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The Immanuel Project: Chapter 3 The Ultimate Sacrifice

Posted by undergroundchurch on June 16, 2009


Click Here for Chapter 2

Chapter 3: The Ultimate Sacrifice – Challenging what you thought you knew

The concept of the previous chapter proves challenging for me to understand completely.  I find myself revisiting it and discovering a little more each time.  In the midst of one of those visits, I stumbled upon something that shocked me.  And when I saw it, my heart clung to God all the more knowing that His sacrifice held more significance and value than I could ever imagine.   

Quick quiz – what was the sacrifice God made for our sin?  If you answered Jesus’ death on the cross you would be agreeing with every true believer.  Our payment was made when the Messiah/Savior died.  His death fulfilled so many prophecies and types and has been venerated throughout scripture.  But one day I asked some tough questions that I have never heard asked, “If Jesus died, rose and went back to heaven, where is the sacrifice?  What is the cost?  What did He lose if everything is as it was before He came to earth in the manger? Isn’t a sacrifice supposed to cost something?”

Every sacrifice that you read about in the Bible meant that the one sacrificing would not regain the sacrificed object. It was lost forever.  It could have been burnt up with fire or in the belly of some priest that just ate it, but it was gone.  Sacrifice by definition means you lose it.

With that in mind, how do you explain Jesus’ sacrifice?  If you think that Jesus set aside robes of deity, put on robes of man, walked the earth 33 years, died, rose again and went back to heaven as he was before He came, then the sacrifice was more of a rental than a purchase.  No harm, no foul as they would say.  But I ask, “Is that what happened?”

To put Jesus’ sacrifice in perspective, one must first understand what Jesus was sacrificing.

We already know that God can’t die.  So how did Jesus die if He can’t die?  I know that the simple response is, “He died physically but spiritually he didn’t die.”  That may be a nice, simple answer, but then I go back to my initial question, “Where is the sacrifice?”  That human body was only temporary.  Death was only for a moment.  How did God’s sacrifice cost Him?

It was while pondering this that I felt the Lord illuminate some scripture for me.  It comes from a little passage in 1 John 3:2, “We shall be like Him”.  I’ve read that scripture many times, but never really understood it until that day.  This scripture opens up a huge mystery – what is his present condition that defines “how” we shall be like Him?  In order to find out what we will be like, we need to know what He is like.

If you say that Jesus is as He was before the incarnation, then you can translate this to mean we will be gods, spirit beings.  But I believe scripture argues against that point.  In fact, the Bible actually describes for us what he is like right now; we just have to put the pieces together.

After the resurrection, Jesus describes Himself like this, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; handle Me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”[i]

Jesus tells us after His resurrection that he wasn’t “spirit” but that He was “flesh and bone”.  Remember Thomas?  When Jesus appeared before him, He held out his hands and showed him His side to show Thomas the scars.[ii] Years later John the apostle, while writing about his Revelation of Jesus, describes seeing Jesus in heaven and that He looked like “a lamb that had been slaughtered”.[iii] 

I believe the Bible is showing us that Jesus is still bearing the scars that He took on the cross for our sins.  If He existed in the same form He was in before the incarnation, then Jesus would not be bearing any scars.  He would be Spirit – better known as “the Word”.[iv]  Somehow, Jesus’ actual form altered so that physical traits from this world passed on to His spiritual body. 

God’s form as a whole was altered when Jesus came to earth.  Until that point, Jesus was so much a part of the Godhead that there was virtually no way to distinguish the “Son” from the “Father” because in order to be the “Son” Jesus had to be born.  To illustrate this further, Matthew tells us that when Mary asks how she is going to have a child because she was a virgin, the angel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her[v].  In essence, the Holy Spirit and the Father are present for the inception of Jesus into the womb, yet only the Father is called “Father”.  My point is that it is impossible to tell where the Father stops and the Holy Spirit begins.  Prior to Jesus’ incarnation, we could never tell where either of them started or stopped.  God said that He is one God[E1] .  That singular nature seemingly conflicts with our understanding of plural reality of God.  Yet we must understand Him as being one God.

We [E2] know from the first chapter of John that Jesus has always been.  John uses an interesting name for Jesus prior to the incarnation – “The Word”.[vi]  I have always been fascinated by this name.  What does it mean, and why does John use it?

