Blood of Love: Salvation from the Curse

Today is Good Friday – the day that we remember Jesus being tortured and executed on a cross. Seems like an awful day to call “Good” — but it is such because of what that brutal death and his subsequent resurrection means for us today.

But what exactly does it mean?

I’ve seen in a couple places now the idea that the bottom line for the resurrection is that we can now go to heaven when we die. In fact, some people say unless you believe Jesus was raised from the dead you can’t go to heaven at all. To prove this, they quote Romans 10:9…

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

But I have a potentially uncomfortable question. This sentence that Paul wrote says if you confess and believe in the resurrection, you will be saved — he does not say the only way to be saved is to confess and believe in the resurrection.

Or, put another way, he does not say if you don’t believe in the resurrection you will go to Hell.

And besides, how can we be sure we believe something “in our heart” anyways? How can I know that I’m not just believing it with my head? What if we have a flicker of doubt in our heart — does that mean if we died in that moment of disbelief we would end up in eternal torment?

More importantly, though, what about all the other ways to be “saved” that are presented in the Bible?

For example, Peter says that to be saved we have to repent and be baptized. Nothing about believing in the resurrection there…

Jesus told a woman once that her faith would save her…

Peter once quoted the prophet Joel, who said that anyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved…

Paul and Silas told a jailer once that all he had to do to be saved was “believe in Jesus” — nothing specifically about Jesus or what happened to him…

Jesus told a Jewish leader once that in order to be saved he had to be “born again”…

And he told a rich guy once that in order to be saved he had to sell everything he had give it all to the poor…

So which one is it? How do we achieve this “salvation” and get into Heaven? By being baptized? By calling the name Jesus? By believing he was killed and resurrected? By placing our faith in him? By being born again? By selling everything we have? By just believing “in Jesus” (whatever that entails)?

All of the above? Pieces of all of the above? If we do some of the above but not others, are we damned?

How in the world do we cobble together any sort of coherent understanding of salvation from that mess?

All of this leads me to wonder… If God’s purpose in inspiring the Bible was to help us get to Heaven after we died, it seems to me that He’s done a horribly lousy job of it.

It couldn’t be more confusing and contradictory if you tried to make it so. One person says repent and be baptized. Another makes no mention of repentance or baptism, but says to believe Jesus was raised from the dead. And then another says nothing about repentance, baptism, or belief in the resurrection, but simply says if you call on Jesus you will be saved.

Holy muddled messages, Batman.

But what if…

What if the specific purpose of the Bible isn’t to just get us into Heaven when we shuffle off this mortal coil?

What if Jesus accomplished something so much richer and deeper on that cross on the first Good Friday?

What if by willingly giving up his life, Jesus was embodying the penultimate act of sacrificial love — the value on which his Kingdom exists and operates? What if sacrificial love is the most powerful force in the universe? And what if by the consummate power of this sacrifice, the curse — which the entirety of creation had been under since Adam and Eve flubbed things up in the garden — was finally and irrevocably broken?

And what if, in breaking the curse, Jesus’ death initiated the redemption of creation… the putting back together of the world, the way it was intended to be?

What if Jesus’ blood shed on the Good Friday cross began the process of restoration — for all creation, including humans? And what if it was Jesus’ final example to us of how to live in his Kingdom after he was gone?

The death and sin which Jesus conquered during his last days here on earth were symptoms of a larger issue: the curse. This Easter, I hope to focus on Jesus’ message of sacrificial love, revel in the redemption it brings forth, and pray about how to live that kind of love out to the people around me.

What will you focus on this Easter? What does Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection mean to you this year?

Why Did Some People Not Like Jesus?

That’s the question Eli, our three-year-old son, asked me while reading an Easter book a couple days ago.

He got to the part about Jesus dying (how do you explain the death part of Easter to a three year old anyways?) and he wanted to know why people would would want to put Jesus on a cross. Why didn’t people like him?

It’s actually a really good question. Deeper than it seems once you start processing it.

Why did Jesus end up bleeding on a cross?

After all, his message was one of abundant life and love. He told people to love everybody. He preached forgiveness and mercy. Sounds like pretty universally acceptable principles if you ask me.

