The Perfect Sacrifice
Ever since the days of Adam and Eve, sin and temptation have produced a constant battleground in this world. What started as life in a beautiful garden was quickly turned into an existence characterized by sweat and tears. Peace was replaced by pain. Provision was replaced by poverty. Harmony was replaced by hatred.
Yet in the midst of the first human sin, there was also the first promise of redemption. God declared that even though the serpent would succeed in bruising mankind’s heel, a human offspring would ultimately crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). The curse of sin and death would be reversed. God’s original intention would be fulfilled.
Through the work of the cross, we have hope and victory in Jesus the Christ. By faith in Christ we can be overcomers and find a victorious life in His name: “And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). This is a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that He came to give us life, and life more abundantly (John 10:10).
In 2004, I was invited to share and to participate in the a “Juneteenth” ceremony, along with the Governor of Texas and other leaders, commemorating 139 years of freedom from slavery for African Americans in Texas. History shows that even though slavery was abolished in 1863, many slaves in the Gulf Coast region of Texas did not hear about it until the Emancipation Proclamation was read to them in 1865. For two years, they were not aware of the good news that they were free.
Likewise, the message of the cross is good news, for we are liberated through the work of the cross! Yet man believers in Christ are not aware that they are free indeed. Like someone who is heir to a fortune but has never heard the news, many are living far short of God’s intention.
Our Lord Jesus has won the victory for us, but the full benefits of this overwhelming triumph don’t come to us automatically or inevitably. We have a role to play too, for the benefits of His work on the cross must be appropriated by faith.
Destroying the “Dam” of A-dam
The purpose of Christ’s work on the cross was to reverse the disobedient work of Adam (see Romans 5). Just as Adam’s work of disobedience occurred in a garden, Jesus chose obedience to the Father in another garden—the Garden of Gethsemane. Adam’s curse was to toil by the sweat of his brow. But in Gethsemane’s garden, Jesus sweat drops of blood to signify that the curse was about to be broken.
Nevertheless, obstacles can still hinder the flow of God’s provision and life to us and through us. Picture a mighty river. Engineers are able to build a dam to stop its flow. In Romans 5, Paul teaches us that we were born with the nature of Adam (A dam!). This fallen nature is often called the Adamic nature or the sin nature. This is the very thing that blocks the free flow of God’s love and life to our hearts. In order to reverse the effects of Adam’s sin—destroy the “dam”—Jesus came to give His life (Romans 5:13-19). Jesus is our river of life, touching our lives and making us new creations in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The sin nature is comprised of the body and soul, separated from the life-giving presence of the Spirit of God. The sin nature is radically different from the original image of God in which humans were created (Genesis 1:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23). That is why Jesus said we must be “born again” (of the Spirit) if we want to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-8). The work of the cross provides God’s grace by which we can be regenerated—recreated into the original image of God.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, spiritual and physical death occurred. Sin produced death (Romans 6:23), which has been experienced by every man and woman since Adam. Until we come to the cross and surrender our lives to Jesus, we possess the nature of the first Adam. Not only is this sin nature susceptible to despair, defeat, disease, and sickness, but its ultimate fruit is hopelessness and death. The unregenerated heart is, by nature, a slave to all sorts of pride, lust, and temptation. However, the good news of the Gospel is we have been given a new heart and new nature in Jesus!
Deliverance—All the Way Back to Adam
One of the most tragic realities of today’s church is that most believers are living far short of God’s intention for them. We still bear the scars of the sin that came in the world through Adam, and often we have embraced a gospel that is impotent to change that situation to any great extent.
However, the true Gospel is more than instant forgiveness and “fire insurance.” In addition to freeing us from sin’s penalty (eternal judgment), the cross also offers to free us from sin’s power over our lives. That’s why Paul could boldly tell the Romans, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
There is a beautiful picture of this truth in Joshua 3, the story of Israel crossing the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. Joshua was told to have the priests who bore the Ark of the Covenant step into the flooded river:
“And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap” (Joshua 3:13).
The Jordan River was the only thing standing between the Israelites and their destiny. They could see the Promised Land, but the flooded river prevented them from entering it. Perhaps you find yourself in a similar place today. You have wandered for a while in the wilderness, and you finally are able to glimpse God’s fantastic purpose for your life. But something is in the way—something that can only be overcome by an act of faith and obedience on your part.
When the priests stepped into the water, the flooding river was cut off. The waters from upstream stood in a heap, enabling the Israelites to cross over into their destiny. But look how far the waters backed up: “…the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan…” (Joshua 3:16a).
Do you see how wonderful this is? Not only did the waters part far enough to let the Israelites pass to the other side, but they backed up all the way to ADAM! In the same way, when Jesus died on the cross, the impact reverberated all the way back to Adam. While this might not be a textbook example of biblical exegesis, it is still a good analogy. Our great salvation offers both a full pardon and a full empowerment to overcome the effects of Adam’s transgression.
A life that is truly surrendered to Him is no longer without hope. We possess the life of Christ in our hearts, and that spiritual force offers to lead us through every situation in this earthly life. His life brings salvation, healing, and deliverance to all who are surrendered to Him—all the way back to the curse resulting from Adam’s sin.
Unlocking the Benefits of Covenant
How are such benefits of life, hope, and victory made available to us who are so undeserving? God uses a very special word to describe the basis of our relationship with Him. This word is covenant! Without a proper understanding of this great act of grace, we will not perceive the depth of God’s love for us!
In the Bible, covenant is described as a deep and binding contractual relationship between two or more parties. Marriage is a good example of this kind of covenant. A marriage based on the Bible recognizes the same principles as a covenant: a lasting commitment, an exchange of vows and property, and the beginning of a new identity. The Bible also illustrates covenants made on the basis of protection (for example, Abraham and Lot) or friendship (Jonathan and David).
