KNOWING CHRIST - KNOWING GOD

Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003

STUDY FIVE: JESUS CHRIST - BREAKER OF THE SIN-BARRIER: THE WAY BACK TO GOD

[This Study relates to Knowing Christ - Knowing God Worksheet 5 designed for use in group study situations. Some of the suggestions in the Study Tasks are specific for group study leaders; these can be adapted for personal study.]

A. EXILED BY GOD'S DECREE

The Old Testament teaches us that man by his sin has been separated from God and sent away from life in God's presence, banned, outlawed, exiled.

A.1 Driven out by God and barred from the tree of life.

Genesis 3:22-24: 'And the Lord God said: "Man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden ... After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.'

As we have already seen in Study 1: What are we here for? and as we will see later in this study series, real 'life' is life in union with God. To be cut off from God, to be banned from his presence, is to cease to live. Here, resulting from our rejection of God as he really is, this Genesis 3 real and physical banishment from the Garden of Eden is also the equally real spiritual banishment from life with God. God's judgement fell on us in Genesis 3 and we live out our lives under that judgement - severed and exiled from him who is our life.

A.2 Barred from the symbolic presence of God in the Tabernacle/Temple

Exodus 26:31-33: 'Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. ... place the ark of the Testimony behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.'

Leviticus 16:2: 'Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.'

The Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and the temple was the symbolic presence of God. It was a place no one was permitted to enter, except the High Priest once a year of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and even then strict requirements had to be observed or death would ensue. A great thick curtain kept everyone out; on this curtain were embroidered golden cherubim, barring the way to the presence of God.

A.3 Disqualified from living in the presence of God

Psalm 15:1: 'Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous ... .'

Psalm 24:3,4: 'Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart who does not lift up his soul to an idol ... '

Behind the symbolism of 'your sanctuary', 'your holy hill', 'the hill of the Lord' and 'his holy place', referring to Mt Zion in Jerusalem where the true worship of God was supposed to take place, these Psalms are asking 'Who is qualified to enter God's presence and survive? Who is qualified to enter God's presence, behold his glory, and live?' Their answer is that only the holy can stand in God's presence, only the pure are qualified, only the blameless and the righteous. By this statement everyone is excluded and disqualified. In ourselves, with our own puny, distorted and diminished perceptions of what is blameless, righteous, pure and holy, and our own feeble efforts to achieve even that minimal standard, we simply fall short of God's perfect standard [Romans 3:23]. As God told Moses generations earlier: 'no one can see me and live' [Exodus 33:20].

A.4 Separated from God by our sins so that he hides his face from us and will not hear us

Isaiah 59:2: ' ... your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.'

These words were spoken to the people of Israel, who, like Adam and Eve, had rejected God as he really is, and had substituted idols in his place. The foundational sin of rejection of God is the source that spews out all other sin and all other sins. They are but varied expressions of this one sin of idolatry - of putting our own concept of 'god' in the place of the One who alone is the true God. Sin separates man from God. Sin makes him hide his face from man. Sin makes him deliberately choose not to hear us. [It is an instructive exercise to read the Bible through and list all the references to this substitution of idols and/or occultish entities in the place of God. It is a theme that runs right through the Scripture, culminating in God's ultimate self-revelation in Jesus Christ his Son and man's rejection of him as he stood face to face before us. It is into this context of rejection of the one true God that Jesus came - God's final Word: man's final chance.

A.5 The New Testament also states beyond doubt this alienation from God:

Task #1: Get the group to look up the verses and write out the words in the verse or passage which refer to the alienation, separation, exile, banishment or disqualification of man from the presence of God and/or life with God. [They are identifieded below].

Luke 15:32

' ... he was dead and I alive again; he was lost and is found'

Luke 19:10

'the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.'

John 3:3,5

' ... cannot enter the kingdom of God'

Romans 1:24,26,28

'God gave them over ... '

Romans 5:10

'when we were God's enemies'

Romans 5:17

' ... by the trespass of one man death reigned.'

Ephesians 2:1(5)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins ... ;

Ephesians 2:13

' ... you who once were far away ...

Ephesians 4:18

'they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God ... '

Colossians 1:21

'Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds ... '

Task #2: Get the group to discuss the different ideas that men have thought up as ways to find reunion with 'god' and acceptance with 'god'. As we saw in the first study, man created his own gods to replace the One he had rejected and from whose presence he was exiled. Man also set up his own 'ways' of seeking acceptance by whatever 'god' he thinks is there. Even those who, like the Jews of Jesus' day, sincerely believe they are worshipping God, have their own perceptions of how a person gets back to 'god'.

