Posts Tagged ‘substitutionary sacrifice’

Numbers 3:40-51

Redeeming the Firstborn Sons

Yesterday was July 4, 2016. It was the 240th anniversary of our declaration of being an independent nation from England. Although the declaration was signed in July 1776, the war had begun with skirmishes in the previous year, 1775. The war lasted 8 long years. It was a long war. It was a tough war and many sacrifices were made by the firstborn sons of our new nation. A generation of young men and old sacrificed time away from their family for long stretches of time. A generation of men, some gave their lives in the cause they we felt was right – release from tyranny, rule without representation. There farms that were lost because of the sacrifice of many of these men. There were families displaced by the war. These were brave men who risked the lives of themselves but also of anyone who aided them including their families. For, as a British colony living under British rule, what they were doing was treasonous. We may speak out against our President and nothing happens to us really, but back then, to speak out against the crown much less fight against it was a death sentence if you were captured. And, the British, as most nations were in those days and prior, were none to kind to those captured and sentenced for treason. They were killed for sure but were tortured beforehand. In our cushy lifestyles in the 21st century, we forget the great risk at which this nation was born. We were a rag-tag, ill-equipped, ill-financed bunch of rebels against our mother nations, against the crown of the royal family of England. We were born at great risk because if we had lost the war, the British would have come down hard on these American colonies. There would have been no America as we know it. America might never have expanded beyond those colonial, east coast borders. There would have been no spirit of capitalism that made this the nation of the common who could make himself great.


The thing that makes me take the greatest pause though is this generation of men who risked life, liberty and limb to gain our nation’s independence from England. We owe a great deal to these men. We would not be the great nation that we are today without these rebellious band of men from Boston to Savannah. Without their sacrifice, we would not be a nation where the ideal is that anyone can be who they wanted to be. These men changed the world. The American Revolution led to the crumbling of the elitist world which existed at the time. Revolution of the common man spread through Europe and around the world after that. Even our mother country no longer is a country truly ruled by its monarchy. For all the attention we pay to the royal family in England, they are meaningless to British law today. They have no power anymore. Great sacrifices were made by this generation of Americans to change the world. These were the firstborn sons of freedom. These were the firstborn sons of the new American nation. To them, we owe a great deal of honor, respect and gratitude for the nation that they gave us, the world that they gave us. We were redeemed from tyranny, as we colonists saw it, by the sacrifice of these firstborn sons of freedom. We are the redeemed from the slavery of tyranny of a far-off king by the sacrifice of these, the firstborn sons of America.


It was that idea of redemption that played a role in my thoughts of our still-young nation yesterday as we celebrated with fireworks, good food, and good friends. It is that thought of redemption that continues this morning when I read through this passage, Numbers 3:40-51, that we will read together below:


40 The Lord said to Moses, “Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. 41 Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the Lord.”


42 So Moses counted all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the Lord commanded him. 43 The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273.


44 The Lord also said to Moses, 45 “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the Lord. 46 To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, 47 collect five shekels[a] for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. 48 Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.”


49 So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites. 50 From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels,[b] according to the sanctuary shekel. 51 Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.


The Levite clan was set apart for special service to the Lord. They were to replace the service of the firstborn sons of each clan in service in the Tabernacle. God decided that, not that He was wrong previously, but rather that He wanted all clans to know the hard work of maintaining the Temple and then create a specialized group to handle that duty for the entire nation. The Levites were to be that special group. They were to be the substitutes for the firstborn sons of each family of each clan. They took the place of the firstborn sons. Even when there more firstborn sons in all the other clans that males in the Levite clan, there was a redemption price paid to cover the excess. The sons of Israel were redeemed in body and in price by the Levite males. This idea of sacrifice and redemption is a model is it not? When we think of the Revolutionary War, we think of men who redeemed our freedom with their very lives. They died so that we might live in a world where we could determine our own future. They died so that we might be free. Here, in this text, the Levite clan becomes the sacrificial substitute for the rest of the nation so that they could be about the work of the nation of Israel. The Levites sacrificed their rights and claims to any lands in the Promised Land to be in full time service to the Lord at the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). This sacrifice by the Levite clan and their substitutionary redemption and replacement of the firstborn sons of Israel is the very same thing that God did in the person and work of Jesus Christ, is it not?