As I sat and thought about this, I was reminded of my favorite quote from the book I just finished: “Jesus and Paul were not crucified for saying ‘Love one another.’ They were killed because their understanding of love meant… standing against the domination systems that ruled their world.”

In other words, anyone can talk about love.

The question is what happens when you try to live it out.

For Jesus, where the rubber (sandal?) hit the road was what love looked like in everyday life. What it really meant to live a life of love. To Jesus, love was more than food pantries and Goodwill drop offs.

To Jesus, love was setting the oppressed free and releasing the captives from prison. That’s how he announced the start of his ministry, anyways. To Jesus, love was bringing about the Kingdom of heaven on earth.

And that meant active opposition to the kingdoms of earth.

The kingdom of the Romans and the kingdoms of the religious leaders were responsible for oppression. They were responsible for sucking the life out of people. They were responsible for a culture of fear and the destruction of freedom. And that meant – if love meant anything – that those systems had to be subverted.

Many of the Jewish folks back in the day were expecting their Messiah to institute his Kingdom be destroying Rome. Instead, Jesus instituted his kingdom based on nonviolent love – a kingdom that would exist not just temporarily to take on Rome, but eternally to take on every oppressive system until the world was fully redeemed.

Jesus claimed titles reserved for Roman emperors. And his harshest words were reserved for religious leaders who, while on the surface were opposing Rome, were unwittingly joining with them in their domination.

It was Jesus’ challenges to those kingdoms that got him killed. In the end, the Romans and the Jewish leaders worked together overtly to put Jesus on the cross – a Roman instrument reserved for those who were undermining the Empire’s authority.

What does that mean for us? How do we take this message of the love of the Kingdom of God and wield it with the aim of defeating oppressive kingdoms around us? That’s what I intend to meditate on as Easter draws closer this year. I’d love to hear your ideas on the subject.

And in case you’re wondering what I ended up telling Eli, I told him “Jesus said that we should love everybody, and some people didn’t want to love everybody.”

I think that about sums it up.

Questions About Easter: My Thoughts, Part III

Hebrews is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. One of the author’s express purposes, it seems, is to relate Jesus and new covenant faith to the Law and the old covenant — in order to explain why this new covenant is superior to the old one.

In fact, after talking about how Jesus is superior to angels and Moses and the other Jewish high priests, the writer asks one of the very questions that I’ve been wrestling with:

“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood [under the old covenant], why was there still need for another priest [Jesus] to come?” (Hebrews 7:11)

His answer, which I absolutely love, is straightforward: “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the Law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (7:18-19)

Weak and useless. That’s what the Law is. Why? Because it could never accomplish God’s ultimate purpose: freedom. Redemption. Restoration.

All the sacrifices made under the old covenant could only temporarily cover our sins. But Jesus, in his Easter weekend sacrifice, accomplished in one action what the Law could not – he took them away:

“Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”

Once. For all.

Those last two words may be some of the most powerful words known to the human soul. For all. Not for some. Not just for the little ones. Not just for the big ones. Not only for the ones up to a certain point in time. Not just the intentional ones.

For all.

Every sin you have, are, and ever will commit.

Freedom.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to quote the same prophecy of God making a new covenant with his people that I mentioned in my previous post, and then says this: “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”

Weak. Useless. Obsolete. Let’s let go of the rule-bound religiosity of the old covenant and embrace the complete and utter freedom and abundant life of the new one!

All of this, of course, begs the question: if the old covenant was so weak and useless, why even make it in the first place? Why not just start with the new covenant, which is able to achieve God’s ultimate purposes?

Because everything about the old covenant was designed to point us toward the new covenant. It laid the foundation and the groundwork. It prepared the way, so to speak. In fact, a few times the writer refers to things from the old covenant as shadows of things to come — like when he makes the argument about the temple sacrifices again:

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins… Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. “

There’s the beautiful freedom again. For all time.

There’s the tension again: sacrifices could never take away sins, so why have them? Why have a law that was powerless to take away sins?

Paul answers this in his treatise to the church in Rome: “No one will be declared righteous by observing the law. Through the law we become conscious of sin.”

