Updated: Nov 1, 2019
I'm still journeying along my path of going deeper in my understanding of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. I think at some point (or at many points!) we feel the need to get back to the roots of what we believe. I don't feel like I'm lacking in faith, so if you find yourself questioning the "basic" things of Christianity, I do not think you are weak in faith either, but are taking your faith seriously. None of us want to be "taken in". All of us have at some point been confronted with the scoffing and jeers of the atheists as they mock our wishful "fairy tales" of eternal life. We need to be confident of what we hope for!
I looked last week at the Old Testament sacrifices. (You can read that post here.) Today I'm looking at some of the language used to describe what Jesus did for us, through the cross.
This list is given in no particular order, and is by no means exhaustive, but it gives us a taste of the multifaceted glory of Jesus, that the New Testament writers were carefully trying to explain.
“to redeem” (Galations 4:5)
“bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 7:23)
“cleansed from unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
“sanctified” (Hebrews 13:12 )
“forgiven” (Colossians 3:13)
“justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9 )
“saved” (Romans 10:13)
Let's take a look at the words and phrases one by one!
This is a word we don't use too much in our daily language, unless we are talking about redeeming coupons or something like that!
The culture of redeeming someone is best explained my looking at Ruth and her redeemer Boaz. (You can read my retelling of that lovely book here.) Ruth was a poor widow, and Boaz redeemed her by taking her as his wife and giving her a home, children, and I think we can safely say, love.
Bought with a price
This one, as far as I can tell from the surrounding text, uses the language of us being slaves, and we are bought from our cruel master, sin. Now we belong to a new, good master.
(Slavery is not something we see in a positive light in our day, this is speaking of a culture we know little about. In the first century a slave of a good and kind master often had a better life than a free man; he had a comfortable home, could marry and have children, performed worthy work, and had proper food and healthcare. No christian today believes that we can, or should, own another human.)
Cleansed from unrighteousness
Righteous is about doing the right thing, being innocent, just, or correct. Yet, it seems like more than obedience to a moral code, for there is a list of people given and only one of them did not sin:
Abel (Hebrews 11:4)
Noah, an heir of righteousness (Hebrews 11:7)
Noah, Daniel and Job (Ezekiel 14:14)
Abraham (Galations 3:6)
Lot (2 Peter 2:7)
John the Baptist's parents, Elizabeth and Zacharias (Luke 1:6)
Jesus was called righteous by Pilate's wife (Matthew 27:19) and Jesus is fact “the righteous” (1 John 2:1)
And as believers in Jesus, "The one who practices righteousness is righteous." ( 1 John 3:7 )
It seems as if righteousness pertains to those whose lives are pleasing to God, in that they are doing their best, and are setting themselves apart for God's will, which leads right into the next word:
This is another word we don't use very often outside of church. The Hebrew word qadash means to be set apart, consecrated. In particular, set apart to God. An example is Aaron, who was set apart to “sanctify him as most holy” in 1 Chronicles 23:13. In the new testament Greek, the word for sanctified, hagiazo, also means to make holy, consecrate or sanctify.
There are a few Hebrew words for forgive: nasah means to lift, carry or take, salach means to forgive or pardon, kaphar means to cover over, pacify, make atonement, make propitiation. (Propitiation means appease a god. When I looked up "appease" in my concordance, it is used only a handful of times, and is used when God has spent His wrath on His rebellious people.) The Greek words used to speak of forgiveness are aphiemi, to send away, leave alone or permit, charizomai, to show favor, give freely, or aphesis, dismissal, release, pardon.
We see people forgiven by Jesus in stories such as the paralytic, the woman who anoints Jesus, and many people throughout the Old Testament. Not all, but some of the Old Testament sacrifices were for the exact purpose of forgiveness of sins! (Leviticus 4:31)
These are instances of forgiveness BEFORE the cross. So if Jesus' death brought the forgiveness of sins, what was going on beforehand? I'll come back around to that.
The words justify, justified, justifier, justifies, and justifying, are translated from the Hebrew word tsadoq, which means to be just, righteous. In Greek the word is dikaioo which is means to show to be righteous, declare righteous, acquitted, freed, justified Romans 4:25, word for justification is dikaiosis, the act of pronouncing righteous.
So someones actions, words or deeds are pronounced righteous, or someones words or actions are acquitted of wrongdoing. We can see an example in a parable given by Jesus in Luke 18:9-14.
We try to justify our words or actions by explaining how they are in the right, like the lawyer speaking to Jesus in Luke 10:29. Saved
Romans 10:9-10 - “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”
Okay, Jesus saves, but saves us from what? There is a verse just a little before this in Romans that uses many of the words we have been studying. Go read the whole thing, but here is the pared down version of Romans 6:16 and following:
“...you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness. But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became slaves of righteousness. For just as you presented yourselves as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present yourselves as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification...Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. " (The emphasis is mine.)
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from sin and death." - Romans 8:2
So how did Jesus accomplish all wonderful these things?
In the seemingly ridiculous way of letting his rebellious creation humiliate, mock and kill him on the cross.
Not only that, his death was for ALL. Peter tells us that the gospel has been preached even to those who are dead. (1 Peter 4:6.) So, when it says the Law was only a shadow of the good things to come (Hebrews 10:1), and that those continuous sacrifices could never make perfect those who draw near, we think of those who lived and died before Jesus' sacrifice and wonder at their forgiveness, and their fate.
So now I've circled back to the forgiven paralytic (Matthew 9:2), and the woman who wept at Jesus feet (Luke 7:48), and the Old Testament people who received forgiveness outside of sacrifice, but with a truly repentant heart. David was forgiven for adultery and murder! (2 Samuel 12:13) We can't forget that God explicitly told the people that through atonement sacrifices their sins were forgiven! Were those just empty words? I don't think so! They were offered genuine forgiveness through Jesus, for his death on the cross worked backwards, weaving its way into history too. It worked for ALL, as Peter said.
Jesus knew he was going to die. It wasn't an accident. He went to the cross for the purpose of redeeming, buying, cleansing, sanctifying, forgiving, justifying, and saving those who lived on the earth at that time, in the future, and those in the past. His blood given for us saves, and the wounds he endured gave us healing. God took the repentant hearts and righteous actions of those who came before Jesus, and perfected them. Jesus' life and death did not abolish what had come before him, the Law and Prophets, but fulfilled them! He did away with the first, to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:9) If the old testament law and sacrifices were a shadow, Jesus was the one casting that shadow.
So, if you are (like me) sometimes confused by the "old fashioned" words in the scriptures that explain what Jesus came to do, let me offer this, imperfect rendering of the glory of Christ:
Jesus, the Son of God, came among His creation to lift us out of our suffering and grief. He bought us from the slave driver Sin, to bind us to the loving master God. He opened the way for us to live lives pleasing to God. Jesus set us apart to be for God's use (holy). He carried away our sin, for God freely gave us pardon. He saved us from death.
I'm not at the end of my journey of understanding the power of the cross. I still want to explore the idea of judgment and suffering, an area I'm not super keen to get into, but I think I need to go back and take a look at the wrath of God, and the suffering of innocents, to fully understand Jesus' sacrifice.