Atonement in the Interbiblical Period
March 12th, 1975 @ 7:30 PM
ATONEMENT IN THE INTERBIBLICAL PERIOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-12-75 7:15 p.m.
The theme for this semester in our study has been the theology, is “The Theology of the Atonement.” And the first lecture was on the meaning of sacrifice in the primitive, first, beginning—the idea of the sacrifice in the primitive offerings before God. The second lecture was on Atonement in the Mosaic Legislation, in the ritual, in the sacrificial system. The third lecture, the last one, was on Atonement in the Prophets. And tonight we are to study Atonement in the Interbiblical Period and in the teaching of Jesus.
Now when we come to the atonement in the teaching of Jesus, we will not speak of the work of Christ as our atoning Savior. But we will be studying the teaching of our Lord concerning His own death; what He thought about it, that is, our Lord’s idea of the subject of atonement.
First, the interbiblical period: the period between Malachi and Matthew, a period of about four hundred years. To us, introduced as we are to the Bible, as holding it in our hands like this, we are prone to think that those four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew were years of quiescence, of indifference, of non-development. Nothing could be further from the factual situation than that.
The four hundred years between Malachi and Matthew were intensive years. They were filled with earthshaking, historical developments, both in empire and in the Jewish nation. And we are concerned, of course, with just atonement. In that interbiblical period, there developed the vast, deep, pervading, growth of legalism that we meet in the life of our Lord. That is, in that period, you had a refinement of the Mosaic law that was almost unbelievable, astonishing, amazing!
In that interbiblical period, there was the birth of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees and the development of the scribe—the lawyer—the man who taught what Moses meant or what he thought that Moses meant, applying it to every aspect and facet of life.
In that interbiblical period, we see the rise of the synagogue; that is one of the great ecclesiastical developments of all history. Our meetings today, such as you have here in our church, are actually a continuation of the synagogue. You would have been at home in a synagogue four hundred years before Christ. You would have been very much at home in it. The form of the service, the reading of the Scriptures, the exposition of the Word of God, the whole format of it, its music, its song, everything, this that we know today as a convocation of our people in the church, is an extension, in a Christian way, of the ancient synagogue. And the synagogue almost certainly arose in the captivity, in the exile, around a prophet. The people gathered around him and listened to him expound the Word of the Lord.
Then as time went on, they gathered around a scribe, a man who was versed in the law. And they listened to him teach the Word of Moses. And out of that came what you know as the synagogue, the gathering of the people around a prophet or around a scribe, a man who was delivering his exegesis and his explanation and his interpretation of what God had written in the Holy Scriptures.
Now the synagogue gradually came under control of the Pharisees. The reason for that was very, very, evident, because the Pharisees—to us they are just hypocrites—the Pharisees was a sect of people, a party, that was zealous for the law. Paul prided himself on the fact that he was a Pharisee, as touching the law, blameless [Philippians 3:6], that is, all of those traditions of the elders and all of those things that you read in the Gemara, and in the Mishna, in the Halakhah, and the Haggadah. All of that, he meticulously followed. That is the synagogue; that is Pharisaism; that is legalism, and that developed in the interbiblical period.
Now, we are interested, of course, as I say, in atonement, in that period and in the life of Christ. In that legalistic system, sin was looked upon, not as depravity in heart and soul, not as alienation from God, not as a lost state in which we find ourselves, but sin was looked upon as individual acts that broke some legal tenet or law or tradition.
So what they did in the Mishna, and then in the Gemara, the commentary on the Mishna, put them together and you have what you would call the Talmud. What they did was, they took the law of Moses and they refined it and refined it and refined it to make it applicable to every possible situation.
For example, the Sabbath day, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” [Exodus 20:8]. Now, that was what they read in the law of Moses. All right, what do you do to keep it holy? And what do you do to keep it unholy? So they refined it, and refined it and refined it, with page after page and volume after volume concerning what you could do and what you could not do on the Sabbath day.