The law points us to our need for a savior. For our need for our sins to be not just covered and atoned for, but to be completely taken away. The sacrifices instituted under the old covenant are a shadow of the one sacrifice Jesus will make as the Lamb of God to seal the new covenant. The priesthood established by the old covenant is a shadow of the priesthood Jesus will establish in the new covenant. The celebration of Passover in the old covenant is a shadow of the new meaning of Passover under the new covenant.

Nearly everything from the old covenant has a new, more powerful and deeper parallel in the new covenant. The writer of Hebrews touches on the tabernacle, the temple, and more throughout his explanation.

So my prayer for you on this Easter and always is this: that you would recognize the power in the new covenant, which was brought into existence by Jesus’ death on the cross when the fullness of time had come… that you would live in and experience the complete and utter freedom found in Jesus and that you would not be held captive by a weak and useless Law or rules-based religion… that you would see that Life in the Kingdom is all about love: God’s love for you and your love for him and the others around you.

And if you love, as Paul says several times in different ways, you have fulfilled the Law. That’s it. So this Easter, celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in the best way possible: love deeply.

Questions About Easter: My Thoughts, Part III

Hebrews is one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. One of the author’s express purposes, it seems, is to relate Jesus and new covenant faith to the Law and the old covenant — in order to explain why this new covenant is superior to the old one.

In fact, after talking about how Jesus is superior to angels and Moses and the other Jewish high priests, the writer asks one of the very questions that I’ve been wrestling with:

“If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood [under the old covenant], why was there still need for another priest [Jesus] to come?” (Hebrews 7:11)

His answer, which I absolutely love, is straightforward: “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the Law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (7:18-19)

Weak and useless. That’s what the Law is. Why? Because it could never accomplish God’s ultimate purpose: freedom. Redemption. Restoration.

All the sacrifices made under the old covenant could only temporarily cover our sins. But Jesus, in his Easter weekend sacrifice, accomplished in one action what the Law could not – he took them away:

“Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”

Once. For all.

Those last two words may be some of the most powerful words known to the human soul. For all. Not for some. Not just for the little ones. Not just for the big ones. Not only for the ones up to a certain point in time. Not just the intentional ones.

For all.

Every sin you have, are, and ever will commit.

Freedom.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to quote the same prophecy of God making a new covenant with his people that I mentioned in my previous post, and then says this: “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”

Weak. Useless. Obsolete. Let’s let go of the rule-bound religiosity of the old covenant and embrace the complete and utter freedom and abundant life of the new one!

All of this, of course, begs the question: if the old covenant was so weak and useless, why even make it in the first place? Why not just start with the new covenant, which is able to achieve God’s ultimate purposes?

Because everything about the old covenant was designed to point us toward the new covenant. It laid the foundation and the groundwork. It prepared the way, so to speak. In fact, a few times the writer refers to things from the old covenant as shadows of things to come — like when he makes the argument about the temple sacrifices again:

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins… Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. “

There’s the beautiful freedom again. For all time.

There’s the tension again: sacrifices could never take away sins, so why have them? Why have a law that was powerless to take away sins?

Paul answers this in his treatise to the church in Rome: “No one will be declared righteous by observing the law. Through the law we become conscious of sin.”

The law points us to our need for a savior. For our need for our sins to be not just covered and atoned for, but to be completely taken away. The sacrifices instituted under the old covenant are a shadow of the one sacrifice Jesus will make as the Lamb of God to seal the new covenant. The priesthood established by the old covenant is a shadow of the priesthood Jesus will establish in the new covenant. The celebration of Passover in the old covenant is a shadow of the new meaning of Passover under the new covenant.

Nearly everything from the old covenant has a new, more powerful and deeper parallel in the new covenant. The writer of Hebrews touches on the tabernacle, the temple, and more throughout his explanation.

So my prayer for you on this Easter and always is this: that you would recognize the power in the new covenant, which was brought into existence by Jesus’ death on the cross when the fullness of time had come… that you would live in and experience the complete and utter freedom found in Jesus and that you would not be held captive by a weak and useless Law or rules-based religion… that you would see that Life in the Kingdom is all about love: God’s love for you and your love for him and the others around you.

And if you love, as Paul says several times in different ways, you have fulfilled the Law. That’s it. So this Easter, celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in the best way possible: love deeply.

Questions About Easter: My Thoughts, Part II

God is a God of covenant.