You may have to help the group to identify such things as - keeping the law, doing good deeds, keeping the ten commandments, following the example of Jesus, sacrifices, offerings to gods, performing rituals, keeping special days, meditation, rote prayers, belonging to a particular group or organization, submitting to initiation rites, maintaining traditions, mystical experiences, ecstatic experiences, out-of-body experiences, occult practices, deliberate poverty, self-abasement, asceticism, giving of alms (charity), and so on.

If you wish you may decide to identify which groups teach which requirements.

Draw the attention of the group to the fact that all of these supposed ways back to God are something that man has to do. They are all in the realm of human performance.

B. JESUS CHRIST - THE WAY BACK TO THE ONE TRUE GOD

We have seen already that mankind has abandoned and lost knowledge of the one true God. From the first rejection of God in Genesis 3 right up to this present moment, man has conceived and made for himself gods of his own imagining and gods of his own fabrication. We have seen that this loss of the knowledge of the one true God, this loss of God, is the primary significance of our lostness. Our present and continuing sin is the expression and the result of this primary lostness.

We have already seen Jesus Christ identifies the one true God. He stands before us as says: If you see me you see God; if you know me you know God. He renders all other god concepts false and redundant. In this way, and it is first significant way without which the second is meaningless, Jesus is the Way. This is the primary significance of the John 14:6 statement taken in its context. Jesus, in his person, in his identity, in his essential being, is the Way to know the one true God, because he, Jesus, is God. Here we are called and challenged to return to the one true God whom we rejected in Genesis 3.

C. JESUS CHRIST - THE ONE WAY TO BE REUNITED WITH THE ONE TRUE GOD

Yet it is not enough to see the one true God in seeing Jesus, it is not enough to know that this is God. For immediately we know that here in this Jesus we are standing in the presence of God Almighty, that here we are face to face with him the seraphim adore with their 'Holy, holy, holy' - immediately we know this, we also know that we are sinners, severed from him forever by our sin, condemned to eternal separation from him who is the very source of our life, and on whom we are dependent for our every breath. It is not enough just to see him, just to recognize him.

That is why Paul says in Ephesians that God has lavished his grace on us 'with all wisdom and understanding'. He knows that we need to be saved from more than our ignorance of him; we need to be saved from our sin and its condemnation as well. He needs to provide us not just with the way to know him, but also with the way to be reunited with him. Thus Jesus comes to us, not just to glorify the Father and reveal him to us, but also, having shown us who he is, to then do what was necessary to qualify us to come back into his presence. It is in this respect that we will look at Jesus in this study: Jesus - our way back into a permanent, positive relationship with the one true God.

C.1 The critical question: how can sinful man live in the presence of the holy God?

This is a question about the way: In what way, by what means or method, that is, how, can we enter God's presence and survive? We have already looked at our utter banishment and disqualification from God and life. We have considered ways that men have tried to get back to 'god', ways that all focus on our own actions or performance. We have seen that the criteria for entry into God's presence are beyond us. So we are faced with an impossible quest. We are disqualified, and we have no means of meeting the criteria for qualification.

Into this hopeless, impotent, impossible situation God sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world, to provide for us a permanent and effective way back through every barrier and impediment into the very presence of God.

C.2 Jesus Christ: the way past/through the sin-barrier between man and God

We saw above in Genesis 3 and Exodus 26 that because of sin there is a barrier barring the way to the presence of God. In the tabernacle and temple this barrier was effectively symbolised by the physical barrier of the curtain or veil, with its golden cherubim a reminder of the Genesis 3 cherubim.

The Gospels tell us that at the very moment Christ died on the cross this curtain, which barred the access of man into the symbolic presence of God, was torn in two from top to bottom [Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45]. This rending of the curtain indicates that he death of Jesus removed the sin barrier once and for all, setting us free to enter the very presence of God.

This removal, this lifting away of the barrier, is a key significance of the word for 'forgiveness' most frequently used in the New Testament: aphiemi (verb) aphesis (noun). This word is formed from apo (away) and hiemi (I send). It speaks of release. The death of Jesus Christ, in which he bore our sin, took the sin-barrier up and out of the way, setting us free to live with God. [Hence in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14 'forgiveness of sins' is an explanation of 'redemption', which means 'freedom' achieved by the payment of a price.] The word is used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) in Leviticus 25:10 to refer to the liberty/release granted to people and/or property in bondage because of debt during the Year of Jubilee - the Year of Freedom. This Year of Freedom symbolized the spiritual release purchased and granted by Jesus Christ:

'"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." Then he rolled up the scroll ... and he began by saying them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." ' [Luke 4:18-21].