Now lest you think that belongs to a strange mentality, that that was way back yonder in the days of the Pharisees, you have that same legalism in religion apparently forever. Let me take an extreme case of it. There were two robbers who held up a bank, and in escaping with the money, they killed—in cold blood—the president of the bank. On their way of escape, they got hungry, and they stopped at a place to eat. And while they were eating, one of the robbers who had just dipped his hand in human blood, while they were eating, “Wait! Wait!” he said to his friend, “I forgot this is Friday!” And he pushed back the meat that was on his plate: that is legalism. A man just murdered in cold blood the president of the bank but was horrified at the thought that he would eat meat on Friday. Legalism is the curse of religion.
Now, when you have religion defined in legalistic terms, atonement for sin goes along with it. That is, if sin is just this act, why then, atoning for it is this act. For example, on Saturday, a man might break the law—a legalistic tenet, tradition—he might break the law by walking a little further than a Sabbath day’s journey. Well, what does he do to atone for it? The next day, the next day, he will give some money to a beggar, and so he balances it out. He did this wrong, and he did this right, and you balance it out. That is legalism, and that is atonement in legalism.
We have the same attitude in the world today, “After all, preacher,” they will say to me, “I am not such a bad man. Oh! I did this, and this, and this, and this, God knows. But I also did this, and this, and this. And when I stand before God, there is going to be more good in me than there is bad in me. So I will just walk triumphantly with head up through those pearly gates and down those golden streets” [Revelation 21:21]. That is legalism, and that is the world of religion into which Jesus came.
Now in those days, of course, the temple was there in Jerusalem, and the sacrificial system continued. When Zerubbabel came back, and Joshua the high priest, under the preaching of Haggai and Zachariah, the two prophets, they built the second temple [Ezra 5:1-2]. So it was going on in all of this interbiblical period. And when Jesus came, there the temple was in all of its glory [Matthew 21:12-16].
But the rite and the ritual were nothing other than something done in obedience to the law of Moses. It was a legalistic act, everything they did in the temple, buying and selling all of those things that they were merchandising in the temple courts, all of that was just a matter of legalistic obedience to the law of Moses.
The type of and the meaning of the sacrifice was absolutely lost, just as in Christian legalism, the atonement of Christ is absolutely lost. So it was when Jesus came into Jerusalem. For example, in Matthew 9: 10-13, the Lord will quote Hosea 6:6 regarding the temple sacrifices. Those people were so meticulous in observing just the exact way that tradition had said everything is to be done—but the Lord, quoting Hosea, says, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice” [Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6].
So let’s come now to Jesus, and as Jesus looked upon sin, and as He looked upon His death as an atonement for it—now I repeat, beyond these lectures we are going to study atonement as the whole theological world will look at it—but tonight, it is a study of how Jesus looked upon His death, what He thought about it. So we begin with Jesus’ conception of sin. And here you come into a whole, and different, and amazing world. Jesus looked upon sin as inward depravity, something on the inside of a man.
I could not find a better illustration of that than the passage that I read in the seventh chapter of Mark. “There came together unto Him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes. And when they saw some of His apostles eat bread with defiled,” defiled and then Mark is writing for the Romans, so he has to define what he means by defile. “When those Pharisees saw His apostles eat with defiled hands,” that is, they had not gone through the ritualistic tradition of washing hands in a certain way, why, “they found fault” [Mark 7:1-2]. Then he is explaining to the Romans, to whom he is writing the gospel:
For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels, and of tables, and so forth.
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why walk not Thy apostles, disciples, according to the tradition of the elders—
you know, that Talmudic, legalistic system—
but they eat bread with unwashen hands?
All right, now let us look at the Lord, what He thinks is sin and not sin.
When He had called, and we are down to verse 14,
When Jesus called all the people unto Him, He said unto them, Hearken unto Me every one of you, and understand:
There is nothing from without a man that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out the man, those are they that defile the man—
then He avows—
. . .
Do you not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without that entereth into the man, cannot defile him;
Because it entereth not into his heart, but into his alimentary canal, and goeth out to draught?
