spreads through the blood vessels, deep into the body part that has been stung, and it can sometimes be almost unbearable. Nevertheless, it is impossible for us to imagine a fraction of the spiritual agony that those billions of "stings of death" caused our Savior as all the sins of the world were laid upon Him.
With all His might, He strove to dwell on better things (Philippians 4:8). He struggled to look beyond those hours of torture, despite His foreknowledge of their severity. Jesus knew what would happen after this day of agony and shame that was just beginning. More than any other human being who ever lived, He understood what lay beyond the split second of death and His short stay in the tomb. Just hours before this prayer in Gethsemane, He had spoken joyfully to His Father about their approaching reunion and regaining His former glory (John 17:5, 11, 13).
How did King Nebuchadnezzar feel when God gave him back his status as a real human being and a great king after living the existence of the lowest, slinking animal in the wild (Daniel 4:29-36)? How much more did Jesus look forward to waking after three days and three nights in the tomb as the Eternal God!
Did Jesus look forward to His death? No. He looked beyond His hours of suffering and beyond the instant of His death. He looked forward to life!
Death of a Lamb
Each of the four gospels gives an account of Barabbas' part in Jesus' trial (see Matthew 27:15-26; Luke 23:18-25; John 18:39-40). Matthew 27:16 says Barabbas was a notorious prisoner; John 18:40 calls him a robber. Many find the whole story little more than a curiosity, an interesting detail of the whole sordid affair. But is that all?
Barabbas, a condemned murderer, robber, and insurgent. Guilty as charged. The Romans had gotten their man, and he deserved his punishment. Do we ever identify with Barabbas, the murderer? Perhaps we should.
We have also been found guilty of murder. How? On the day of Pentecost after Jesus' death, Peter explains that we all have killed the Christ (Acts 2:36). We all, by requiring His blood be spilled to cleanse us of our sins, are really the ones who crucified Him. As surely as the Jewish mob agitated for His condemnation, as surely as the Roman lictor tore His flesh with his whip, as surely as the Roman soldiers pounded nails into His hands and feet, as surely as one ripped His side open with a spear, we caused the death of the innocent Son of Man, the very Son of God. Yes, the shed blood of the Innocent drips from our hands.
By the standard Peter uses in Acts 2, we should be considered convicted murderers. This also means each of us should also have a date with the executioner—unless somehow, some way, someone can pass over our sins too.
We know that Jesus is the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He is our Passover (I Corinthians 5:7). Jesus took on Himself all the sins of all time and paid the penalty for all who will receive Him as Lord and Savior (I Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9; 9:12; I John 2:2; etc.). So now, we can stand before God without condemnation, for "there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ, who . . . walk . . . according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1). Even this sin—of murdering the Christ—is washed away forever.
We are guilty as charged of murder and other sins. We have incurred the death penalty by law—unless somehow, someone will redeem us by paying the death penalty for us, pardoning our sins and canceling our appointment with the executioner. And just as happened to Barabbas, the One who does these things for us is Jesus Christ, our Savior.
So what about Barabbas? Where does he come into this story? It is a moving reminder at Passover time each year that God leaves nothing to chance. Even the man who receives unmerited pardon is in the story for a reason: to remind us what we were and who we are now.
Many look at the name "Barabbas" and think it is just a name. Perhaps they realize that it is an Aramaic word. But what does it mean? Bar means "son of" and abba means "father," with the connotation of closeness and intimacy similar to our "dad," "daddy," or "papa." Therefore, Barabbas is "the son of the father" or "the son of his dear father." That Passover day in AD 31, there was a guilty "son of the father"—Barabbas—and a totally innocent "Son of the Father"—Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
There is possibly even more. Extant ancient texts say that Barabbas' full name was Jesus Barabbas. If that is correct—and it may be—then the crowd picked the wrong Jesus to be freed! Is that not typical of human nature? On our own, we too would choose the wrong savior and doom ourselves to bondage to sin and death rather than freedom from sin and eternal life (John 6:44; Romans 2:4).