We were redeemed at great price by Jesus Christ. He sacrificed His life so that we could be eternally free from the tyranny and death of sin. He redeemed us with the price He paid on the cross. Everything in the Old Testament is pointing toward Christ from the moment of the first sin in Adam & Eve. Everything was practice for the recognition of the Messiah when He came. As Christ followers, we understand the sacrifice here as pointing toward the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the substitutionary nature of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Just as the firstborn sons of America sacrificed much, even their lives, so that you and I can sit here on this side of eternity and celebrate a nation of great promise, so it is with the Levites here and so it is with Jesus. Jesus ensures our eternal freedom through His sacrifice on the cross. It is this sacrifice that redeems us from the depths of hell that we are sentenced to by our own sins. We are free on this side of eternity on the shoulders of the firstborn sons of freedom. We are free eternally through the person and work of Jesus Christ.


Amen and Amen.

Luke 24:32-43 — Jesus on the cross. Jesus dying on the cross. We understand from Scripture that this fact is significant. Scripture tells us that Jesus dying on the cross is what reconciles us to God. When I was a non-believer I could grasp that Jesus was a great man. I could grasp that His death on the cross was a travesty of human justice. I could grasp that He was a holy man of God that spoke great truths of the universe. I could grasp that He was so committed to the truth that He risked his life to call out that which claimed to be holy as unholy. I could grasp that He spoke of peace and love and not war and hate in a world built on war and hate. I could grasp that all of these factors, truth, candor, peace made Him a rebel in his day. To me when I was a non-believer, he was the original flower child much like the hippees of the 60’s. To me, I admired Him as an anti-establishment rebel that through his love not war attitude changed the world much like the counterculture of the late 60’s-early 70s changed our nation forever. Much like the racial equality movement of that same time changed the face of our nation forever as well. As a non-believer, I could see Jesus marching in anti-war protests of the 60’s, marching arm in arm with His black friends from Selma to Montgomery. That was the Jesus that I grasped. I grasped a rebel Jesus who was martyred for being different, for fighting for change, and through whose death the world was changed. That was the Jesus I grasped.

However, as a non-believer, I just could not grasp the Christian theology that Jesus’ death on the cross was for me. I just could not grasp that Him hanging on the cross was for the forgiveness of my sins. How does a man dying on the cross reconcile me to God, I asked myself? It all boils down to who do you think Jesus is. If Jesus was just a man…if Jesus was just a rebel fighting against injustice and the status quo who was killed for it…if Jesus was just another prophet who was killed…if Jesus was a cool dude that was super-perceptive about life…if Jesus was just…then it does not make sense. If Jesus was just these things, then this whole Christian thing built on Him dying on the cross does not make any sense at all. Jesus dying on the cross was just the end of a cool dude’s life and then the church fabricated the resurrection thing. It just doesn’t make any sense if Jesus was just…a man.

However, Jesus was not just a man. He was the Son of God. He was God in the flesh. He was part of the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit that has existed since before creation. It was through Him that the universe was made. That’s the part that takes faith. And that faith is what makes sense of the cross. His death on the cross makes senses when you realize that Jesus was the Son of God and that He and the Father were one and were of the same essence. This makes the cross make sense.

Beginning in Egypt we see God pointing us toward the cross. Jesus is the Passover Lamb. During the final plague in Egypt, God commanded the Israelites to paint the blood of an innocent pure lamb on their doorway so that the death plague would passover their homes. This points to Jesus on the cross. His blood was spilled so that we might live. The Old Testament sacrificial system instituted at Mt. Sinai taught the Israelites and us about Jesus. Animals were sacrificed as atonement for sin. The animals spilled their blood for forgiveness of sin because that’s God said it was for. The animals took the punishment for sin that the sinner deserved. God was pointing us toward his ultimate act on the cross in Jesus.