And He said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
“There is not anything on the outside of us,” He says, Jesus says, “that brings to us sin.” It just doesn’t. Whether you wash your hands or don’t wash your hands; whether you comb your hair or don’t comb your hair; whether you are dressed up or not dressed up; there are not any of these habits and customs that have anything to do with a man’s inward soul. “Sin,” He says, “is on the inside of you. It comes in your heart” [Mark 7:23].
Then in the Sermon on the Mount, He illustrated that poignantly, “You think murder is,” He said, “when a man kills another man. I am telling you,” He says, ”that murder springs out of the heart that is full of anger and bitterness and hatred” [Matthew 5:21-22]. “You think adultery,” He says, “is conjugal relationship with somebody to whom you are not married. But I am telling you that adultery is in the heart, is born in lust, and the man who lusts in his heart is an adulterer [Matthew 5:27-28], as the man who hates in his heart is a murderer” [Mark 7:23].
My soul, He takes the entire fact and conception of sin out of expressions, however you want to express it: your hair, or your clothes, or even violence in hands, He takes it and turns it all inward; sin is inward depravity. And in John 8:34, He taught His disciples that whosoever committed a sin is the slave of sin. That is, our character is inwardly conditioned and inwardly defined, and sin is just an exhibition, an illustration, of what is on the inside of the heart.
Now one of the rabbis here in our city wrote, and he said, “The big difference between the Christian and the Jew is this: we have no doctrine of lostness. We do not believe men are lost and need saving. The Christian, believing Christ, is taught that men are sinners, that they are lost in their hearts and need saving.” The Jew, the traditionalist—and the only Judaism you know is Pharisaism. All the rest died in 70 AD. It was only the Pharisaical wing of Judaism that survived, that you know today, the Talmudic traditional Judaism, Jewishness, that is, the Jew that you know. Jewishness is all of that tradition that they keep.
Now in all of that tradition, there is no doctrine, no teaching, that men are lost. They just have certain precepts that they keep or don’t keep. And they are sinners accordingly to whether they keep the precepts or not. But the Lord Jesus said sin is a condition of the heart, and out of the depravity of heart come all of the manifestations that you call sin [Matthew 15:18-19].
Now this is a cardinal doctrine of Christ; I mean a foundational doctrine of our Lord, that men are lost! That is the basis, the foundation upon which He taught His message, lived His life, died His death, and commissioned us to preach, that men are lost! You see that, for example, in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, in the story of the one lost sheep, and the one lost coin, and the one lost boy [Luke 15:3-32]. You see it again in Luke 19, verse 10, concerning Zaccheus, “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost” [Luke 19:10].
Now what did He mean by “lost”? We are lost, not legally, as the infraction of some tradition; you know, that I have done this wrong, or I cussed here, or I got, you know, I just, doing things that are not good; I got drunk yonder. We are lost, not legally, not the infraction of some tradition, but we are lost spiritually. We are innately separated from God in our sin, all of us [Isaiah 59:1-2].
That was what John was preaching. He threw the entire Jewish nation outside the covenant of God and said, “You have got to repent and bring forth fruits, meet worthy of repentance” [Luke 3:8]. And on the basis of that they were baptized, getting ready for the Messiah [Luke 3:21]. That is Christian. That is Christian doctrine, and we are going to see how it becomes a basis for Christian atonement.
So our Lord, teaching that we are lost in ourselves, not because we have done this and done that and done the other thing, but by nature we are lost. Let me define it this way: the old-timers, an old, old-time preacher would stand up and preach often total depravity. What did he mean by “total depravity,” the doctrine of total depravity? Well, it is this. Not that men are as vile as they can be—no matter how vile we are, I presume that it is possible we could be viler—the doctrine of total depravity is not that men are as vile as they can be, but the Christian doctrine, the old-time preaching of the doctrine of total depravity is this: that sin, lostness, coming short of the holiness, and purity, and expectation, and glory of God, sin has entered all of my faculties, all of my imaginations, all of my thoughts, all of the dreams and aspirations of my life. I am somehow unable to be as pure as God would have me be pure, to be as devoted as God would have me be devoted. There is a lack in everything that I do. That is the doctrine of total depravity. My prayers are not perfect. My worship is not perfect. My dreams are not perfect. My aspirations are not perfect. In every part of me, there is that drag of a fallen nature. Now that is the doctrine of total depravity.
