Part IV: Divine Obsession
C H A P T E R 18
Why can't God simply forgive, without sacrifice? Why is
We are so used to forgiveness being granted that we take
it for granted. We have come to think that forgiveness is
easy, to be dispensed the way we hand out compliments. But
forgiveness is tough, even for God. True forgiveness is not
automatic, and it has a cost. To forgive means to give up
We should have a forgiving attitude, as Jesus did when
He prayed on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they do
not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34). If we do not
forgive others, we cannot expect to receive forgiveness from
God. The Lord's Prayer includes the words: "And forgive us
our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt 6:12).
But in carrying out our duty of forgiving, we should not
overlook the cost of forgiveness and regard it as an
unthinking "knee-jerk" reaction.
Michael Carneal, age 14, shot and killed three girls who
were his classmates at Heath High School in West Paducah,
Kentucky. Almost immediately, surviving classmates put up a
sign saying "We forgive you, Mike!" Dennis Prager reacted to
this example of what he regards as a "feel-good doctrine of
Even by God, forgiveness is contingent on the sinner
repenting, and it can be given only by the one sinned
"And if your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and
if he repents, forgive him," reads Luke 17:3-4. "And if
seven times of the day he sins against you, and seven
times of the day turns to you saying, I repent, you
shall forgive him." ("When Forgiveness Is a Sin,"
Reader's Digest [March, 1998], p. 38; reprinted from The
Wall Street Journal, December 15, 1997).
Perhaps Prager has underestimated the cost of emotional
pain borne by the students who put up the sign. Perhaps the
forgiveness that they offered to Mike was not as automatic
and meaningless as Prager supposes. But Prager's caution is
worth considering. True forgiveness is not automatic, and it
does have a cost.
A Christian should offer forgiveness the way God does:
as a deliberate, conscious, and meaningful choice, whether or
not the person who has committed the wrong repents and
accepts the forgiveness, or even asks for it.
Forgiveness is not only something that is offered, it is
a transaction between two parties, the one wronged and the
one who has committed the wrong. Until the one who has
committed the wrong repents and accepts forgiveness,
forgiveness is not complete in the sense that the offender
does not receive the benefit of forgiveness. At the Israelite
sanctuary, God continually made forgiveness available. But a
sinner was only said to be "forgiven" when he/she accepted
God's forgiveness by bringing a sacrifice (Lev 4:31, 35).
If you want to see how agonizing true forgiveness can
be, look at the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. When
Joseph was second in command to Pharaoh and his brothers
showed up in Egypt to buy grain, Joseph did not immediately
reveal his identity. Before he forgave his brothers, he
tested them in all kinds of ways, to find out whether they
were the same sort of individuals who had stripped him,
thrown him in a pit, callously sat down to eat, and then sold
him to a living death of slavery (Gen 37:23-28).
Forgiveness was tough for Joseph. Because his brothers
passed the character tests he set up, thereby showing their
change of heart and repentance for what they had done to
Joseph, he became willing to reveal himself in order to
We know that the story has a good ending. So we tend to
take too much for granted. What if Joseph's brothers had
failed his test by abandoning Simeon in Egypt (Gen 42:18-24)?
What if they had consented to Benjamin remaining as Joseph's
slave because he had allegedly stolen Joseph's silver cup
(44:1-17)? Would Joseph have forgiven them? Perhaps not.
Judah's speech, imploring Joseph to let Benjamin go, put
the capstone on Joseph's realization that his brothers were
repentant, reformed men. Judah ended his speech:
Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave
to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back
with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if
the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that
would come upon my father (Gen 44:33-34).
These words melted Joseph's heart.
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all
those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Send everyone
away from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph
made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so
loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of
Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, "I am
Joseph. Is my father still alive?" (Gen 45:1-3).
Philip Yancey comments:
When grace finally broke through to Joseph, the sound of
his grief and love echoed throughout the palace. What is
that wail? Is the king's minister sick? No, Joseph's
health was fine. It was the sound of a man forgiving.
Behind every act of forgiveness lies a wound of
betrayal, and the pain of being betrayed does not easily
fade away. (What's So Amazing About Grace? [Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1997], p. 85).
Joseph revealed himself, and then he expressed his
forgiveness in words and by kissing his brothers and weeping
upon them (Gen 45:4-15). He did not reveal himself until he
was ready to forgive.
Unlike Joseph, God pursued Adam and Eve to reveal
Himself as soon as they sinned (Gen 3:8-9). God continued to
reveal Himself to patriarchs, to the Israelites at the
sanctuary, to prophets, and ultimately to all of us when
Christ emigrated to our Planet.
God's willingness to reveal Himself has consistently
shown His willingness to offer forgiveness. Had He not wanted
to forgive us, He would not have bothered to reveal Himself.
If God did not reveal Himself in order to help us, we
could not take the first step toward repentance. Repentance
is a gift of God (Acts 5:31). If God waited for us to repent
before He revealed Himself, we would all be lost.
Think about this. If it was hard for Joseph to forgive
after his brothers showed repentance, how much harder must it
be for God to offer forgiveness before we even realize our
need for repentance?
Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually
dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that
while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Rom
We have wounded the great, sensitive heart of God by
rebelling against Him. If anything, He must suffer the pain
of betrayal more than we do when people wrong us. But through
His tears He reaches out because love overcomes pain.
If God was already in pain because of human sin, why did
He immeasurably add to His own pain by having Christ die on
the cross? Couldn't He avoid the pain? Only if He protected
His heart by covering it with rejection, steeling Himself
against forgiving us, abandoning His desire for a
relationship with us. If He did this He would not be a God of
ultimate love as He claims to be (1 Jn 4:8).
Love includes justice as well as mercy. To give mercy at
the expense of justice would be to compromise love. Christ's
sacrifice makes it possible for God to maintain His justice
when He gives us mercy by forgiving us for breaking God's
law. Justice demands that we die. Christ has died in our
place to fulfill that demand: "...he was wounded for our
transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the
punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are
healed" (Isa 53:5).
The law we have broken is love (Matt 22:36-40). But love
is also the powerful force that impels God to try to save us
at any cost. We see this divine obsession in Judges 10:16.
When the Israelites put away their idols and turned back to
worshiping the Lord, "he could no longer bear to see Israel
suffer." He couldn't stand it! He just had to deliver Israel.
And deliver Israel He did.
God chooses to save us. John 3:16 says: "For God so
loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son..."
(NASB). He chose to give. He wasn't paying taxes. He chose to
give because of who He chooses to be: the God of love. His
giving is the outflow of His chosen nature.
When He was on earth, Christ showed how God wants to
forgive and restore faulty human beings. The story goes like
Disarranged locks of long, dark hair frame a
tear-streaked face. Lowered eyes, wild with terror, glance
about furtively. She is wearing, well, whatever she could
grab to hastily cover herself before going before the king
for judgment. King? Yes, but he's not on a throne and few
people recognize that He is king. Instead of guards around
Him He has a few fishermen.
This woman doesn't choose to go before the king. She is
dragged there by a group of men, men of honorable demeanor
who express horror at her crime. But they also seem to be
delighted to have the opportunity to bring her to the king,
as if they are glad that she sinned so they could catch her.
"We caught her, we did, in the act, yes, the very act of
adultery. Adultery, no less, yes it was adultery all right.
What do you say, teacher, what do you say we should do with
this wretched woman? Moses made it clear, yes, very clear,
what we should do: He commanded us to stone such a woman. But
what do you say, teacher, what do you say we should do with
Jesus knows that He is on trial with the woman. Whatever
He says, they will get Him. If He says to stone her according
to the law of Moses, they will turn Him over to the Roman
authorities for illegally taking the law into His own hands
by condemning someone to death. If He says not to stone her,
He will be speaking against the law of Moses and therefore
lose all credibility with the Jews who follow Him.
There are only two answers to the question of what to do
with the woman: stone her or don't stone her. They have Him
either way. Brilliant.
They might expect Jesus to question the details of the
case. Had she really committed adultery? Was she presently
married? Where was her lover? It takes two to commit adultery
and the law of Moses condemns both together, not just the
woman (Deut 22:22). Apparently they have the answers to these
questions and Jesus knows that she is really an adulteress.
Her lover must have mysteriously been allowed to escape.
Whatever He might say, Jesus is trapped. So He doesn't
say anything. Instead, He bends down and starts writing with
His finger in the limestone dust that covers the ground in
"Teacher, don't ignore us. This is a serious case. What
should we do with this woman?" He straightens up and replies:
"Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to
throw a stone at her" (Jn 8:7).
So Jesus does not say that the woman should die
according to the law of Moses; He assumes that she is worthy
of death and simply addresses the way in which the execution
is to be carried out. He doesn't directly say to stone her.
He says in effect, if you want to stone her, go ahead, but
remember that only a righteous person has the right to begin
the execution. Then He bends down and keeps on writing in the
"What's He writing? I'd better take a look. Oh, no! He's
writing my sin—here in public where everyone can see! How
does He know about that? If anyone else finds out I'm going
to be dead meat, a mere grease spot on the pages of history!
I'd better get out of here before they catch me and stone me
with that adulterous woman!"
They have condemned her loudly, but they depart quietly.
And quickly too, as fast as their long Pharisaic robes will
let them go.
The next time Jesus straightens up, they are all gone
and He is left with only the woman standing before Him. She
is still there cowering, waiting for the first stone to
He says to her: "Woman, where are they? Has no one
She manages to squeak out the words, "No one, sir."
Jesus replies, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way,
and from now on do not sin again" (Jn 8:11).
"Neither do I condemn you." Jesus doesn't say she isn't
guilty and worthy of death. God's finger, which wrote the
sins of the Pharisees in the dust, had written the seventh
commandment in stone over a thousand years earlier: "You
shall not commit adultery" (Exod 20:14). His law is eternal,
immutable, irrevocable. He has written it in stone.
But sins are not written in stone. Thank God, Jesus
writes even the sins of Pharisees in dust, not stone! Our
sins are not eternal because Jesus can wipe them out.
When Jesus says to the woman, "Neither do I condemn
you," what He means is: I forgive you as an act of mercy. He
doesn't dispute her guilt, but He prevents her execution from
being carried out.
Jesus also says: "Go your way, and from now on do not
sin again." His forgiveness is redemptive. He forgives people
so that they might have a chance to begin a new, better kind
of life. He accepts us just as we are, but He doesn't leave
us just as we were! "Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when
I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will
be a light to me" (Mic 7:8).
God is eager to restore us. No, that's not strong
enough. He is obsessed with restoring us! This is in spite of
the fact that forgiveness is tough for Him, as proven by the
sacrifice of Christ. When God grants us forgiveness freely,
as a gift, let us never, never, never take it for granted.
