Many years ago, Mr. Hebert W. Armstrong admonished the entire Church that although we preached powerfully about Christ's second coming, the government of God and the law of God, we tended to leave out proper emphasis on the tremendous sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us in pouring out His blood as our Savior!
Mr. Armstrong noted that we rarely talked much about Christ's sacrifice, except at Passover-time. He said this was probably his own fault, because—coming out of Protestantism as he did—he had realized how many people overemphasize this and fall into sentimentality, to the exclusion of Christ's message. Nevertheless, Mr. Armstrong reminded us, Christ's death and sacrifice are absolutely vital to Christianity, a vital part of the Christian message.
Then Mr. Armstrong went on to show how important it is for all true Christians to have a deep and abiding appreciation of Christ's sacrifice all through the year. I do not remember how much he went into detail about this. But I remember his heartfelt public "repentance"—so to speak—telling us that he felt we had not emphasized Christ's sacrifice nearly as much as we should. Now, also, I feel led by God to help all of us focus on this vital issue—and, again, not just at Passover-time!
Brethren, you and I must constantly realize that we are, in fact, forgiven sinners. If we do not realize this, we are probably not even converted! For, as God tells us in a number of places, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." So, we ought to stand constantly in the realization of that fact—aware of the tremendous debt each of us owes not only to God the Father, but also to the real Jesus Christ of the Bible.
Yes, we must always remember our Lord and Master. So, we must obey both Christ and the Father— and must truly "walk" in His ways and keep His commandments. In doing so, we should certainly continue to focus on the soon-coming Christ as King of kings—and should prepare earnestly for this awesome event.
But, before all this, we should have realized our own wretchedness and sinfulness. We should have deeply repented of our personal sins. And, as converted Christians, we should have the continuing realization of the awfulness of sin. Otherwise, it may be too easy to take Christ for granted and slip right back into sin. We need to realize our need for the shedding of blood to cover our sins, and realize that it had to be the shed blood of the very Son of God who created us and whose life is worth more than all of ours put together! For the Bible tells us— many times and in many ways—that only shed blood can fully "cover" our sins. The book of Hebrews explains: "Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you'" (Hebrews 9:18–20). Paul then completes the picture by writing, "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission" (v. 22).
From the very beginning, God's plan pointed toward the need for Christ's blood. For Abel, the child of Adam and Eve, "brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering" (Genesis 4:4). Undoubtedly, God had shown Abel that the "blood sacrifice" of an animal was necessary for his offering. So, this very first offering the Bible describes involved the shedding of blood. We read: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11). When God gave the "father of the faithful" the supreme test of his total yieldedness to God, what did He do? He told Abraham to shed the blood of his only legitimate son! For Isaac, as most of us realize, was a direct type of Christ. Isaac willingly went to the top of the mountain with Abraham, and apparently did not resist as Abraham tied him up and laid him on top of the altar as a sacrifice. At the very last minute, as Abraham "stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son," God called out to Abraham to stop, and told him, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son from Me" (Genesis 22:9–12).
Later, as God directed Israel to keep the first Passover, He told the Israelites to slay "an unblemished lamb." This unblemished male lamb was, of course, a direct type of Jesus Christ who would later become the "Lamb of God." The lamb's blood had to be shed, for God told the Israelites to take some of the blood and put it on the doorposts and the lintels of the houses where they were to eat the Passover. He stated: "Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:13). The Bible makes it exceedingly clear that God will not "pass over" our sins unless we are truly "under the blood" of Jesus Christ our Savior. Brethren, we must always—always—remember and appreciate this stark fact!
And, much more than most of us probably do, we should constantly think about and appreciate the sacrifice Jesus Christ made in literally giving His blood as payment for our sins! For, again and again, we find the New Testament writers focusing on this vital realization. The Apostle Paul wrote, "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7). Later, Paul told the Ephesians that, when they were unconverted Gentiles, they "were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:12–13).
Similarly, as Paul wrote to the Colossians, "He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13–14). Only through Christ's shed blood can we have genuine forgiveness of sins. And how much we need constant forgiveness of our sins, dear brethren, all through the year!