As individuals, we are whom Barabbas depicted, "the sons of our dear Father" who did not measure up. Each one of us is that child of God. When our Elder Brother Jesus Christ stepped up to be crucified for us, though He should have been the one released, having committed no wrong at all, God also released the rest of His children who would call upon the name of Jesus and accept His sacrifice in our stead. Just as surely as Barabbas walked out of that prison—a free man—Jesus gave Himself so each of us can walk free as well.
That day was an agonizing, terrible day for Jesus, the Son of God. Were these not His own people? Some of these now screaming for His death were ones He had often seen, talked with, perhaps even dined with. These were people He knew, and some He knew well. Someday, when those of the house of Judah see the wounds in His hands, they will indignantly ask the Lamb, "Who did this to you?" (Zechariah 13:6). His prophetic reply is tinged with pain: "My wounds happened in the house of My friends." Jesus even calls Judas His "friend" (Matthew 26:50). Those "friends" include Peter, who denied Him; the Roman soldiers who executed Him; Pilate, who condemned Him; Caiaphas the High Priest, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Jerusalem mob who schemed and clamored to crucify Him—and His friends include us, those who will form His Bride (John 15:13-15), whose sins made His gruesome, excruciating death necessary.
Jesus is getting married soon. His Bride—the church of God—is bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh, (Genesis 2:23), one body with Him (Ephesians 5:27-32). Jesus gave Himself for her—for us. The converted children of God are said to "be in Christ" and to be one with Him. We are His body, and He is the Head of that body of believers.
If Jesus Barabbas was the murderer's name, perhaps Barabbas actually pictures those who are of Christ who are handed undeserved pardon. He may picture those of us who want to take on the name of Jesus but who have fallen short spiritually. We were guilty of sin and earned the death penalty. But the Eternal God saves. The Lord is salvation, which is what "Jesus" means. Thus, just as Barabbas was granted his life and freedom that day, the real Jesus, the real Son of the Father, steps up beside us and lovingly offers to take our place.
We are Barabbas. We have truly become "the sons of the Father" because of what Jesus did in our behalf. We have been released from the penalty of eternal death because our Savior and affianced Husband, Jesus the Christ, died in our stead.
All of this came about when the true Son of the Father took the place of Barabbas, who represents us all. As the despised Roman guards marched up to him, he was expecting the worse was about to begin. But instead, they broke off his heavy chains, dropping them to the stone floor with a clang that echoed through the corridors of the prison. Slowly, reality began to sink in: They were letting him go! Before long, Barabbas learned that the innocent Jesus of Nazareth, whom some considered a prophet, had given him a new lease on life—a fresh start, a new life. He was free! No crucifixion awaited this murderous, thieving rebel after all! He undoubtedly could not believe his "luck."
Because of the gracious act of Jesus, the true Son of His dear Father, the iron shackles have been broken from us, and we walk about as truly free men and women. His sacrifice and resurrection make it possible for God to give us of His Spirit, to bring us into His household, the Family of God. We are regenerated to a new life, and made part of the very Family in which Jesus is the Firstborn. The Father invites us to be His Son's Bride, whom Jesus is preparing for the Great Marriage Supper, giving of Himself totally for us, so that we can be totally free of sin as He is. When we pronounce our wedding vows to the King of kings, He will present us faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Ephesians 5:25-27; Jude 24; II Peter 3:14).
When we eat of the Passover bread, representing His body broken for us, and drink the wine, symbolizing His blood shed for the remission of our sins, let us remember who we are. We can be even more grateful for Jesus and the liberty and life He has given to each of us (Luke 4:18).
Yes, we are Barabbas, sons of our dear Father, children of God. But we are Barabbas without the condemnation, for there is no more condemnation when Jesus passed over our sins and paid the ultimate penalty for us. Did Barabbas reform as a result of Jesus' sacrifice of Himself for him? Nobody knows. But we have a say in our future. As Paul admonishes, because of what the Father and the Son have done undeservedly for us, "we should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).
