As we read the first four books of the New Testament we see that
come, just as the Prophets foretold. That which had
once been in the future had now become
host had lost its most precious gem for the Lord of Glory had
come to earth. In this expression of divine love, mankind can
God so loved that He gave His Son. Indeed, as
Romans 5:8 declares:
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
It is eminently important that we come to know Jesus in a very intimate way for it is through Him that salvation is obtainable. Notice Acts 4:12: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Once God's voice boomed forth from heaven: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5).
How blessed we are to have a beautiful record of Christ's matchless life within the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. From the angel's song of "peace on earth" which attended His birth until the moment He ascended back to heaven (Luke 2:14; Luke 24:51) we can read of the greatest One who ever graced this earth. Jesus came down from heaven to do the Father's will (John 6:38). With nobility of purpose and solemn resolve, He never wavered from that obedient attitude. And, Christ "is the author of eternal life to all them that obey Him (Hebrews 5:9)."
Not only did Jesus live perfectly (I Peter 2:21-22), He also taught authoritatively. At the conclusion of the famous Sermon on the Mount we can read of the reaction of the audience in Matthew 7:28-29. "And it came to pass, when Jesus ended these sayings the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority......"
Yes, Christ had the authority of Heaven behind every word He spoke and every deed He performed. Even today Jesus has "all authority in heaven and in earth." This power leaves no place for any supposed "Vicar of Christ on earth" (Matthew 28:18).
Since our Lord "knew what was in man" (John 2:25), He was fully capable of imparting spiritual truths to the people of all time in a truly magnificent way. The parables of Jesus will live forever as a tribute to His genius, and yet also to His compassion for all. Even casual readers of the Bible have thrilled to "the human touch" contained in the stories of the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan and the Lost Sheep. At least 30 of these Parables fell from the lips of the Savior as He illustrated spiritual truths by using earthly stories. The officers were correct: "Never a man so spake as He" (John 7:46).
The miracles of Christ magnified His claims to be the long awaited Messiah. As Jesus stilled the tempest, fed multitudes with scanty provisions and raised Lazarus from the dead, the earth echoed with the shout: "Truly, this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54). It is no wonder then that Nicodemus exclaimed: "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him." (John 3:2).
Yet, greater than these marvelous signs of His infinite power was His deep concern for lost mankind. As majestic as He was, still Jesus found time to be the friend of the individual. The Gospel account by John stresses the Deity of Christ, but it also portrays vividly the compassion He had for wayward men. The Savior always found time for the lonely and the lost. Whether it was the Samaritan woman (John 4), a lame man (John 5) or one born blind (John 9), the Lord took time to touch their lives with His splendor. And, praise God, He has an interest in you and me today.
This was proved by His death on our behalf over 1900 years ago. Men have been dying throughout the centuries - but never was death like His.
Jesus died vicariously, that is, on behalf of others. In II Corinthians 5:14 we learn that "one died for all." Peter tells us that our perfect Example "bore our sins in his own body upon the tree," (I Peter 2:24). Jehovah made Him "to be sin for us even though he knew no sin." (II Corinthians 5:21). Our Savior died painfully. The Roman scourging received prior to the actual crucifixion was enough to kill some men. The heavy burden of the cross was additional agony. Usually, in the first century when one was "nailed to the tree" he was laid on top of the crude cross while it lay on the ground. Spikes were driven sharply into the criminal's hands and feet. Then suddenly in excruciating pain, the cross would be projected between heaven and earth. These terrible things were experienced by the greatest One who ever walked the sands of time. The crowd mocked Him; blood, from the wreath of thorns, flowed down His face. No wonder the hymn writer has touched our hearts with these words:
"See from his head, his hands, his feet
Sorrow and blood flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and pity meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?"
Lastly, Jesus died alone. Peter had denied Him with a fervent speech; most of the apostles "followed afar off." A few faithful women were nearby weeping. Nicodemus and Joseph would later prepare His body for burial. Yet, for One who had done so much for mankind the scene about the cross was very lonely. From the Roman tree the Redeemer cried "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The Father looked away from the Son for a moment to view fallen man. In that glance we have hope of redemption (Habakkuk 1:13).
Praise God for His infinite love and Jesus for His willingness to offer His life that we might never die. A passage in II Corinthians 8:9 beautifully sums up this glorious result.
"For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."
In Matthew 26:28 we read that the New Testament was ushered in through the blood of Christ. In Romans seven we learn that men today are dead to the law that said, "Thou shalt not covet," that we may be spiritually joined to Jesus who arose from the dead. Paul plainly declares in Galatians 2:21 that Christ died in vain if we are still under the Law. In three distinct passages in Hebrews we read that Christ is the mediator of the New Testament and that He could not have been until after His death. Therefore, at the cross our Savior took away the first covenant. We are now under the last will and testament of the Lord (Hebrews 8:6, 9:16, 10:10).
