By Rick Booye
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us …
When we read the Bible correctly we discover that it doesn’t just contain the gospel, it is the gospel—the Good News that God is personally and single-handedly redeeming His fallen creation. Jesus showed this to His friends on the road to Emmaus the day he came back from the dead (Luke 24:25-27). The Bible all about the Cross. God Himself has permanently entered His fallen and dying material creation for the purpose of redeeming it from its terminal evil and the judgment to come (Jn.3:16; Col 1:14). He has started by redeeming the first part to fall—the human soul.
According to Webster’s Dictionary the word ‘redeem’ means “to buy something back; to free from what distresses or harms; to free from captivity by payment of a ransom.” It is the picture of a person paying a price to purchase something (or someone) that previously belonged to him or her, but has fallen into evil hands.
But what is the nature of this redemption? What sort of payment does justice require to purchase the cosmos back from its bondage to death? The Bible tells us that since we owe our life to God who created us in goodness, when we turn from Him we become essentially evil and forfeit the right to life. That’s why all the people who walk with God in the Old Testament make sacrifices. God told them to take a living animal and make it give up its life on their behalf so that they may enter His presence. Leviticus 17:11 explains this: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Atonement refers to absorbing the punishment for the crime. The New Testament word for this is “propitiation.” It means to absorb (propitiate) God’s wrath by offering a sacrifice. The sacrificial system in the Old Testament is an elaborate clue to this spiritual reality: when a morally responsible creature does evil, that creature forfeits the right to life. The soul that sins shall die (Ez.18:4).
The problem with the Old Testament sacrifices was that they were only temporary and provisional. They were repeated indefinitely because they never really “worked” in the ultimate sense. The animals that died did not themselves have the sort of perfect human life that we lost when we sinned. So, they could not permanently remove the guilt or punishment (Heb 10:1-4). Nor could they bestow new life to replace the old. In fact, these Old Covenant sacrifices were pointers to a greater reality yet to come.
Back to Resurrection Day. Jesus chats with His friends on the road, holding back his identity until they begin to connect the dots. At the right moment he opens the scriptures and explains that the cross is the fulfillment of all the Old Covenant pictures. Jesus Christ Himself is the greater Sacrifice, the perfect human “lamb” who took the blame and the punishment for the sins and evil of the world. Suddenly Passover, the priesthood, the sacrificial system and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant come into perspective—the perspective of the Cross. God has planned this all along!
Consider what this means for us. First, it clearly shows that apart from His grace we are more evil than we ever thought. If we could achieve real goodness by acting spiritual, obeying a few more rules, or improving our morals this terrible sacrifice would not have been necessary. God could simply have advised us rather than diving in and rescuing us. The grim reality is that evil is so pervasive in our natural character that we are helpless to even consistently desire to stop it. And it has metastasized to virtually every dimension of our lives. It has ruined our wills, desires, souls, relationships and bodies.
Secondly, (and stunningly) it means that in spite of our personal and corporate evil, there is hope, because God loves us. He loves us so much, even in our sinning state, that He initiated the self-sacrifice that would secure our redemption. If a woman throws herself in front of a moving truck to save her child, what does that show about her love? What is her child worth to her? Everything. To know how bad we are, and yet how much the Lord of the universe loves us, brings an amazing combination of humility and courage into our lives.
And finally, we are supremely confident of our rescue because it does not rest on our efforts, but on his. His death in our place has finished our salvation, securing our eternal life now and into eternity. The great difference between the gospel and human religion is that in religion our work is what brings security; in the gospel his work does it. Our obedience flows from gratitude, not from fear, the haunting suspicion that we might not be good enough.
Buddhism is one of the most influential human spiritualities in our world. There is much in it that a Christian might agree with regarding the nature of life (such as the fact that it is hard) and the need to discipline ourselves. But there is no real salvation in any human system. Buddha’s last words were, “Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you. All component things in the world are changeable. They are not lasting. Work hard to gain your own salvation. Do your best.”
Compare that with Jesus’ last words – “It Is Finished!”
The gospel of Christ, what Paul calls simply “the message of the cross,” is outstandingly good news for us because it means we are free, forgiven, declared good in God’s eyes, and joined to his eternal destiny all by what he did at the cross and in the resurrection of Christ.