in the previous two articles, we pondered first the power of our Lord’s word in creation in the distant past,1 in providence in the present2 and in judgement in the future.3 We then focused on the irresistible power of our Lord’s word during ‘the days of His flesh’.
We considered the power of His word over:
As we saw, none of these were a match for the Saviour’s powerful word.
Ah, but there was one thing (just one thing) which lay altogether outside the range of His powerful word. And that ‘one thing’ was my dire spiritual need.
For, as one who had grievously sinned against God, I needed that which would cost the Lord Jesus much more than His word. I needed that which would cost the Saviour His very life… that which would cost the Saviour the shedding of His blood.
The writer to the Hebrews explains that ‘almost all things17 are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission’.18We recall the words of the Lord through Moses, ‘the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul’.19
And we read, therefore, that ‘we have redemption through His blood,20 the forgiveness of sins’.21
We might well apply the words of the psalmist, that those who ‘trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (for the redemption of their soul is precious [“costly”, “valuable”]…) that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption’.22
In context, the psalmist is making the point that it is folly to trust in wealth for no amount of riches can protect anyone from death.
I have read that, ‘The French atheist and scourge of Christianity, Voltaire, was a very rich man… Yet, when Voltaire came to die, it is reported that he cried to his doctor in pained desperation, “I will give you half of all I possess if you will give me six months more of life”. But, of course, it was beyond the doctor’s ability to do that, and all Voltaire’s great wealth could not slow death’s advance. He died despairing’.23
It has been well commented that ‘the rich is powerless, when he would prolong life, his own or his brother’s, by means of earthly possessions. It is even more vain to offer gold as a ransom, atonement or expiation for the guilty soul, our own or a brother’s … It cost God nothing to make the world. He spake and it was done. But to redeem it required the incarnation, sufferings and death of Jesus Christ’.24
Truly, ‘you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’.25
Make no mistake; you and I have been redeemed, not by the powerful word of Christ, but by the precious blood of Christ.
It is for this reason that we read our Lord’s ‘imperatives of His suffering’ in the Gospel narrative. By way of example, we hear Him say, ‘the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain’26 and ‘as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up’.27
Twice the apostle Paul informed the saints at Corinth, ‘you were bought with a price’.28 And what a ‘price’ it was!
Our Lord’s experience and prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to His suffering and death provide us with a window through which we can gain some little insight into the ‘price’ of our salvation.
Ponder the opening words of His first prayer, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’.29
I know of no other recorded instance when Jesus addressed God as ‘my Father’. Oh, yes, on very many occasions, He spoke of God in those very terms. Indeed, between them, the four Gospel narratives record the words, ‘my Father’, coming from the lips of our Lord no less than forty-five times. But, as I say, this is the only time of which I know when He prayed using the words.30
We remind ourselves that earth rejects Him, men despise Him, His nation disowns Him, and His own disciples are shortly to fail and forsake Him. Now it is that He turns to the One (to the only One) who understands what it means for Him to take from Him the cup (brim-full with judgement and suffering) and to drain it.31
Oh yes, His Father understands! And it is to Him that He turns. ‘Father’, He cries, ‘all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me’.32
Surely, this should stir us to the very depths of our beings as we see the Son of God (no less!), fallen on His face33with His breast to the ground, crying out, in tears, sweat, and agony,34 ‘take away this cup from me’.
Does it startle you that the Lord Jesus prays as He does? Does it shock you to hear the Son of God pleading that the ‘cup’ (which clearly was the Father’s will and purpose for Him to drink)35might pass from Him36… that the Father would take it away from Him?37
Well, frankly, it ought not! For, please remember, this is ‘the Holy One’. This is the sinless Son of God, who loathes and detests sin with every particle of His being. And He knows that, within less than twenty-four hours, He is to be plunged into the most fearful abyss of suffering imaginable, when God Himself will make ‘him to be sin for us, who knew no sin’.38
Again, please remember, this is God’s ‘beloved Son’.39 And He knows that, within a matter of hours, He, who has never known anything but the unreserved love of His Father40 and who has ever enjoyed His eternal embrace,41 is to be utterly forsaken and abandoned by God,42 when He will lay ‘on him the iniquity of us all’.43
From the prospect of such experiences, our Lord, unsurprisingly, recoils.
How blessed we are that the Saviour followed His ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’ with His ‘nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt’.44 For, rest assured, if the Lord Jesus had stopped at His opening expression and simply added His ‘Amen’, there would have been no Golgotha and there would have been no salvation for you or me, or for anyone else.
But He knew that no word of power (nor, indeed, anything less than His suffering and death at Golgotha) could ever suffice to pay the price required to procure for us the salvation which we sorely needed.
I was interested to read some time ago in the apocryphal First Book of Maccabees how, in the period between our two Testaments,45 Eleazar, a brother of Judas Maccabaeus, rushed to certain death during a battle in an attempt to kill an elephant. The reason was that Eleazar believed (wrongly as it proved) that this particular elephant was carrying the infamous Greek king and persecutor of the Jewish people, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
‘Eleazar’, the historical record runs, ‘saw that one of the animals was equipped with royal armour. It was taller than all the others, and he supposed that the king was on it… he courageously ran into the midst… killing men right and left, and they parted before him on both sides. He got right under the elephant, stabbed it from beneath, and killed it; but it fell to the ground upon him, and he died’.46
‘He gave his life to save his people’ was the narrator’s comment.47 And, in one sense, that was true. But Eleazar failed; he did not ‘save his people’, and effectively died to no purpose.
