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Lowell Brueckner

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The Superb Language of the Cross, part 1


One time we read in the news about a flock of a thousand sheep that fell from a high cliff, following a sheep in front that jumped or fell. Four hundred died. Too many times, we observe how the people of the world are led as blindly as sheep by a leader or an ideology. The individual does not take time to think or meditate for himself, but only repeats what he has heard or read. Although the Bible uses sheep to illustrate some characteristics of the people of God, that of being blind followers does not enter into the illustration.

In paganism, the devil takes advantage of people because of their ignorance. Paul wrote to the Corinthians with the intention of informing and teaching them about the Christian life, “I do not want you to be unaware…” (1 Co.12:1), contrasting with the life and religion that they had previously known: “When you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you…” (v.2,3). My father’s first pastor, Paul Rader, helped new believers to get a firm foundation for their faith. He said, “Christians must know what they are talking about.” Simply, that’s true. For that reason, I offer two chapter in the book, We Have an Altar, that teach concerning five biblical words relating to the cross: Remission, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation and justification. Do you know what these words mean? Well, in chapter five, I write about the first two.
Chapter 5

The Superb Language of the Cross
Part I

Pardon, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, justification… we are not entering some kind of deep theological study here, reserved for the intellectuals. These are biblical words, given to the common believer, therefore we are compelled to know about them. If we ignore them and refuse to teach them, because they are unfamiliar to the common man, then we are averting the full counsel of God. They are not for a few; this is the heritage of every child of God.

I say this, because there are people, who seem to think that there is virtue in ignorance and they glory in it. That is a deception. The Bible extols the value of wisdom and even a cursory study of the Proverbs should convince us of its worth: “Does not wisdom call and understanding lift up her voice?... ‘To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O naïve ones, understand prudence; and O fools, understand wisdom… Wisdom is better than jewels… Riches and honor are with me… The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old… When He marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight’…” (Pr.8:1,4,5,11,18,22,29,30). This only scratches the surface concerning the doctrine of wisdom taught from the beginning to the end of Scripture.

How many times do the apostles say, “I would not have you ignorant…”? In Romans 11:25, Paul did not want the believers to be ignorant of the reinsertion of Israel into the plan of God. In 1 Corinthian 10:1, he did not want them to be ignorant of hypocrites, who were with the people of God, but were not themselves the people of God. In 12:1, he did not want them to be ignorant of spiritual gifts. He didn’t want them ignorant of the resurrection and eschatology (the study of last-day events) (1 Th.4:13). Many Christians are willingly ignorant of last-day Bible prophecy and want nothing to do with it!   Of course, he said, if somebody insisted on being ignorant, there was little he could do to help them (14:38). Not only Paul, but Peter also was an enemy of ignorance (2 Pt.3:5,8). In a parable, Jesus commended five wise virgins and condemned five foolish ones (Mt. 25:1-12). There problem was ignorance. They were unaware of what was taking place in their day (which was the last day) and consequently were unprepared.  

It is true that God often starts with Galilean fishermen, who were termed, “uneducated and untrained men” (Ac.4:13). That is exactly what the proverb suggests – “O naïve ones, understand prudence; and O fools, understand wisdom”. Paul added that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Co.1:27). He did this again and again throughout the history of the church. However, He clothed all such people with supernatural, godly wisdom, by means of the Holy Spirit of truth and biblical revelation. Paul continues, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature” (1Co.2:6). Can anyone argue against the wisdom, with which Peter and John spoke in the book of Acts or the wonderful wisdom written in their epistles? I have known some of these giants in the faith, who might stumble over grammar and punctuation, but hold superb understanding of the deep doctrines of the Bible.

The Bible uses uncommon terms, because common language cannot explain the extraordinary accomplishments of the cross of Christ. They are examples of the need to separate the holy from the profane, even in the use of language. Some modern translations break down the walls of godliness in an attempt to make the unique thoughts of God easily understood by the man on the street. However, he will never understand them, nor can he understand them, whether he be an intellectual or an ignoramus, because divine intervention into the human mind is essential, in order that heavenly language can reach into the heart.

Certain words are given to show us the unsearchable riches of Christ. We need to be careful not to succumb to academic laziness and therefore rob ourselves and others: “For the Spirit searches (for you and in you) all things, even the depths of God… so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Co.2:10,12-14). Take each one of these five words – remission, redemption, reconciliation, propitiation and justification – as a jewel. Examine it closely and meditate upon it in the light of the Spirit. Here God has set before us a spiritual treasure house of untold value. Let us partake of this altar, of which no outsider can taste. 

We face another problem in our day and that is a redefinition of terms. In modern religion, even in evangelical circles, words have taken on different meanings from those, by which they were understood in the past. Over the course of time, evangelical understanding has shifted away from the original intention of the inspired writers. Stemming from perverse thinking and leading towards apostasy, modern books and sermons seem to say one thing, but actually mean something totally different, when referring to salvation, faith, grace and forgiveness. We must turn from modern will and way and “ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.” It has happened again, as in Israel of old, “but they said, ‘We will not walk in it’” (Je.6:16), and the prophet further expounds, “My people have forgotten Me… and they have stumbled from their ways, from the ancient paths, to walk in bypaths…” (18:15).