Look at the cross again and remember the cost of forgiveness.
C H A P T E R 19
When Christ forgives us, we have a problem that remains.
We are still faulty human beings who can sin again. We are
still sinners living in a world of sin and having a natural
desire to sin. The Bible describes what happens: "But one is
tempted by one's own desire, being lured and enticed by it;
then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin,
and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death"
Trying to overcome sin can be like attempting to row a
canoe upstream just above Niagara Falls. With your desires
and Satan's clever temptations against you, you are going
over. But when you are in Christ, there is a powerful force
pulling you to safety. The apostle Peter wrote:
His divine power has given us everything needed for life
and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called
us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us,
through these things, his precious and very great
promises, so that through them you may escape from the
corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may
become participants of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:3-4).
Although we are sinful, through Christ we can "become
participants of the divine nature"! This does not mean that
we become gods, but we do receive divine power to overcome
sin and emulate God's moral character.
Until we receive glorious, pure, new bodies at Christ's
Second Coming (1 Cor 15:51-54), we will have weak, mortal
bodies that contain minds bent toward sin. But we can become
participants of the divine nature by having Christ living in
us (Gal 2:20). The divine nature overcomes and controls the
Christ's sacrifice provides forgiveness and victory over
sinning. But it is also Christ's sacrifice that promises the
permanent solution of new bodies that contain no fallen
disposition and that live forever. "Where, O death, is your
victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55).
Christ died not only to wipe out our acts of sin, but also to
give us eternal life (Jn 3:16).
For Christians, the ritual of baptism signifies our
acceptance of Christ's promise to cleanse us from sin and
give us new life through His sacrifice and resurrection (Rom
6:1-11; compare 1 Pet 3:21-22). This idea that Christ gives
life as well as forgiveness was shown by the ancient
Israelite ritual system. Remember that the Israelites
received atonement through sacrifice not only for acts of
sin, but also for ritual impurities. We will find that such
impurities represented mortality that is removed by Christ's
Ritual impurity disqualified an Israelite from coming in
contact with holy things, that is, things that were closely
connected with the Presence of the Lord. For example, God
prohibited a person who was ritually impure from eating the
holy flesh of a well-being offering (Lev 7:20). Impurity
could not be brought into contact with holiness.
The purpose of the laws in the Bible regulating impurity
was to safeguard that which was holy from contamination by
impure people or things. Since the Lord resided with the
Israelites in the midst of all their impurities (Lev 16:16),
they had to be very careful to observe the boundaries of
purity that He set up.
Ritual impurity was not the same as ordinary physical
dirtiness. You could scrub yourself in the tub and still be
ritually impure. But ritual impurity did result mainly from
physical states of human beings. It could also result from
contact with an animal used in a ritual to remove sins (Lev
You were regarded as impure if something contaminated
you, for example, if you came in contact with a carcass or
corpse (see Lev 11:24-28; Num 19), if you had a scaly skin
disease (so-called "leprosy"; Lev 13-14), or if you had a
discharge from your genital organs (Lev 12, 15; Deut
23:10-11). Even when you were healed from scaly skin disease
or no longer had a genital discharge, you were regarded as
ritually impure until you were purified by the appropriate
The idea that ritual impurity was not ordinary physical
dirtiness is reinforced by the facts that going to the
bathroom did not result in ritual impurity, even a physically
clean corpse was ritually impure, and purification from minor
ritual impurities such as sexual intercourse included waiting
until evening (Lev 15:18). Waiting until evening could not
contribute to ordinary physical cleanliness.
My best modern illustration of what ritual impurity is
like comes from my childhood. When I was in fourth grade,
boys wanted to stay away from girls, who were supposed to
have something contagious called "cooties." This word
literally means "lice." But my classmates and I did not know
this. For us, having "cooties" did not refer to literal
physical contamination. I am not aware that any girls in my
class had lice. But they were female, and young males wanted
to protect their male image by distancing themselves from
Like ritual impurity, our "cooties" were conceptual in
nature. They expressed ideas that put people and things in
categories on the basis of their physical natures or states.
"Cooties," of course, were a ridiculous expression of
immaturity that did not survive the onslaught of puberty.
Ritual impurity, on the other hand, was designed by God to
teach profound principles to mature people.
In the Bible, comparison between passages dealing with
cases of ritual impurity (see especially Lev 11-15; Num 19)
yields a common denominator to the various impurities: all
have an aspect of death about them. The holy God could not be
approached too closely by mortals under the curse of death
resulting from sin. This was especially true when their
mortality was emphasized by factors such as contact with dead
bodies, the deterioration of skin disease, or loss of blood
and/or the seeds of life (sperm or ova) from the reproductive
In addition to safeguarding the holiness of the
sanctuary and things connected with it, the Israelites'
system of purity made it impossible for them to worship the
dead as the Egyptians did. In Egypt, tombs were temples
because dead people were regarded as holy gods. But in
Israel, the dead were impure (Lev 21:1-4, 11; Num 6:6-17;
19:1-22), and impurity was the opposite of holiness.
As we saw earlier, ritual impurities were not sins even
though they resulted from a mortal state that had resulted
from sin (compare Rom 6:23). Indeed, some causes of ritual
impurity such as menstruation (Lev 15:19) and nocturnal
emissions (Deut 23:10-11) were normal, involuntary functions
of the human body. A person could not help doing these
Some kinds of ritual impurity, such as coming in contact
with a corpse, could usually be avoided (Num 6:9 gives an
exception). But becoming impure was wrong only if God
prohibited it. For example, while lay Israelites were
permitted to become impure by participating in funerals,
priests were restricted in this regard because of their
special holiness (Lev 21:1-4, 10-11). Violation of such a
restriction would be sin, not because ritual impurity was
sin, but because violation of a divine command was sin.
Ritual impurities pointed to death. But the rituals by
which the Israelites received purification pointed to life
through Christ and His sacrifice. These rituals included
ritual bathing and sin offerings.
The purification process could not begin until the
source of the impurity stopped. For example, if a person had
scaly skin disease, he/she could not even begin to undergo
ritual purification until the symptoms of the disease had
disappeared (Lev 14).
A person with a light impurity that lasted only one day
would wash his/her clothes and body and wait until evening to
be pure (see for example Lev 15:5-8). This ritual bathing by
immersing in water is the forerunner of Christian baptism.
For a new Christian, going down into the water (Acts 8:38)
represents purification from a morally evil life by burying
his/her old life of sin and rising to a new life in Christ
(see Rom 6:1-14).
Why did the Israelites wait until evening before they
became pure? Because the impurity only lasted until the end
of the day. But there may an additional factor here: Christ
died about the time of the "evening" (or late afternoon)
sacrifice (Matt 27:46-51; compare Num 28:4). So His sacrifice
provided purification at the end of the day.
Severe impurities that lasted a week or more required
sin offerings (see for example Lev 12:6-8; 15:14-15). Like
all other sacrifices at the sanctuary, these represented
Christ's sacrifice, but they provided the atonement of ritual
purification, not forgiveness. This highlights a magnificent
and neglected fact: Through Christ's sacrifice, He not only
forgives us from our sins (1 Jn 1:9), He heals us from our
disease of mortality and gives us eternal life (Jn 3:16)!
Psalm 103 refers to the two aspects of our restoration:
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his
benefits who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your
diseases" (Ps 103:2-3).
When Christ died on the cross, He not only took care of
sins and mortality that had occurred up to that time, He made
forgiveness and life available to generations of people who
had not even been born. This idea is reflected in an unusual
Israelite sin offering. A red cow was burned outside the camp
in order to make ashes, which were stored. Later on, when a
person was contaminated by contact with a corpse, some of the
ashes were mixed with water and sprinkled on the impure
person in order to purify him/her (Num 19). The ashes
functioned as a ritual "sponge" to remove impurity from the
person. Even though the burning of the cow happened before
the ashes were applied to the person, those who participated
in the burning of the cow and storage of the ashes contracted
a mild impurity (Num 19:7-8, 10). Why? The burning sacrifice
was bearing future impurity. It was as though the corpse
contamination traveled back in time and space through the
ashes of the cow to the sacrificial event. So it was with
Christ. He bore all the sins and mortality of the world,
including those of the future. This has special meaning to us
because we are living in that future. Christ is the source of
The fact that Christ is the source of purification was
emphasized by the fact that when He died and a soldier
pierced His side, "blood and water came out" (Jn 19:34).
These are the two main purifying elements of the Israelite
ritual system: blood and water.
Christ was already a source of purity during His
ministry on earth. Did you ever wonder how Jesus could touch
lepers in order to heal them (for example Matt 8:3) and not
become impure Himself? Have you thought about the woman who
had a flow of blood for twelve years (Lk 8:43-48)? According
to Leviticus 15, such a woman was ritually impure and whoever
touched her became impure (verses 25-27; compare vs. 19). She
could not worship in the temple court, eat holy food at
special celebrations, or have sexual relations with her
husband if she was married (compare Lev 18:19; 20:18). Her
life was affected in serious ways beyond her physical
suffering. In a sense she was cut off from God and man. No
wonder she was desperate.
Why did the woman only touch the hem of Jesus' garment?
To avoid making Him impure. But Jesus asked: "Who touched
me?" Who in all that pushing, shoving, Near Eastern crowd had
touched Him? If you have been in such a crowd in that part of
the world as I have, you know how ridiculous that question
must have sounded to those close to Jesus. But the woman knew
what He meant and she trembled, thinking He was about to
rebuke her for making Him impure.
Instead of rebuking the woman, He gave her a blessing.
She didn't make Him impure at all. Why not? Because Jesus is
the source of purity. He noticed the touch because He felt
power going from Himself to the woman (Lk 8:46).
Jesus is like the spring or cistern of water in
Leviticus 11:36. Carcasses of unclean animals could defile
other things (verses 29-35), but they could not contaminate a
spring or cistern of water because it was a source of purity.
The message is: Come to Jesus and let Him touch you.
Grasp the hem of His garment. Do not be afraid. You can come
to Jesus all filthy as you are, in need of every kind of
cleansing and healing, and He can help you without becoming
defiled Himself. He will not rebuke you. He will only bless
There's more. God can make you a source of purity and
healing in the world. When you go out into an environment
full of all kinds of moral pollution, you can give cleansing
by putting people in touch with Christ without being defiled
yourself. As long as you are with Christ, guided by Him on
His errands, you are safe. Don't be afraid.
