Ransoms and Theories
The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ
By David B. Smith
Two “bad girl” stories carry a boatload of significance regarding the ministry of Jesus.
Maria was a heroin junkie living in New York City. When Pastor Dave Wilkerson of Teen Challenge first met her, she was a slovenly mess. Hair unkempt and unwashed, eyes glassy, mucus dripping from her nose. She hadn’t shaved her legs in a good long while, and she kept clenching and unclenching her fists, a classic sign of drug withdrawal. She needed a fix in the worst way.
Sometime later, he met this same Maria — who had now accepted Christ as her Savior and also as the holy Example for her life. No more drugs: her hair was shampooed, her gaze joy-filled and clear. Wilkerson confessed, “A preacher shouldn’t be noticing this, but her legs were now shapely and shaved. She looked wonderful.” What’s more, she had a preacher husband, three happy kids, and was on her way to mission service in Puerto Rico.
But here’s another story. Karla Faye Tucker was an infamous murderer who faced execution for the crime of hacking two people up with a pick-axe. While on Death Row, she too was converted and became a Christian. However, despite being washed clean by the blood of Jesus — and being a rather pretty, sympathetic inmate — Texas still considered her to be guilty. Pleas poured in from all over, but the justice of the law demanded an execution and on Feb. 3, 1998, Tucker paid the ultimate penalty for her crimes.
God’s love for sinners. It seems appropriate that John 3:16 inexorably finds its way into all the teachings of the Christian faith. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. This is rightly the key pillar of our faith: the love of God making a way for us not to die! 2 Peter 3:9 explicitly tells us God is reluctant for us to be lost. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. In the Old Testament, God almost gets on His knees and pleads with a sinful nation: “As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Clearly, even devout Christians do pass away, even those not on Death Row . . . so the Bible isn’t speaking of the temporary sleep of death that precedes the Resurrection. Karla Faye Tucker faced lethal injection with absolute calm, praying with her jailors and telling everyone with confident peace that she would see them in heaven. But the grand reality is that the death and resurrection of Jesus provide an escape from the death penalty of our sins.
The mystery of atonement. Interestingly, the Bible says relatively little about the theological “science” of how Jesus’ death on the cross opens up the door of salvation for us to come home. Theologians have endlessly discussed and constructed metaphors to help Christians understand; the plain fact is that Calvary does work because God expressly says it does. It is a promise we can accept despite our limited comprehension. Still, the Word of God does share several valid word pictures for us to consider.
1. Jesus is our Lamb and Sin-Bearer. His own cousin, who had every reason to be jealous and downplay Jesus’ divine role, said plainly to his own followers: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” In a glorious Old Testament prophecy borrowed by Handel for his Messiah, Isaiah writes: Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrow. 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 hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all (53:4-6).
2. His perfect life is offered as a saving gift to each sinner. Both Isaiah and Matthew describe the holiness of Jesus as a legal covering for our guilt. His perfection is also a model for us to emulate in grateful response for the generosity of Calvary (Matthew 5:48).
3. The cross resolves the dilemma of God wanting to establish justice and be honest in dealing with the sin issue. Romans 3:25, 26: God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood,. He did this to demonstrate His justice . . . at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
4. With His death, Jesus pays the ransom price to purchase our deliverance. This is where theologians get painfully muddled up by fruitlessly asking: “Who was the ransom paid to?” The Bible nowhere states that God did business with Lucifer; the stark reality is that sin carries its own deadly curse (Romans 6:23), and Jesus has graciously provided the payment we can’t pay on our own.
5. Blood provides cleansing and renewal. Most of us consider blood to be a staining inconvenience, but in the Bible sin is portrayed as such a serious dilemma that only the sacrifice of a life can remedy our rebellion. Generals throughout history have lamented the price soldiers have paid “with their blood”; God rightly expresses His own grief against the deadliness of sin by calling death the inevitable result/penalty. Much as Karla Faye Tucker’s relatives and Christian husband were heartbroken that sin caused them to be separated from her for a while, God, who is determined to be just, honest, and merciful — all at the same time — has laid out for the watching world to see His willingness to sacrifice from within His own family in order to redeem us. Christians rightly reject the pagan idea of bloodshed placating an angry God, keeping in mind that Jesus coming to our world was God’s own gift to a lost human family. 2 Corinthians 5:19: God was IN CHRIST, reconciling the world unto Himself.
Salvation comes only from a resurrected Savior. The Bible is crystal clear in teaching that only because Jesus Himself conquered death can He save us. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (2 Corinthians 15:17). Jesus emerging from the tomb proves His divinity and displays the redemptive purpose of His journey to the cross.
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David B. Smith writes from California. His web page is Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information. Bible Bay