Once upon a time there was an adulterer—a serial adulterer. Her unfaithfulness to her husband was not a one time affair of weakness, but repeated and continual over many years. Many times the husband pleaded with her to change her ways. Instead, she offered him sacrifices of gold and money and beautiful buildings and self-inflicted suffering and words, lots of words.
If you think this was bad, the adulterous wife thought she was safe and secure in the ultimate sacrifice of their son’s body. She interpreted the fruit of their marital love as an offering that covered her sins. She justified her right to live in the house by the blood of their son. She called it, “Grace, forgiveness, atonement, salvation.”
This parable describes most of Christian church history and most of Christianity today. A shallow view of what happened on the cross leads directly to a shallow experience and a superficial theology to justify it. Sadly, it is rare to find a Christian that understands Christ’s sacrifice on the cross—the central teaching of their religion! Historically, Christians have reviled Jews, but make a similar fundamental mistake.
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6-7)
Can an adulterous relationship be fixed with trinkets or diamonds or petty bribes?
The Christian thinks himself better because he does not offer God the blood of lambs, but instead offers Him the blood of Christ. They think that a physical offering solves a spiritual problem!
In their view, physical disobedience led to a physical relocation outside of Paradise. Therefore, a physical sacrifice will result in physical relocation back to Heaven. Their belief and trust boils down to this simplistic, immature model.
Of course, the real problem is a soul problem. We have disconnected our trust in God and placed our faith, hope, and love in ourselves. This spiritual problem can only be solved by a spiritual solution. Selfishness can only be transformed by unselfishness. Guilt, fear, pride, greed, lust, hate, rage, and all other darkness in the soul can be washed away only by another Soul filled with forgiveness, encouragement, humility, generosity, compassion, love, and calm. The physical blood draining from a physical body on a physical cross is only the parable, the carrier, the visible channel of communication for the outpouring of infinite spiritual love. Inside the body on the cross was a soul that sacrificed himself in the hope that we would exchange our souls with him.
The Bible records stories that form a pattern that lead us to the ultimate soul sacrifice.
Adam and Eve
In the beginning, “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) At the very start, God gives pieces of His soul to form human souls.
The word, soul, is used in the Bible to describe a physically and spiritually integrated human being, often with the emphasis on the spiritual. Man’s life was not the ordinary biological life of animals. It also had the component of a divinely breathed soul—a higher, inner nature.
This soul was capable of making choices based on faith, hope, and love. Because of background events we will explore later, a simple public loyalty test was devised. They were prohibited from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
However, they doubted the infinite good person and acted on it. They immediately felt the natural consequences. They lost their physical robes of light and felt spiritual shame, guilt, and blame. Their evil was a blend of spiritual choice and physical action, and so were the results.
Before being expelled from Eden, the pair were given a promise: “I will put enmity between you [the puppet serpent used by Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
To help the now darkened, fearful souls remember and not give up hope, a simple system of sacrifice was given. It reminded them of the ultimate effect of sin, but also pointed forward to the Promised Seed—the Savior to come. Spiritual truth was embedded in the physical sacrifice.
For thousands of years this ceremony taught its lesson. Then another significant layer of truth was added.
Abraham and Isaac
The story of Abraham and his young son, Isaac, is unique in the Bible. It is the only time God asked someone to violate His ten commandments to kill an innocent victim.
"And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do you anything unto him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son." (Genesis 22:9-13)
Hearing is remembering and seeing is believing, but experiencing is knowing. By experience Abraham came to know the pain of God in sacrificing His only Son. God would not let the patriarch offer Isaac to Him, but God would offer Jesus to us. God does not require us to appease Him. Rather, He appeases our unjust anger.
Several hundred years later, Moses stood on the top of Mt. Sinai receiving the ten commandments written with God's own finger. Meanwhile, the descendants of Abraham were at the base wildly worshiping a golden calf as their new leader to guide them back to the Egyptian slavery from which they had just been delivered.