Now that our worship is directly focused toward God's
heavenly sanctuary, where Christ is ministering as our
Priest, we no longer have God's glorious Presence visually
manifested at a particular physical location on earth. So the
ritual purification laws of ancient Israel, which were
designed to safeguard the interactions between the Israelites
and their God in His earthly sanctuary, no longer apply. We
do not need to have people stationed at the doors of our
churches to make sure that participants in Communion are not
We should not ignore the purity laws of the Bible just
because they do not apply to us. They teach us how our fallen
state separates us from God and they show us how God brings
wholeness, purity, and life from brokenness, defilement, and
Our lives are battlegrounds. But we can have victory
now. Better yet, God will clean up the mess and give us
ultimate peace. We will live without fear of sin or death.
Christ's sacrifice guarantees that death will be no more (Rev
When Scott O'Grady was hiding in Bosnia, he was out of
the protection of the United States. When he entered a U.S.
marine helicopter, he came under that protection. But he was
still in Bosnia.
On the way back to the U.S.S. Kearsarge, a helicopter
carrier sailing in the Adriatic Sea, the low-flying
helicopter was attacked by small SA-7 missiles and gunfire.
The missiles missed, but a bullet tore into the chopper. The
bullet hit some communications equipment and bounced off the
back of the flak jacket worn by Marine sergeant major Angel
To avoid the missiles and gunfire, the pilot made the
helicopter rock and zigzag violently. Occasionally it popped
up suddenly to clear low power lines. One Marine commented
later: "It was a terrifying ride the roughest helicopter
ride I've ever been on." But once the aircraft reached the
Adriatic Sea, O'Grady and his rescuers were safe. (Time, June
19, 1995, p. 26).
Getting O'Grady back to safety didn't happen all at
once. It happened in stages. The crucial moment was when he
boarded the helicopter. But he had a way to go before he was
completely safe. As Yogi Berra (the legendary New York
Yankee) said, "It ain't over until it's over!"
The crucial moment in our salvation was when Jesus died
on the cross. If He had not done that, we would have no hope
of being reunited with God and restored to eternal life.
Christ's death was the one and only atoning, sacrificial
death (Heb 9:28). When He cried out "It is finished" and died
(Jn 19:30), He had made complete provision for the salvation
of anyone who would accept Him. In this sense Christ's
atonement for us was complete at the cross.
All atonement flows from Christ, lifted up on the cross.
But the story of atonement did not end two thousand years ago
on a hill outside Jerusalem. It continues because Christ
brings His atonement to us today. Atonement is a process that
moves forward in stages until we are fully reunited with God.
The cross was not the end of atonement because atonement
is relational in that it is reconciliation between two
parties: you and God. How could you receive atonement from a
historical event that occurred long ago unless you experience
a changed relationship with God during your lifetime on the
basis of that event? As long as your relationship with God is
being healed, atonement is continuing.
Christ's sacrifice makes reconciliation with God
possible: "And you who were once estranged and hostile in
mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly
body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless
and irreproachable before him" (Col 1:21-22). But
reconciliation did not end at the cross: "So we are
ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal
through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled
to God" (2 Cor 5:20). Why would Paul appeal to people to "be
reconciled to God" if reconciliation ended at the cross?
The idea that atonement continues beyond the cross
agrees with additional evidence in the Bible. First, the
apostle Paul stated that if Christ had not been raised from
the dead, the faith of those who believed in Him would be
futile, they would still be in their sins, and those who had
died in Christ would have perished (1 Cor 15:17-18). This
would not be true if atonement ended at the cross, in which
case we could be saved even if Christ had only died, without
rising from the dead. But the fact that the Resurrection is
essential for salvation indicates that atonement continued
after the cross event. We need a dying Christ, but we also
need a living Christ!
In Hebrews 7-10, Christ ministers after His ascension as
our High Priest in the true sanctuary in heaven, which was
foreshadowed by the ancient Israelite sanctuary. There He
appears "in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb 9:24).
Having obtained eternal redemption for us by His own blood
(verse 12), He uses His blood to "purify our conscience from
dead works to worship the living God" (verse 14; compare
verse 13). In other words, Christ died to make abundant
provision for the salvation of all human beings and then He
distributes/applies the transforming benefit to those who
believe in Him.
By way of analogy, Christ put the money in the bank (by
His death on the cross) and then He writes checks to people
from that account (by His mediation, distributing the
benefit). For us to receive the benefit of salvation,
provision and distribution are both necessary. Christ put
enough "money" in the bank to cover every human sin. There is
enough to give everyone the opportunity to be saved. But what
is the use of a huge bank account if nobody writes checks to
those who want the money?
In agreement with New Testament evidence for the way in
which we are saved by Christ's blood, an ancient Israelite
sacrifice for sin included priestly mediation as an essential
component. An Israelite sinner was required to bring an
animal to the sanctuary, lean his/her hand on its head, and
slay it. Then the priest applied its blood to the altar and
burned its fat on the altar (Lev 4:22-35). The effect of the
ritual is summarized: "Thus the priest shall make atonement
on his behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven" (verse
26; compare verses 31, 35).
Atonement was not completed by slaughter of the animal
at the hand of the sinner, which pointed forward to Christ's
death. Death provided the blood that made possible priestly
mediation leading to divine forgiveness. This mediation is
called a work of "atonement." Mediation was part of the
atoning sacrifice. Since Christ's sacrifice fulfills the
meaning of the animal sacrifices (Jn 1:29), we should include
Christ's mediation as an essential part of His sacrifice
rather than regarding it as a separate phase.
An Israelite had to be personally and sincerely involved
in his sacrifice or God would not accept it. The individual
was involved by bringing an animal to the sanctuary, laying
his hand on its head, and slaying it. When the priest
completed the ritual for the sinner, "he shall be forgiven"
(Lev 4:31; RSV). That is, the sinner shall be forgiven
directly by God.
An Israelite was not automatically saved because a
sacrificial death and priestly mediation were performed on
his/her behalf. God read the heart and He would not accept
hypocrisy (Isa 1:10-17). Hypocrisy prevents or nullifies
Even though Christ has died and is mediating for us as
our priest in heaven, we cannot be forgiven unless we
sincerely receive God's gift of repentance (Acts 5:31), that
is, turning away from sin. As the Psalmist recognized, God
will not listen to our prayers for forgiveness or anything
else if we do not intend to give up our sin (Ps 66:18).
Since forgiveness is part of the atoning process and
since we receive forgiveness when we personally and sincerely
accept Christ's sacrifice, it is clear that atonement
continues beyond the cross.
An Israelite who had sinned could receive complete
forgiveness from God through a sacrifice that pointed forward
to Christ's sacrifice (for example Lev 4:31, 35). But that
was not the end of the process of atonement. Atonement goes
beyond forgiveness. There was a further phase of atonement on
the "Day of Atonement." On this day, Israelites who had
already been forgiven were now "cleansed" (16:30) through
purification of the sanctuary from their sins (16:16, 33-34).
It was not enough for an Israelite to be forgiven. If a
person who had already been forgiven did not accept God's
cleansing phase of atonement by humbling himself/herself and
abstaining from work on the Day of Atonement, God would
punish that person (Lev 23:29-30).
The Day of Atonement has this name (Lev 23:27-28)
because it deals with a phase of atonement. As we shall see
later, the Day of Atonement points to a phase of Christ's
atonement ministry before His Second Coming. Just as the
blood of sacrificial animals cleansed the sanctuary on the
special Day of Atonement, the blood of Christ's sacrifice
provides cleansing in a special time of atonement after His
death on the cross.
For an ancient Israelite, cleansing from ritual impurity
through sacrifice was called "atonement." For example,
Leviticus says about a woman who had recently given birth:
"... and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and
she shall be clean" (Lev 12:8). This kind of atonement could
require several stages, as in the case of a person who had
been cured from scaly skin disease (not modern leprosy; Lev
14). Compare the way Jesus healed a blind man in stages (Mk
8:22-25), perhaps so that he would better understand the
greatness of what Jesus did for him.
As we saw earlier, sin offerings for ritual impurity
pointed to the fact that Christ died to save us not only from
our acts of sin, but also from our state of sin, which is
characterized by mortality. Since cleansing Israelites from
ritual impurity through sin offerings was a form of atonement
(Lev 12:7-8), Christ's work of cleansing us from mortality
must also be regarded as accomplishing atonement. But this
work will not be completed until we receive immortality at
His Second Coming, long after His death on the cross (1 Cor
Does the idea that atonement did not end at the cross
diminish the sacrifice and atonement of Christ? Absolutely
not! We magnify what Christ is doing! The Bible shows that
Christ's sacrifice and atonement are much bigger than they
are commonly thought to be! All atonement flows from Christ's
blood, shed at the cross.
God is reuniting us to Himself. This takes time. It
happens in stages. "It ain't over until it's over!" But
Christ has already put the "money" in the bank. He is in
heaven, ready to write "checks" for you.
There is no good reason for you not to be saved. Put
Christ in charge of your salvation. Keep Him in charge. He'll
take you all the way home. There may be obstacles along the
way. "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through
our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:57).
C H A P T E R 21
During the summer of 1979, I helped to build cabins for
a biological field station in Albion, California. The
construction work was pleasant, my boss was a friend, and the
field station was in a beautiful location. But I was lonely.
So when the summer ended and I was about to return to
postgraduate study in Berkeley, I decided to attend a
get-acquainted party in the gymnasium of Pacific Union
College. I had graduated from this college two years before
and figured that I would see old friends and meet new people.
Perhaps I would make a new friend...
Yes! I had met Kelvin near the end of the previous year.
He was back. "Hi Roy!" "Hi Kelvin." "I'd like you to meet my
sister, Connie." "Hi Connie." "Hi."
The way she said "Hi" melted me. We looked into each
other's eyes and it was love at first sight. Yes, I know
that's supposed to be impossible. It must have been
infatuation. But whatever it was, it was the beginning of
Connie and I sat together during the program in the gym.
We started getting acquainted. She was eighteen years old,
entering college. I was twenty-four, already entering my
second year of postgraduate study at Berkeley. But we had so
much in common. We both loved God, classical music, outdoor
activity, and many other things.
We started dating. At first I had a lot of competition.
Numerous men asked Connie out during her first week of
college. But I persisted and she responded.
We met on September 20. We started going together on
October 16. We got engaged on December 17. We were going to
wait seven years before getting married, until we both
finished our education. That quickly came down to three
years. But we couldn't stand being apart, so we got married
the next June 15. Our relationship grew step by step as we
came closer together.
Your relationship with God can grow step by step.
Because God is holy, there is a sense in which you become
holy when you begin to have a relationship with Him. The
apostle Paul wrote to the people of Corinth, speaking of the
time when they were converted: "But you were washed, you were
sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus
Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11).
"You were sanctified" means "You became holy." This is
why Paul addressed the Corinthians as "called saints," that
is, "holy ones who have been called" (1 Cor 1:2; my
translation). English translations read "called to be
saints." But "to be" is not in the Greek original. Paul
clearly regarded the Corinthians as holy people.