How many of us really, truly understand that? It is such a vitally important notion to understanding who God is and how He operates, and it is one of the keys that helps me to understand the power of the Easter story.

In the ancient Eastern world, it was fairly commonplace for people to make covenants with one another. A covenant was simply an agreement between two parties. Some scholars believe a covenant was the most solemn, indissoluble oath taken between parties — the Hebrew root from which we get the word “covenant” literally means “to bind together” or “to fetter”.

There are even examples in the Hebrew Scriptures of covenants being made between two people: David and Jonathan, Abraham and Abimelech, and Jacob and Laban to name a few.

But God took this practice of covenant, filled it with absolute power and holiness, and then used it to define his relationship with his chosen people.

We see this in several major covenants God established with Israel, prior to Jesus being sent to earth: one with Noah (his first covenant), one with Abraham, and one with Moses (among others) — each of which, by extension, included the whole of the Jewish people.

In Genesis chapters 8 and 9, God makes a covenant with Noah that “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures… Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God famously declares the rainbow a sign of this “everlasting” covenant, made for the “generations to come”. The amazing quality in this covenant is God’s mercy – even though we screw up (as we will see Noah do in a big way shortly after making this covenant with God!), God will withhold the judgment we deserve. God will shower us with mercy and patience. God and Noah mark this covenant with animal sacrifices.

God covenanted with Abraham in Genesis chapters 12-17 that he would, in part, “make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The covenant goes on to establish the land that God will give to Abraham’s descendants and even a surprising promise: that Abraham’s offspring will be as numerous and difficult to count as the stars.

I say surprising because, if you know the story, Abraham and his wife Sarah were well “advanced in years” – to use the mild understatement the Jewish authors employed. They were past child bearing age, and yet here is God promising them, with an unbreakable oath, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. And not only that, that all nations would be blessed through his family. All nations.

God was going to bless Abraham so that he could be a blessing to others – and ultimately, the entire world. Crazy stuff.

In the short term, of course, God miraculously provides a son for Abraham and Sarah, and their family eventually expands to be the beginning of the entire nation of Israel. In the long term, the covenant came to take on an even bigger meaning, as we will see. And again, God and Abraham mark the sealing of this covenant with the sacrifice of a cow, a goat, a ram, a dove and a pigeon.

The next covenant God makes with his people is the Mosaic covenant, established through Moses on Mount Sinai. This covenant included not only the ten commandments, but all 613 commandments and regulations that would come to govern Jewish life. It included promises and warnings of blessings and curses depending on if Israel would decide to follow the spirit of these laws. And it established the ultimate end game of the agreement: that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people and would be made into a holy nation in order to be a light to the nations. The sealing of this covenant was marked by the sacrificing of bulls and the sprinkling of blood on the altar and the people of Israel.

What does any of this have to do with Easter? It is important to understand that God is a God of covenant, because ultimately that’s what Easter (and the days leading up to it) is: the establishment of a new covenant from God to his Creation.

The ancient Jewish prophets looked forward to this new covenant for hundreds of years before it was made. Take, for example, the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

”The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

Understanding the nature and importance of the covenants that were already in place with their ancestors helps you to feel the immense power of that declaration, and the anticipation and wonder the Jewish people must have felt. God continues:

It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

For 600 years after this proclamation, the Jewish people were looking forward to the establishment of that new covenant. And finally, in the fullness of time, Jesus came to finally establish the new covenant. He made this clear during the last meal he shared with his disciples, where he took the bread from the Passover meal and declared, “This is my body, broken for you” and the wine, saying, “This is my blood, poured out for you.”

But curiously, he expands on the meaning of the wine-as-blood analogy. Luke records that Jesus said, “This is the blood of the new covenant.”

Now stop for a moment and imagine the weight of that statement for his followers, devout Jews who have been looking forward to this prophesied new covenant for hundreds of years. Jesus declares it finally here. This is it. The beginning of the new beginning.

But why choose to make this announcement when talking about blood? Let’s go back and look at the three old covenants we talked about earlier. Each of them was sealed by the shedding of blood during a sacrifice. Noah, Abraham, and Moses all sacrificed animals to seal their covenants with God. And here, Jesus is offering his own blood as a sacrifice to seal this new covenant that God is establishing with his people.