Jesus is not speaking here on the physical plane, otherwise he would have been breaking prisoners out of the Judean and Galilean jails. Rather, he is speaking of the spiritual plane: of the release and freedom of us sinners who were held fast in exile from God's presence by the sin barrier.

C.3 The meaning of forgiveness

The Lord is so keen for us to enjoy his forgiveness - to live in the liberty of this forgiveness, to live with the truth that the sin barrier has been taken away - that he has scattered images of forgiveness right through the Scriptures. Please go to the study on Forgiveness from the Words of Salvation studies on this website for input on the images of forgiveness listed below which portray the many faceted meaning of forgiveness.

God's forgiveness is an immense concept; its implications reach into our every moment. Hopefully this study will be sufficient to give you insight into the incredible unexpectedness of God's act of forgiveness, and the liberating, motivating impact this undeserved act of God has on our lives.

As you study these images remember that the promise of forgiveness is given to people with genuine faith in the Biblical God.

  1. Forgiveness is God throwing our sins behind his back [Isaiah 38:17].
  2. Forgiveness is God canceling our debt [Matthew 18:21-35].
  3. Forgiveness is God nailing our sins to the cross of Christ [Colossians 2:13,14].
  4. Forgiveness is God removing our sins from us as far as the east is from the west Psalm 103:12]
  5. Forgiveness is God throwing our sins into the deepest sea [Micah 7:19c].
  6. Forgiveness is God stamping on our sins [Micah 7:19b].
  7. Forgiveness is God washing away the record of our sins [1John 1:9; Psalm 51:1,2]. [Note to study leader: be careful here, most people have a wrong conception of what 'cleansing from sin' means'.]
  8. Forgiveness is God covering our sins [Psalm 32:1; 85:2].
  9. Forgiveness is God hiding his face from our sins [Psalm 51:9].
  10. Forgiveness is God setting us free [Leviticus 25:8-54; Isaiah 61:1,2; Luke 4:16-21]
  11. Forgiveness is an act of God's grace [Colossians 2:13].

These then are images God gives us to ensure we understand the great thing he does when he forgives us. Rather than make us think that with a forgiveness like this it doesn't matter if we sin, this forgiveness is so overwhelming, so unexpected, so undeserved, so absolute, so costly to our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, that we, with the Psalmist, ought constantly to pray:

'If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are feared' (Psalm 130:3,4).

Task #3: Have the group discuss these images of forgiveness and discover how each of these images in its own way teaches us how the death of Jesus Christ removes the sin-barrier and takes us into the presence of God. You will need to teach them here, so that they grasp the amazing nature of God's forgiveness, as not only something that God does, but also as something that they possess as a sheer gift of his grace. Even here in our understanding of forgiveness our human ego intervenes and wants to make our on-going forgiveness dependent on something we do - eg. Make an itemized list of our sins - instead of seeing forgiveness as the perpetual possession of the believer.

D. THE 'MECHANICS' OF JESUS' BREAKING THE SIN-BARRIER DOWN

God is just and holy. He cannot act in contradiction of his own laws. He cannot do what is wrong. His decree of forgiveness in Christ does not mean that he has suddenly relaxed or removed his standards and his criteria. They both remain. Only the pure in heart, only the holy, can live in his presence. Sin still exiles man from his presence. The wages of sin is still death. None of that has changed. All the criteria that outlawed and barred us from life in the presence of God still stand.

How then does Jesus Christ break the sin-barrier and take us safely, securely and permanently into God's presence to live with him both now and forever?

D.1 By means of his perfect human life

Although we rightly focus on the death of Jesus Christ, that death would achieve nothing if Jesus Christ had not lived a perfect life. This is because:

- Only that which is perfect and without blemish can be offered as a sacrifice to God

  • Exodus 12:5: the Passover lamb
  • Leviticus 1:3, 10: the burnt offering
  • Leviticus 3:1,6: the fellowship offering
  • Leviticus 4:3, 23, 28, 32: the sin offering
  • Leviticus 5:15, 18: the guilt offering

Jesus could only take our sins and bear the punishment for them if he had no sins of his own to be punished for.