The Corinthians were holy in the sense that they
belonged to the holy God, but they were far from perfect.
Paul's letter to them shows that they had serious problems.
For one thing, they had divided into groups that quarreled
with each other. They were holy in the basic sense, but they
needed growth in holiness, which can be called
"sanctification." They needed to become more like God in
The Thessalonians also needed growth in holiness. Paul
wrote to them:
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all, just as we abound in love
for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in
holiness that you may be blameless before our God and
Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his
saints (1 Thess 3:12-13).
Notice that for human beings growth in holiness is growth in
love. The words "may he so strengthen your hearts in
holiness" refer to "may the Lord make you increase and abound
in love for one another and for all."
It is no accident that growth in holiness is growth in
love, because the moral character of our holy God is love (1
Jn 4:8). As we come closer to Him and become more like Him,
we become more loving and therefore more holy.
The apostle Peter calls us to emulate God's holiness by
being holy in all our conduct (1 Pet 1:14-16, quoting Lev
11:45). Leviticus 19:2 expresses the same idea: "You shall be
holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." How can we do this?
The rest of Leviticus 19 consists of laws that teach God's
people how to live in relation to Him and to each other. So
being holy means living according to God's principles. Verse
18 refers to the basic principle of God's character
underlying all of the laws: "...you shall love your neighbor
as yourself: I am the Lord."
When someone asked Jesus which commandment in the law
was the greatest, He referred to the command in Deuteronomy
6:5 to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with
all your soul, and with all your mind" (see Matt 22:37). Then
He cited Leviticus 19:18: "You shall love your neighbor as
yourself" (see Matt 22:39). Jesus recognized that love for
God and mankind are the basic principles of God's law and of
the entire Bible (Matt 22:40).
God calls us to be holy. He is holy and holiness is
defined in relation to Him. The closer you get to Him, the
holier you are. To be holy is to be loving. We become holy
when we accept God and then we grow in holiness for the rest
of our lives as we grow in love.
The idea that there are degrees of holiness in relation
to God may come as a surprise. But the Israelite sanctuary
demonstrates the same idea in physical terms.
In the sanctuary, the Lord was enthroned above the ark
in the inner apartment, called the "holy of holies." This was
the holiest area, closest to Him. The outer apartment, called
the "holy" place, was the next holiest area. Less holy was
the court outside the sacred tent. So the closer you got to
the Presence of the Lord, the holier things became. This
gradation of holiness is reflected in the materials of the
sanctuary structure, the priestly garments, and the access
that persons had to the different parts of the sanctuary.
The holier the area, the more valuable the materials.
Fabrics in the inner part of the sanctuary were intricately
woven from dyed wool and linen of various colors. Further
from the ark the fabrics were more simple and less valuable.
Inside the sanctuary tent, the items of furniture were made
of gold or overlaid with gold. Outside in the court, the
outer altar and the basin (laver) were made of bronze.
The holier the priest, the more elaborate and valuable
his garments. There were two kinds of priests: one high
priest of superior holiness and a number of ordinary priests
of lesser holiness. Aaron, the older brother of Moses, was
the first high priest, and his sons were the first ordinary
priests (Lev 8-9). The high priest had a much more elaborate
and valuable set of garments than did ordinary priests.
Detailed descriptions of the priestly garments are found in
Exodus 28 and 39:1-31 in close connection to descriptions of
items belonging to the sanctuary structure. The priestly
garments were regarded as belonging to the sanctuary because
the priests belonged to the sanctuary.
All priests, including the high priest, wore four
garments made of fine linen (Exod 39:27-29): (1) tunics, (2)
sashes, (3) headdresses, and (4) trousers as undergarments.
However, the high priest's special status was reflected in
the fact that his head covering was a turban. Furthermore,
only the high priest wore four additional outer garments that
were appropriate for his responsibilities:
- An ephod (a kind of apron) of fabric consisting especially
of gold, plus wool mixed with linen, was made of the most
intricate workmanship. On the shoulder pieces of the ephod
were two precious stones, each of which was engraved with the
names of six tribes of Israel. The significance of carrying
these names is explained: "Aaron shall bear their names
before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance" (Exod
- A breastplate was attached to the shoulder-pieces of the
ephod and made of the same kind of fabric. The breastplate
had twelve precious stones set in it. Each of these gems had
the name of one Israelite tribe engraved on it. Exodus 28:29
explains the function of the breastpiece: "So Aaron shall
bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of
judgment on his heart when he goes into the holy place, for a
continual remembrance before the Lord."
- The high priest wore a blue robe under the ephod, made of
woolen thread alone, with golden bells attached to the
bottom. Between the bells were suspended ornaments looking
like pomegranates, made of a mixture of dyed wool and linen.
The garment with bells was vital for the high priest's work:
"Aaron shall wear it when he ministers, and its sound shall
be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord,
and when he comes out, so that he may not die" (Exod 28:35).
- On his head, the high priest wore a golden diadem/crown on
which were written the words: "Holiness to the Lord."
It shall be on Aaron's forehead, and Aaron shall take on
himself any guilt incurred in the holy offering that the
Israelites consecrate as their sacred donations; it
shall always be on his forehead, in order that they may
find favor before the Lord (Exod 28:38).
In addition to his elaborate vestments, the high priest
had a second set of special garments that he wore only once a
year, on the Day of Atonement, for cleansing the sanctuary,
including the most holy place (Lev 16:4). These clothes were
similar to the four basic garments (tunic, sash, turban,
trousers) that he wore during the rest of the year, except
that they were made of plain linen rather than fine linen. An
ordinary priest also wore plain linen garments when he
removed the ashes from the outer altar (6:10).
In a sense, the plain linen garments both of the high
priest and of the ordinary priest were "cleaning clothes,"
but they were holy (see Lev 16:4) and involved close contact
with the most holy place and the outer altar, respectively.
Designation of the plain linen garments as holy agrees with
the fact that in the Bible angels who belong to the holy,
heavenly realm are described as clothed in linen (Ezek 9:2-3,
11; 10:2; Dan 10:5; 12:6-7).
"Authorized personnel only." We often see signs like
this. The more special the area, the more limited the access.
For example, you can look at the White House from
Pennsylvania Avenue anytime you wish. If you want to go
inside the gates, you can do so only at certain times. You
can tour part of the White House, but other parts are off
limits except to those who live or work there, or who have
The White House is a special area because it houses a
special person, the President of the United States.
Buckingham Palace is special because the Queen of England
resides there. You cannot simply walk up to the President or
the Queen any time you like and strike up a conversation. A
few years ago a mentally unbalanced man did manage to get
into the Queen's private chambers, but her guards soon
ushered him away.
If human beings can make places special, what about the
Lord of the Universe? The prophet Isaiah describes an awesome
vision that he saw:
In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord
sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train
of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above
Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his
face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he
flew. And one called out to another and said,
"Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory."
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the
voice of him who called out, while the temple was
filling with smoke (Isa 6:1-4; NASB).
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." Only God is
intrinsically holy and immortal. His unique holiness is the
sum of His attributes, including His glory, power, and moral
character of love, which includes both justice and mercy.
Isaiah saw the vision in "the year that King Uzziah
died." In striking contrast to King Uzziah, who died of an
unclean skin disease because he tried to usurp the priestly
function of burning incense (2 Chron 26:16-23), God is pure
and immortal. Human leaders are weak, faulty, and often
untrustworthy, but we can have absolute confidence in the
unimpeachable Leader of the Universe.
Since God is so much greater than the President or the
Queen, it is no wonder that the Israelites were to treat Him
and the holy area defined by His Presence with respect. In
the sanctuary, the holier the area, the more limited the
access. Only the high priest could enter the "most holy
place," which was closest to God, and then only once a year
(Lev 16:2, 29-30, 34). Only priests could enter the "holy
place" (see for example Exod 30:19-21). Any Israelite could
enter the courtyard.
We have found the sanctuary to demonstrate the principle
that the closer one gets to God, the holier things become.
This principle operates in our lives. God's holiness is
unique, but He shares the love portion of His holiness with
us. We grow in holiness as we come closer to Him by growing
The love we are talking about here is God's kind of
love, which involves unselfish and even self-sacrificing
kindness and mercy. God's love also includes justice. He does
not allow mercy to wipe out fairness. Christ's sacrifice
proves God's justice and mercy: Christ bore the just
consequences of our sins so that we might receive mercy.
Bible love is not the Hollywood brand of love, which is
saturated with self-gratification. As sinful human beings, we
do not even comprehend the meaning of true love without God's
help. We need Him to teach us what real love is.
The more I study the Bible, the more I realize how right
Jesus was when He said that love is the basic theme of the
Bible (Matt 22:36-40). God's love is so big and so important
for our lives and we are naturally so lacking in true love
that it takes the entire Bible to teach us what love is and
how it works!
The closer we come to God in character, loving others
and bearing their burdens, the more we become like the holy
Israelite high priest, who carried the names of the tribes of
his people on his heart. And the more we become like Christ,
our ultimately holy high priest, who bears our burdens and
carries our sorrows (Isa 53:4-5).
The Bible shows in many ways how love and holiness are
connected. For example, God gave Moses greater access to His
holy Presence than any other human being (Deut 34:10). Moses'
love for his people was so pure, so free from selfishness,
that he interceded for them by offering to give up his own
salvation if God would save them (Exod 32:32).
David recognized the connection between love and
holiness. He sang: "How very good and pleasant it is when
kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil
on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of
Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes" (Ps
Why did David compare unity to oil on the high priest?
The oil to which David referred is the holy anointing oil
that made Aaron holy (Lev 8:12). David's point was that unity
is holy like that oil. Just as Aaron was holy because he had
holy oil, other people who believe in God can have the
holiness of unity whoever and wherever they are.
The idea that we can have holiness wherever we are is
shown by the seventh-day Sabbath. In Exodus 31:12-17, just
after the directions for building the sanctuary, the Lord
stated that the Sabbath was a sign between Himself and His
people, "in order that you may know that I, the Lord,
sanctify you" (verse 13). Here God reminded His people to
rest on the Sabbath even from their work of building His holy
sanctuary because He had rested on the seventh day of
Creation to celebrate what He had done (verse 17). But He was
also telling them that just as the sanctuary was the physical
place where the Lord and the Israelites were especially
connected, Sabbath was the time that showed in a special way
that God made holy the people who were His because He had
redeemed them from Egypt (compare Deut 5:15).
The Sabbath is a temple of time, as recognized in Jewish
tradition. Even when people did not have a way to get to the
sanctuary or when the temple was destroyed, they could enjoy
the temple of time wherever they were.
