Old Testament, New Testament, what is the real difference between the two? What happened to the people who lived before Christ? Why was it necessary that Christ die for our sins? This is the first of two posts with the purpose of answering these questions.
To begin, we need to address the core issue at the center of all of these questions. Sin. Sin, put simply, results in separation from God. God is perfectly holy, perfectly without sin. God is also the giver of life. As humans, beginning with Adam and Eve, we have chosen sin. The consequence for sin is that we are separated from God. Thinking logically, this makes perfect sense. If God is perfectly holy, without sin, then it is only natural that those who have chosen sin must be separated from Him. Let me take this a step further. Because we are separated from God, the giver of life, the penalty for our sinfulness is that we are separated from the giver of life and therefore choose death. This is why in the first half of Romans 6:23 it says "For the wages of sin is death..." In other words, the penalty, the result, the consequence for our sin is death.
God, being our creator and in essence our father, has a quality that is shown throughout the pages of history, the Bible, and our lives. That quality is mercy. Mercy is defined as not getting the punishment we deserve. God as our father wants us to be close to him, wants us to be spared from the penalty of our sin, and be re-connected with Him. Because of His mercy, He provided a way for the people of the old testament to be spared from the penalty of their own sin temporarily. That way was by sacrifice.
Sacrifice to me, at least, seems brutal and somewhat savage, but at it's base principle, sacrifice stands for something important. Sacrifice in a biblical context is an act of faith in God. It in essence was the people of Israel saying: 1- I recognize my own depravity 2- I realize the payment that is necessary for my sins (death) and 3- I am putting my trust and my hope in the fact that God has promised to send someone later on that will wipe out my debt permanently.
A good analogy for the sacrificial system is a credit card. Imagine you are young and have gone to a restaurant to eat. After you eat, you are given a check. The check is the payment necessary for the meal you have eaten. You realize that you don't have enough money to pay for your meal, and so therefore will pay with your father's credit card. The credit card is accepted because in essence you are making an act of faith saying that your father will pay the debt later on.
In the analogy, the meal is sin, the check is the penalty (death) and you cannot pay it on your own so you make an act of faith with your credit card (Sacrifice) and trust that later on your father (God) will pay the debt completely. The restaurant (also God) accepts the credit card because they know the debt will be paid.
The analogy is flawed in one way though. The debt is un-payable by you. You cannot possibly ever even come close to paying the debt that is owed by your own sin, accept through death, and not just death, but eternal separation from God (aka: Hell).
God is the only way, the only hope that you have of ever paying that debt. This brings us to howthe debt was paid.
We have established previously three things. 1- We are sinful. 2- The penalty for our sin is death. 3- We cannot pay the penalty on our own.
The onlyway that the debt could be paid was if there was a sacrifice made that was sufficient enough to take away the penalty completely. The qualifications for the sacrifice were that: 1, He must be sinless. 2, He must be able to conquer death. In other words, He must be the giver of life, or God.
This is why Christ was sufficient as a sacrifice. He was perfectly sinless, and the bible says that He was both fully man and fully God. The final piece of the puzzle was the act of Christ taking our punishment, our penalty. Because the penalty for our sins is death, Christ had to die for usin order to redeem us. The word redeem literally means "to buy back" and that is exactly what Christ did for us by dying in our place. Jesus Christ bought us back from death. But it didn't end there.
Before we talked about God's mercy. We stated that mercy meant we were spared from the punishment we deserved. Now, let's talk about God's grace! Grace is the opposite of mercy. Grace is getting something even though we do not deserve it.
Don't stop there. The most important part of the cross is that Christ raised himself from the dead three days later. Jesus conquered death! And in the process demonstrated another quality that God has. Grace.
God is full of mercy. He rescued us from eternal death. He is full of grace too. Not only did he rescue us, he gave us the opportunity to be forgiven of our sin and be re-united with him! Not just re-united for a while, but for eternity. This eternity with God is what Christianity has called "heaven" and this is what Christ's death and resurrection really means. This is why the second half of Romans 6:23 is so important! The full verse reads "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." Christ's blood was shed so that our relationship with God could be healed. The separation that our sin caused is no more. But there is one catch.
Just like in the Old Testament when God asked the people of Israel to provide an act of faith in order to be saved, He asks us to do the same. He asks that we accept Jesus as our Lord and savior, and live according to his principles. This is a small price to pay for eternal life, and rescue from eternal separation from God wouldn't you say?
God has woven a masterpiece of mercy, grace, and forgiveness throughout time, and He will continue to do so out of His unfathomable and unending love for us.
This is why we celebrate Easter. It is a reminder of God's mercy and grace. It is the anniversary of the day (or three) that Jesus Christ, both God and man rescued us, redeemed us, and brought us back together with our creator, our God. This is the day that we celebrate our reunion with God. This is the day that we praise His unfathomable mercy, grace, and love for us.