I Am Barabbas
Is being a disciple of Christ free to us? These verses say that we have to give up everything! That is not cheap! Moreover, He mentions this in the context of things that are normally the most dear to us of all—our flesh-and-blood relatives! There is no greater price a human being can pay than to give up his family, and yes, his own life! That is not cheap! That is not free!
Grace is the most costly thing that has ever been given. It was costly in terms of the life of the very Creator—the God who made everything! And in return, to receive that grace, He demands that we give up our lives. It is not cheap. It is not free.
Then, how can people say it is free? Christ could not have made the cost of our obligation any clearer than He does here. No relationship ties are stronger than blood ties. The saying, "Blood is thicker than water," originated in the Church of England, meaning that blood ties are stronger than the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the water. The English Church recognized that family ties would pull people away from the truth of God. They are that powerful! Grace is not free, not cheap, by any stretch of the imagination!
Jesus then tells us that, in addition, we have to humbly bear any burden that comes upon us as a result of our discipleship, as a result of having received such forgiveness. Sometimes that cost can be very great. His statement is sweeping in terms of its consequences.
Free does not mean "cheap" but that God freely gave it. He was under no constraint. There was no obligation on His part to do what He did. He owes us absolutely nothing for what we have done. Grace is an aspect of His love that has no motive but itself. "God so loved the world that He gave. . ." (John 3:16).
Looking at history, is there anything lovable about mankind? Look at what humanity has done to this earth! Look at what men have done to one another! In the name of "God," men have blown one another to smithereens! If someone did to our property and to our family as we have treated God's property and family, we would have a terribly difficult time extending love. In fact, we might be totally unable to do it! We lack love of that depth. But God freely gives grace, though He is under no obligation whatsoever.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Luke 22:15-16 specifically concerns Jesus' Passover offering, but we need to consider its effects in light of the peace offering rather than the sin offering.
First, God is satisfied because man is in communion with Him through Christ, the offering. Second, man is satisfied because he knows he is accepted by God and in fellowship with Him. Third, the priest is satisfied because, as the common friend of formerly estranged parties, He is happy to see them in fellowship. No wonder Christ desired this particular Passover! It produced the very purpose for which He came.
The medium that brings this all about is sacrifice. It is not just Christ's sacrifice on the stake, for it just culminated a whole series of sacrifices that began in heaven when He sacrificed His glory as God, became a man, and subjected Himself to the Father's will perfectly. Christ's stated desire here is looking forward to God and mankind being in fellowship with each other in His Kingdom—the ultimate effect of giving the best of ourselves to God following Jesus' example.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Four): The Peace Offering
Our God, Jesus Christ, gave up everything and redeemed the whole world. Notice, however, this verse says, "whoever believes in Him . . . should have everlasting life," not the whole world. He did not sacrifice Himself for all mankind just because they were there, but for those out of the whole world who believed in Him. Paul writes in Hebrews 9:26, 28 that Christ gave Himself "once" for all time, for the remission of sin, and He does not have to sacrifice Himself again. That is "all" it took, but it took all He had.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
Salvation can easily and accurately be described as "being at one with God." As long as we are separated from God, we do not have salvation. When we are "at one" with God, it means that we are becoming like Him, that we are walking along the same path with Him and will be saved.
Jesus Christ's death bridges this impossible situation for us. We can then begin to contribute to being at one with God. What remains yet undone, despite the gap being bridged, is a change in character and in attitude that must be worked in us in order for us to become like God. It takes living God's way for us to become like God. This is why humility is necessary.
We can see from Jesus' prayer and from our own experience (and from the history of man) that mankind is not at one with God, yet that is God's aim. Satan motivated Adam and Eve, and subsequently all the rest of mankind, to separate themselves from God. As long as Satan can keep us separated from Him, salvation is impossible. Satan's thinking, which was passed on to Adam and Eve and then to us, is that we all have the right to set our own standards or codes of right and wrong. He has convinced mankind that they have the same prerogatives and that these Satan-inspired, man-made standards can produce abundant prosperity, good health, peace, and a sense of well-being in our lives.