When God's people keep His Sabbath, they are not being
legalistic; they are showing that because He has redeemed
them, they accept His gift of sanctification. It is God who
sanctifies His people, just as He created the world for them.
They do not sanctify themselves any more than they created
themselves. This sanctification is a gift of love because it
is growth in holiness, which is growth in love. So the
Sabbath is a celebration of love.
In the evening before Jesus was crucified, He prayed for
His disciples and for all who would later believe in Him. In
this wonderful prayer, He tied together the ideas that God
sanctifies His people, gives them unity with Him and with
each other, and restores them to full access to His glory (Jn
17:17-24). He petitioned His Father on behalf of His people
"that they may become completely one, so that the world may
know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you
have loved me" (verse 23). Unity among God's people is the
greatest evidence to the world that the miracle of God's love
has touched them through Christ. Many will be drawn to Christ
when His people gather together in unity around the cross
where He is lifted up.
Christ wants us to be fully restored. But we are not
there yet. We can become less holy. There are degrees of
going away from God, just as there are degrees of coming
close to Him. In our study of the sanctuary we will find that
there are degrees of sin. For example, unintentional sins are
not as serious as "high-handed" (openly defiant) sins (Num
How can we come to God rather than going away from Him?
How can we become more holy and more loving?
Have you ever found yourself short of love? I have. Some
years ago there was someone I needed to love, but I did not
have love for this person. I scraped around in the bottom of
my heart, but there was no love there. Love is not natural
for sinful people like me. I need help from outside myself,
from the Source of love.
When I had no love I prayed for God to give me His love
as a gift through His Spirit, claiming the promise of Romans
5:5: "and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has
been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has
been given to us."
God answered my prayer and that love is still growing
and flourishing today. It is a miracle. God created love in
my heart where there was no love, just as He created Planet
Earth where there was only an empty void in the universe.
God's love is a gift of grace. So sanctification, which
is growth in holy love, is a gift of grace received through
Jesus accepts us just as we are, but thank God, He
doesn't leave us the way we were! Through the Spirit, He
gives us the cleansing and renewal that He bought by His
blood (Jn 3:5-17; Titus 3:4-7; Heb 9:11-14).
Since sanctification brings us into harmony with God's
law of love (Matt 22:36-40), we can see that sanctification
involves obedience to God. But this obedience is not
something that we are left to do on our own after God gives
us the gifts of repentance (Acts 5:31) and
justification/forgiveness (Rom 3:24). Because our obedience
is based on the love that God gives us as a gift, it is clear
that obedience to God is a gift of grace!
Any good works you do result from your acceptance of
God's love. You don't have to propel your spiritual life
under your own steam (having a sense of "self-steam"), "for
it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will
and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). What excuse
can there be for disobedience?
So why do we struggle so much to do works of love rather
than works of sin (compare Rom 7)? Because we have trouble
accepting the gift of love through the Holy Spirit. Instead
of humbly receiving the gift, we tend to try doing things on
our own so that we might be in control.
We only need to allow God to do in us what He wants to
do. Mary had it right. When an angel told her that God would
conceive Christ in her womb by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35), she
recognized that this was humanly impossible (verse 34). But
she replied: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be
with me according to your word" (verse 38). If God could
implant Christ in the womb of Mary, He can put the love of
Christ in our minds. Paul describes the result: "and it is no
longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the
life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of
God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).
The "nuclear reactor" that empowers holiness in the
Christian life, individual and corporate, is the presence of
Christ through the Holy Spirit (compare Jn 14:16-17;
16:7-15). If the Spirit is in a person, there is a sense in
which that person is a kind of holy temple (1 Cor 6:19-20).
If the Spirit dwells in people who make up a church, the
church can also be regarded as a temple (1 Cor 3:16-17).
Sanctification is not merely an abstract theological
concept. It is growth in love that affects the little events
of life on a day-to-day basis as we interact with God, our
fellow human beings, and the rest of God's creation. Those
who belong to Christ will show their love not simply with
eloquent words, but by feeding the hungry, giving drink to
the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, taking
care of the sick, and visiting those in prison (Matt
25:31-46). Do we show compassion? Do we care? Are we willing
to put ourselves out in order to help another person or
I need to grow. I need to accept more of God's Spirit
into my life so that He can teach me and empower me to love
as Jesus loves. I have a way to go. Like O'Grady's trip out
of Bosnia, the ride will be rough at times. But there will be
perfect peace at the other end.
C H A P T E R 22
You need assurance. If you buy something, you want to
know that its quality is guaranteed. If you step on
something, you want to know that it can support your weight.
When I was thirteen years old, my family went to a lake
in Minnesota for a vacation. The camp where we were staying
had a paddle-wheel boat. So we put Tippy, our small dog, on
the low deck and paddled around the lake. We came to a place
where huge lily pads were completely covering the surface of
the water. Tippy saw that everything was green. Green is like
grass. You can walk where it is green, he thought. So he
stepped off the boat onto a lily pad and found himself in the
water doing a frantic dog paddle. As we fished him in, we
were so amused by the surprised look on his face that we
doubled up with laughter and nearly fell off the boat
Tippy had false assurance. But you need real assurance.
When you marry someone, you want to know that your beloved
truly means "I do." When you accept Christ's promise of
salvation, you want to know that you have really connected
with Him and that He will carry out His promise for you
The Bible tells us that we can have the assurance of
salvation through Christ:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of
the Son of God, so that you may know that you have
eternal life. And this is the boldness we have in him,
that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears
us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask,
we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.
We know that we are God's children, and that the whole
world lies under the power of the evil one. And we know
that the Son of God has come and has given us
understanding so that we may know him who is true; and
we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He
is the true God and eternal life (1 Jn 5:13-15, 19-20).
It is true that God wants us to be humble before Him
(Isa 57:15; Phil 2:5-8). But He also encourages us to have
assurance that gives us "boldness" (1 Jn 5:14; see above),
including boldness to approach His throne when we are in need
What if your hour of need is a time when you have
sinned? Can you boldly approach the throne of grace then? The
apostle John says "yes":
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to
forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness... My little children, I am writing
these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone
sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ
the righteous (1 Jn 1:9; 2:1; NASB).
Do you have assurance of salvation before you come to
the throne of grace asking for forgiveness? We could ask this
question another way: Does Christ's blood cover you between
the time you sin and the time you have the opportunity to ask
for forgiveness? Daily sacrifices at the Israelite sanctuary
say "yes" in the sense that God guarantees that He will not
condemn you before you can ask Him for forgiveness. Every
morning and evening a lamb was offered as a burnt offering on
behalf of the entire community of Israel (Num 28:1-8). This
was the foundational sacrifice of the Israelite ritual
system. Since we know from other passages that burnt
offerings provided atonement (Lev 1:4; 16:24), it is clear
that the daily burnt offerings made atonement available to
all Israelites, wherever they were, on a regular basis.
On a special festival occasion, additional burnt
offerings and a sin offering were performed at the sanctuary
along with the morning burnt offering (Num 28-29). The Bible
explicitly mentions the fact that this sin offering was to
make atonement on behalf of the Israelites (Num 28:22, 30;
29:5). So, like the daily offerings, these additional
sacrifices made atonement available to everyone.
When Israelites sinned, sacrifices representing Christ's
sacrifice kept them from being condemned immediately, before
they had an opportunity to bring their individual sacrifices
in order to receive forgiveness. In some cases people who
sinned delayed bringing their sacrifices because they did not
yet know that they had sinned (Lev 4:27-28). Before such a
person knew that he/she had sinned, the public daily
sacrifices prevented rejection by God.
For the Israelites, the individual experience of
sacrifice was in addition to the public sacrifices. Both were
necessary. Neither substituted for the other. Just so,
Christ's sacrifice makes atonement available to all mankind
(Rom 5:18). But we must also come to Him individually in
order to receive forgiveness (1 Jn 1:9; compare Jn 3:18).
An Israelite who knew that he/she had sinned was under
obligation to bring a sacrifice. For example: "If any one
sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify and
though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know
the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity"
(Lev 5:1; RSV). To "bear iniquity" was to be "subject to
punishment" (end of same verse, NRSV). If nothing more
happened, that person would be punished for that sin. But
when the sinner brought a sacrifice, God forgave the sin
When God forgave, He bore the liability for punishment
that the sinner had previously carried. Exodus 34:7 describes
God as "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." The
Hebrew expression for "forgiving iniquity" uses the same
words that appear in Leviticus 5:1 with reference to bearing
iniquity/punishability. So when God forgives, He transfers
the sinner's punishability to Himself.
Because the priests were God's agents and represented
Christ in His priestly role, they bore iniquity/punishability
because God bore it. In Leviticus 10:17, Moses asked the sons
of Aaron why they had not eaten their portion of the sin
offering of the Israelites, "since it is a thing most holy
and has been given to you that you may bear the iniquity of
the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord"
If an Israelite had sinned, he/she was under obligation
to accept the means God had provided for atonement by coming
boldly to the sanctuary, confident that God had promised
forgiveness to those who repent. When we have sinned, the
right place for us to be is before God's "throne of grace,"
claiming there the promise of 1 John 1:9: If we confess, he
will forgive and cleanse.
When we have sinned, a state of denial will do us no
good. Adam and Eve attempted the first cover-up by using
scratchy fig leaves. When God called, they hid. But He knew
what they had done (Gen 3:7-11). When we sin, the sooner we
confess to God the better. Delaying will only make matters
In ancient Israel, a person who had become ritually
impure was under obligation to undergo purification through
ritual in the way God had provided, just as a person who had
sinned was under obligation to seek forgiveness. God did not
punish a sinner or impure person before there was a
reasonable opportunity to use the ritual remedy that He had
given. However, an Israelite who willfully neglected God's
remedy was rebelling against Him and would suffer the
consequences. For example, according to Numbers 19:13, 20, an
individual who neglected to purify himself/herself from the
ritual impurity of corpse contamination was to be "cut off"
from Israel. God did not prohibit Israelites from burying
their dead relatives. For them it was not a sin to become
impure in this way. But to willfully remain impure was to
disobey God by rejecting the purification that He provided.
By way of analogy, a mother may allow her young children
to get dirty by playing in the yard. But she will insist that
they clean up afterward.
To reject the solution to your problem can be a serious
matter. If you are bitten by a deadly snake and refuse to
take the anti-venom, your life expectancy will be short. If
you have a life-threatening disease and refuse the treatment
that cures it, you have a good chance of dying prematurely.
If you are in Bosnia and run away from a helicopter that has
come to your rescue, you are crazy.