"And it came to pass the next day, that Moses said unto the people, You have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; perhaps I shall make an atonement for your sin. And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if you will forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray you out of your book which you have written. And the LORD said unto Moses, Whoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book." (Exodus 32:30-33)
In contrast to Abraham being ordered to take a life, Moses volunteered to give his. But notice what life he was offering. He said, "Blot me...out of your book." Moses was not merely offering his physical, temporary life, but he was volunteering to give his spiritual, eternal life for his people. The book—in modern terms, the database—was the list of all who should be granted eternal life.
Though he was not permitted to follow through with this soul offering, was this not a sacrifice on Moses' part? He stood to lose everything for a wicked people who deserved nothing. Simply out of selfless love, the leader offered to sacrifice his eternal life on their behalf so they could gain entrance to the Promised Land.
But what was God's response? Just as with Abraham, He would not let Moses sacrifice his life. Everyone will enter or not enter on the basis of their own decisions. Whoever loves evil, will be denied entrance. Whoever is transformed to love good will be admitted. The only way out of this spiritual quarantine is spiritual transformation.
And how does all this relate to the cross? Just as the Transformer is greater than those transformed, so the sacrifice on the cross must be greater than Abraham’s or Moses’ sacrifices.
Hanged on a tree
Moving forward in history, the Israelites are established in the promised land and given this command: "If a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and you hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall in any case bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that your land be not defiled, which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)
The standard method of Hebrew execution was stoning, but if the crime was so terrible and/or the criminal so unrepentant that the morale of the nation was threatened, then the dead body was to be hanged from a tree. This showed that not only the sentence of government had been carried out, but the criminal was also under the curse of God for eternity.
With this in mind, the crucifixion of Jesus on two cross beams made from a tree takes on greater significance: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree." (Galatians 3:13)
The sinner, by the natural consequences which he himself set in motion, is doomed to death not only of the body, but also of the soul. Christ permitted Himself to be hung on a tree to show that He was taking on our soul death. We die the death of the body so we have a visible example of the results of sin, but Jesus took on our eternal death so that we have hope of a resurrection.
In summary, Abraham and Isaac teach us that God will die in our place. Moses teaches us that Christ volunteered to give up His eternal life for us. And the tree tells us that Jesus suffered the soul death on our behalf.
The poetic sadness of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah now becomes rich in meaning.
"Who has believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he has no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:1-3) A Savior from selfishness does not come with the drama and violence of a superhero, but with the spiritual patience of a loving father and the gentleness of a good mother.
"Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 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. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:4-6) The proud world looks on the cross as a humiliating curse, and it was. Our curse is placed upon the Lamb of God.
"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7-9) We thought Jesus was dying a pointless death, but He suffered the death that was ours.
"Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:10-12) The Son of God did not only die a physical death for three days, but He offered up His infinite soul so that our souls could be filled with His eternal life.
The psalmist added more to the picture of body and soul sacrifice.
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalms 22:1-3) Those very words Christ uttered on the cross. Why? Because God's loving goodness is holy. It refuses to compromise or partake of evil. So when the penalty for our transgressions was placed on Jesus, then the Father had to separate Himself from His own Son. That is the greatest and final curse that anyone can ever suffer.
The psalm goes on to foretell some of the physical circumstances of the crucifixion. “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue clings to my jaws; and you have brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.” (Psalms 22:14-18)
"I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: my eyes fail while I wait for my God. They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head: they that would destroy me, being my enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away." (Psalms 69:2-4) In His mind, the Savior knew that He was personally innocent. No one could convict Him of a single sin or a moment of selfishness. (see John 8:46) Yet, the sins of a guilty world were being poured upon His tender, sympathetic soul. He was sinking under the flood of the world's evil.
