Pastor Dominic Cardamone
I cannot wait for Sunday! Easter is my favorite holiday of the year. (Christmas is definitely a VERY close second.) Easter was always a special time in my family growing up. Some of my fondest memories of this holiday each year include getting an Easter basket full of candy, receiving a new outfit to wear at church, getting a family picture, and having Sunday lunch with the whole family. Perhaps you can relate. As I have grown in age and, especially, in my walk with the Lord, I have come to learn in a greater way the spiritual significance of this occasion. It’s all about Jesus. It’s about His sacrifice for us on the cross and His resurrection from the dead!
On Sunday, we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. He gloriously and victoriously arose from the dead after being in the grave for three days! This is wonderful, meaningful, and worthy of celebration; however, it’s crucial to remember that it was preceded by His sacrifice. It’s why we celebrate Good Friday before Easter Sunday. Jesus died on the cross first, then He was buried, and finally, He arose from the tomb. Without His sacrifice, there would be no resurrection. And, without either of those, there would be no salvation.
Hebrews 9:26b: …he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
As we approach Easter in a few days, it would be profitable for us to reflect upon the sacrifice of Jesus. Doing so will prepare our hearts in a greater way to celebrate the resurrection.
The Old Testament law concerning Israel’s temple worship required that an animal sacrifice be provided, killed, and its blood sprinkled upon the altar as an atonement (covering) for man’s sin. (See Leviticus 1:4-5.) The association between sacrifice, bloodshed, and atonement finds its root back to the garden when God shed the blood of an animal to provide its skin as a covering for Adam and Eve’s nakedness after they sinned and tried to cover themselves with fig leaves. (See Genesis 3:7, 21.) Animal sacrifice was established as a temporary practice to foreshadow the coming sacrifice and bloodshed of the Lamb of God (Jesus) which would take away the sins of the world permanently. (See John 1:29.) The underpinning principle to both the animal sacrifices (the foreshadow) and the sacrifice of Jesus (the essence of the shadow) is that bloodshed was necessary for atonement. Without the bloodshed of Jesus Christ on the cross and the offering of life it represented, there could be no covering for our sins. His sacrifice was necessary for the pardon of our sins!
Hebrews 9:22: And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
Romans 5:11: And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
Substitutionary and Voluntary
When Jesus was crucified and sacrificed on the cross, He was there because a Roman soldier nailed Him to it. The Roman soldier only did that because Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler in that region of Israel, ordered it. Pilate ordered it against his better judgment because he was strong-armed by the Jewish leaders’ political scheming that seethed with hatred for Jesus. But that’s only the surface of it. If we dig a little deeper, we can see a more profound reason why Jesus was hanging on the cross. The Heavenly Father willingly orchestrated putting Jesus there to pay sin's penalty on our behalf, and Jesus willingly took the punishment. Jesus not only took the cross but more severely the forsaking of His Father as judgment passed on Him for our sins. (See Matthew 27:46.)
2 Corinthians 5:21: For he (the Father) hath made him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (Jesus). (Emphasis added.)
John 10:17-18: Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.
Let this be clear: Jesus did not hang on a cross for any wrongdoing He had done. He was unsustainably accused during His earthly ministry of being a blasphemer when He claimed to be the Son of God. (See Matthew 26:63-68.) Yet, as the Son of God indeed, He was sinlessly perfect. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21.) The Heavenly Father was not punishing Jesus for sins He committed. He had none. He was punishing Jesus for sins we committed. Jesus died as our substitute; He died in our place.
Isaiah 53:5: 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.
The King James Version of the Bible uses a unique word to describe Jesus and the sacrifice He made for sinners. The word is propitiation. It’s used three times in the New Testament:
Romans 3:25: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
1 John 2:2: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 4:10: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Propitiation in a word means appeasement. In a few words, it means the act of appeasing another’s anger/wrath. The implication from the Scriptures is that man had unjustly offended God in sin. In so doing, God’s holy wrath (and the judgment it brings) had been kindled against man’s sin. Man could not appease God’s wrath against him on his own. Yet, God in His love provided His own Son Jesus and designed that His sacrifice on the cross alone would be the satisfactory appeasement to His anger/wrath against sin.
It can be a heart-wrenching practice to reflect upon the cost of our salvation provided to us in Christ. But, I daresay there is something beautiful about the cross. It represents something so amazing that ought to invoke an overwhelming gratitude for and passion for our Savior. Let us borrow a line from the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:15 and let it be the refrain of our praise over the next few days, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.”