If you were an Israelite in need of atonement and you
ignored the means that God had provided for that purpose, you
would be in deep trouble. One could say that you would be
"history." But if you were "cut off" from among your people,
you would not even be history! For "cut off" meant that God
would see to it that sooner or later your line of descendants
would die out (Donald Wold, "The Meaning of the Biblical
Penalty Kareth," Ph.D. dissertation, University of
California, Berkeley, 1978).
Like people of other societies, an Israelite would want
to have his life continue through his children,
grandchildren, and so on after his death. This was so
important that if a married man died without having a child,
his brother would marry the widow to keep the name of the
dead man alive (Gen 38:6-11; Deut 25:5-10; Ruth 4). But if a
person were "cut off," he could be sure that in the future he
would have no descendants even to mention his name.
To be "cut off" was a fate beyond death and worse than
death. In fact, a person could be executed and "cut off" as
well. The Lord told Moses:
"You shall also say to the sons of Israel, 'Any man from
the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in
Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall
surely be put to death; the people of the land shall
stone him with stones. I will also set My face against
that man and will cut him off from among his people,
because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so
as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name'"
(Lev 20:2-3; NASB).
A person who engaged in child sacrifice to the god Molech
would die by stoning and then "die" again by losing the
continuation of life through descendants. It was double
To be "cut off" was like a second death. It was a
foretaste of the ultimate "second death," the eternal death
in hellfire on the surface of this Planet when every trace of
sin and sinners will disappear in a molten "lake of fire"
Contrary to jokes and cartoons, the Devil and his demons
are not in charge of hell and they never were. On the
contrary, they will be among those who perish (Rev 20:10).
Hell is not a place that exists now. It is an event that will
occur on earth in the future, 1,000 years after Christ's
Second Coming (see Rev 19-20).
How could a loving God do such a thing? This seems so
alien to His nature. Isaiah 28:21 refers to this kind of
divine judgment as a strange act of God. He does not want to
execute anyone because He is "not wanting any to perish" (2
Pet 3:9). But God's strange act is an act. He accepts
responsibility. He will put an end to sin and the oppression
and misery it causes. This mess will not go on forever.
Enough is enough.
Before we accuse God of injustice, we should remember
that He has given us ample opportunity to be saved. He is our
only life-support system. Every breath we take is in His
hands (Dan 5:23). If we cut off our life-support by rejecting
Him, what can He do for us?
To use another analogy, the human race is going down
like the passengers on the Titanic. We are already in the icy
water. We will be lost if we do not have help. But God sends
Christ's lifeboat to rescue us. He invites us into the
lifeboat, but He does not force us, just as He did not force
people to board Noah's ark. There is no other lifeboat:
"There is salvation in no one else" (Acts 4:12). As Jesus
said to Nicodemus: "Those who believe in him are not
condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned
already, because they have not believed in the name of the
only Son of God" (Jn 3:18).
If we have any doubt about God's sincerity and justice,
think about this. We have all sinned and we deserve to die
(Rom 3:23; 6:23) not just the death we know so well, but the
"second death," the death of hell. But Jesus, our Messiah,
has already suffered the penalty for us. Daniel 9:26 reads:
"After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off
and shall have nothing." The "anointed one" here is Christ,
the Messiah. And the prophecy says that He would be "cut
off." This is the Old Testament penalty of divine punishment,
which reaches beyond the first death and points to the second
death. Jesus died a kind of second death in our place!
Christ could not have saved us from the second death by
merely dying the first death, which He regarded as a kind of
"sleep" because it is a temporary state of unconsciousness
(Jn 11:11-13). The agony of being cut off from His Father
(Matt 27:46) surpassed His physical pain because He is far
closer to His Father and the Holy Spirit than a husband and
wife are to each other.
In Christ, "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily"
(Col 2:9; compare 1:19). The whole fullness of deity must
also dwell in the Father and the Spirit. The members of the
holy Trinity, each of whom is the "fullness," make up one
indivisible unit (Deut 6:4). They are bound together as
tightly as an atom is one unit. But by becoming sin for us (2
Cor 5:21), Christ experienced separation from His Father,
whose holiness is totally incompatible with sin. Sin
penetrated the atom of God's oneness and wrenched it apart,
unleashing a "nuclear explosion" of suffering.
The glory of Christ's resurrection (Matt 28; Jn 20) is
not simply that He rose from the grave as Lazarus did (Jn
11:43-44). The incredible thing is that Christ rose from a
death like the second death, from which there is no return!
Like the Israelite priests, Christ bore punishability on
behalf of others. Unlike them, He actually suffered this
punishment. But He had not sinned and He was still divine. So
although Christ was "cut off" (Dan 9:26), "he shall see his
offspring, and shall prolong his days" (Isa 53:10). His name
will never be forgotten.
By dying the equivalent of the second death, Christ
"abolished death and brought life and immortality to light
through the gospel" (2 Tim 1:10). Death itself will finally
be destroyed in a lake of fire (Rev 20:14) because of what
Christ has done.
The only thing that stands between us and the second
death is the blood of Christ. Only Christ can save us (Acts
4:12). His blood, daily received and applied, is our only
assurance. But Christ's blood, freely available to us, is
abundant assurance! Christ gives us abundant life (Jn 10:10)
and abundant grace (Rom 5:17).
Our assurance is conditional in the sense that we can be
saved only in Christ. But as long as we are in Christ, our
assurance is guaranteed: "And this is the testimony: God gave
us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the
Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not
have life" (1 Jn 5:11-12).
Do you think God would pay the price of the second death
for you and then throw you away? It would make more sense to
discard the Hope diamond. You may have heard that Bill Gates
is worth billions of dollars. But in reality he is worth much
more than that. And so are you. You are priceless. If you are
in Christ, nothing can separate you from God. He will never
let you go (Rom 8:31-39)!
Satan tries to separate us from God. He does not respect
our free choice and does not take "no" for an answer. Sin "is
lurking at the door; its desire is for you" (Gen 4:7). Is its
desire for you like that of a mellow pussycat that wants to
sit on your lap and purr? No! Sin is like a sabertooth tiger
that will get in the door of your heart if it can. It will
not knock. Its desire is for you because it wants to gobble
Christ has a totally different approach. He stands at
the door of your heart and knocks. He will come in only if
you open the door and let Him in (Rev 3:20). Unlike sin and
Satan, Christ respects your free choice!
Christ is the all-powerful Lord who created the world
(Jn 1:3; Heb 1:2), but He shows amazing restraint by allowing
you to shut Him out of your life if you want! He will never
force you to love Him because forced love is not love. He
wants companions rather than robots.
Christ allowed Himself to be lifted up on the cross so
that we might be drawn to Him with our free choice intact. We
have rebelled against God, but He is giving us another
My computer gives me another chance. I can get rid of a
document by dragging its icon into the "trash" that appears
on my screen. But before the document disappears, a dialogue
box comes up on the screen. It says: "Are you sure you want
to permanently remove it?" I can click on either of two
choices: "Remove" and "Cancel." In a sense we are living our
lives in a dialogue box like that. We have trashed our lives,
but Christ gives us another chance.
The choice is ours. Like an ancient Israelite, we will
bear our punishment unless we allow God to bear it for us
through sacrifice. We are under obligation.
When we sin, God does not immediately cut us off from
Himself by destroying us. He patiently gives us an
opportunity to receive forgiveness (compare 2 Pet 3:9).
Assurance is not unconditional, but it is freely available
If we persistently reject God's appeals through His
Spirit, we can eventually pass the point of no return (Matt
12:31-32). Turning away from Christ is dangerous (Heb 6:4-6).
There is only so much that God can do, because He respects
our free choice.
In Isaiah's day, God likened His people to a vineyard
and lamented: "What more was there to do for my vineyard that
I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?" (Isa 5:4). These are ominous
words. God says in the next verses: "And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and
it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it
shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste..." (Isa
Going beyond the point of no return is our choice, not
God's. He does not cut off anyone who responds to Him. He
appeals as long as there is hope for a response. He does not
immediately take "no" for an answer because He knows that we
are ignorant and deceived by sin. But if He gets nowhere with
us, He ultimately acknowledges our choice.
Be warned, but don't think God has given up on you. If
you think you are too bad to save, remember Manasseh. He was
the worst king in the history of Judah. He was so bad that in
some ways he makes Saddam Hussein look like a nice guy. He
shed innocent blood, performed child sacrifice, and promoted
idolatry so enthusiastically that he spat in God's face by
putting an idol in God's temple in place of the ark of the
covenant (2 Ki 21:1-17; 2 Chron 33:1-10). So God removed His
protection and the Assyrians captured him (2 Chron 33:11).
End of story? There's more! Terrified, Manasseh realized
his stupidity. What happened next is one of the most amazing
turnarounds in the entire Bible:
While he was in distress he entreated the favor of the
Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God
of his ancestors. He prayed to him, and God received his
entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to
Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that
the Lord indeed was God (2 Chron 33:12-13).
Astounding grace! Stunning assurance of God's relentless
mercy! Breathtaking snatch from hell!
According to Revelation, the last book in the Bible,
Planet Earth has an appointment with fire (Rev 20). But in
Christ we have protection. Guaranteed.
C H A P T E R 23
Thomas Hanford was flying his F-16 over Bosnia in an
attempt to find O'Grady. O'Grady sent him a radio message:
"Basher-52 reads you. I'm alive; help." To make sure this was
not an enemy trick, Hanford asked O'Grady to give the name of
the squadron to which he had earlier belonged in Korea.
O'Grady told him the correct answer. There was no question
that it was O'Grady. Hanford radioed his superiors that he
had found the missing flier. As he turned back to refuel, his
feelings came to the surface. He said later: "It's hard to
fly an airplane when you have tears rolling down your face."
(Time, June 19, 1995, p. 24).
O'Grady's message got through because there was someone
who could receive it. Hanford and O'Grady knew that they had
really communicated with each other. They were able to
communicate because they had radios that were compatible.
They knew what to say and they could visualize each other
because they belonged to the same group of fighter pilots.
O'Grady even knew what it was like in Hanford's cockpit
because he also had flown an F-16.
Are our prayers to God as real to us as O'Grady's brief
conversation with Hanford was to him? Do we have the
assurance that we are getting through? When we need God's
help or forgiveness or when we want to thank Him, make a
promise to Him, or express our love for Him, do we accomplish
our heart's desire? Or do we mumble sleepy clichés in a vague
mist of unreality, as unsure of the results as we are unclear
about what we are doing?
For the Israelites, the sanctuary was a big help. God
had an address on earth to which they could direct their
prayers. He was right there in the cloud over the sanctuary
(Exod 40:34-38). It is true that God was not limited to the
sanctuary; His primary dwelling is in heaven. But His people
could reach Him through the sanctuary.
