Sunday, April 21, 2019

Somebody Else’s Lamb

A few days ago, I was talking with an atheist.

Yeah, I know …

Courting Disaster

The conversation came around to the Great Judgment. Of course, he doesn’t believe in it. But I asked him a question I’ve found useful in sorting out how people are thinking about God.

I said, “Well, whether you believe it or not, one day you’re going to face God. And if he were to ask you why he should accept you, what would you say?”

The atheist was all about himself. He said, “I’ve contributed to the progress of the human race by being an engineer and by association with all the wonderful things science has done. In fact,” he actually said, “I’m morally better than your God.”

He’s going to the judgment with no plan but to plead his own personal excellencies. And that, in the presence of the Perfect Judge. While he’s there, apparently, his plan is to challenge the Judge’s credentials by comparison with his own.

Good luck with that plan. He’s going to need it.

The Defense Rests … On What?

But he’s chosen what’s going to be presented to God as his defense. He has a right to do that, even if he chooses the wrong thing. That’s one right I can’t take away from him, because God himself gave it to him. But I really, really wouldn’t do it his way.

He also asked me, “What will you say?”

Good question. What indeed.

Am I going to plead my own goodness? I’d better not. If I didn’t already know what is hidden in my heart, I have the word of God to tell me. I ought to know. No, there’s no chance I’m going to stand on my works … or my thoughts … or my character. I can tell you that at least in my case, that just won’t do.

I’m going to need a better plan.

I’m going to rest my case on the One I bring with me — the One who is both the means and basis of my plea.

A Better Plan

Why does it matter what we think of Christ? What does it matter if we choose him?

How does it all work, anyway? How is it that he becomes for us the basis of our acceptability to God? How it can be that someone else can become a sacrifice acceptable to God on my behalf?

And why does it matter what we say anyway? We’re just human beings. We don’t have perfect knowledge. We look at things one way, and they turn out to be another … what does it matter what anybody thinks? What matters is what’s actually true, right? Not what anybody just thinks is true.

I mean, think about it. Everybody’s got their own issues. And everybody’s got their own responsibility for what they do. How does that ever get transferred to somebody else, even the Lord?

The short answer: by consent. Of both parties.

First Things

In Israel, at the first Passover, and in the case of all sacrifices afterward, there was a very important preliminary step. It’s not often remarked on, but it’s recurrent in scripture.

It’s a sort of routine action, very easy to overlook. It had to take place every time somebody wanted a sacrifice offered on his behalf. In fact, it’s much more common in mention than the comparable clerical actions that followed it.
“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.”
The right of first inspection always went to the one bringing the sacrifice. It wasn’t optional.

Two Inspections

The decision belonged to the bringer. Any particular lamb to be sacrificed was his choice. He had to make the personal decision that his lamb was without defect, no malformation, no spot or blemish, and thus was suitable for sacrifice. It had to be the best. It had to be, so far as he could see, perfect.

And he had to declare it so.

Now, obviously God had made the lamb. He knew whether or not it was perfect. But it was important that the sacrificer also identify its acceptability. If the bringer did not evaluate the lamb and find it this way, it was not his sacrifice.

Two evaluations: God’s and man’s. When they agreed that the sacrifice was right, then the sacrifice could be made. But not under any other conditions.

Now for the two inspections …

Behold the Lamb

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, came into the world to be the lamb for sinners. At the start of his ministry, John the Baptist declared him as such: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” At the same time, the Father declared him wholly acceptable to serve in that capacity: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And thus his life was offered as an object of inspection for the people.

But what was the human assessment? It mattered.

Remember that the sacrificial lamb, the Passover lamb, was to be inspected by the people offering it. Before it was offered to God on their behalf, the human assessment had to be passed.

It mattered what the sacrificer thought he was bringing to the Lord, and what he said about the sacrifice. True, he could not make the lamb a flawed sacrifice simply by declaring him so … God the Father had already made the perfect inspection and found him well-pleasing to the standard of divine perfection — but the sacrificer could refuse the sacrifice. He could say, “I don’t agree that this is the right one to bring. This is not my lamb. I will not bring him.”

The Lamb for Sinners

This identification of the sinner with the sacrifice was reinforced by the tradition of the “laying on of hands”. Before a sacrifice was accepted on behalf of a group of people, each one had to put his hands on the sacrifice itself, and signify “This is the one being offered for me.”

Nobody could do it for them:
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
The human assessment matters. God has provided the perfect sacrifice to take away your sins. But I must ask you, “Is he your sacrifice?” Have you inspected him and found him perfect? Have you declared to God his suitability on your behalf?

