The Power of the Gospel

The gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven is not a person or an event that you put your faith in. It is not a belief system. It is not passive. The gospel has power. It changes you. It gives you a whole new identity. Jesus went so far as to say that it’s a new birth: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’"

We’ve seen that the water part of this birth has its foundation in John’s message of repentance for forgiveness. But that is a message of changed attitudes, and John, its preacher, was just getting people ready for Jesus. With Jesus came not just forgiveness for sin, but power to be free from it. There’s more to water than just forgiveness. Check it out:
Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (1 John 5:5-8)
We see here again that there are two big principles to the gospel -- water and Spirit, just as Jesus said. But there’s this other aspect to the water. Jesus came “not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.” It’s the blood that makes the water special. Without blood, John’s baptism in water is just symbolic. But when Jesus came with the water and the blood together, it became something powerful. Let’s take a closer look at what this blood is all about.

Importance of Blood

The significance of blood goes back thousands of years. Before the Christian Assembly was the Jewish temple, and before the temple was the Israeli tabernacle. When Moses set the tabernacle up, he ordained the Priests to interact directly with God in it on behalf of the rest of the Israelites. In Exodus 29, you can read about how these spiritual ambassadors were set apart from the rest of the nation. They were to be washed with water and put on new clothes. Then, they were to sacrifice some animals by killing them and putting the blood in all sorts of different places to make them holy.

So here again we see water and blood together. It was this first priestly washing with water that inspired Jewish ritual washing and ultimately John’s baptism. The putting on of new clothes has significance too; Paul, who was a Christian Jew, wrote, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) And that baptism enabled the Priests to perform the sacrifice and make things holy with the blood. Reading on in Exodus, you can see why this blood is important:
“Thus they shall eat those things by which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration; but a layman shall not eat them, because they are holy.” (Exodus 29:33)
Some of you will immediately understand the beautiful significance of eating the sacrifice, but at the moment, we’re more concerned with that word “atonement”. It means “compensation for a wrong or injury.”

When a person does something wrong against someone else, that person is in debt to the person they wronged. For example, If someone steals your cell phone, and then next day, comes to you and asks for your forgiveness, what would you do? You could teach the thief a lesson by punching him in the face. Or you could teach him an even more powerful lesson by forgiving him. But you still wouldn’t be able to make calls. You can forgive, but forgiveness doesn’t take away his wrong -- he still has your phone! It’s not until he’s given your phone back to you that justice was done.

In the same way, when we sin against God, we owe him. Through repentance, we can get God’s forgiveness all we want. But it’s not until our sins are repaid that justice is done. Repayment is what a sacrifice does. To sacrifice something is to give something up, just like the thief returning your phone. An animal is worth money, and its life has value. To take its blood means giving the value of that life to God. Priests became ordained to interact with God because their wrongs were paid for by their sacrifice. The blood paid for their sin.

Justification by Blood

Until the thief returned your phone, there was no justice. Until the Priests made their sacrifices, there was no justice for God. And even though John preached forgiveness through repentance and water, there was no justice for God until Jesus became the sacrifice for our sin. Justice done is what the Bible calls justification. Like the Priests were forgiven with water and justified with blood of animals, we are forgiven with baptism and justified with the blood of Jesus.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. (Romans 3:23-25)
Propitiation means appeasement. Because we've wronged God through our sin, we are at odds -- we owe God a debt and he owes us his wrath. But Jesus appeased our relationship with God by paying our debt and taking God's wrath.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:9)
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel. (Colossians 1:21-23)
And if Jesus took the punishment for our sin upon himself, then he also took the sin itself!
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 cor 5:21)

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
You can read about the parallels between the Priests' sacrifice and Jesus in Hebrews. and in particular chapters 9-10. The forgiveness of the Father is not complete until it is paid for with blood.
According to the Law, almost all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)
So if animal blood can pay for sins the sins of Priests, why do we need Jesus?

Freedom from Sin

By taking our sin upon himself, the flesh that causes sin died with Jesus on the cross. So in a way, a piece of us died with him! Therefore, we are united to Jesus, both in his death, and in his life.

Are you struggling with sin? The bond you can have with Jesus is the key to overcoming it. This bond is the result of the water and the blood we've been talking about. The ritual of baptism is how you partake in it, and we'll explore that in the next post. But this bond is something that you can have only with Jesus. It certainly can't come from an animal sacrifice.

You see, animal sacrifice under the law can pay for one's sin, can’t actually change a person. But through Jesus, we can be reborn in water and Spirit. He brings freedom from sin. He makes us perfect. To see what I mean, let’s continue reading the Hebrews passage:
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. But He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:1-4, 12-14)
The Priests were ordained to make sacrifices regularly on behalf of the Israelites. It brought forgiveness for sins committed up to that point, but more sacrifices were necessary for future sins, and slavery to sin remained. But Jesus, the perfect single sacrifice, took care of all sin once and for all. His sacrifice didn’t just cover past sin, it covers future sin too. Therefore, through Jesus, you can be forgiven for past sin, and also free from future sin. (This is why God destroyed the Jewish temple where sacrifices were carried out shortly after Hebrews was written, and it was this impending destruction that Hebrews was written to warn about.) Therefore, this blood of Jesus doesn’t just forgive sin, it changes our heart and body:
Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)
See how our bodies are washed and our hearts sprinkled with blood, just like the Priests in the tabernacle! 

Salvation for All

Remember that Moses’ instructions to the Priests were only for the Priests -- “a layman shall not eat them.” The rest of Israel was excluded from interacting with God in the same way the Priests did. But today, things are different. Jesus’ blood is for all disciples of Jesus, regardless of your ancestry.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Paul went so far as to call these exclusionary Priestly laws a curse! But he says Jesus took the curse himself so that non-Jews (Gentiles, those who didn’t descend from Abraham) can receive the same blessing:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (Galatians 3:13)

He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
So Jesus didn't just take the sin of you and me and other Christians who believe in him. He took the sin of everyone. This is powerful. This means that Jesus doesn't just pay for your sins against God. He also paid for the sin of everyone who's wronged you. Through Jesus, you have been completely restored; there is nothing left for anyone else to repay that Jesus hasn't already given you. If the Father has forgiven you, then you have no right to withhold forgiveness from anyone else.
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Whatever you are holding on to, it's time to let it go. Any unforgiveness you hold doesn't keep other people in debt to you, it only keeps you trapped. If you want freedom and forgiveness from the Father, you must forgive.

Justice of God

In a post a while back, we explored the so-called problem of hell: How can a loving God condemn people to the lake of fire? Love and eternal punishment seem paradoxical until we understand that it's God's love that motivates his need for justice. But God doesn't want anyone to suffer.
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
How could anyone keep sinners from perishing while maintaining justice? It would be impossible for anyone else -- but not for our heavenly Father. He spared us, his sinful children from his wrath, but maintained justice by sacrificing his own son in our place. This is how much God loves us! And yet, many people despise and reject this generous and powerful sacrifice. Their perishing will be justified. But for those who are born again in water and Spirit, they will inherit eternal life!


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