And as Jeremiah prophesied, this covenant would not be like the old covenants, especially the one made with Moses. It would not be based on Law. It would be based on grace. As we’ll cover in my next post, the Law was powerless to remove sin and guilt. All it did was point out where we failed. But now, in Jesus, through this new covenant, the Law has reached its end (Romans 10:4) and has been destroyed (Colossians 2:13-14). Under this new covenant, the Law has been written on our hearts and God has done what the Law and what animal sacrifices never could accomplish: complete and utter forgiveness of our sins. He will remember them no more.

That’s part of the power of Jesus’ sacrifice – it ushered in the long-awaited New Covenant between God and his people, under which we can now live.

Questions About Easter: My Thoughts, Part II

God is a God of covenant.

How many of us really, truly understand that? It is such a vitally important notion to understanding who God is and how He operates, and it is one of the keys that helps me to understand the power of the Easter story.

In the ancient Eastern world, it was fairly commonplace for people to make covenants with one another. A covenant was simply an agreement between two parties. Some scholars believe a covenant was the most solemn, indissoluble oath taken between parties — the Hebrew root from which we get the word “covenant” literally means “to bind together” or “to fetter”.

There are even examples in the Hebrew Scriptures of covenants being made between two people: David and Jonathan, Abraham and Abimelech, and Jacob and Laban to name a few.

But God took this practice of covenant, filled it with absolute power and holiness, and then used it to define his relationship with his chosen people.

We see this in several major covenants God established with Israel, prior to Jesus being sent to earth: one with Noah (his first covenant), one with Abraham, and one with Moses (among others) — each of which, by extension, included the whole of the Jewish people.

In Genesis chapters 8 and 9, God makes a covenant with Noah that “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures… Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God famously declares the rainbow a sign of this “everlasting” covenant, made for the “generations to come”. The amazing quality in this covenant is God’s mercy – even though we screw up (as we will see Noah do in a big way shortly after making this covenant with God!), God will withhold the judgment we deserve. God will shower us with mercy and patience. God and Noah mark this covenant with animal sacrifices.

God covenanted with Abraham in Genesis chapters 12-17 that he would, in part, “make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The covenant goes on to establish the land that God will give to Abraham’s descendants and even a surprising promise: that Abraham’s offspring will be as numerous and difficult to count as the stars.

I say surprising because, if you know the story, Abraham and his wife Sarah were well “advanced in years” – to use the mild understatement the Jewish authors employed. They were past child bearing age, and yet here is God promising them, with an unbreakable oath, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. And not only that, that all nations would be blessed through his family. All nations.

God was going to bless Abraham so that he could be a blessing to others – and ultimately, the entire world. Crazy stuff.

In the short term, of course, God miraculously provides a son for Abraham and Sarah, and their family eventually expands to be the beginning of the entire nation of Israel. In the long term, the covenant came to take on an even bigger meaning, as we will see. And again, God and Abraham mark the sealing of this covenant with the sacrifice of a cow, a goat, a ram, a dove and a pigeon.

The next covenant God makes with his people is the Mosaic covenant, established through Moses on Mount Sinai. This covenant included not only the ten commandments, but all 613 commandments and regulations that would come to govern Jewish life. It included promises and warnings of blessings and curses depending on if Israel would decide to follow the spirit of these laws. And it established the ultimate end game of the agreement: that the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people and would be made into a holy nation in order to be a light to the nations. The sealing of this covenant was marked by the sacrificing of bulls and the sprinkling of blood on the altar and the people of Israel.

What does any of this have to do with Easter? It is important to understand that God is a God of covenant, because ultimately that’s what Easter (and the days leading up to it) is: the establishment of a new covenant from God to his Creation.

The ancient Jewish prophets looked forward to this new covenant for hundreds of years before it was made. Take, for example, the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

”The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”

Understanding the nature and importance of the covenants that were already in place with their ancestors helps you to feel the immense power of that declaration, and the anticipation and wonder the Jewish people must have felt. God continues:

It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

For 600 years after this proclamation, the Jewish people were looking forward to the establishment of that new covenant. And finally, in the fullness of time, Jesus came to finally establish the new covenant. He made this clear during the last meal he shared with his disciples, where he took the bread from the Passover meal and declared, “This is my body, broken for you” and the wine, saying, “This is my blood, poured out for you.”