You will not change his status thereby — the perfect Lamb will be perfect, whether you recognize that or not — but he will not be your Lamb, chosen by you from all the possible “lambs” and offered to God on your behalf.

If you don’t bring the Lamb, he will not be yours.

He will be somebody else’s Lamb.

Look

Is he yours? Have you performed the inspection? Have you looked at him intently, inspected his life, his words, his person, and declared him your Lamb?

If you have not, do it now. Consider him carefully. Find him without blemish or defect. Declare that though you are not capable of recommending yourself to God, you would recommend this One on your behalf. You will accept him as your Lamb.

Make it personal.

Your Lamb

It’s Easter. It’s time to remember the great Passover.

It’s time for the Lamb. It’s time to inspect him again, and remember who he really is. It’s time to refresh our memories that he is the Lamb who has been offered for us.

Not our own righteousness … his. Not our own perfection, but the perfection of our Sacrifice. It’s time to agree again with God concerning what he has said about his Son, and once again to declare him our Lamb.

Don’t let him be merely the Lamb of the people with whom you gather. Don’t let him be your friends’ Lamb, or your culture’s Lamb, your family’s Lamb, or even the just the one God has declared to be the Lamb, but upon whom you’ve never personally laid your hands and said, “This is he, the Lamb given for me.”

Don’t let him be somebody else’s Lamb.

11 comments :

  1. Certainly a well thought out perspective that people generally would not pay attention to. Even with that it is somewhat counter intuitive since, this person included, we generally have it drummed into us that for our acceptance we need to better ourselves throughout our life. And this simply does also seem to be important regardless of what you are suggesting. Thus, for completeness sake how would you weave in the requirement that we must also continually strife to be free of blemishes or did you simply think that that is a given and did not need to be mentioned?

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    1. Actually, Q, I’m very thankful to say that the opposite is true.

      The sacrificial lamb was provided not because the people had worked hard and been “free of blemishes” but because they had failed to be that way. Sacrifices were not for good things done, but for sin (Heb. 5:3). It was because the people could not please God by their own efforts that they needed a lamb. Is is clear the lambs never succeeded in cleansing the offerer (Heb. 10:1-3). But the Lamb of God is different: he’s the final answer for sin, for all time. "For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that he would offer himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, he would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages he has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” It’s by our identification with the Lamb of God that we are free from our sin, once and for all.

      I know that offends our human sense of self-sufficiency. But thank God, it also achieves that for which we would never be sufficient: acceptance with God. His righteous does what ours never could.

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    2. Unfortunately this Protestant doctrinaire position concerning works prevents you from adequately addressing the points I am making.

      Clearly God's roles also include those of a teacher and parent. As such we cannot know why we flunk a test with the corresponding consequences unless it is explained to us. We do not know why God decides some are and some are not suitable for heaven. However, we certainly know that in his roles similar criteria are used that involve looking at human qualities, attitudes AND actions on our part such as trying to do things to improve your grade, diminish chances of failure with better behavior and action, etc.. It is disingenous to simply discard all that as works that do not count simply because of an unrealistic Protestant viewpoint. All these things that humans do to improve their situation and standing in life most certainly can be done in the hope to improve their standing with their creator as well. And the reason for that is of course because that is how he created everyone, namely, if properly self motivated, to act in a way to please him and thereby influence his judgement. This does not imply that he conveys to us, or that we know, how he arrives at his decision but it is unrealistic to suggest that our daily attempts of living in a way that pleases God is in reality a useless excercise because of the antiquated and not well thought out Lutheran works argument. Clearly Luther needed that to be maintained as much as possible to ensure the political demarcation between the Catholic and Protestant faiths and that's all it is.

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    3. Well, let us leave aside partisan considerations, such as whether a doctrine is perceived as “Protestant” or “Catholic”. Let us agree only on this: that God is right, and whatever man thinks, if it’s contradictory to that, is simply not right. And let us use Hebrews as our decisive text, since both Catholics and Protestants regard it as divinely inspired. If you will bow to the word of God, so will I.

      Might I advise a reading of that text, so we can decide the matter equitably? Shall we both agree to be governed by what we find? Now, what does the book of Hebrews say is that status of the sacrifice? Is it the Lamb of God or the works of man that save?

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    4. But, again, that misses the point of my argument. The "Works" definition or argument is being misapplied here. It is correctly applied according to your definition if one assumes that a person deliberately thinks they can influence or change God's perception by doing very specific things to enhance their own standing in preference to someone who does not do these things. In that case the biblical works argument as you and Hebrew see it is correctly seen as not workable.