But they do not, and that is the problem! Humbling oneself means giving up that devilish notion and submitting to what God says. He has given us free moral agency to choose whether to obey His standards and codes, not the freedom to set our own.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Division, Satan, Humility
God can forbear with us because Jesus Christ came to this earth and died for all of us. If we repent and ask God forgiveness, then Christ's blood covers all of our sins. Justice has been done. The sin has been paid for by the blood of Christ. God can thus forbear with us and allow us to "get away" with our sins for a while, because if we repent, then Jesus Christ's blood covers our sins, and justice is done. A person died for those sins—our Creator, Jesus Christ.
But if we do not repent, what happens? We die, and the penalty is paid. So this is a kind of legal maneuver by God. His forbearance is allowed under His legal system because Jesus Christ's blood pays the penalty for our sins. He can be merciful and lenient for a while, and whether we repent, or whether we do not repent, justice is ultimately served because a death occurs—either Jesus' or ours. This is the legal basis for why He can be forbearing. He has already taken care of it, one way or the other.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
In Romans 5:6, the apostle Paul declares that “Christ died for the ungodly.” The Greek word for “ungodly” is asebes, meaning “those without any reverence toward God.” The first man and woman, Adam and Eve, showed little reverence toward God. They were heedless when He warned them of the deadly outcome of their disobedience (Genesis 2:17; 3:3).
Since then, all humans have followed their example, falling from God's favor because of unbelief, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Essentially, man is unwilling or unable to recognize God's sovereignty and holiness, which causes him to fall short of being what God intends him to be.
The countermeasure for man's sinfulness is the perfect, sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, culminating in our opportunity for justification (Romans 4:25). The objective of justification is not merely to render a guilt-free verdict for the repentant sinner, nor does it provide a special certificate of eternal life to its recipient. Instead, it is a spiritual act—part of a spiritual process—with spiritual effects that open the way to salvation and eternal life.
Martin G. Collins
The Fruit of Justification
When Adam and Eve sinned, God judged them. Since they were the father and mother of all of mankind, and they were the only representatives of mankind at the time, all of mankind figuratively sinned in Adam and Eve. God's judgment was correct, because given the chance, every human has sinned.
What then happened to Adam and Eve? They were ushered out of the Garden, and God put cherubim at its entrance to guard the Garden and the Tree of Life so that nobody could get back in. This is why at times the Bible bids people to return to God when they had never seemingly turned away from Him. Yet, all of mankind did turn away from God in Adam and Eve, and He invites us to return to the place, symbolically, where everything started, back to the environs He occupies, where the Tree of Life is.
The relationship with God is everything to our salvation. Without what Christ did in dying for our sins, we would not be in the position to have one with Him. Christ's payment of our sins opens up the way for a relationship to be built and for us to grow in the Holy Spirit, because now we have access to the Tree of Life in a relationship with God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Seven)
If a man pays this wage for his own sins, he dies and the chance to gain access to God and eternal life is lost. This leaves God with three alternatives:
- He could simply let each person die for his sins
- He could, like an indulgent grandfather, overlook sin and grant mankind access to Him, all the while hoping for the best.
- As His holy justice demanded, He could allow the death of another to substitute for the payment of sin for the sinner who wanted access to Him and met the conditions.
But this last choice, the one God chose, presented another problem. The substitute had to be a sinless human being, since God cannot die and only a man who lived a sinless life would qualify. Why? Because if the substitute sinned, his death would pay only for his own sins. In addition, this person had to be of such importance and stature in his own right that his vicarious death to pay for other men's sins would never have to be repeated. Once this substitute gave his life, it would apply to all mankind for all time!
John W. Ritenbaugh
One of the most basic truths in God's program involves the fact that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The death we are intended to understand is the second death. There are only two ways to satisfy this basic truth: First, all humans must be paid that wage because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Second, another, an innocent One on whom death has no claim because He never sinned, must pay that wage in our stead, substituting His death for ours.