But curiously, he expands on the meaning of the wine-as-blood analogy. Luke records that Jesus said, “This is the blood of the new covenant.”

Now stop for a moment and imagine the weight of that statement for his followers, devout Jews who have been looking forward to this prophesied new covenant for hundreds of years. Jesus declares it finally here. This is it. The beginning of the new beginning.

But why choose to make this announcement when talking about blood? Let’s go back and look at the three old covenants we talked about earlier. Each of them was sealed by the shedding of blood during a sacrifice. Noah, Abraham, and Moses all sacrificed animals to seal their covenants with God. And here, Jesus is offering his own blood as a sacrifice to seal this new covenant that God is establishing with his people.

And as Jeremiah prophesied, this covenant would not be like the old covenants, especially the one made with Moses. It would not be based on Law. It would be based on grace. As we’ll cover in my next post, the Law was powerless to remove sin and guilt. All it did was point out where we failed. But now, in Jesus, through this new covenant, the Law has reached its end (Romans 10:4) and has been destroyed (Colossians 2:13-14). Under this new covenant, the Law has been written on our hearts and God has done what the Law and what animal sacrifices never could accomplish: complete and utter forgiveness of our sins. He will remember them no more.

That’s part of the power of Jesus’ sacrifice – it ushered in the long-awaited New Covenant between God and his people, under which we can now live.

Questions About Easter: My Thoughts, Part I

Okay, so my post in response to my own questions was becoming far too long so I’m going to present my thoughts as I wrestle through them in three different posts. This, the first, will focus on the issue of necessity itself.

As I began to really turn this over in my head, I was drawn back to the portion of the passion week narrative:

It’s the Jewish Passover, an annual celebration marking the Jews’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Jesus shares the traditional Passover meal with his disciples, as would have been his custom – only during this particular Passover Jesus takes certain elements of the meal and infuses them with even more meaning and symbolism than they already had. He speaks of his body being broken and his blood being spilled out and the commencement of a new covenant (something we’ll look at in depth in the next post). In the middle of dinner, he announces that one of the twelve men sitting around the table with him is about to betray him. On that note, Judas gets up and leaves. The eleven remaining disciples finish celebrating together and sing the traditional Jewish hymn to end their meal. But there is clearly something weighing on Jesus’ heart.

After dinner, he leads his disciples outside of the town walls to the Mount of Olives where he tells the eleven, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

This incredibly vulnerable moment, lived in the fullness of his humanity, should have awakened the disciples’ senses and made them sit up and take note. Instead, as Jesus goes further up the mountain into a small grove of olive trees to pray by himself, his disciples all fall asleep.

Jesus is alone.

He is alone, and the weight of the entire mission and purpose of God — of his life — is crashing down on him. For thirty some odd years, he has been walking the dusty roads of Palestine, always knowing that his life would end in the violent, torturous manner that was about to unfold. Now, though, the time had come. It was no longer in the future sometime. It was beginning. Now.

In reaction to this, Jesus grieves. He cries. He falls to the ground and begins to beg God the Father for a way out. Matthew records his lonely prayer like this: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

It could be translated as, “God, if there is any other way, don’t make me do this.” Mark records it more like the plea or demand of an utterly broken man, and adds a term of intimate endearment to the beginning: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”

It’s not weakness. It’s real humanity. And the strength… the beautiful, amazing, incredible, powerful strength, of course, is shown in the next sentence Jesus prays: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He knew what was going to happen. In mere moments, he would be betrayed, arrested, and tried before the Jewish ruling council in an illegal sham of a trial. He’d be shipped off to the Roman authorities because the Jews would want to kill him but lacked the authority to do so. While in Roman custody, he would be beaten, whipped, kicked, mocked, spat on, and tortured until, as the Jewish prophets foretold, he would be unrecognizable. And that wouldn’t even be the worst of it. After all that, in an incredibly weakened state, he would be forced to carry his own cross – his own execution device – to another hill outside of town and have nails driven into his hands and feet, then be hung to slowly and painfully suffocate to death.

Jesus knew this. And so he prayed: if there is any possible way, God, for you to fulfill your purposes without making me do this, make it happen.