      What I am saying is that, whether we like it or not, there is a threshold feature built into the works argument. That is, there are situations were you, depending on your actions, are not saved (take Judas who probably still gave alms based on his own motivations). By there Actions, Attitudes, Outlook, etc., people must therefore strive not to fall into that type of category to prevent not being saved. This is exemplified by the difference in attitude between the two thieves on the cross. Also, it is absurd to claim that God does not care about us taking and seeking the actions and attitudes that help us to grow valuable in his eyes because we become more pleasing to him. And that certainly is by all types of good works. It has nothing to do with parsing as to whether Christ or your works save. That's a totally wrong comparison in that they both work together to the pleasure of God.

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    5. Well, let’s talk about that thief on the cross, Q. He was saved, was he not?

      But what works had he done? By his own confession, only bad ones; and by his own testimony, he deserved the death he was experiencing (Luke 23:41). Not only that, he could do no more works — both hands were nailed to a piece of wood, so nothing could be more graphically clear than that.

      So how does a man who has spent his entire life being a thief, and at one point was even hurling insults at the Son of God (Matt. 27:44), and now has no possibility of works at all, suddenly get salvation?

      The answer is given: “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). It was by faith he was saved, not by works. The Lamb of God saved him. And all persons are saved the same way.

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    6. Right, but, I defined good works as a number of things, which also includes attitude and follow through. Here therefore is another case. A Protestant (or anyone else ;-) prays all his/her life exactly as that thieve did and he/she will not be saved because there was no follow through and an actual change of interior and exterior life. Cllearly then, Christ had some more information than we do about that particular thieve (and that's why the other thief did not get a mention). That type of information also made him condem the Pharisees (which no one else could suspect). I place a wager on it but if a Pharisee paid lip service but not followed through he would still have been condemned. Now, how does one get past lip service if not by good works (which, again, includess a whole range and number of tangible and fairly intangible things.) The main thrust of Christ's teaching was exactly to exhort humanity to start living in a concrete way so that he can save us. Don't forget that those spiritual beings who only paid false lip service were thrown out of heaven because their works did not correspond to their true plotting and negletful interior disposition. So, make no mistake about it we need plenty of (good) works as well, or, I would say, especially, unless we like to gamble.

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    7. Well, Q, there’s what scripture says, on the one hand, and other things like human speculation, imagining and guessing on the other. "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). And again, “Since the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). There is no hope more deeply cherished among lost men than the hope that good deeds will make us good enough for whatever comes. But the Bible calls this hope “foolishness”, and a kind that is practiced only among “those who are perishing”.

      Now, the word of God could not be more clear on its rejection of the whole idea of salvation through our good works (Eph. 2:8-9). If we say otherwise, we find ourselves in direct contradiction of God. And that would be foolish … for we would be trying to tell God himself on what basis he ought to accept us, when in fact he’s made it clear there is only one way…faith in his Son, given for us.

      So it’s a choice. There’s no possibility of compromise on it. To trust in works is to be utterly lost, and to perish. To trust in Christ is to be saved (John 3:18). It’s really just that clear.

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    8. Alright, it's time to put this to bed so this will be my last comment concerning this.

      I understand and agree that Christ does the saving and that we have no idea what his decisions are. However, that is irrelevant since, as you said, we have no direct influence over that. But, with God being the teacher AND parent it is perfectly OK to work along the lines as we (should) do with his earthly counterparts or we would be liable to get that F. If he decides to ignore that potential F that's his business and he saves if he wants to save. But it would be foolish not to put your best foot forward because that is exactly what God taught and made clear he expects of us. Now, putting your best foot forward is a series of actions, which is synonymous with works. To me this is a crystal clear and unambiguous argument which says you better have good works. And that's my final take on it. (And one day we'll definitely get this sorted out :-).

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    9. It's not my ambition to frustrate you here, Q. It's my intention to point out to you something you've perhaps never considered, but which makes a man free in Christ ... and I would wish that for everyone.

      In point of fact, we do have an idea what the Lord's decisions are, Q. He told us (John 3:18).

      Now, if he had not, we might think we just had to figure it out ourselves. But we don't. His purpose is not to keep up guessing, so that in fear we will be forced to do good works (Rom. 8:15), but rather that being assured we have been saved, we will be set free to do good works out of gratitude (Rom. 12:1-2). So good works are good ... but they're not a payment for our salvation. Rather, they're the fruit of gratefulness for what God himself has done for us, and an evidence, after the fact, that we have already been saved.

      That distinction is easy to miss, but very important. If we don't understand it, we'll think we earned our own way into heaven, and meanwhile, we'll live our earthly lives in fear of God's rejection of us. This is not his plan for us. No good father reigns by terror over his children.

      This is something we all need to get sorted out before the Day of Judgment; because it literally decides on which side of that judgment we will find ourselves.

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