There is nothing more fundamentally Christian than that. That is the basis upon which Jesus taught what it is to be in a state of lostness. We, by nature, are depraved; we are lost people. You don’t need to teach a child to be lost. He will just automatically, of himself, he will do evil. He will do wrong. Nobody teach him that; he will just do it. That is because, Jesus would say, because of his depraved nature; we are born that way.
Now this doctrine of looking with disdain upon sin as the infraction of some tradition or some tenet brought bitter hostility toward Jesus. Because of His renunciation of Pharisaical legalism, the Jews plotted His death [John 11:53]. And His death was the inevitable consequence of His fidelity to a God kind of righteousness, as over again a legalistic kind of righteousness [Luke 18:9-14].
There is something about divine interest and selfish human interest that is absolutely and forever incompatible. When a man works out his religion, that’s one thing; when God works out God’s religion, it’s an altogether different thing, and the two are not compatible.
For example, in John 11:48, the Lord, having raised Lazarus from the dead, now, I want you to look at the divine interest and the human interest:
The Pharisees and Sadducees say, What shall we do? for this Man doeth many miracles.
If we let Him alone, all men will believe on Him: and the Romans will come and take away our place and our nation.
That is human nature, “Our place and our nation.” And in John 12:43, the Lord, having turned aside from all of the emoluments and advancements offered by legalistic Judaism, He incurred the wrath of the Pharisees. And many of the people who had great respect and love for Jesus refused to follow Him openly. They shunned Him, and then John says, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” [John 12:43].
Now there are three features of Jesus’ public ministry that infuriated the Jewish leaders: number one, His disregard for legalistic, Pharisaical tradition. All of that business about fasting was just nothing to Him, absolutely nothing. On this day you fast, or on that day you don’t fast; He disregarded it all. All of their tradition about Sabbath-keeping, He absolutely disregarded. All of their tradition about washing hands, all of that legalistic system, the Lord disregarded it all.
The second reason there was such bitter hostility against Jesus was because of His exposure of the superficial righteousness of the scribes and of the Pharisees. Now I want to read you, again out of the seventh chapter of Mark, I want to read you an example of that. He is laying bare the superficiality of legalistic righteousness. Now listen to Him, beginning at verse 6, Mark chapter 7:
Jesus answered and said unto them, Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites . . . This people honoreth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the traditions of men.
For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such things ye do.
And He said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, whosoever curseth father or mother, let him die the death:
But ye say, you scribes and Pharisees, you say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, Corban, Corban, Corban, “belongs to God,” by whatever your father or mother might be taken care of, why, you have no obligation to support them.
And ye suffer him no more to do aught for his father or his mother;
Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
Isn’t that something? Here is a man’s father or here is a man’s mother, and they are old and decrepit and maybe sick unto death, and this son, instead of obeying the great commandment of God to honor and revere and take care of an aged, ailing, sick, dying, father or mother, why, the son would say, “What I have is Corban; it is Corban!” and let his father and mother perish in agony, in poverty, unattended because of Corban, “what I have, I have dedicated to God” [Mark 7:11]. Well, you can imagine how the exposure of that kind of hypocrisy infuriated the scribes and the Pharisees. Well, you have it again in Matthew 23.
You know, people are funny. They are screwy funny, you know, crazy funny. About a month ago, I was in Chicago, and I was delivering an address to a great throng of people there on the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. And I got off on these evolutionists who believe that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are mythological and who believe that we came from a green scum.
