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Love that bled at Calvary

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Archives / 1978 / September

 

 

Love that bled at Calvary

Desmond Ford
Desmond Ford, Ph.D., is currently serving as a professor of religion at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.

 

 

"Law and terrors do but harden

All the while they work alone,

But a sense of blood-bought pardon

Will melt a heart of stone." 1

Does not this verse contain the dynamic solution to the problems of evangelism? How can a sin-crazed world be arrested if not by the most amazing of all wonders—the Creator's sacrificial love for a race that loved Him not! It is the goodness of God that moves men to repentance, not the threatened fires of hell. The cross, not the law and its penalty, is the mystic talisman that can trans mute sinners into saints. Had not the penitent thief his fill of law at his trial? But the love of the Sufferer at his side, whom he initially cursed, broke his heart and brought forth the prayer—"Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42).

The tabernacle in the wilderness shows all men the way home. And it must be emphasized repeatedly that the blood was the most prominent factor in the ceremonial ritual. If we connect the furniture of the holy places and the court by intersecting lines, the outline of a cross emerges. Similarly, the sanctuary apartments themselves rested on foundations of silver sockets made from redemption money, reminding us that the whole structure was based solidly upon the gracious salvation of God. Salt characterized all the meal offerings, and incense pervaded the atmosphere of the sanctuary to re mind men that only the righteousness of the Messiah—a righteousness woven in the twin looms of a perfect life and a sacrificial death—could provide the righteousness of God for perishing sinners.

Thus did the parable of the Mosaic tabernacle set forth the basic truth that forgiveness, righteousness, the Spirit, and eternal life are Heaven's gracious gifts bought for us by the death of One of infinite worth.

New Testament writers continually refer to the death of Christ as the prevailing motive that excites faith, hope, and love. 2 Clearly, "the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died" (2 Cor. 5:14, R.S.V.).

What a revelation to a lost world! When the God-man died He died as our representative, and His death is counted as our death. The price for all our sins was paid in the person of our Representative and Substitute two thousand years ago. Now who soever will, may come, "and him that cometh," Christ "will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). After Lincoln's proclamation of liberty to the slaves, thousands toiled on under the lash of their masters be cause they did not know that they were free men! Is it not the same today? Does not the cross assert that man is reconciled to God, and that we need only accept?

Only one New Testament book systematically explains the plan of salvation. It was written by Paul, the theologian of the church, when the early controversies had waned and his authority had been established. Now was his opportunity to write, not in answer to an emergency, but to set forth the gospel committed to him. In this important book of Scripture—Romans—one pregnant passage enshrines the meaning of the sacrificial system. This passage has been called the acropolis of the New Testament: "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, ... to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus" (chap. 3:21-26, R.S.V.). The word translated expiation means literally "mercy seat," a reference to the atoning blood in the Holy of Holies of the sanctuary.

Notice this beautiful summary of Paul's meaning: "The condition of eternal life is now just what it always has been—just what it was in Para dise before the fall of our first—parents perfect obedience to the law of God, perfect righteousness. If eternal life were granted on any condition short of this, then the happiness of the whole universe would be imperiled. The way would be open for sin, with all its train of woe and misery, to be immortalized.

"It was possible for Adam, before the fall, to form a righteous character by obedience to God's law. But he failed to do this, and because of his sin our natures are fallen, and we cannot make ourselves5 righteous. Since we are sinful, unholy, we can not perfectly obey the holy law. We have no righteousness of our own with which to meet the claims of the law of God. But Christ has made a way of escape for us. He lived on earth amid trials and temptations such as we have to meet. He lived a sinless life. He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you give your self to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.

"More than this, Christ changes the heart. He abides in your heart by faith." 3

Every significant revival in the Christian era has been accomplished through the proclamation that the sinner can be justified freely before God on the basis of Christ's shed blood alone. It is this good news "that a man is justified by faith quite apart from success in keeping the law" (verse 28, N.E.B-)4 that breaks men's hearts and frees them from the shackles of sinful habits. Shout it to the multitudes from the housetops: "Sin shall no longer be your master, because you are no longer under the law, but under the grace of God" (chap. 6:14, N.E.B.). Man has often sought Justification by striving for sanctification, but God's way of sanctifying a man is through the motivation of gratitude that justification brings.