Comprehension of this scriptural thought will answer the often asked question about the thief on the cross. He lived and died before Jesus shed His blood of the New Covenant. We live after that notable event. We are under the New Testament, the thief was subject to the Old Testament. While Jesus was on earth He had the authority to forgive sins as He chose (Matthew 9:6). But when Christ died, His law for man was revealed in the New Testament. The terms for pardon, sealed in His blood, must not be changed. According to the words of the Savior all accountable beings must now believe the gospel (Mark 16:16), repent of their sins (Luke 24:47) and be immersed in water (Acts 8:38; 22:16). This arrangement will last till the end of the world (Matthew 28:18-20).
The book of Matthew emphasizes the kingdom of Christ. Mark's account of the life of our Lord stresses His majesty. Luke set forth the ideal manhood of Christ (Luke 2:52) and John underscored the Deity of the Savior. From the first four New Testament books we come to know about Jesus, the greatest One to walk the sands of time. The major purpose of this section of the Bible is aptly summed up in John 20:31.
"But these were written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
Indeed, we must obediently follow the Redeemer for His words will judge us one day (John 12:48). On the last page in the Bible we read:
"Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."
Yes, heaven will be the eternal home for those who properly appropriate the life of Christ to their own lives. Jesus is certainly the central character in human history.
"For the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many."
The classic word in the religion of Christ is service. The epitome of the Christian system can be summed up in just four words-words that our Savior spoke in lip and life "Thy Will Be Done."
Whether tempted by Satan or beset by wild beasts or plotted against by evil men or betrayed by friends Jesus had the sweet consolation of prayer and the encouragement of those "not far from the kingdom!" He was often disappointed by those who would make void the Word of God through their own traditions. It grieved the Lord when potential greats like the rich young ruler, allowed mundane interests to overwhelm them. The Master of ocean and sea and foam knew that one soul was worth more than earthly relationships or indeed, even the wealth of the world could not compare to eternity's reward. How He longed to calm the troubled heart and cheer the drooping countenance. His all-consuming passion for lost souls caused the Lord to point a nail-pierced hand to a world sinking in the depths of sin. He challenged His devotees to go teach all creation the unsearchable riches of the gospel-the good news-God's power to lift us up to higher ground and a closer walk with Him.
When men misused the Scriptures it grieved Jesus tremendously. Some questioned His authority while others plotted to take His life but the Savior loved them nonetheless. The money-changers in the Temple reminded Him of the decaying, crumbling Jewish nation. It is a tribute to His divine power and human perfection that He would not tolerate sin but that He could weep over sinners! Finally, as the shadow of the Cross loomed ever nearer and despicable men seemed more prevalent our dearest Friend suffered agonizingly in Gethsemane. Peter, James and John could not give even one hour of unstinted loyalty to ease the burden of darkness and despair, but, thankfully, the Lord had bold access to the Father's throne of mercy. In childlike trust - yet with deep, mature conviction, Jesus cried: "Abba, Father . . . as Thou wilt." The poet has well captured this scene:
"Broken at last I bowed my head
Forgetting all myself and said:
Whatever comes, God's will be done--
And in that moment, peace was won!"
Can we, in view of such unselfish and complete devotion to duty do any less than the joyous, grateful man of Mark 5:19?
"Go home and tell thy friends how great things the Lord hath done for thee and bath compassion on thee."
Truly, Jesus hath done all things well! The finest tribute to the Messiah is found in Isaiah 53:1-7:
"Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed,
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he bath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord bath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth."
Using this text as the basis of his sermon, Philip "preached Christ" unto the treasurer of Ethiopia (Acts 8:35-39).
During the time that Christ walked and talked upon earth the hatred and animosity of the Pharisees were expressed in various forms. And we are all familiar with the crowning achievement of their hatred coupled with the sanction of the Roman rulers-yes, the cruel crucifixion of my Lord. Jesus was unwelcome at birth, opposed throughout life and when He died, the highest ambition of many had been realized. Why did He offend? Why was He rejected (Galatians 5:11, Romans 9:33, John 1:11)?
I would like to suggest first of all that Jesus was rejected by many in His day because He emphasized the spiritual above the temporal. The Jews of that day looked for and expected an earthly kingdom. They had read the Old Testament prophecies of a coming King who would sit upon David's throne. This Messiah was to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But, due to their emphasis on material values they failed to realize that the kingdom of Christ would never be an earthly empire. As we follow the life and teachings of Jesus as revealed in the New Testament we can see plainly the misconceptions the religious leaders of that day had. On one occasion Jesus had to hide Himself because the Jews were trying to make Him a king by force. (John, chapter 6). Even the close disciples of Christ seem to have had a misconception of His Lordship. But Jesus made it plain that He was not a rival of Caesar for earthly power when He stated: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). One of the saddest scenes in all the Bible is that found in the sixth chapter of John after Jesus tells His followers of His spiritual rather than material emphasis . The record states that so many of the multitude ceased to follow Him. So great was the falling away from the masses whom Jesus looked to for friendship that He pathetically asked the intimate few, the twelve disciples- "Will ye also go away?" (John 6:67). What changed the attitude of the people? At one time they had praised the name of their leader, Jesus of Nazareth. But now, in disappointment they turn away and follow Christ no more. C. R. Brewer has well-expressed this scene in these words:
"A Hero stood amid a throng
And heard them cry His name
They praised His deed in word and song--
And shouts of loud acclaim
A King they said--A King of men--
We want no other guide
Bring forth the crown and let Him reign
There's no one else beside.