We find both aspects applied to practical Christian life in Romans. Paul writes in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." It is essential that we thoroughly understand that Christ died, not merely as a benefit, but for us, that is, in our place. His death substitutes for our well-deserved death, which we earned through sin. Earlier, the apostle had written in Romans 4:1-5:
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.
When confronted by such scriptures that cannot be broken, our only possible conclusion is that the sin-debt that each person owes to God absolutely cannot be worked off. It is so huge and serious that an already sin-defiled person cannot pay it off. Once a person sins, his debt is absolutely irredeemable by anyone or any action except through death. Either each individual pays for himself, or Christ pays in his place. These are the only acceptable payments.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
1 Corinthians 11:23-29
I Corinthians 11:17-34 encapsulates the solution to a tragic story of gluttony, drunkenness, class distinction, and party spirit—all within the framework of the "love feasts" of a Christian congregation! Why were some guilty of these sins? Because, despite being converted, some of them neither loved God nor their brethren, which a reading of the entire epistle reveals.
To what does Paul refer them to correct their abominable behavior? To the Passover service and Christ's death! Christ's death is the supreme example of unselfish and sacrificial service in behalf of the undeserving guilty. It is the highest, most brilliant example of love.
Out of a beneficent good will, the Father and the Son freely gave of themselves for the sake of our well-being. For those of us still in the flesh, this beneficent goodwill results in our forgiveness, forging a foundation from which the same approach to life can begin to be exercised. When we can properly judge ourselves in terms of what we are in relation to Their freely given sacrifices, it frees us, not only to conduct life as They do, but eventually to receive everlasting life too.
Job confesses in Job 42:5-6, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Though Job was among the most upright of men, all his life he had held a wrong evaluation of himself in relation to God and other men. Yet when God allowed him to "see" himself, as He did the apostle Paul in Romans 7, Job was devastated, his vanity crushed, and he repented. Now, he was truly prepared to begin to love.
"Do this in remembrance of Me" has a couple of alternative renderings that may help us understand more clearly. It can be rendered more literally, "Do this for the remembering of Me," or "Do this in case you forget." God does not want us to let this sacrifice get very far from our minds. It is not that He wants maudlin sentimentality from us. Instead, He wants to remind us that it represents the measure of His love for us as well as of our worth to Him, that we always bear a right sense of obligation, not as an overbearing burden, but a wondering awe that He would pay so much for something so utterly defiled.
We are admonished to remember not merely the personality Jesus, but the whole package: His connection to the Old Testament Passover; His life of sacrificial service; His violent, bloody death for the remission of the sins of mankind; the sacrificial connection to the New Covenant; and who He was, our sinless Creator! This act becomes the foundation of all loving relationships possible to us with God and His Family because it provides us reason to hope that our lives are not spent in vain. In addition, it motivates us to do what we failed to do that put us into debt in the first place—to love.
Paul admonishes in verse 29, "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." To eat the bread or drink the wine in an unworthy manner is to treat His sacrifice with casual, disrespectful ingratitude—a better translation might be "without due appreciation, especially as shown by one's life." It means that the person who does this is not showing much love in his life because he is barely aware of his sins and the enormous cost of forgiveness.
Such a person is not really free to love because he is still wrapped up in himself. When we take Passover, let us strive to remember that our fellowship at that special time is with Him. The others there to participate in the service are at that time only incidental to our relationship with Christ. The focus is on Christ and our unpayable debt and subsequent obligation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
An Unpayable Debt and Obligation
1 Corinthians 11:28-29
Understanding Christ's sacrifice properly determines the quality of our observance of the Passover. To prevent taking it in a careless and unappreciative manner, Paul charges us to examine ourselves, discerning the Lord's body. "Examine" means to test, prove or scrutinize to determine whether a thing is genuine. "Discern" means to separate, discriminate, to make a distinction for the purpose of giving preference.