I must preface my explanation by saying that we only know about God through what He wrote about Himself.  Because the Bible only has a few thousand pages and doesn’t spend all of its time describing God, we know very little.  I believe, as John did, that if you were to begin writing down everything about God, the whole earth couldn’t contain the pages that would be needed.[vii]

Genesis 1:1-3 show the three person Godhead functioning as a unit.  “In the beginning, God created…”  This shows that God is creator – Yet we discover from John’s gospel that Jesus created everything.  How can this be? And where was the Father and Spirit?

Not every mentioning of “God” in the Old Testament was referring only to the Father nor only to the Son.  Sometimes it was a combined mentioning.  In fact, one of the most used words for God in the Hebrew is “Elohim” which is a plural form of God.

I remember when in Israel a few years back, we traveled to the shrine of the Dead Sea scrolls.  The Book of Isaiah is sprawled out across the wall in that building. We had our Jewish guide translate Isaiah from the scroll out loud.  He would actually say, “Gods” when he came to the word “Elohim”.  What I find most interesting about this phenomenon is that the key verse in the Bible for the Jew is Deuteronomy 6:4; it is known as the shema, and it states, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.” 

This scripture is called the shema and is the central passage for the Jew, and in reality, all of us.  But the question remains, why does God say He is “one” in this passage and still He uses a plural when referring to his own self elsewhere?

Even Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God…” is plural.  It could rightly be translated, “In the beginning Gods…”

Maybe a better way of translating the shema is the way in which many Hebrew teachers have translated it.  “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God – The Lord alone[E3] .”  This is perhaps a more literal translation and would explain better to us that it is more important that there is no other god than that God is “one” in the literal sense that would confine Him to human understanding of one body, one spirit, one personality, one persona, etc.

Jesus states in one of His dissertations, “I and the Father are one”[viii]  Based on Deuteronomy 6:4, you really have two ways to go from this scripture, either Jesus and the Father are the same literally, or they are one in spirit, deity, purpose, unity, but separate in form. 

There are honest Christians out there that teach the Jesus is the Father.  I can understand the difficulty in reconciling in our minds a concept of oneness and separateness in the same person.  Our culture actually sees that trait as a flaw.  We give medicine to people with split personalities that show these same characteristics. 

There are many issues you have to overcome in scripture though if you want to hold to the belief that Jesus is the Father and there is no other.  First, and most blatant, He prayed to Himself all the time.[ix]

Second, there are scenes in the Bible where you see more than one of the God head in one place at a time.  At Jesus baptism, Jesus is in the water, the Father speaks from heaven and the Spirit descends upon him.[x]

There are many more, but I found one that takes the cake. When God gets ready to create man, He has, what can only be described as, a conversation with Himself.  He says, “Let Us make man in Our image.”  Who is “Us” and “Our”?  Is it God and the angels? 

I hope not.  Heavenly angels are described in almost terrifying terms.  Some have four faces, four arms and four wings, others have six wings.  We see angels on earth looking like man because they took on a messenger form. I suppose this was done so as not to frighten man. But when we see them described in their heavenly form, it isn’t anything like man.

I submit that God is talking about His plural unity.  We have labeled this with another word not found in Scripture – Trinity.  But the result is the same. 

By the time God fashions man from the dirt, He has already revealed himself using the plural term “Gods” found in the Hebrew word Elohim and that God created everything by speaking it into existence.  That word He utters later becomes Jesus the man as described in John 1 as the “Word becoming flesh”.  In addition to all of that, we see the Spirit of God hovering over the water.[xi] So in the end we see Father, Son and Spirit all present, all working in the creation.

For God to say, “Us” and “Our”, He is just continuing the revelation that there is more to God than man can understand. He is plural, and He is singular.  But one thing is for sure; there is no other God like Him.  So you can definitely say, “He is the Lord alone.”

I said all that to say this, God does not change – in essence.  However, there is substantial evidence to suggest that though He is “immutable”, He did transform His likeness for man’s sake.

This transformation began as a promise.  There are many prophetic utterances in the Scriptures indicating that a savior would come from God, some elude more to the concept than the method such as the one in Genesis 3 where God promises to Eve and warns Satan that though Satan would strike at Eve’s “seed’s” heal, Eve’s Seed would crush Satan’s head.  This would be an instance where the concept is present, but how God intends to do it is a mystery.