Some today may wish to turn the grace of God into license and lasciviousness just as some desired to do in Paul's day (chap. 3:31; 6:1,2), but he who is taught of the Spirit knows that, though he is justified by faith alone, the faith that justifies is never alone. It is ever accompanied by a love that works in gratitude for so great a salvation. Though no man is saved by faith and works, he is saved by a faith that works. Let us recognize the clear teaching of both Testaments as expressed in type and antitype. The sinner is saved by faith alone which means by the blood alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone. It was God who in the Old Testament sacrificial service provided the blood (Lev. 17:11). Sacrifices were not human attempts to ward off divine anger, but the revelation of divine love. As Abraham told his son Isaac, God Himself provides the lamb. James Denney once exclaimed, "I envy the priest who can thrust a crucifix under the eyes of a dying man and say, 'God loves like that.'"

The New Testament continually links the themes of sacrifice and love. After Christ's reference to the uplifted serpent, which prefigured Himself on the cross, we hear the most familiar words of the entire Bible: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son ..." (John 3:16). Paul speaks similarly when he writes, "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8, R.S.V.).

Any presentation of divine love that ignores the blood of Christ is not the religion of Scripture, for such presentations minimize the sacredness of the law of God. The testimony of Heaven is that "with out the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins"; therefore, "even the first covenant was not ratified without blood. . . . He [Moses] sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels used in worship" (Heb. 9:22, 18, 21, R.S.V., margin). The Christian church today is declared to be one of the antitypes of the Mosaic sanctuary (see 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:19-22). If then we are to do our work aright and fulfill our allotted task, the blood must ever be made prominent in our preaching and ministry. All worship and service is acceptable only be cause of the blood. Not only at the beginning of the Christian life but throughout it, the believer is dependent upon the atoning merits of the Saviour. Note how the arrangements of the sanctuary taught this truth very clearly.

The penitent sinner who stepped inside the courtyard was first confronted by the altar of burnt offering—the symbol of his justification through the blood of his substitute. Next came the laver with its demand for purification, as well as pardon. (The next article of this series will have more to say on this topic.) But how was the sinner to grow in truth and holiness, becoming more like the God he worshiped? The holy place, with its table of shewbread and its candlestick, offered him two great gifts—food and light, symbols of the nourishment of Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There was, however, one other item in this apartment—the altar of incense. Even while growing in grace and Christlikeness the Christian is ever dependent upon the fragrance of Christ's merits—His perfect righteousness. Thus Peter reminds us that all our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5; cf. Rev. 8:1-4; 7:15).

We who must pray daily, "For give us our debts" (Matt. 6:12); we who recognize that we "make many mistakes" (James 3:2, R.S.V.) and that "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8, R.S.V.); we who are sinners in our selves but righteous in Christ, find in the shed blood of Christ our assurance and hope, our righteousness and strength. The love that bled at Calvary energizes as nothing else can, and enables us to count all things as "so much garbage, for the sake of gaining Christ and finding . . . [ourselves] incorporate in him, with no righteousness of ... [our] own, no legal rectitude, but the righteousness which comes from faith in Christ" (Phil. 3:8, 9, N.E.B.).

The ancient prophet recorded this promise of God: "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" (Ex. 12:13). Note three things: 1. It was the blood and nothing but the blood that brought salvation. 2. Whoever was under the blood was safe. 3. It was God's estimate of the blood that counted. These were the great teachings of the Mosaic tabernacle, and they remain the saving message of the New Testament church.

"What more could He say than to you He hath said,

Who unto the Saviour for refuge have fled?"

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" (Rom. 6:23, R.S.V.; 2 Cor. 9:15, R.S.V.).

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Notes:

1 From the poem by Augustus Toplady.

2 See Rom. 5:6-11; 8:34; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 1:7; Phil. 2:8; 1 Thess. 5:9, 10; 2 Tim. 2:8; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:28; 10:10; 13:12; 1 Peter 2:21, 24; 3:18; 4:1; 1 John 2:2; Rev. 1:5, 18; 5:9.

3 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 62.

4 Texts credited to N.E.B. are from The New English Bible. The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970. Reprinted by permission.

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