An example will help to illustrate what this should accomplish. I have twice had the opportunity to observe a day's play of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. After a short time, I became aware that the spectators there were different from fans at other professional sporting events. Besides enjoying the professional golf, I began watching and listening to the spectators just as closely and found them to be the most appreciative spectators I had ever seen. I soon discovered why. They had, for the most part, personally attempted to make the same shots that the professionals seemed to do so effortlessly. And most of them had failed! This realization drove the spectators to appreciate deeply the professional golfers' skills.
Our pre-Passover preparations should involve this principle. A major factor that enables us to take Passover in a "worthy" manner is seriously reviewing our spiritual and moral failures in contrast to the perfect glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This Man lived thirty-three-and-a-half years without committing even one sin!
To avoid taking Passover unworthily, we should not take it without seriously considering its meaning. If we fail to do this, instead of honoring Christ's sacrifice, we share in the guilt of those who crucified Him. However, awareness of sin should not keep us from taking Passover. It should drive us to it, for our grateful participation in eating and drinking the symbols enables our sins to be paid.
Despite our self-examination, the focus at Passover is not on ourselves but on the payment for our sins, the means by which we are forgiven. It is a time to concentrate on the most elementary precepts of our salvation, especially on the part Jesus Christ plays in it. Only by a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of any discipline, and energetically and skillfully using them, will we produce success in an endeavor. In this way of life, if we do not understand and use the fundamentals, we will not overcome sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Christ, Our Passover
2 Corinthians 4:16
Once fellowship with God is established through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that is not enough. This fellowship must be built upon. For it to continue, it has to be renewed day by day. In other words, sacrificing has to continue. Our relationship with God, then, is not constant because we are not unchanging as God is. Our attitudes fluctuate, our faith increases or decreases, and our love, joy, and peace ebb and flow in their intensity.
Sacrifice, whether it be the sacrifice of Christ or our own personal sacrifice, plays a major role in all of this because these things are not constants within us, so they have to be renewed daily. We can conclude that a sacrifice is then either a means of reconciling or a means of strengthening what already exists—a necessary means of becoming or continuing at-one-ment with God.
We need to add another factor to this. In the Old Testament, the gifts given to God are arranged in the order of their value: An animal is of greater value than a vegetable. Consider Cain and Abel's offering. Abel gave an acceptable one, while Cain gave one that was unacceptable for that circumstance. It might have been acceptable in a different circumstance. Nonetheless, the Bible arranges them in order of priority, as in Leviticus 1-3: A bullock is of greater value than a ram, which is of greater value than a kid or a dove. There is a principle here.
Let us step this up even higher. The offering of a son is of greater value than the offering of any animal. When Abraham offered Isaac, it was far greater in value than the offering of a lamb, ram, or even a bullock. In this case, God would not accept anything less than the very best. It had to be the offering of what was nearest and dearest to Abraham's heart. From this we learn that it is not just the intrinsic value of the gift, but also the relative cost to the giver to which God attaches the greatest importance of all. A widow's two mites can be a greater offering than all of the silver and gold a wealthy man can give.
From this, then, we can extract another principle: The greatest gift of all is self-sacrifice.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing to Be a Priest
Notice first how this chapter begins: He has made us alive (Ephesians 2:1). Paul makes sure that we understand that it is God who gives what we spiritually possess. As for verse 8, it does not matter whether we believe that the pronoun "it" refers to grace or faith; both are gifts of God.
Grace is God's kindness to us, shown or demonstrated by His revealing Himself to us. It might help to think of this in reference to God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush before He sent him to Egypt. If God did not freely purpose on the strength of His own sovereign will to reveal Himself, neither Moses nor we would ever find Him. If a person cannot find God on his own, how could he possibly have faith in Him? Satan has deceived us so well that men have only the foggiest idea of what to look for.
Faith—with God as its object—begins and continues as part of His gift of kindness. The gift includes His calling, the granting of repentance, the sacrifice of Christ for our forgiveness, and His giving of His Spirit. It is a complete package of many individual gifts. The gospel is the medium that provides knowledge of the objects of the faith He gives, that is, what we believe and trust in. Paul, perceiving these gifts as a package, uses "grace" as its label. In verses 9-10, he advances to the logical "next step" in God's purpose.