However, there are some very poignant prophetic moments that reveal the method in which God will fulfill His promise to man.  It is in these scriptures, that we find some incredible revelations concerning the depths God is willing to go to in order to save man.

We too often think of the price paid for our sins as being our sacrifice.  I understand how this can be somewhat confusing, but the sacrifice was not ours, it was God’s.  The sacrifice was made in our place because we couldn’t provide the adequate sacrifice to make the necessary payment for our sin.

The price that was paid by Jesus dying on the cross was the price of our sin.  That event was the atoning payment for our sin.  By definition, a payment costs someone something; however, the payment did not cost us anything.  So I ask; who paid the price?  Of course the answer is Jesus.  But I return to my original question.  If Jesus price was to come to earth, live as a man, die, return to heaven, where is the sacrifice? 

Isaiah reveals to us the key element that truly defines the immensity of Jesus sacrifice. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (this word means “God with Us”)”[xii]

There is a fancy word we use to describe this event, “The Incarnation”.  Literally this word means “in flesh”.  God placed the fullness of the deity of the Word into human flesh.[xiii]  This act translated God from spirit form to flesh form.  He took off robes of immortality, omnipresence and even, for a time, omniscience and became a full participant in His creation.

Jesus went through everything we go through in life – wet diapers, potty training, skinned knees, crawling, learning to walk, the list goes on.  The bible says that he grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.[xiv]  Jesus experienced everything in life that we experience.  This happened because he was fully man and totally susceptible to the laws of this world.  He had to eat, sleep and drink.  At any moment a runaway cart could run Him over and he would be dead (if it were His time) because he was 100% physical in nature.

He totally gave up his divine form for a form that limited him.  In fact, at one point he tells the disciples that if He doesn’t leave, He can’t send the Holy Spirit could dwell in each one of them.[xv] In His earthly form, he could only be in one spot at a time, in the Spirit form, God could be in each of them. 

So what could the sacrifice possibly be?  Is it that God changed clothes?  It is that Jesus died? 

To being, just the thought of God dying causes a stirring of impossible thoughts in me.  It is almost an oxymoron to say “God can die”.  But the truth be told, that is exactly what happened.  And the impact of that death still affects Him today.

Jesus sacrifice started in the cradle.  It was on that day that God, the Word, the Son, took off divine robes and put on human flesh.  The kicker is that this was a one way trip.  He would either live forever in that form, or He would die in that form and continue on into eternity in that form.

The sacrifice is found in the fact that God altered His very being so that He could spend a few years with His creation in order to provide a way for Him to spend eternity with His creation.

The sacrifice is an eternal sacrifice.  The cross merely sealed it for Him and for us, but the incarnation was the real sacrifice for God.  God became man and dwelt among us.

When Jesus rises from the dead, He is seen in human form. Thomas recognizes Him by the scars in His hands, feet and side, John in Revelation sees the scars and describes Him as a “lamb that had been slaughtered”.  You never again see Jesus as He was before the incarnation. Never again is He just the “Word”.  He is flesh; He is bone; He is the Son. 

 


[i] Luke 24:39

[ii] John 20:27

[iii] Revelation 13:8

[iv] John 1:1

[v] Matthew 1:35-37

[vi] John 1:1

[vii] John 21:25

[viii] John 10:30

[ix] Matthew 26:36 et al

[x] Luke 3:21

[xi] Genesis 1:1-3

[xii] Isaiah 7:14

[xiii] John 1 and Philippians 2

[xiv] Luke 2:40,52

[xv] John 16:6-8


 [E1]Reference

 [E2]The Word

 [E3]Reference

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One Response to “The Immanuel Project: Chapter 3 The Ultimate Sacrifice”

  1. […] The Immanuel Project: Chapter 4: Blending the Spiritual and the Physical June 22, 2009 Posted by undergroundchurch in The Immanuel Project – Book. Tags: Christian living, Christianity, church, cross, crucified, Easter, faith, Forgiveness, Friends, God, Holy Spirit, life, love, plan of God, religion, Thoughts, worship trackback  Click here for Chapter 3  […]

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