"Because for your sake I have borne reproach; shame has covered my face. I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children. For the zeal of your house has eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached you are fallen upon me. When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became a proverb to them. They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards. But as for me, my prayer is unto you O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of your mercy hear me, in the truth of your salvation. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. Hear me, O LORD; for your lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of your tender mercies. And hide not your face from your servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily. Draw near unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me because of my enemies. You have known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonor my adversaries are all before you. Reproach has broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none." (Psalms 69:7-20)
Here we see the depths of love contrasted with the depths of selfishness. The very sinners for whom Christ was dying, heaped up scorn and accusation against Him. Because He suffered under the load of our sins, we, by our lives of ingratitude and disrespect, pile up accusations against Him as if the sins were His! We commit the spiritual crimes of selfishness and evil, then judge Him guilty as if He were the criminal! But the Son of God bore the reproach and let His face be covered in shame so that we could see the deceitfulness of sin and to what twisted lengths it will go to defend itself. We long for innocence, yet we despise the innocent and make him suffer.
“O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you, incline your ear unto my cry; For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draws near unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that has no strength: Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom you remember no more: and they are cut off from your hand. You have laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps. Your wrath lies hard upon me, and you have afflicted me with all your waves. You have put away my acquaintance far from me; you have made me an abomination unto them: I am shut up, and I cannot come forth.” (Psalms 88:1-8)
Imagine coming to the end of your life and then you are transported to the pearly gates of heaven. You see the glory within. You hear the music and sense the peace and happiness. You think your troubles are about to end. Then you are told the terrible, undeniable truth. You are selfish and hopelessly evil. You are then cast down into a dark, bottomless pit. You sink. You rush ever downward with no hope of rescue. You cry out for help, but your voice is swallowed up in the dense darkness and nobody can hear you. You are about to meet your eternal doom without any way of escape. You are an abomination to life itself. You are shut up and cannot come forth.
This is the penalty that Christ took on your behalf. During those dark hours on the cross, the ultimate consequences of your life of self-centered evil and disobedience was poured into His very soul. And He willingly swallowed it all. Every drop. Every pang of remorse. Every sigh of regret. His soul took the place of your soul. In fact, His soul became your soul. He who knew no sin became sin for us. Christ descended into the darkness that you might one day live in the light.
The psalm continues: “My eye mourns by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon you. I have stretched out my hands unto you. Will you show wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise you? Shall your lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or your faithfulness in destruction? Shall your wonders be known in the dark? and your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? But unto you have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer come before you. LORD, why cast you off my soul? why hide you your face from me? I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer your terrors I am distracted. Your fierce wrath goes over me; your terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they surrounded me about together. Lover and friend have you put far from me, and my acquaintance into darkness." (Psalms 88:9-18)
In the great day of final judgment, those who have not made Christ's soul their soul will die alone. In terror and abandonment, cut off from the goodness of God, those who instead choose to cling to evil will discover the full results of their own handiwork. God is too good to torture the sinner. He will not pile on the blame and the shame they so richly deserve. Rather, the selfish are left to reap the harvest of their own planting. They are left to the darkness they have been gathering to themselves their whole lives. They die in the dark, deep graves they have dug with their own hands, and they will recognize every cubic inch.
In this life, we often flatter ourselves that we can get away with our selfish schemes, that somehow we can escape the consequences. To a degree this is true, but only because God took our consequences upon Himself to buy us time. He then lets us experience only a small portion that we are able to bear and from which to learn.
The promised Seed amplified all these lessons.
He said, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) If the result of sin is twofold, then so is the sacrifice for sin.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Truly truly I say unto you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by me.” (John 6:51-57)
Obviously, Jesus was speaking in metaphor. He continued, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)
It is neither the body death nor the physical eating of flesh that profits us. Yet, the physical sacrifice is needed to make it real and visible to us. Jesus became human, which is an integration of both the physical and spiritual. The physical was the channel through which infinite sacrifice was poured because Christ was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) God always sacrifices all for us. He holds nothing back.