- To bear our sin as our substitute and to enter the presence of God as our great High Priest it was necessary for him to be one of us, and to have experienced real human life.

Hebrews 2:14, 16,17: ' Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity ... it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.'

D.2 By means of his redeeming, sacrificial and substitutionary death

The Bible teaches that the death of Jesus Christ is the effective means by which God dealt with our sins and removed the sin-barrier which exiled us from his presence by his own decree. This death of Jesus is seen as:

Concept
Reference
Text

Ransom/

Redemption

This concept is rich with OT examples which are symbolic of the ultimate redemption which is in Christ. Time does not allow a study of these images. If anyone wants to study these they should do a concordance check on 'ransom',

'redeem', 'redemption', and 'redeemer'.

Job 19:25

'I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.'

Isaiah 44:22

'I have swept away your offences like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.'

Isaiah 51:11

'The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.'

Matthew 20:28

'The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'

John 1:29

"Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

Galatians 3:13,14

'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us so that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus ... '

Galatians 4:4,5

'God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons ... '

1 Tim. 2:6

' ... who gave himself as a ransom for all men ... '

Titus 2:14

'Jesus Christ ... gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own ... '

1 Peter 1:18,19

'For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.'

Revelation 5:9

"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation ... "

Sacrifice

Also anticipated in OT symbols,

and intimately connected with the concept of ransom/

redemption

Ephesians 5:2

' ... just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.'

Hebrews 7:27

'He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.'

Hebrews 9:14

'How much more, then will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death ... '

Hebrews 9:26,28

' ... Christ ... has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself ... so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people ... '

Hebrews 10:10,12,14

' ... we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all ... when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God . ... by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy ... '

Substitution

In each of these references the word translated 'for' is huper, which means:

in place of, instead of,

on behalf of.

The concept of substitution is imbedded in the OT sacrifices in which the sacri-ficial animal was killed in place of the offerer.

Romans 5:6

' ... just at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.'

Romans 5:8

'God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.'

Romans 8:32

'He ... did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all ... '

1 Cor 5:7 KJV

'Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.'

2 Cor 5:14

' ... we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. '

2 Cor 5:21

'God made him who had no sin to be sin for us ... '

Galatians 3:13

'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us ... '

Eph 5:2

' ... Christ ... gave himself up for us ... '

1 Thess 5:10

'He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.'

Titus 2:14

'Jesus Christ ... gave himself for us ... '

1 Peter 2:21

' ... Christ ... suffered for you ... '

1 Peter 3:18

'Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. '

1 Peter 4:1 KJV

' ... Christ has suffered for us in the flesh ... '

1 John 3:16

' ... Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.'

Task #4: Look up the above verses in their context and discuss what the context teaches about the implication of these truths for our permanent reconnection with God, and the way we should relate God and others.

D.3 By means of his resurrection

The resurrection is of critical significance for the breaking of the sin-barrier and our reconnection with God. It does three things:

  • It validates all that Jesus claimed about himself. Without the resurrection his claims to be the Son of God, and therefore God, are proved false, and the Jews were right in their determination to kill him for the sin of blasphemy. Romans 1:4 states that he was declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.
  • It proves and guarantees that he had the authority to pay for our sins because he had none of his own incurring condemnation and death. Had he stayed dead he would obviously be justly dying the death penalty for his own sins. [Acts 2:24-32; Romans 4:24; 1 Peter 1:3]
  • It guarantees our present possession of eternal life (life in the presence of God), and our future bodily resurrection. [This will be a focus in a later study.]

D.4 By means of his ascension to the right hand of God [the current/continuing cause]

Jesus enters the presence of God as our Great High Priest, who offered the ultimate and final sacrifice for our sin. He is in God's presence, at his right hand, not only as the rightful Lord of all to whom all honour and glory is due, but as our perfect representative - his presence there is our guarantee that we also are there right now, in him, in the presence of God. His presence there is our permanent access. He intercedes as our Mediator - not in constantly repeated pleas for God to show mercy to us, but as our permanent Mediator in whom, and only in whom, we have access to God in prayer, in worship, in everything. [Hebrews 6:19,20; 9:24; 10:19-23.]

There is no task relating to these last two points. If you wish you could challenge the group to think through [1] the implications of denial of the resurrection (which is common in churches with liberal theology), and [2] the implications of the common misconception that Jesus is in God's presence verbally and repeatedly begging the Father to forgive us, rather than Christ being present there as our perfect, constant Mediator and representative so effectively that God only, always and ever sees us in Christ.