And God did not take the cup from him. Implicit in this most powerful of unanswered prayers is this: there was no other way. Jesus’ brutal death on the cross was necessary.

Although this does not begin to satisfy the question of why it was necessary, this narrative resonates with me at several levels. First, Jesus’ humanity resonates with me. Given the option, I’d rather have a savior and redeemer who begs to be released from the most undesirable of destinies than one who marches in emotionless with a strength I could never connect with. Jesus was fully human as well as fully God, and the glimpses of his humanity are utterly inspiring to me. It makes his sacrifice carry that much more meaning and power.

Secondly, it resonates with me at a level of being a clear-cut answer from God. No matter how many times and ways and reasons I may still ask “Why?”, I know to the depth of my soul what Jesus accomplished was not simply a way to make God’s plan “better” or more effective. It was necessary. There was no other way.

Not the Law, not the animal sacrifices, not the faith of his ancestors, not anything would ever be able to offer the complete and utter forgiveness, redemption, and restoration Jesus’ sacrifice did. And we will look more in depth at that idea in the third post of this series.

With the establishment of the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice, I am left with one other pressing question then: why wait 5,000 years to do it? If God knew that his Creation, including mankind, could not fully experience restoration and reconciliation to Himself unless his perfect son sacrificed himself, why not do it sooner?

Here I will, I suspect, be forced to live with mystery – which is certainly not a negative thing. The apostle Paul tells us that God spilled himself into human form in Jesus and came to live among us here on earth “when the fullness of time came.”

That word “fullness” literally means something that has been completed or accomplished. So whatever the reason, we are forced to rest in the trust that God had a reason. This was the way God intended it all to play out. I don’t know why he waited 5,000 years, and I’m going to have to be okay with that.

For some reason, the time wasn’t right before that. Something was still not accomplished or completed. Do we know what that was? Not really. We can make educated guesses, but in the end, that’s all they are. Did it take 5,000 years for mankind to recognize our need for a savior? Did it take God in his glorious patience 5,000 years of second chances for his chosen people to try and get it right before they realized they couldn’t? Did it take 5,000 years for enough prophecies to be spoken and enough longing to be developed in man’s heart and enough yearning for complete and total redemption to be born?

Wouldn’t just 500 or 1,000 or 2,000 years been long enough for all that to happen?

Evidently not. And I will end this portion of this series by saying it is things like this that make me infinitely glad I am not God. Only He knows when the “fullness of time” has come — when that perfect moment arrives to fulfill his purposes for his glory. Even in little things, I cannot understand why he waits like he does. Why hasn’t he given me a new job yet? Why hasn’t he given my best friend a new job yet? Why hasn’t he shown us where our church community for the next season of life is going to be?

And after asking all those questions and so many more, all I’m left with at the end is this crazy need and desire to trust him. He will do all those things. And he will do them when the fullness of time has come.

Questions About Easter: My Thoughts, Part I

Okay, so my post in response to my own questions was becoming far too long so I’m going to present my thoughts as I wrestle through them in three different posts. This, the first, will focus on the issue of necessity itself.

As I began to really turn this over in my head, I was drawn back to the portion of the passion week narrative:

It’s the Jewish Passover, an annual celebration marking the Jews’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Jesus shares the traditional Passover meal with his disciples, as would have been his custom – only during this particular Passover Jesus takes certain elements of the meal and infuses them with even more meaning and symbolism than they already had. He speaks of his body being broken and his blood being spilled out and the commencement of a new covenant (something we’ll look at in depth in the next post). In the middle of dinner, he announces that one of the twelve men sitting around the table with him is about to betray him. On that note, Judas gets up and leaves. The eleven remaining disciples finish celebrating together and sing the traditional Jewish hymn to end their meal. But there is clearly something weighing on Jesus’ heart.

After dinner, he leads his disciples outside of the town walls to the Mount of Olives where he tells the eleven, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

This incredibly vulnerable moment, lived in the fullness of his humanity, should have awakened the disciples’ senses and made them sit up and take note. Instead, as Jesus goes further up the mountain into a small grove of olive trees to pray by himself, his disciples all fall asleep.

Jesus is alone.

