When I met an American traveler on a train from Vienna to Venice as a young Austrian college student, I was struck by a question she asked: Did Christ not already do everything he needed to do for us to be saved? If so (and he did), why are so many Viennese people sitting around in parks and coffee shops engaging in idle talk, looking like they’re waiting for something to happen? Why are they not acting on what God has done for them in Christ? What are they waiting for? The point was clear. There was no need to wait. Christ death on the cross called for a response.
The story of the Bible displays wonderful symmetry. The bookends are the first and the last two chapters of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 (creation) corresponds to Revelation 21-22 (new creation). In between, the Bible tells the story of how our relationship with God was broken (the fall) and how it subsequently was restored in Christ (redemption). In this story everything revolves around relationship and in particular our relationship with God and with one another.
God’s Abiding Promise: Covenants and Redemption
Adam and Eve had barely digested the forbidden fruit when God, as part of pronouncing punishment for sin, responded also with a promise. Addressing Satan, God ordained that he would bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring (the Messiah) but the Messiah would crush the serpent’s (Satan’s) head (Gen 3:15). As John writes in his first epistle, Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8), and he did so at the cross and through the resurrection.
In between the bookends of Genesis 1–3 and Revelation 21–22, then, Genesis 4 through Revelation 20 is one big story of how God entered into covenants with his people Israel and how he eventually entered human history in the person of Jesus Christ, with the purpose of reconciling humanity to himself through the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the sinless God-man, on the cross (see, e.g., Gal 4:4). This story centers primarily around covenants and redemption.
What Did God Do to Make Things Right? God’s 5 Successive Covenants
So the Bible’s story is first and foremost about relationships, and particularly about our relationship with God. God creates us in love, and despite humanity’s rebellion against him, he still loves what he has made. This is why he promises to send the Messiah, and this is also why he continues to pursue humanity and to affirm his love for us in a series of covenants, including those with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the New Covenant.
- Noah: God promises that he would never again allow a universal flood to destroy all of humankind (Genesis 6-9).
- Abraham: God promises to give him a land, a seed, and a blessing; in Jesus, all people will have access to salvation (Genesis 12, 15, etc.).
- Moses: God makes a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai prior to entering the promised land. He gives 10 Commandments, conditional on their obedience, also called “Old Covenant,” in order to enter the land. According to Hebrews, this covenant is now obsolete and has been replaced by the New Covenant (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5).
- David: One day a son of David will reign over God’s kingdom as supreme Ruler and King. This would not be Solomon, but Jesus the Messiah, the true son of David (telescoping the first and second coming; 2 Samuel 7).
- New Covenant: Jesus institutes the New Covenant at the Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26-29; 1 Cor 11:23-26); Jeremiah 31 cited in Hebrews envisions God putting his Spirit into the heart of believers based on Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection and exaltation with God (cf. Acts 2).
What Did God Do to Make Things Right? 20 Benefits of God’s Great Sacrifice (in alphabetical order)
So you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins. But do you realize all the benefits that are yours on account of God’s great sacrifice? While all these benefits take effect at a person’s conversion, it may take a little time to appreciate what really happened. Reflect on the following 20 benefits that flow from Jesus’ death on the cross for you and pause to give thanks for God’s great salvation:
- Access: we have free, direct access to God in Christ; he is our only Mediator (Rom 5:1; 1 Timothy 2:5; Heb 10:19-20).
- Adoption: God gave us the right to become children of God by believing in Christ (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5).
- Atonement: Jesus brought a blood sacrifice to cover our sin, guilt, and shame, in fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrificial and priestly system and the Day of Atonement (1 John 2:2; cf. Leviticus 16).
- Conversion: This means turning from sin in repentance and trusting Christ in faith (see Parable of the Prodigal Son: Luke 15:11-32; also Luke 24:47).
- Death: Jesus really died; he came in a sinless, yet mortal, body; he was subsequently buried and spent 3 days in the grave (Gospel passion narratives; 1 Cor 15:3-5). Jesus’ death – a benefit? Yes, for our sinful nature had to die.
- Forgiveness of sins: we owed God a huge debt we could never repay (Jesus’ parables); Christ paid it for us (Luke 24:47; Eph 1:7; Heb 10:17); also, there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rom 8:1).
- Glorification: this is still future; God will give us new glorified resurrection bodies at the end of time (Rom 8:30, in past tense because a certainty).
- Imputation: God counts Jesus’ righteousness as ours; it is imputed (counted) to us (Rom 3:21-22; 4:3, 6, 11; cf. Gen 15:6; 2 Cor 5:21).
- Inheritance: as part of our adoption into God’s family, we are given an inheritance in heaven (Rom 8:14-15; Eph 1:11, 14).
- Justification: Because Jesus died as our sinless substitute, God declared us righteous, innocent, not guilty (Rom 3:26; 5:1, 9; 8:30; Titus 3:7).
- Penal substitution: Jesus died in our place and took the punishment for our sins (2 Cor 5:14, 21); Luther called this “a wonderful exchange.”
- Propitiation: Jesus took God’s wrath toward sin upon himself, now God looks on us with favor and has accepted us in his beloved Son (Rom 3:25; 5:9; Eph 1:6).
- Reconciliation: Jesus enabled us to have fellowship with God once again (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:20; Col 1:20).
- Redemption: Jesus bought us back from Satan’s power; we were slaves to sin, now we’re slaves to righteousness (Rom 3:24; 6:15-23; Eph 1:7; Titus 2:14).
- Regeneration, rebirth, and renewal: We were born again spiritually by receiving the Holy Spirit who came to permanently make his home in our hearts (John 3:3-5; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 1:23-25).
- Resurrection: Jesus really rose from the dead, was the first to receive new resurrection body; we, too, will receive a resurrection body (1 Cor 15:20; cf. Phil 3:11).
- Salvation: God saved us from suffering the negative consequences and punishment for sin, spending eternity separated from him in hell; he rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son (Col 1:13).
- Sanctification: He set us apart for his holy purposes and for his holy use at the moment of conversion (1 Cor 1:2; Heb 10:10).
- Vicarious sacrifice: Jesus gave his life for us so we could live (Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 10:12; 1 Pet 3:18).
- Victory: because of Jesus’ victory over sin and death, we, too, have victory (Luke 10:18; John 16:33; Rom 8:37; 1 Cor 15:55-57; 1 John 5:4).
God Made Things Right: Now What?
When I became a Christian, my first question was: Now what? Now that Christ had saved me (or, rather, now that I had trusted in what he had done for me on the cross), what should I do next? I knew I was going to heaven; but what was I to do in the remainder of my time here on earth? The answer to this question may seem obvious to me now, over 30 years later, and it may seem obvious to you. But why did God leave me, and us, here on this earth?
Jesus didn’t only die for us; he called us to join him in his mission. First things first, though: we first are called to follow him as his disciples. Note that Jesus issued his Great Commission to men whom he had trained as his disciples for 3 ½ years. Following Jesus as his disciples entails that we understand God’s grace (vs. works) in Christ, and that we understand what Jesus did for us on the cross. It also requires that we follow Jesus unconditionally.
Jesus commands us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow him. As his disciples, we join him on his mission. As those sent on a mission by Jesus, we’re called to re-present the gospel of forgiveness and salvation in Christ in word and by example. So (1) let’s remember the extent of benefits we enjoy because of what Jesus has done for us; (2) let’s tell others about God’s great sacrifice for us; and (3) let’s join Jesus on his mission of reconciliation.
The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum, Charles Quarles)
The Lion and the Lamb (Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum, Charles Quarles)