“I once was an amoeba.” Or “I was a paramecium and then I was a tadpole, then I was a fish, then I was a marsupial, then I was an anthropoid, and now I am a Homo sapiens.” You know, absolutely the most inane, asinine, idiocy that the world has ever heard. Now, that is what I was talking about, and when I got through with my feeble remarks concerning that inanity, I want you to know there came up to me a whole bunch of those students—young people—and they surrounded me, just like that. You know, standing there, surrounding me, and ah! what they had to say to me about my un-Christian attitude in making fun of the evolutionists; that I should treat them with Christian love and respect.
Why, it just dumbfounded me, what those kids were saying to me. And they said to me, “Jesus was never like that! Always, the Lord was just full of overflowing, sanctified love.” I said, “I just want to ask you sophisticated flips just one thing. Did you ever read the Gospel of Matthew?”
“Ah! Yeah, we’ve read the Matthew.”
I said, “Did you ever read the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew?”
Well, I said, “In all human literature,” and I include the ancient Greeks and the Romans and the literature of the whole family of mankind, “in all human literature, there is nothing to rival the scathing denunciation of our Lord against the scribes and the Pharisees, ‘hypocrites, whited sepulchres’” [Matthew 23:27] I am just telling you that you can be so soft, and spineless, and saccharin sweet, that you are like candied-jellyfish, just like that, don’t particularly believe anything, except just being sweet; doesn’t particularly stand for anything, but just being sweet; and wherever you are, just traipsing around scattering rosewater and perfume and Channel Number 5, just everywhere, just everywhere.
There is an angle, there is a side to the Christian faith, and to our Lord, and to the apostle Paul that is an amazing stance, conviction. He called those Judiazers “dogs” [Philippians 3:2]. I rarely call these liberals I know “dogs.” I rarely do that. Paul did. He called them “dogs!” I rarely would refer “that I hope that they were cut off,” and he uses that word in Greek—he is talking about the circumcision, you know, “cutting around” [Galatians 5:12]. “I wish they were all cut around,” he says, except he is talking about their heads; that’s Paul! In my humble opinion, I think there needs to be a little more backbone in those who defend the Christian faith. I think so. I think so. I know Jesus was that way. His exposure of the superficial righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees infuriated them. That’s the second reason why they encompassed His death.
The third reason they encompassed the death of our Lord is an amazing reason. It is an astonishing thing! It was because of His fellowship and comradeship with the common people. The beautiful fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke begins with these words, “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him” [Luke 15:1]. I love those old King James’ ways of expression, “for to hear Him.” “And the Pharisees and Sadducees murmured saying, This Man, houtos, houtos, a word of contempt, houtos, ‘this’ guy, ‘this’ fellow, ‘this’ renegade receiveth sinners, and eats with them” [Luke 15:2].
Now, I have said all of that to bring us up to Jesus’ view of His impending death. Having incurred the hostility and bitter acrimony of the scribes and the Pharisees, He began to speak about His death. What did He say about His death? Now, this is atonement in the life of our Lord. How did He view His death?
First of all, His death to Him was to fulfill the Father’s will [Hebrews 10:7]. That will was an inescapable part of His mission. His death is not a part of fatalism, but it is the culmination of a great, divine, and heavenly purpose. In John, the tenth chapter, verses 15, 17, and 18, He avows, “I lay down My life for the sheep … No man taketh it from Me” [John 10:15, 18].
He said to Simon Peter, “I could call legions of angels [Matthew 26:53]”—just one, in the days of Sennacherib, slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand men [Isaiah 37:36]. “I could call seventy-two thousand angels … But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled?” [Matthew 26:54]. How would the Father’s will be done? I want to read to you one passage in Hebrews, concerning Jesus’ attitude toward His death:
It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
Wherefore when He cometh into the world, when the Son of God cometh into the world, He saith, Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldest not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me:
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure.
Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to doThy will, O God.
A body was prepared for Jesus in order that He might be sacrificed for our sins. And that body was framed in the womb of the virgin Mary [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:31, 34-35]. And that body was framed, and the Lord put in it. Isn’t that a strange way to think? We are put on the inside of this house, this thing made out of corrupting matter. It’s dust. I live in it. The Lord in heaven, the eternal pre-existent Son of God, Jehovah Jesus, was placed inside of a body, in the womb of the virgin Mary, in order that He might be sacrificed for our sins [Matthew 1:21].