Near the very end of the New Testament, the Apostle John wrote, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:6–7). Notice John's wording that Christ continually "cleanses us" from all sin. It is not that we have only our past sins forgiven. Rather, as our High Priest, Christ continually cleanses us and purges us so we can truly reflect the nature of God. For, "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the Truth is not in us!" So, we must "confess" our sins—repent of our sins. Then, Christ will continue to clean us up, fashion and mold us, and work with us through the remainder of our lives (vv. 9–10).
Brethren, it is very easy to become spiritually "uppity"—and to forget that we are simply living within God's grace because of the horrifying suffering our Savior went through when He shed His blood for us! Remember, we did deserve to die. For we did sin—and, if we are honest, we will acknowledge that we all continue to sin in many ways through our selfishness, vanity, lust and greed! May God help each of us to focus on this fact more frequently, all through the year. May God help us to constantly appreciate what He did for us through Jesus Christ. May he give us a more full and personal appreciation of Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, living Head, High Priest and coming King! May God help all of us to focus on all of these facets of Jesus Christ— what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do as our continuing Savior, High Priest and coming King.
For me, one of the most motivating passages of the New Testament is found in Philippians 1:19–21. Here Paul showed the Philippians that— through their prayers and the Spirit of Jesus Christ—God would undoubtedly deliver him from the "chains" he was in. Paul purposed that "with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
Do you and I fervently wish that our Savior may be "magnified" in our bodies—whether by life or by death? Are we willing to give our lives as living sacrifices now—really? Are we willing to give our lives—if need be—as martyrs to honor Christ in death, if it comes to that?
Can we say, with Paul, that "for to me to live is Christ?" Is our entire purpose in living to reflect Jesus Christ, to do His Work and to honor His name because He died for us? Obviously, not one of us does all of this perfectly! But this is an ideal—a realistic goal—for which we should all strive and pray! Daily, each of us should ask God to cleanse our mind and heart, and to help us genuinely focus on His purpose in giving us life and breath. We should ask the Father to help us focus on His purpose in allowing His Son to die for us. In doing so, we should become willing and even anxious to glorify Christ in everything we think, say and do!
As Paul wrote a little later, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5–8). As we have so often explained, Christ knowingly and deliberately "emptied Himself" (v. 7) in giving up the totality of the glory and power He had shared with the Father from eternity.
Jesus Christ—our Savior—was willing to empty Himself of the awesome glory and magnificence He had shared with the Father, because they together had planned to reproduce themselves through human beings. For God, as we know, "created all things through Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:9). From eternity, the Word and the Father had planned to make human beings in their image, "as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" (Ephesians 1:4). Because of this unfathomable love for us—which, in our own selfishness, we find difficult to understand—God and Christ were willing to go to tremendous lengths to enlarge their family. They decided that the Word would die for the creation, through shedding His blood as a human being. They decided to accomplish this through crucifixion—one of the most slow, agonizing and humiliating deaths ever invented by a depraved humanity under Satan's influence!
We all know this. We have all heard this. Yet we often forget to focus on this, and we fail to get down on our knees every morning to thank God and thank Christ—with deep appreciation—for what they have done, are doing and will do. Brethren, we are Christians. That is the focus of our entire calling—we are "bought and paid for" by the blood of Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that. Let us never become so spiritually proud of ourselves that we lose the deep sense of humility we ought to have as forgiven sinners.
Through this realization, we can keep our spiritual balance much better. We can better sense our own day-to-day need for God. We can more easily forgive one another when a brother or sister sins, and we ought to forgive them as God has forgiven us.
May God help each of us truly focus on this wonderful realization. Let us build the habit of honoring, praising and worshiping Jesus Christ—for what He did for us, for what He is doing now in our lives as He fashions and molds us and helps us overcome, and for what He will do as He works with the Father in deciding "where we fit" as kings and priests in His coming Kingdom.
Remember, dear brethren, God will never be "jealous" of our affection for and worship of His Son. For God tells us in John's gospel, as in scores of other similar places in His word, "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him" (John 5:22–23).
Truly, brethren, we should honor the Son deeply as we go forth all over this world in preaching His message, as we do His Work and as we live His way—bringing genuine honor on the name of Christ who died for us.