Regardless of the reason for entering into a covenant, however, there were certain basic procedures for what has been called “cutting the covenant.” Let’s look at some highly symbolic types and shadows that clearly speak of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for us.
When two parties decided to enter into covenant, they would take a lamb which was without spot or blemish and cut it down the middle (Genesis 15:1-18). The two parties would then make a circular walk between the two sections of the lamb, but in opposite directions. This would form a figure 8 (the infinity sign), which symbolized the eternal nature of the covenant being created. For those of you who are married, this is what your wedding rings symbolize—a never ending circle of covenant and love!
Next they would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb on a tree, particularly one that would outlive the parties to the covenant. This action symbolized that their covenant would bind not only them, but also their children and descendants.
Three more significant acts remained. They would exchange robes which were unique to the owners. Remember Joseph’s coat of many colors in Genesis 37? This was unique to him. By exchanging robes, those making a covenant were signifying mutual possession of all their assets and liabilities. As the saying goes, “Mi casa es su casa (my house is your house).”
The same principle is true in our covenant with Jesus. All we had to offer Him was our robe of sin and unrighteousness, which God calls a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6). In exchange, He graciously gave us His robe of righteousness. He gave us eternal life and the exceeding riches of His presence. Wow, what a deal!
Next, each party would exchange weapons of warfare—knives, swords, slings, bows and arrows, or whatever other armaments they were accustomed to using. This showed their commitment to mutual defense. To attack one of the covenant partners was the same as attacking both. That’s why Paul can encourage the Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” In other words, God is our covenant partner! Anyone foolish enough to attack us is, in essence, attacking Him too. He clothes us with Himself so we can overcome the spiritual forces of wickedness.
Finally, the covenant partners would sit down to share a covenant meal of bread and wine (for example, see Genesis 14:18). Again, the parallels are easy to see. The New Covenant is sealed by our partaking of communion—bread and wine to signify Jesus’ body and blood. Peter explains that we have the amazing privilege to be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
Jesus and the Covenant
Jesus was the unspotted sacrificial lamb that was divided in two so we might enter into eternal covenant with the Father. It was His blood which was sprinkled on that “tree” (the cross) so we might live forever with Him. The bread and wine of the covenant meal is a beautiful picture of His body and blood, enabling us to enter into a relationship of communion with the Father.
After the tragedy of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, blood donors from around the nation responded in record numbers. Firefighters, police officers, and rescue workers perished attempting to rescue others. Yet even those heroic acts merely mirrored the greatest fireman of all, Jesus, who gave His life to rescue us from hell’s flames. He was the greatest blood donor, as well, shedding His blood so that we might live eternally.
His blood is the most precious substance in the entire universe. It is the indispensable key to the atonement of our sins. The Word of God proclaims that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22). And while we might tend to associate blood primarily with death, the Scriptures make it clear that life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11, 17:14).
Shedding of blood is the very foundation of covenant-making in the Word of God, as well as in various cultures throughout the centuries. The central act in sealing a covenant was the shedding of blood, and the same is true for the New Covenant. Only through the blood of Jesus Christ can we have remission of sins and access into the very presence and throne of God.
In addition to shedding the blood of a sacrificial lamb, there was typically another kind of blood that was shed. Often the covenant partners would cut their hands or wrists, press the wounds together, and rub dirt or dye in the wound so that a permanent mark was left. In this way, the blood of both parties was mingled and they became, in effect, “blood brothers.” The permanent marks on their bodies were perpetual signs of oneness and unity of heart, mind, and purpose. This was a lasting sign of covenant, which could be shown whenever needed. Although perfectly healed at His resurrection, Jesus carried upon Himself the permanent scars of His covenant with us. In response to Thomas’ doubts, Jesus showed Him the marks of covenant (John 20:21-29), and these same marks will one day be seen by the whole world (Revelation 1:7).
It’s All About Him
The principles of covenant all point to Jesus. He is our covenant partner. He willingly became our sacrificial lamb on the cross so we could enter into a holy covenant with Him. The initiative was His, and to Him belongs all the glory.
But we who claim to be in covenant union with Him should take seriously our commitment to that covenant. When we enter into covenant with Jesus, we make a lifelong commitment to love and serve Him with all of our heart, soul, and might. We are called upon to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service (Romans 12:1).
When a consecrated heart is yielded to the Lord and committed to the covenant, obedience will flow naturally, like a waterfall down a mountain. What an awesome flow of divine life comes from such obedience! Deuteronomy 28:3-6 promises:
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
Not many of us today own cattle and sheep, but we have different things today God will bless just as much. I encourage you to get with God and meditate on the extravagant blessings He has planned for you—beyond anything you can dream or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Conversely, Deuteronomy 28:15-68 describes sobering warnings for those who willfully, actively, rebelliously disobey God. A heart that does not possess a covenant commitment will inevitably produce disobedience, forfeiting the benefits offered by covenant and the work of the cross. Hebrews 10:26-29 warns that if we sin willfully, there remains a fearful expectation of fiery judgment. Such willful sin is described as trampling the Son of God underfoot, counting the blood of the covenant as a common thing, and insulting the Spirit of grace.
After giving warnings reminiscent of Deuteronomy 28, the writer of Hebrews encourages his readers, saying,” But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner” (Hebrews 6:9).
The apostle Paul, likewise, was utterly convinced that the One who began a good work in the Philippians would complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). And look at his triumphant words of encouragement for the believers in Rome:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn of many brethren…
What then, shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? …
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-39)
Let’s pause for a moment and thank our wonderful Savior for this awesome salvation won for us on the cross!
(This was taken from chapter two of the “Born To Die that we may live” book by doug stringer