A spirit could not be sacrificed for our sins; He had to have a body. That is what it says here: “Not the blood of bulls or goats … but a body hast Thou prepared for Me” [Hebrews 10:4-5]. And when I came into the world, I came with this avowal: “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” [Hebrews 10:7]. And that is the way Jesus looked upon His death. Death was abhorrent to Him, but He faced it with resolute purpose. The Father approved it. “God made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” [2 Corinthians 5:21].
In the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of John, you have the story of the coming of the Greeks to see Jesus [John 12:20-21], and it plunged Him into an agony. But He said, “This is the Father’s will. And, I, if I be lifted up … will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32]. So in Jesus’ view of His death, first: He looked upon it as a culmination of the purpose of God [John 18:11].
Second: He said of His death, that He came to die for the unrighteousness. In Mark 2:15-17, He concludes, “For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In Mark 10:45 is one of the most marvelously meaningful significant verses in the Bible, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” All of that, the word, “ransom,” brings back the imagery of a captivity and slavery. Here is somebody captured, taken into captivity and sold as a slave, and he is bought back. That is a ransom. It is something paid to buy back somebody that has been taken away.
Now we are going to have a little preview, just for a second, of the doctrine of the atonement that we are going to look at a little further down the line. In that idea that the Lord is using, He is giving His life a ransom for many [Mark 10:45]. The “many,” of course, refers to any who will receive it, any who will accept it. But the idea of the ransom is this; He is paying a sum, a merit, a value, in exchange for us, who have been captivated by sin, and slaves of evil [Romans 7:14].
All right, sometimes in the exchange in a ransom, a man, a governor, a president, a king, an emperor will say, “I will give you a thousand captives for that one general that you have captured from me. I will give you a thousand soldiers that I have captured from you in exchange for that one general that you have captured from me, a thousand to one.” Now, that goes on through all history, the exchange, the ransoming, of captives. “I will give a hundred soldiers for that five men there.” Or, “I will give you five hundred soldiers for that general, there,” or, “that army leader, there,” or “that person, here,” an exchange, a ransom.
Now the merit of Christ in God’s sight is so great that the Lord will buy all of us back in the death of Jesus Christ. The merit of Christ’s death is so great, so marvelous in God’s sight, that because of the merit, the worth of that death, He can buy all of us back, every one of us [1 John 2:2].
Could I say it in my way? That was the way you read when you talk about it theologically. Could I say it like this? When a man is trying to explain the death of Christ; “If I were to die for you, I just would have no merit for you at all, for I am just dying for my own sins. There is nothing in me that goes beyond anything that I could do for you; I am just a sinner, dying. But Jesus was so infinitely everything, God in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16], the Prince of glory [Acts 5:31; 1 Corinthians 2:8], the Leader of the hosts of heaven [Matthew 26:53], just everything glorious. He did not have to die. He had no wrong to pay for, no penalty of death in Him, no judgment of God upon Him. And when He died, His death is so meritorious, it is so efficacious, it is so availing in worth and glory and power, that in the death of Christ, all of us can find merit, grace overflowing mercy and love and forgiveness [John 3:16]; just enough for all of us, for me and you and the whole world.” It is just a marvelous thing, the way the Bible will present the worth of the death of our Lord.
Now, we must hasten. Our time is gone. Just bear with me, this one thing. How did the Lord look upon His death? To do the Father’s will [Hebrews 10:7], dying for the unrighteousness, to buy us out of slavery and sin [Mark 2:15-17, 10:45]. And the last thing, the third thing, Christ looking upon His death: He looked upon it as a death to establish the new covenant [Luke 22:20]. That word, “covenant,” testament, covenant, is one of the commonest words in the Bible. It is used over three hundred times, for example, in the Old Testament.