The three dark hours on the cross
“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.” (Matthew 27:45) Before that time, Jesus spoke with those around him. After those hours, he spoke only to God. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.46)
The Son of God is in Isaac’s place, wondering why his Father is about to kill him. Jesus is making the soul sacrifice that Moses was not allowed to make. He is hanging on a tree suffering the curse of eternal separation from his Father, who was also suffering.
“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.... For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (2 Cor. 5:18-21)
During those three hours, Christ “by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Hebrews 2:9)
Some interpret this as “scapegoating.” That is where an innocent person is blamed for the crimes of others. However, the Bible does not permit scapegoating.
“The soul that sins, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20)
On the cross, Jesus died for us as us. This enables us to live in Him.
By way of illustration, imagine your life as a timeline that began at birth and (hopefully) stretches on into eternity. The first segment of 50, 70, or maybe 100 years is your life on earth. This part of your timeline is dirty from your selfish sins and with the pain inflicted by the evil of others. By the death of Christ this part of the timeline is guaranteed to you to make up your mind about God and evil and eternity. (Romans 5:18) But your choice alone cannot atone for your evil. Self cannot put self to death. Eternity cannot be chosen or entered by selfish reasons.
Therefore, Jesus takes your timeline upon Himself. The soul He gave you He takes back upon Himself with all its guilt and selfishness. Every selfish moment you have ever lived, every evil decision you have ever made, is placed upon Jesus. Then He chooses to take the consequence for each of those choices. He does not just casually wave His hand and disinterestedly says, Yeah I will pay the price. No, he relives our lives intimately and personally, because He is infinite God, and loves us in detail and in spite of those details. Not in a mighty gulp of the cup, but drop by drop, the Savior consciously pays the price for our sins and makes a way of escape for each one. He lives our life and heals our life, not missing one wound, one scratch, one pain.
Now how could Jesus live our life of decades in only three hours? Well, this is where we bow in gratitude and ignorance. Imagine your timeline, instead of stretching left to right as usual, is now stood on end. And next to yours is someone else's timeline and next to theirs is somebody else's. Timelines have a long length, but no width. In three hours billions upon billions of timelines can be stood next to each other like a tightly packed picket fence.
Then, starting with Adam and Eve and moving in chronological order, Jesus experiences life after life after life. He suffers death after death after death. In the multi-dimensional physics of God, Jesus suffers a lifetime of death, then, in our time, it is only an instant later and He experiences the next lifetime. Nobody is missed. Not one sin is overlooked nor left unpaid. Jesus pays the fullness of eternal death for every precious soul that has ever walked the earth, and yet only three hours of earth time have passed. Spiritual wormholes?! Time warps of the soul?! I really don't know exactly how He did it, but somehow God paid the full price—suffered the full consequence—for every sin of every sinner. Whether it took three hours, three years, or three centuries, it is a miracle of love and self-sacrificing suffering.
Now, because Jesus put Himself in my place, I can just begin to understand why “about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
It was not a show. It was an experience—my experience because of my selfishness. Because the only way to deliver me from my selfish motives is to pay the price for my evil deeds and demonstrate total selfless love focused on me, Jesus died for me. He sacrificed His eternity with the Father that I might have eternity restored to me. And now, because I see and accept the unselfish truth about God, I give up my rights, my demands, my pride in exchange for a life that is truly living and loving. Because He lived for me, I choose to live for Him.
But how can I do that? My soul is “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) When I make a choice for goodness, I make it by the power of Christ’s soul. “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
The soul sacrifice on the cross is not scapegoating, nor is it the commonly believed half-substitution. It is a full substitution resulting in full transformation. Jesus takes my evil soul and fills my body with his good soul. It is a complete trade in which I gain and he loses. I “sacrifice” my selfish, guilty soul to Him who sacrificed His eternally living soul for me.
In your words:
What if Jesus died for only 99% of the people? What if He sacrificed only 99% of Himself? What is the difference between a complete sacrifice and an almost complete sacrifice? Would you rather keep your selfish way of doing things, or would you rather have Jesus unselfishly live in and through you?