Forgiveness, pardon and remission of sins

These three terms are synonymous and the first one, at least, is not difficult for us, due to its familiarity. However, God’s forgiveness must only be understood within the context of these two additional terms. Forgiveness is conditional and it is not ever given without full satisfaction of righteousness and judgment that makes the remission of sins possible. God does not begin by simply overlooking our sins and proclaiming forgiveness. He does not say, “Let’s just forget about your past, wipe it from our minds, and start over.” Never! The perfect righteousness of God demands that every infraction of His law - every deed, word, thought and motive that in the slightest manner breaks His statutes and decrees – must pay the full penalty, demanded by His justice. No sin has been, can be, or will be pardoned without its corresponding punishment having been carried out.

I might add that we certainly have no obligation or right to forgive others their sins committed against God, unless His conditions have been met. Are we more merciful that He? Can we forgive what He has not forgiven? Forgiveness is granted only to the penitent.

If that is not true, then the ministry of John the Baptist was totally unnecessary. He came to prepare a way for the Lord into the hearts of men. The Kingdom of God, which comes without observation and makes its throne in the human heart, was at hand, but no one could enter that Kingdom without repentance. So John demanded that a generation of vipers bring fruit in keeping with repentance. He spoke of an axe being laid to the root of the trees, cutting and throwing all that is not good fruit into the fire. He spoke of a winnowing fork that will thoroughly clear the floor, gathering the wheat into the barn and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire (Mt.3:2-12).

There is such a thing as false forgiveness. God delivered Ben-hadad into the hands of King Ahab of Israel for destruction. However, when his great armies were routed by Israel and Ben-hadad fled, his servants gave him this “good news”: “We have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings” (1 Kg.20:31). They had still the reputation of being merciful, even though they had forsaken the God of mercy. And sure enough, when his servants came to Ahab, begging for his life, he said, “He is my brother.” When Ben-hadad came to him, “He took him up into the chariot” and “made a covenant with him and let him go.” The Lord was not at all pleased with this action and sent his prophet with this word: “Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life…” (vs.32-43).

Perhaps, we are more familiar with the story of King Saul and how he spared the Amalekite king. The king was brought happily before Samuel, thinking that he had been forgiven. But Samuel “hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord…” (1 Sa.15:33). This same Saul, who forgave King Agag, massacred 85 priests of God at Nob, and in their city killed men, women, children and infants, along with the oxen, donkeys and sheep (1 Sa.22:18-19). 

Only a couple years ago, the media gave a lot of coverage to the Amish, when their small school was invaded by a gunman and several little lives were taken. The world wondered at a people, who were willing to forgive the murderer of their children, and certainly such a human attitude is worthy of great admiration. However, the Amish are cultists, who know and teach nothing of the new birth. They have no gospel, which gives full assurance of salvation by grace, but depend upon their faithfulness to religious traditions and obedience to elders for salvation. These people, willing to forgive a murderer, have many times cast out from their number anyone who has come to saving faith in the finished work of Christ and has been genuinely born again. We cannot hold this story before us as an example of godly forgiveness.

For a number of years, I have closely followed reports of an off-shoot from the Mormons, a sect with perhaps 10,000 members that still practices polygamy in the western United States, as well as in Canada. Recently their prophet was condemned to life imprisonment for the rape of under-aged girls, as young as 12-years-old, whom he had taken into “spiritual marriage”. He has about 50 wives. To me, the amazing part of the story is their teaching about forgiveness. I heard it in a recording from the lips of the prophet himself. The women, especially, are taught in all circumstances to forgive and maintain a “sweet spirit”… The rape of their daughters, the torture of their sons, in the name of discipline, and the excommunication of teenage boys, who might be competition for the older men, is to be forgiven and to be met with a “sweet spirit”. Is their any room for admiration for such a deceptive concept of forgiveness? None at all. We are talking about something diabolical that allows evil men to dominate and abuse weak victims!

God’s forgiveness is directly related to and only possible through the cross of Jesus Christ. Here are the comments of Albert Barnes, concerning it: “It is universally true that sin never has been, and never will be forgiven, except in connection with, and in virtue of the shedding of blood. It is on this principle that the plan of salvation by the atonement is based, and on this that God in fact bestows pardon upon people. There is not the slightest evidence that any man has ever been pardoned except through the blood shed for the remission of sins. The infidel who rejects the atonement has no evidence that his sins are pardoned; the man who lives in the neglect of the gospel, though he has abundant evidence that he is a sinner,  furnishes none that his sins are forgiven; and the Mussulman and the pagan can point to no proof that their sins are blotted out. It remains to be demonstrated that one single member of the human family has ever had the slightest evidence of pardoned sin, except through the blood of expiation. In the divine arrangement there is no principle better established than this, that all sin which is forgiven is remitted through the blood of the atonement; a principle which has never been departed from hitherto, and which never will be.”