King Solomon understood the role of the sanctuary for
prayer. At the dedication of the temple, he prayed that God
would hear when His people would pray toward that place (1 Ki
8:27, 30). From Solomon's perspective, prayers traveled
horizontally toward the temple, and from there they went
ballistic up to heaven.
If an Israelite wanted to give something to God or to
receive something from Him, he/she could go through the steps
of approaching God in a tangible way through a sacrifice.
Sacrifices were prayers made visible. Interaction with God
was real to the Israelites because they acted it out.
Today God does not have an earthly address in the same
sense. His Presence no longer hovers above an earthly place
of meeting. We cannot interact with Him through sacrifices.
But we can accomplish all of our interactions with God by
praying to Him where He is, in heaven.
We have the advantage that Christ has opened for us a
direct way of access to God's throne of grace in heaven (Heb
4:14-16). We no longer need the mediation of an earthly
priest because we now have Christ Himself as our heavenly
How can our prayers be as real to us as sacrifices were
to the ancient Israelites? To answer this question, let's see
how much prayer and sacrifice have in common. Then we can
look at the possibility of approaching prayer as a form of
The sanctuary connected prayer and sacrifice because
Israelites brought their prayers as well as their sacrifices
to that place. The Bible records specific occasions on which
people such as Hannah (1 Sam 1:9-11), Solomon (1 Ki 8:22-53),
and Hezekiah (2 Ki 19:14-15) prayed at the sanctuary/temple.
Even after the temple was destroyed, Daniel prayed toward
that place (Dan 6:10).
Not only did Daniel pray toward the place of the temple
(Dan 9:17, 20); he was praying "about the time of the evening
offering" (Dan 9:21; NASB; compare Ezra 9:5ff; 1 Ki 18:36).
What was so special about the time of the evening/afternoon
offering? It was on behalf of all God's people and it was the
last sacrifice each day. Later Jesus' once for all
sacrificial death happened at that time (see Matt 27:46-50).
Our prayers need Christ's offering ascending as a sweet
aroma to God (compare Lev 1:9). His sacrifice is like
incense, which goes with the fact that people in Jesus' day
would pray at the time when incense was offered in the temple
(Lk 1:10). It also explains Revelation 8:4-5, where an angel
in the heavenly sanctuary offers incense with the prayers of
God's holy people. Without Christ's atoning sacrifice, there
could be no communication with God and no hope.
Jesus called the temple "a house of prayer" (Matt
21:13). In Isaiah 56:7, the verse Jesus quoted, sacrifices
are accepted in the temple, the house of prayer. Again,
sacrifices are prayers made visible.
Today we have no building over which the Shekinah hovers
so that its glory can be seen and no altars of burnt offering
or of incense. Nevertheless, our churches are dedicated to
God as special houses of prayer.
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, His words
showed a number of important connections with sacrifice. The
Lord's Prayer begins: "Our Father in heaven" (Matt 6:9). Both
sacrifices and prayers interact with a Being who is above and
beyond our material realm. However, we have a special
relationship with this divine Being, who is greater than us.
As our Creator, He is our Father (compare Lk 3:38), who
deserves our utmost respect. Because He is our Father, it is
desirable for us to interact with Him.
We know that God is kind because He is our ideal Father.
My family and I were strolling through the mall in
Washington, D.C., enjoying the sunshine and cherry blossoms.
I pointed out the Washington Monument to my daughter, then
six years old, and told her that the great obelisk honors
George Washington. Then I asked her, "Do you know why he's
called the 'father of our country?'" She replied, "Was he
Jesus continued His prayer: "hallowed be your name"
(Matt 6:9). God and His name are holy. It is true that He is
abba, "Daddy" (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), but His name or title must
be uttered with the utmost awe and respect. In ancient times,
the sanctuary was the designated place where God put His Name
(Deut 12:5, 11; compare I Ki 8:29). It was His "Tent of
Meeting" for residing among and interacting with His people.
The materials of the sanctuary and access of persons to God
within the sacred area reflected the principle that God is
holy in the ultimate sense and all holiness comes from Him.
Jesus went on: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on
earth as it is in heaven" (Matt 6:10). God is not only King
in heaven, He is King of earth as well. In the ancient
sanctuary/temple, God had His earthly palace (Exod 25:8),
where He was enthroned above the cherubim on the ark (verse
22; Isa 37:16). As in a dwelling belonging to a human being
of high rank, He had before Him a table, an incense burner,
and a lamp.
"Give us this day our daily bread" (Matt 6:11). Just as
children need their earthly father to provide for them, we
are dependent upon the ongoing creative power of God for our
daily needs. Our lives and every breath we take are in His
hands (Dan 5:23). In the Israelite sanctuary, the dependence
of the people upon God as their resident Creator-Provider was
symbolically represented by the "bread of the Presence,"
which was always placed on the golden table before the Lord
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our
debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue
us from the evil one" (Matt 6:12-13). Jesus refers to what we
have found in the sacrificial system: sins are debts. We
express our repentance and ask for forgiveness through
prayer. Personal repentance was also important for the
ancient Israelites, but in addition, they were required to
perform symbolic sacrificial transactions, which were acted
The Lord's prayer teaches me how to reach beyond the
boundaries of the world I see around me so that I might grasp
the unseen hand of God. When I pray, I often begin by saying
the Lord's prayer because it focuses my thinking away from
myself and toward God.
Thus far we have seen important connections between
prayer and sacrifice, as shown by prayers at the sanctuary
and the Lord's prayer. Now we are ready to consider how our
prayers can carry the function that sacrifices had for the
Prayer and sacrifice are similar in that both interact
with God. But at first glance the two forms of interaction
are different: A sacrifice is a kind of transaction, which
transfers something of value. A prayer is a form of
communication, which transfers information.
Transaction and communication can overlap because some
kinds of communication carry out transactions. For example,
the words "I do" are solemnly pronounced in the context of a
wedding. Linguistic theorists have recognized that words like
these do not merely communicate information. They actually do
something. They change something. When you say "I do" to your
bride or groom, you transfer yourself to the other person,
creating a new covenant relationship, a new state of being.
Because you have transferred yourself, a person with value,
you have carried out a transaction.
As in a wedding, a verbal contract or covenant between a
person and God can be established through prayer. The prayer
can be short and simple, like this: "Dear God, I accept Jesus
Christ, your Son, as Lord of my life. Save me from my sins
through the sacrifice of Jesus, and purify me through the
power of your Holy Spirit. Let me totally belong to you,
teach me how to live, and give me eternal life." You can say
a prayer like this anytime, anywhere.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of a transaction with God: "Ho,
everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have
no money, come, buy and eat!" (Isa 55:1). Isaiah refers to
"buying" in order to emphasize that God has something of
value that can be transferred to people who desire it.
Suppose I stood on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley,
California, and announced to the hungry, homeless people
there: "Yo, you who have no money, come, buy and eat!" How
can they buy if they have no money? But Isaiah continues:
"Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price"
(Isa 55:1). God invites us to buy, but the price is free!
Here in the Old Testament is grace through faith, just like
in the New Testament (Eph 2:8-9).
When you give your life to God through prayer, you
become a "living sacrifice" that is in the process of being
transformed by the renewing of your mind (compare Rom
12:1-2). Through prayer you can have your holy connection
with God renewed every day, just as daily sacrifices at the
sanctuary reaffirmed Israel's covenant relationship with God
While turning over control of your life to God is the
basic transaction, there are other important transactions,
such as receiving forgiveness for sins, thanking God for
blessings He bestows, making promises to Him, and so on. The
Israelites acted out these transactions in sacrifices. We can
have the same transactions through prayer.
If your prayer life is plagued with feelings of
unreality, try visualizing the steps of sacrifice in your
mind as you pray. For example, if you are thankful for
something specific that God has done for you, think of
approaching Him in His heavenly sanctuary with a small token
By faith your thoughts ascend to heaven. You come to
God's sanctuary. The door into the sanctuary is open because
Jesus has opened it. The sanctuary is much longer, wider,
higher and more glorious than any earthly cathedral. Even the
vivid description in Revelation 4-5 cannot do justice to its
awesome, colorful brilliance.
There are myriads of mighty, glistening angels, singing
soaring anthems like Bach and Mozart never imagined. And
there is God upon His throne, surrounded by glowing rainbow
light. Everything is so different from what you are used to
on earth, and yet it is real.
You move forward with your meager offering. The music
becomes softer. The angels are watching you. At first you are
timid, but then you see Someone you recognize, someone who is
human like you. You look into the eyes of Jesus and He looks
at you with such tender compassion that you cannot take your
gaze away. Drawn by the inviting face of the One who was
lifted up for you on the cross, you boldly come all the way
down that fabulous crystal corridor. You lay your offering at
the feet of God and He looks down and smiles at you. He
graciously accepts your gift.
You turn to go. After all, you are taking the time of
the Master of the Universe. You are interrupting the heavenly
choir. But God is not in a hurry. He invites you to linger
and chat with Him. He wants your friendship. He desires your
company. What is on your mind? He listens and talks to you.
You feel a oneness and wholeness and satisfaction like you
have never experienced anywhere else.
As you walk back toward the door, the angels sing: "You
are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and
power, for you created all things, and by your will they
existed and were created" (see Rev 4:11).
You return to earth, which seems dark and drab. But by
faith you have been with God. You have renewed strength and
courage to go on until the day when your visualization of
face to face communion with God will become reality.
Another way to make your prayers more meaningful is to
accompany them with gifts to God in the form of offerings or
service to God. If you have sinned, you may wish to give an
extra offering. Just as animal offerings helped the
Israelites to remember and learn from their mistakes because
such offerings cost them something (2 Sam 24:24), you will
remember your mistake if your sin costs you something.
While there are ways to help our prayers become more
real to us as sacrifices were to the ancient Israelites, we
should keep in mind three things. First, anything we give to
God is something He has already given to us. We cannot
purchase any percentage of His favor or forgiveness. Second,
what God wants is our hearts. Tangible tokens are of value
only if they express our thoughts. Third, the only gift by
which we are saved is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Rom
3:24). God's gift to us is free (Isa 55:1), but it was not
free to God. He bought it with a terrible price.
When we pray, we can have the assurance that we have
gotten through to God. We can be just as sure as O'Grady was
when his radio message reached Hanford, flying high above
C H A P T E R 24
Jenny, a friend of my family, took our daughter to
Marine World with her children. At the end of the day in the
park, Jenny led the children to the gift shop and told them
that they could each buy something. Our daughter, then two
years of age, chose a white stuffed tiger with black stripes.
It was rather expensive, but she insisted on that choice.
Sarah knew that our family was about to move to Michigan and
she wanted something special to help her remember California.
When we moved to Michigan, Sarah was lonely at first.