This was their loud, exulting cry
Throughout the livelong day
But ere a second night drew nigh--
Their hearts had turned away
How quickly did their praises die--
The Hero stood alone.
While some in silence passed Him by
Some jeered or cast a stone.
How fickle is the heart of man
How frail is human faith
And he who finds no higher plan
Walks but the way of death."
There are many people today who are expecting Jesus to have an earthly kingdom. Various religious groups teach the doctrine of pre-millennialism, that is, the thousand year reign of Christ on earth in the city of Jerusalem. Yes, many denominational preachers teach that the Lord will have a literal, material reign on this earth at the time of His second coming. In fact, this teaching forms a basis or central point of many religions of our day. But, friend of mine, there is not an ounce of truth in this doctrine. The Bible teaches that Christ is now reigning--He is at the Father's right hand in the Heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20). Christ will not reign upon this earth when He comes, because at that time the earth will burn up. In 11 Peter, chapter 3, verse 10 we read: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works therein shall be burned up." Where are the teachers of the earthly-kingdom theory to put Christ's throne? Not on the earth! Peter tells us it will melt with fervent heat. Those who teach and believe that the Lord will set up a literal, material kingdom will be just as disappointed in Jesus as were the Jews of His day. Christ was rejected because He would not he a temporal King; He exalted the spiritual above the material.
In the second place, Christ Jesus was rejected by many in His day because He condemned the religious customs and traditions of the prominent Jewish sects. Jesus accused them of lip worship when their hearts were far from Him. He labeled their worship as vain because it was according to the doctrines and commandments of men (Mark 7:6-7; Matthew 15:8-91.] He called the Pharisees hypocrites (Matthew 23). Christ was not offensive primarily because He preached positive truths. It was His exposure of error that caused men to reject Him. One of the aims of Jesus in His teaching was to uproot human religions with their elaborate ritualism, pomp and pageantry. Because He condemned their religious practices the Jews refund to accept Jesus. There are those today who are offended when error is condemned. They do not seem to think a person can have the mind of Christ and be critical of any modern religious doctrine or practice. But one must condemn error wherever found if he is to be Christ-like. Jesus was no master compromiser. His aim and purpose was to uphold Truth and overthrow error.
(1). The love of God . "He commended his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
(2). The weakness of man . The betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter, the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish nation--all of these things brought about the death of our Lord.
(3). The cowardice of Pilate . Even though he could find no fault with the man of Nazareth, Pilate condemned Him to death. Popularity meant more to him than principle.
(4). The humanity of Jesus . The Son of God humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). In Gethsemane He said humbly: "Thy will be done."
(5). Our desperate need of salvation . Certainly the major reason for Calvary was the despicable condition of mankind. "There was none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10). There was no hope apart from Christ Jesus. He gave His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). The Hebrew writer tells us that Christ "tasted of death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9). A very grateful apostle Paul stated that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (I Timothy 1:15).
Jesus was executed during the Jewish feast of Passover. Historians tell us that two million Hebrews were in or about the city of Jerusalem for such an occasion. Not once did He allow the pettiness of others to divert the will of God. When asked, "Art thou the Christ?" Jesus merely answered, "Thou sayest." So resplendent was He, even on the cross, that a centurion stated: "Truly this was the Son of God" (Matthew 27:54).
A sincere study of the death of Christ will just naturally lead one to the subject of baptism. In Romans 6:1-5 we see that the death, burial and resurrection of Christ is vividly portrayed when a person becomes dead to sin, is buried with Christ in baptism and subsequently raised to walk in a new manner of life. The identical point is referred to in Colossians 2:12. Thus, gospel baptism is neither foolish nor arbitrary. It is a necessary command of God for man that conveys the deepest spiritual meaning. The act of baptism puts a person into Christ (Galatians 3:27) where all blessings are found (Ephesians 1:3).
These are some of the grand lessons we learn as we meditate upon the death of our Lord. If we appropriate these blessings to our lives we shall never really die. To such ones the second death (eternal punishment) hath no power. We agree with Wilbur Chapman who wrote:
"One day when heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelled among men, my Example is He.
Living He loved me, dying He saved me,
Buried He carried my sins far away.
Rising He justified me-freely forever,
One day He is coming, Glorious Day."
Not only do we see from this lesson that the life of' Christ was free from ostentation, His teachings filled with simplicity, His plan of salvation exceedingly clear and the worship of the early Christians void of pretense or hypocrisy but we also find that even the hope which we have in Christ is a simple thing. We do not look for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow; nor do we yearn for a million dollars at the close of life. All of our hopes as a Christian are summed up in one word--Heaven.
But, sinner friend, Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. Heaven is the sublime hope of the Christian. Are you a Christian today? Have you humbly submitted to the simplicity of the Gospel plan of salvation? May God help us all to study His word, obey His will and then someday be able to go home to live with Christ, our blessed Redeemer!