Our works in no way jump-start the process of justification, sanctification, and glorification. All our works, beginning with repentance and continuing through our period of sanctification, depend directly on the freely given kindness and faith God provides. Our God-ordained good works are the result of our response to the gift of faith that God gives. Works, then, are the external evidence of the unseen, internal faith that motivates them. A person could not do them unless God had given the gift of faith beforehand. Good works follow, they do not precede.
II Corinthians 5:17-18 confirms this: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." This corroborates that it is God working in the person. His work is termed a "new creation." Since nothing new creates itself, we are the workmanship of another. We are God's workmanship. In sum, because of what God does, we cooperate and produce works that He ordains.
The apostle Paul adds to our understanding in Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." He is not saying that we should work in order to obtain salvation. These verses indicate the continuing use of something one already possesses. They suggest carrying something to its logical conclusion, which is for us to live lives worthy of the gospel, doing the works God ordained, as in Ephesians 2:10.
In Romans 9:9-19, Paul, using Jacob and Esau's pre-birth circumstances as a foundation, provides a clear illustration to show that from beginning to end, the whole salvation process depends upon God's involvement. Jacob, representing those called into the church, received God's love in the form of gifts designed to prepare him for the Kingdom of God. From Esau, representing the uncalled, God has simply withheld His love for the time being.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
Justification, by grace through faith in Christ's blood, secures for us access into the very presence of God and more of God's grace. The emphasis here is upon the word "access." The Israelites' relationship with the Tabernacle and the Temple pictured this: They were denied access to the Holy of Holies. In fact, the law also forbade them entry into the Holy Place, the first room inside the Tabernacle and the Temple. Only the priests could go into the Holy Place, and they could enter it only in performing their duties. Whenever David organized them into courses, the ordinary priests could only enter it a few times during the year.
So what about ordinary Israelites? They never got in there—not at all. So, no sacrifice (no single sacrifice or multitude of sacrifices)—no quantity of good works of the law or of any kind—gained them entrance into where God lived, into His presence. God completely shut them off from any direct access to Him. Only the high priest—once a year, on the Day of Atonement—was allowed in, but only after he offered a sacrifice for sin, underwent ritual purification through washing, and donned special clothing.
God is illustrating for us that we are not righteous enough to be in His presence. (Nowhere does the Bible say that justification does away with the law. It is not a property of justification to do so.) Justification brings us into alignment with a standard. With God, justification is a gift; on our part, it is unearned. We cannot earn it because our works are flawed and thus unacceptable. We are unacceptable. Justification—by God's grace, through faith in Christ's blood—brings us into alignment with God's standard and therefore into the status of "righteous" in His eyes. Then we have access to God.
In principle, this does not differ from breaking a law of man (committing a crime) and going to jail. Once the penalty has been paid, and we are squared away with the law we have broken, we are released from prison. Once again, we have free access to the public. But the major difference between that scenario and what God does is that we cannot pay the penalty and still have His purpose continue in our lives because we would be dead.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Four)
1 John 2:1-2
Propitiation is "an appeasing force." The law spells out the perpetual requirements of obedience to God, and blood pays for sin.
God desires sacrifice and obedience, not a religious game. It must be emphasized that our obedience is not for the purpose of saving us—salvation is by grace—but to assist us in perfecting holiness (II Corinthians 7:1) and to provide a witness of God working in our lives (Matthew 5:16).
Israel's purely ceremonial religion could never safeguard the truth because the people were not living it. By being used in the worship of manmade deities, not the Creator God, the rituals of their shrines were completely divorced from the truth found in the law. God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). The evidence of true religion is that through His correction in mercy and love, it will touch and purify every area of life. If we are really in contact with the true God, change will take place gradually as we grow.
To determine if our profession and practice of religion is pleasing to God, we must consider two questions: 1) Are we covered by the blood of Jesus Christ? and 2) Are we obeying God to the best of our understanding?
