Updated: Apr 25, 2020
I think at some point (or at many points!) we feel the need to get back to the roots of what we believe. There is comfort in going back and examining the foundations of our faith, don't you think?
I don't feel like I'm lacking in faith, so if you find yourself questioning the basic things of Christianity, I don't 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 atheists in person or the media as they mock our so-called fairy tales of eternal life.
My friends, we need to be confident of what we hope for!
I looked last week at understanding the Old Testament sacrifices.
Today I'm looking at some of the language used to describe what Jesus did for us through the cross.
The Language of the Cross
“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)
This list is given in no particular order and is by no means exhaustive. It simply gives us a taste of the multifaceted glory of Jesus that the New Testament writers were carefully trying to explain.
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!
The culture of redeeming someone is best explained in the Bible with Ruth and her redeemer Boaz. 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 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 are no longer a part of. In the first century, a slave of a good and kind master often had a better life than a poor free man. He had a comfortable home, could marry and have children, earned income, performed worthy work, and had proper food and healthcare. No Christian today believes that we should own another human.)
Cleansed from unrighteousness
Righteous is about doing the right thing, being innocent, just, or correct. Yet, it seems that righteousness is more than obedience to a moral code, for there is a list of people called righteous 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 to 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)
Learn more with this post: How in the World do I Understand Biblical Sacrifices?
These are instances of forgiveness BEFORE the cross. So if Jesus' death brought the forgiveness of sins, what was going on beforehand? Just hold that thought a moment, I'll come back around to that.
The words for justify 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. In Romans 4:25, the word for justification is dikaiosis, the act of pronouncing righteous.
Someone's actions, words, or deeds are acquitted of wrongdoing when they are justified. We can see an example in a parable given by Jesus in Luke 18:9-14.
We know what the word saved means. We read that Jesus saves us, but what is he saving us from?
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.” 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?
Jesus accomplished all this 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 backward, 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 based on these ideas:
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 in a way that is pleasing to God. Jesus set us apart for God's use. He carried away our sin because God freely gave us pardon. He saved us from death with the promise of eternal life.
How have you been changed by what Jesus did on the cross? Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? I invite you to join the family of Christ today!