She especially missed Jenny's children. She would sit on our
front porch by herself with a faraway look, sometimes with a
tear or two on her little cheeks. She would hold "Shadow,"
the white tiger, and remember the good times with her friends
When you are separated from someone you love, you want
something to hang onto. Before Jesus went back to His Father,
He left us something to cling to, a "new covenant" service
that Christians call "Communion" or "The Lord's Supper."
At the last supper Jesus ate with His disciples, He
instituted the ritual of Communion to keep alive the memory
of His sacrifice, which was about to take place, and to
reinforce principles connected with it. He said: "Do this in
remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:24).
The Last Supper took place on the occasion of the Jewish
Passover. So the Communion service is rooted in Passover, but
Communion is simpler. Jesus selected and reinterpreted some
key elements of Passover: bread and wine. But He also
transformed preliminary foot washing into an expression of
spiritual purification and humility. In this way, Jesus took
ingredients both from the Passover ritual and from outside
that ritual and created a powerful new service.
By learning where the components of Communion come from,
we can better comprehend its meaning.
At the Passover supper, Jesus did the following:
... got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and
tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a
basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe
them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to
Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to
wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what
I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said
to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered,
"Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon
Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my
hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has
bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but
is entirely clean" (Jn 13:4-10).
When Jesus was about to wash Peter's feet, His words
showed that the physical washing does more than wash away
physical dirt; it symbolizes moral cleansing. This is how
washing only the feet results in cleansing for the entire
person. In this sense, foot washing is like baptism, which
also uses washing with water to symbolize washing away sin
(compare Rom 6:2-3).
It must be assumed that all of Jesus' disciples had been
baptized before the foot washing that took place at the Last
Supper. A number of them had been disciples of John the
Baptist (Jn 1:35-40), so they must have been baptized by
John. When Jesus' ministry began, His disciples baptized
other people (Jn 3:22; 4:2). They would have been baptized
themselves before they baptized others.
If the disciples had already been purified by baptism,
why did they need the additional purification of foot
washing? The same question could be asked of us: If we are
already baptized, why do we need further purification?
The ancient Israelite priests also needed additional
purification that included foot washing. Before a priest
could enter the sanctuary tent or officiate at the outer
altar, he was required to purify himself by washing his hands
and feet with water drawn from the holy basin/laver (Exod
30:17-21). He had to be basically pure from any impurity such
as corpse contamination, a genital flow, etc. before he
purified himself with laver water. Even if he had just washed
by immersing himself with other water, he was still required
to wash his hands and feet with laver water because he needed
a higher degree of purity to prepare for a higher degree of
interaction with God.
The foot washing instituted by Jesus is like the
priestly purification of hands and feet in the sense that it
prepares for a special religious experience. But two
questions arise. First, why did Jesus wash only the
disciples' feet? Why not their hands as well? Apparently
because Jesus combined priestly purification with the washing
of feet that was performed by slaves for their masters (see
below). Second, a priest who was basically pure and who was
not about to engage in ritual service could eat sacred food,
such as portions from the offerings of the Israelites (Lev
22:1-7), without additional purification of hands and feet.
So why should we have the additional purification of foot
washing before consuming the sacred Communion wine and bread?
The answer is that in Communion we not only eat and drink
sacred things, we are also privileged to be participants in a
ritual that involves special interaction with God.
We need a higher degree of preparatory purification,
like that which only the priests in ancient Israel were to
receive because we, like those priests, have special access
to God through Christ (Heb 10:19-22).
Jesus used foot washing to symbolize moral purification,
but He also had another reason for what He did:
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and
had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know
what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord
and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your
Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought
to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an
example, that you also should do as I have done to you"
John tells us that Jesus and His disciples were
reclining at the Last Supper (Jn 13:23, 25). In Roman times
it was customary for free persons to recline during a meal.
Since Passover celebrated deliverance from slavery in Egypt,
Jews living in that period ate it in a reclining position to
celebrate their freedom. Even if a Jew was a slave, he/she
reclined at Passover.
Imagine the shock the disciples must have experienced
when Jesus rose from the reclining position of a free man to
perform the service of a slave by washing their feet in spite
of the fact that He was their Lord! Jesus' point was that
even though they would be delivered from slavery to sin
through His redeeming sacrifice, as the Israelites at the
time of the first Passover were delivered from bondage to
Pharaoh, they were servants of one another.
Passover was Independence Day, when the birth of the
independent Israelite nation was celebrated. It was
equivalent to the Fourth of July in the United States.
Communion is Independence Day for Christians, celebrating
freedom from sin in the "new covenant" era. It is also
Memorial Day, when we remember Jesus death: "For as often as
you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's
death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26). But Communion is more
than Memorial Day and Independence Day; it is Interdependence
Day, when we reaffirm our commitments to serve one another.
Even at the end of Jesus' ministry on earth, His
disciples had a problem with pride and selfishness. Luke
22:24 tells us that on the very night of the Last Supper,
they started arguing about which of them should be considered
the greatest. Jesus corrected them with words (verses 25-27),
but He did more than that. He used foot washing as a tangible
object lesson for them and for us too, a ritual of humility
and service. So Jesus took a mundane act, which was not part
of the Passover service, and added it to the symbolic ritual
in order to make a special point. In this way He transformed
the meaning of the service.
Foot washing represents moral purification and service.
These are not separate ideas. The message of Jesus' ministry
and death was that moral purity is service. Moral purity is
unselfish love that reaches out to others.
Matthew describes the way Jesus instituted Communion:
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and
after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples,
and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a
cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying,
"Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the
covenant, which is poured out for many for the
forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again
drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I
drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matt
The bread Jesus used was unleavened Passover bread (see
Exod 12:8). He interpreted it to represent His body, which
was about to be sacrificed. He took the wine to represent His
"blood of the covenant." By His sacrifice, He would set up a
new covenant (compare Jer 31:31-34; Dan 9:27). The wine would
help Christians to remember the basis of their covenant with
God: Christ's blood. Since His body and blood go together, we
see that the bread and wine are tightly linked. Within the
Communion service the bread was also bread of the covenant.
Is there any other covenant bread in the Bible?
Leviticus 24:8 refers to the special bread that was placed on
the golden table inside the Israelite sanctuary: "Every
sabbath day Aaron shall set them in order before the Lord
regularly as a commitment of the people of Israel, as a
covenant forever." This bread is the only offering at the
sanctuary that is called an eternal covenant.
It is no accident that the "bread of the Presence" was
set in order anew every Sabbath. The only other reference to
a covenant forever between God and the Israelites as a whole
during the period of their wandering in the wilderness is
found in Exodus 31:16-17:
Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath,
observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a
perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between me and
the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made
heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and
Here God calls the seventh-day Sabbath, the memorial of
Creation, a perpetual/eternal covenant. The covenant bread
was renewed on the covenant day.
The "bread of the Presence" offering acknowledged the
dependence of the Israelites upon God as their resident
Creator-Provider. God dwelt with His covenant people and gave
them life. Similarly, Jesus spoke of Himself as "bread" that
came from heaven to give His people life. The life He gives
is eternal life, and the "bread" refers to His flesh (Jn
6:48-56). These are the concepts behind the words Jesus spoke
when He broke bread and gave it to His disciples at the Last
Supper: "Take, eat; this is my body" (Matt 26:26). By taking
Christ's life into their own lives, as symbolized by eating
bread, those who believe in Him have eternal life. They abide
in Him and He abides in them (compare 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13).
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that in Leviticus 24:5
the Hebrew word for the loaves of the "bread of the Presence"
probably means "pierced." If so, this would indicate that the
bread had holes pierced in it. So also the body of Christ,
the "bread of life" (Jn 6:35, 48), was pierced so that we
might have life (19:34; Rev 1:7; compare Zech 12:10).
Wine is not specified by Exodus 12 in the directions for
the original Passover service. Where did Jesus get the idea
of using wine in the Communion Service? It is true that by
Jesus' day the Passover service included wine. This is why
the cup of wine was on the table for Jesus to use. But how
did wine become part of the Passover service?
We don't have a historical text that tells us for sure
how wine entered the service, but the ritual instructions in
Numbers 15:1-16 suggest a strong possibility. Here God
specified that certain kinds of sacrifices needed
accompanying grain offerings and drink offerings of wine.
Since the Passover was a kind of sacrifice to which this rule
applied, when the Israelites settled in the Promised Land and
were required to slay their Passover sacrifices at the
central sanctuary (Deut 16:1-8), they would have accompanied
their lambs with offerings of wine along with the unleavened
bread that was already specified by Exodus 12. Just as
Passover lambs were to be eaten by their offerers (verses
8-11), so the accompanying bread and wine would also have
been consumed by the offerers.
The bread and wine used by Jesus in the Communion
service were accompaniments to the main, central item of the
sacrifice: the lamb. Where is the lamb in the Communion
service? It is not symbolically represented at all! Why not?
Because just after the Last Supper, the symbolic Passover
lamb met its fulfillment in Jesus, God's "Lamb" (Jn 1:29).
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus died as the reality to
which the Passover lamb pointed (see Jn 19:36, referring to
Today we remember Christ's sacrifice by partaking of the
accompaniments to sacrifice: bread and wine. By not eating
any literal lamb, we acknowledge that He has come and is so
real to us as our Sacrifice that He does not need to be
represented in this way. Bread and wine are accompaniments,
but Jesus made them more than that. Now they represent Him,
the Lamb (Matt 26:26, 28).
In Matthew 26:28 Jesus called the Communion wine "my
blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the
forgiveness of sins." The idea that His blood is poured out
for the forgiveness of sins reminds us of the offerings
prescribed in Leviticus 4 by which Israelites received
The words "my blood of the covenant" are reminiscent of
the blood bond between God and the Israelites that Moses
symbolized by sacrificial ritual: "Moses took the blood and
dashed it on the people, and said, 'See the blood of the
covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with
all these words'" (Exod 24:8).
Jesus' blood, represented by the Communion wine, has
established a new covenant with us, as foretold by Jeremiah:
... I will make a new covenant... I will put my law
within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I
will be their God, and they shall be my people... they
shall all know me, from the least of them to the
greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their
iniquity, and remember their sin no more (Jer 31:31,
Jeremiah's prophecy has become the charter of the Christian
faith. We know the Lord and He has written His law on our
hearts. This experience is based upon forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the basis of the new covenant. When you
come to God in the humble posture of admitting your desperate
need, He can change your heart. When you cry out, "God, be
merciful to me, a sinner" (Lk 18:13), you are on the way to
Jesus has returned to heaven, but He has left us with
something better than a stuffed animal to help us remember
Him. He has given us sacred emblems of Himself in the form of
bread and wine. And He has given us to each other, as we
recognize by washing each other's feet.