We have all done things that are wrong and we have failed to live up to God’s laws – his expectations for holiness from us as He is holy. Sin, just one sin, separates us from God. It does not matter how we justify it or how much good we do, our sin, any sin, taints us and makes us imperfect. Imperfection cannot exist in the presence of God. Once we have sinned there is nothing we can do ourselves to make ourselves clean. It is like squirting flavor additives into clear water. Once you have squirted the colored additive into the water, you cannot make it clear again no matter what you do. Sin is that way for us. Thus, there is a permanent separation for us from God because of this sin imperfection from the first time we think of sinning. We need help. And it is only when we realize that we are helpless that we are ready to understand what Jesus did on the cross that is so important to us. That is so important that its news spread out from the cross around the globe and through the centuries.

Jesus was not only a man. He was also God in the flesh acting as the Son of the Father. OK. Why then still does his death on the cross mean? It all goes back God’s sacrificial system. Jesus is the culmination of that. The animals used in the passover and the sacrifices at the Tabernacle and later the Temple had to be pure and spotless to be used to atone for the sinner’s sin. Jesus was pure and spotless. He never sinned. Thus, this made Him the only sacrifice ever that was truly perfect, spotless, and sinless. Because He lived a sinless life and never disobeyed the Father in any way then his sacrifice of His life was the culminating atonement for sin. It did not have to be repeated anymore like the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. Jesus was the final sacrifice for sin. He is the Passover Lamb of all Passover Lambs. He is the Sin Sacrifice of Sin Sacrifices.

On the cross, He was thus sacrficed for sin. He became all sin of all time, past, present and future. He took on the full wrath of God against the imperfection of sin for all time. Jesus who had existed for eternity with the Holy Spirit and the Father was now separated from that one essence, that unity that He had known for all eternity. That is why when taking on the full wrath of sin for all time, he exclaims in all four gospels, Father why have you abandoned me. He, on the cross, was substituting Himself for man’s sins of all time and He was alone bearing that heavy burden. He was separated from the loving trinity that He had known since before what we know as time begin. It is through His death that the sacrificial system is completed. It is finished at the cross. Jesus bore the punishment for all sin for all time on the cross. Thus, it is finished. The job is complete at the cross. When we have the faith to believe this, that is where we can say that Jesus has already paid the price for our sin on the cross. He paid our debt and we are released from the impurity and imperfection of sin that condemns us to eternal separation from God in hell. We are redeemed from slavery through his payment made at the cross.

That is the only way that the cross makes sense. There is indeed a God who created the universe and created man. He gave man free will to choose to worship God not as robots but as knowledgeable humans making choices. With the risk of free will came the ability to listen to evil in the form of Satan. When the first sin in Adam occurred, it set mankind on a course of self-destruction from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Sin stains us and changed everything. With our sin nature passed down from Adam to us, we cannot help ourselves. We sin. We cannot help ourselves. With that first sin, we permanently taint ourselves and separate ourselves from God. With sin, it is a permanent stain. No matter how much good we try to do, it is like trying to get a wine stain out of white shag carpet. It will never be same. We become imperfect and ineligible for existing in the presence of our Creator with our first sin not to mention the mounds of sins we pile up in our lifetime due to our sin nature. We can’t clean it. We can’t fix it. We are truly screwed. We are up crap creek without a paddle. There is only one thing that can change that. It is Jesus who is the culmination of God’s sacrificial system instituted in the Old Testament. He is the permanent fix to our sin problem. Jesus lived the sinless life and sacrificed himself in our place on the cross. He bore the punishment that you and I deserve for our first and the rest of our sins. When we believe on this fact. We are freed from condemnation to hell that we deserve for our sins. Hell is where we are separated from God and live eternally in flesh eating, teeth gnashing, wailing, burning, nothingness separated from God. That is what we deserve for what we have made of ourselves and the world we live in. When we believe on Jesus, He frees us from our death sentence. In Him, we know that we will be able to join Him in heaven in the presence of the God and know eternal joy. We know in Him that there will be an end to this madness that we live in. We know that in our physical death we will join Him in eternity. We know that in the end that Jesus will redeem His creation and conquer evil once and for all. In Him, there is hope.

That is why the cross makes sense to me now. I grasp who Jesus is. He is my Savior. He is the Son of God. He is God in the flesh who loves you and me enough to break into the history of His creation and offer Himself up as as sacrifice for your and my sins so that we can be redeemed from death in Hell. That’s why the cross makes sense. Do you get it?