Because Jesus paid the full penalty demanded by divine justice, for that reason and that reason alone, we can be forgiven by a holy and righteous God. He took the punishment for us and our sins have been wiped from heaven’s record. A pardon has been issued for those of us who sat on God’s death row, condemned to a sure and eternal damnation. Our sins are remitted through the substitutionary death of the Son and nothing stands against us anymore. There is no need for the Christian to face judgment to decide the issue of eternal bliss or eternal suffering. Christ stood condemned for us and “therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro.8:1). That judgment is passed. If it is not so, then there is no gospel to proclaim, for that is the heart of the gospel.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus commanded His disciples, “that repentance for forgiveness (KJV - remission) of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations…” (Lk.24:47). On our part, we personally come into His forgiveness, through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of our sin and that “kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Ro.2:4). We repent of our sins, including our character sins, such as pride and deceitfulness, and we turn from ourselves, yielding our lives to Christ. From that state, we are led to faith that comes from hearing - being given ears to hear the word of Christ. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Ro.10:17).

Matthew Henry made this comment on preaching the remission of sins: “The great gospel privilege of the remission of sins must be proposed to all, and assured to all that repent, and believe the gospel. ‘Go, tell a guilty world, that stands convicted and condemned at God's bar, that an act of indemnity has passed the royal assent, which all that repent and believe shall have the benefit of, and not only be pardoned, but preferred by. Tell them that there is hope concerning them.’” We have an altar of pardon and there is now no condemnation…

Redemption is a word less commonly used in daily language, so let us begin with some definitions: The verb redeem in Greek is agorazo  and, in a very general sense, it simply means "to buy" and it is used that way in the New Testament, when someone did a common act of purchase. However, more specifically, when the prefix “ex” was added – exagorazo – it denoted "to buy out", especially of purchasing a slave with a view to his freedom. There is one other Greek verb, which is translated to redeem and that is lutroo. It means, "to release on receipt of ransom". In this case, a ransom price has been paid and received and the captive has been set free.

That verb has two noun forms and one of them, lutron, simply means a ransom.  The other is lutrosis. This one must be translated redemption. In Hebrews 9:12, it states, “He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (lutrosis).” That speaks of the redemptive work of Christ, which brought us deliverance from the guilt and power of sin through His death. The last noun is apolutrosis and that is defined “ransom in full, that is riddance, (specifically) Christian salvation, deliverance, redemption”. None of these definitions make me a classical Greek expert; it only means that I have a Greek dictionary, just like some of you have. You can see these meanings for yourselves.

Once these definitions are understood, it is easier to see how they are used in the context of the New Testament. We can begin to appreciate our predicament outside of Christ, in which we were slaves to sin, the world and the devil. We were their captives, serving their will, cruelly abused by their dominance over our lives and our will, without a hope of being set free by any effort on our part or by any human means whatsoever.

Because there was no other way, Jesus went to the cross to give his life a ransom for us. It was a ransom price paid, in order that we might be free. The price for our sins was death and He died, paying the debt that we could not pay, even through an eternity of torture. To be redeemed is to be bought, delivered and set free. The chains have been torn from our souls. We are no longer the slaves of sin and our ego, compelled day and night to perform for them to our own misery and destruction. We are no longer taken by the powerful current of the world to serve its cruel and corrupt system, only to be destroyed with it in the end. We have been freed from the devil’s claws and snatched from the vehicle that drove us towards eternal damnation. He will drive on to the Lake of Fire and we will experience Heaven. Jesus bought us out (redeemed us) from this three-fold slavery.

“Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” (He.9:12)  Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment: “The entrance of our Redeemer, once for all, into the heavenly holiest place, secures eternal redemption to us; whereas the Jewish high priest’s entrance was repeated year by year, and the effect temporary and partial.” Albert Barnes adds: “The redemption which the Lord Jesus effected for his people is eternal. It will continue forever. It is not a temporary deliverance leaving the redeemed in danger of falling into sin and ruin, but it makes salvation secure, and in its effects extends through eternity. Who can estimate the extent of that love which purchased for us such a redemption? Who can be sufficiently grateful that he is thus redeemed? The doctrine in this verse is, that the blood of Christ is the means of redemption, or atones for sin. In the following verses the apostle shows that it not only makes atonement for sin, but that it is the means of sanctifying or purifying the soul.”
Think upon these things, child of God, until the riches of the redemption of Christ’s cross enrapture your soul. Learn to revel in them and value them more than life itself. We are contemplating established truth; why not glory in it? It is forever settled in heaven; why not live its reality upon earth?  It is in the Bible; why not know and understand it?

Redemption also relates to Christ coming for us, when it will be full and complete. Then none will question or doubt it. We know in part, but then it will be face to face knowledge. Shadowy areas will be bathed in glowing, eternal light. All trials of faith will be left behind and all that is cloudy or hidden will be swallowed by glorious, living reality.  We have an altar of redemption that frees us from spiritual slavery…


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