And in fulfillment of the promise in the Old Testament, in Jeremiah 31:31-33, God said, “The old covenant you have broken. The day is coming when I will make a new covenant with you.” And that is what Jesus was referring to in the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. There is a covenant of peace, and reconciliation, and salvation between God and man [Ezekiel 37:26; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20].
Now may I compare that just for a minute? The old covenant was, “Do this, and thou shalt live” [Deuteronomy 4:1]. “Do this, and thou shalt live.” Is that not what the Lord said to the rich young ruler when the young fellow came to Him and said, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And the Lord said, “You know the commandments; do this and thou shalt live. Do this and thou shalt live. Do this and do this and do this, and thou shalt live” [Luke 18:18-24]. But the problem lies in, “I don’t do that. I fall short. I don’t live up to the expectation of God.”
So the new covenant is that in the love and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, I have a reconciliation with God, a salvation in the Lord, in the new covenant which is, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures: He was buried, and the third day He rose from the dead for our justification [1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Romans 4:25]. And anyone who will accept the free pardon of grace and mercy is welcome into the family of God [Ephesians 2:8-9, 13; Revelation 22:17].
That is the new covenant. Never, “Do this and thou shalt live. Do this and thou shalt live.” That is the old covenant [Deuteronomy 4:1]. But the new covenant is, “Out of God’s love and mercy and grace, Jesus died for our sins, was raised for our justification [1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 4:25], and to those who will accept the forgiveness, it is ours forever and ever” [John 3:16]. And the new covenant is expressed in our Lord’s Table; “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup” [1 Corinthians 11:26], you are accepted, sharing in the new covenant, His body, crucified for us [Luke 22:19]; His blood, poured out for us [Luke 22:20], and when I eat that bread and drink that cup, it is a sign that I expect healing and forgiveness and salvation for my sins in the atoning death of Christ [Isaiah 53:5].
I close. The Lord Himself illustrated that new covenant [John 3:14-15]. When a man was bitten by a serpent and was dying in the midst of the camp, there was a brazen serpent raised, and it could be, God said it would be, if a man bitten, smitten, dying, would look, he would live [Number 21:8-9]. That is, it was a moral act. More could not have been offered by some of those people who were dying, smitten, bitten, prostrate, dying. But, if he would just look, in that look there was expectancy and faith in the promise of God. Why, I can just see that in the camp, “If you will look.”
There’s life for a look at the Crucified One.
There is life at this moment for thee.
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved.
Unto Him who was slain on the tree.
[“There is Life,” Amelia Matilda Hull]
There is life for a look. The gospel message is always this and none other, look and live [John 3:14-15], wash and be clean [Revelation 7:14; 2 Kings 5:10-14], believe and be saved [Acts 16:20-31]. That is the new covenant. There are no works in it [Deuteronomy 4:1]. There is no legalism in it. There is no, “Do this, and thou shalt be saved,” in it. It is always in the new covenant that if I will accept I will be saved [Acts 16:30-31].
And the sign of that acceptance is sharing in the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. “I believe, Lord; I have accepted; I trust. I break bread with my brethren; I drink the cup in the communion of the saints. I trust in the atoning death of Jesus, who saved my poor, lost soul” [Galatians 2:20]. And that’s all.
“I may be baptized,” has nothing in the world to do with my salvation. I may try to do a thousand things to honor Jesus, they have nothing to do with my salvation. What saves me is accepting the atoning grace of our dear blessed Savior [Ephesians 2:8-9]. And when I do that, I am saved; I am in the kingdom. God writes my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], and I experience a fountain source of longing and wanting to serve and glorify the blessed Jesus, doing what I do not in order to be saved, but doing what I do because I have been saved [Ephesians 2:9].
O bless God, O dear Jesus, how could I ever repay Thee for what Thou hast done for me? That is the Christian life, one of overflowing praise and gratitude. Not buying our salvation nor earning it [Titus 3:5], but just taking it, receiving it [Ephesians 2:8], and then praising God forever because of it.
Well, next time, next Wednesday night, we will look at the atonement as the apostles preached it in that first apostolic church.