We never obey to the extent of our knowledge because knowledge, knowing what God expects, always outpaces ability. We gather knowledge before we have the ability to live it, and that makes us feel guilty because we realize we are not applying what we know. This guilty feeling is not really wrong, for without guilt we would not change. It is good if it makes us change, but when guilt becomes neurotic, it becomes destructive and wrong.
Today, psychologists are trying to remove guilt from our every thought, word, and deed—a sure sign of widespread spiritual poverty and complacency. But God says we can worship Him with a pure conscience because we know we have been cleansed of our past sins through Christ's sacrifice, and because we know God is faithful to us as we live by faith in Him (Hebrews 10:19-23).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
1 John 3:16-24
In verse 16, John teaches that we can know love by observing the way Jesus lived His life. He sacrificed His life for us by laying it down each day, as well as in death, setting us an example to follow in our relations with the brethren. In verse 17, he provides a practical illustration of a way we can lay down our life in love. Then, in verse 18, he encourages us not merely to agree with truth but to take action to meet a brother's need.
Verse 19 begins to show the effect of devoted sacrifice to this way of life. The persuasive power of knowing we are doing the right things inspires assurance, confidence, and satisfaction; we feel a positive sense that we are right with God. He then explains that, when these are not produced—but instead we feel guilt and condemnation because we know we are not doing well, and our concern for not being perfect overwhelms us—we need to go to God for forgiveness because He will forgive.
Verse 21 is a subtle encouragement to repent, to turn from our self-centeredness so we can be at peace with God and within ourselves. Verse 22 discloses the positive effect of laying down our lives in sacrifice for our brethren by devotedly keeping the commandments: answered prayers. Living by faith and displaying it through a life of sacrificial love is the theme of verse 23, and finally, in verse 24, he reveals another positive effect: to know absolutely that He lives in us and we in Him. Our lives revolve around faith in this knowledge.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Four): The Peace Offering
1 John 5:16-17
"A sin which does not lead to death" is one that is genuinely repented of and for which forgiveness is available because the attitude of the sinner is meek and truly sorrowful. A person may have this attitude, yet still sin on occasion out of weakness, ignorance, bad judgment, or even inadvertently. Both greater and lesser sins can fall under this category. Earlier in the book, the same apostle writes:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:8-9)
Our genuine confession admits to God that we are guilty of breaking His law and seek to be cleared of it by Christ's sacrifice. This true repentance leads to a fierce desire not to sin and to building righteous character. God thus lifts the penalty of the second death, and once again, we, by His grace, are back on the road to salvation.
The sin that John calls a "sin leading to death" is what others know as "the unpardonable sin." Again, both greater and lesser sins can lead to the attitude that causes someone to commit an unforgivable sin. Such a sin is deeply reinforced by the attitude of the sinner—an attitude that denies Jesus Christ as Savior, that flagrantly hates his brother, and refuses to obey God's laws and statutes. Rebellion and defiance set this sin apart from others!
Martin G. Collins
Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?
There is no injustice with God. His justice is never divorced from His righteousness. He never condemns the innocent; He never clears the guilty without repentance; He never punishes with undue severity; He always rewards righteousness. His justice is perfect justice.
He does not require absolutely perfect obedience, or nobody would make it. The blood of Jesus Christ is available to cover us (Revelation 1:5). However, He does not always act with justice because He sometimes acts with mercy. Mercy is not justice, but neither is it injustice, as injustice violates righteousness. Mercy manifests kindness and grace; it does no violence to righteousness.
Those who live by faith must seriously consider God's justice. It constantly reminds us that the wages of sin is death, that sin is disloyalty to God, and that God means what He says. It reminds us of the tremendously precious value of Christ's sacrifice. When we enter into the covenant with God, we are pledging our lives to serve Him in gladness and faithfulness so that He might create us in His image.
God's grace helps to prod us to live continuously by faith. We must know and appreciate His grace without abusing it. His justice is a reality, and so is sin's penalty, but His mercifully given grace overrides both.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and God's Justice
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