He is alone, and the weight of the entire mission and purpose of God — of his life — is crashing down on him. For thirty some odd years, he has been walking the dusty roads of Palestine, always knowing that his life would end in the violent, torturous manner that was about to unfold. Now, though, the time had come. It was no longer in the future sometime. It was beginning. Now.

In reaction to this, Jesus grieves. He cries. He falls to the ground and begins to beg God the Father for a way out. Matthew records his lonely prayer like this: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

It could be translated as, “God, if there is any other way, don’t make me do this.” Mark records it more like the plea or demand of an utterly broken man, and adds a term of intimate endearment to the beginning: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.”

It’s not weakness. It’s real humanity. And the strength… the beautiful, amazing, incredible, powerful strength, of course, is shown in the next sentence Jesus prays: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He knew what was going to happen. In mere moments, he would be betrayed, arrested, and tried before the Jewish ruling council in an illegal sham of a trial. He’d be shipped off to the Roman authorities because the Jews would want to kill him but lacked the authority to do so. While in Roman custody, he would be beaten, whipped, kicked, mocked, spat on, and tortured until, as the Jewish prophets foretold, he would be unrecognizable. And that wouldn’t even be the worst of it. After all that, in an incredibly weakened state, he would be forced to carry his own cross – his own execution device – to another hill outside of town and have nails driven into his hands and feet, then be hung to slowly and painfully suffocate to death.

Jesus knew this. And so he prayed: if there is any possible way, God, for you to fulfill your purposes without making me do this, make it happen.

And God did not take the cup from him. Implicit in this most powerful of unanswered prayers is this: there was no other way. Jesus’ brutal death on the cross was necessary.

Although this does not begin to satisfy the question of why it was necessary, this narrative resonates with me at several levels. First, Jesus’ humanity resonates with me. Given the option, I’d rather have a savior and redeemer who begs to be released from the most undesirable of destinies than one who marches in emotionless with a strength I could never connect with. Jesus was fully human as well as fully God, and the glimpses of his humanity are utterly inspiring to me. It makes his sacrifice carry that much more meaning and power.

Secondly, it resonates with me at a level of being a clear-cut answer from God. No matter how many times and ways and reasons I may still ask “Why?”, I know to the depth of my soul what Jesus accomplished was not simply a way to make God’s plan “better” or more effective. It was necessary. There was no other way.

Not the Law, not the animal sacrifices, not the faith of his ancestors, not anything would ever be able to offer the complete and utter forgiveness, redemption, and restoration Jesus’ sacrifice did. And we will look more in depth at that idea in the third post of this series.

With the establishment of the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice, I am left with one other pressing question then: why wait 5,000 years to do it? If God knew that his Creation, including mankind, could not fully experience restoration and reconciliation to Himself unless his perfect son sacrificed himself, why not do it sooner?

Here I will, I suspect, be forced to live with mystery – which is certainly not a negative thing. The apostle Paul tells us that God spilled himself into human form in Jesus and came to live among us here on earth “when the fullness of time came.”

That word “fullness” literally means something that has been completed or accomplished. So whatever the reason, we are forced to rest in the trust that God had a reason. This was the way God intended it all to play out. I don’t know why he waited 5,000 years, and I’m going to have to be okay with that.

For some reason, the time wasn’t right before that. Something was still not accomplished or completed. Do we know what that was? Not really. We can make educated guesses, but in the end, that’s all they are. Did it take 5,000 years for mankind to recognize our need for a savior? Did it take God in his glorious patience 5,000 years of second chances for his chosen people to try and get it right before they realized they couldn’t? Did it take 5,000 years for enough prophecies to be spoken and enough longing to be developed in man’s heart and enough yearning for complete and total redemption to be born?

Wouldn’t just 500 or 1,000 or 2,000 years been long enough for all that to happen?

Evidently not. And I will end this portion of this series by saying it is things like this that make me infinitely glad I am not God. Only He knows when the “fullness of time” has come — when that perfect moment arrives to fulfill his purposes for his glory. Even in little things, I cannot understand why he waits like he does. Why hasn’t he given me a new job yet? Why hasn’t he given my best friend a new job yet? Why hasn’t he shown us where our church community for the next season of life is going to be?

And after asking all those questions and so many more, all I’m left with at the end is this crazy need and desire to trust him. He will do all those things. And he will do them when the fullness of time has come.