But, thank God, our Lord Jesus stands in marked contrast to Eleazar. For, before He was even conceived in the womb of Mary, an angel of the Lord informed her betrothed husband, Joseph, ‘you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins’.48
Unlike Eleazar, our Lord Jesus did not fail. He did not die in vain.
Let us, therefore, praise Him today for our enjoyment of the ‘great salvation’49 which lay altogether outside the range of even His powerful word, but which was secured for us by His suffering and death.
I close with verses from an 18th-century hymn which contrasts some of the ‘wondrous’ works which the Lord called into being by His powerful word with that one far greater work which cost Him His very life.
How wondrous are the works of God,
Displayed through all the world abroad!
Immensely great! Immensely small!
Yet one strange work exceeds them all.
He formed the sun, fair fount of light;
The moon, and stars to rule the night;
But night, and stars, and moon, and sun,
Are little works compared with one.
He rolled the seas and spread the skies;
Made valleys sink and mountains rise;
The meadows clothed with native green;
And bade the rivers glide between.
But what are seas, or skies, or hills;
Or verdant vales, or gliding rills,
To wonders man was born to prove?
The wonders of redeeming love!
’Tis far beyond what words express,
What saints can feel, or angels guess;
Angels, that hymn the great I AM,
Fall down and veil before the Lamb.
Almighty God sighed human breath,
The Lord of life experienced death;
How it was done we can’t discuss;
But this we know,’twas done for us.50
John 1. 3 with Ps. 33. 6, 9.
Heb. 1. 3; Col. 1. 17.
Isa. 11. 4; 2 Thess. 2. 8; Rev. 19. 15, 21.
Luke 4. 38, 39.
Luke 18. 35-43.
Matt. 8. 5-13.
John 4. 46-53.
Mark 1. 23-27.
Mark 5. 1-20.
Mark 9. 14-29.
Mark 16. 9.
Matt. 4. 1-11.
Mark 5. 21-24, 36-43.
Luke 7. 11-16.
John 11. 38-44.
Matt. 8. 23-27; Mark 4. 35-41; Luke 8. 22-25.
‘But not absolutely everything; there are certain exceptions. For example, an impoverished Israelite might bring a tenth of an ephah (four pints) of fine flour to the priest as his sin offering instead of a lamb or even instead of two turtledoves or young pigeons (Lev. 5. 11). In Num. 16. 46 atonement was made for the congregation of Israel, after the destruction of Korah and his company, by means of incense; in Num. 31. 22, 23 metal objects captured in war were to be purified by fire and “the water of separation”; in Num. 31. 50 the Israelite commanders in the fighting against Midian brought the gold objects which they had captured “to make atonement for our souls before the Lord.” But such exceptions were rare; the general rule was that ceremonial cleansing or atonement had to be effected by means of blood’, F. F. BRUCE, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Eerdmans, 1964, pp. 216, 217.
Heb. 9. 22.
Lev. 17. 11.
Through His sacrificial death, that is; see A. M. STIBBS, The Meaning of the Word ‘Blood’ in Scripture, The Tyndale New Testament Lecturer, 1947.
Eph. 1. 7.
Ps. 49. 6-9. ‘The language … is borrowed from the ancient law in Ex. 31. 30 … If a man’s neglect to keep a dangerous ox under proper control had been the cause of another man’s death, his life was forfeit. But he might redeem his life by paying a ransom to the relatives of the deceased person … Thus the idea of the payment of money as the equivalent of a life was familiar. There were cases in which wealth could deliver from death, when man was dealing with man. But when God claims the life, riches are of no avail… there is no ransom which can be paid to God; it is hopeless to think of attempting it’, A. F. KIRKPATRICK, The Book of Psalms: Books 2 and 3, Cambridge, 1895, pp. 270, 271.
J. M. BOICE, Psalms 42-106: An Expositional Commentary, Revell, 1996, pg. 410.
W. S. PLUMMER, Studies in the Book of Psalms, Lippincott, 1867, pg. 540.
1 Pet. 1. 18, 19 NKJV.
Luke 9. 22; cp. 17. 25; 24. 7, 26.
John 3. 14.
1 Cor. 6. 20 ESV; 1 Cor. 7. 23 ESV. For the background of the expression, ‘bought with a price’, see ADOLPH DEISSMANN, Light from the Ancient East, Baker Book House, 1980, pp. 322, 323.
Matt. 26. 39.
We hear Him address God: (a) as ‘Lord of heaven and earth’, Matt. 11. 25; (b) as ‘Holy Father’, John 17. 11; (c) as ‘righteous Father’, John 17. 25; and, on numerous occasions, (d) as simply, ‘Father’. But now, in the Garden, it is ‘my Father’, and, to me, His use of this expression at this moment is most moving.
Matt. 26. 39, 42; John 18. 11.
Mark 14. 36 NKJV.
Matt. 26. 39.
Heb. 5. 7; Luke 22. 44.
John 18. 11.
Matt. 26. 39.
Mark 14. 36.
2 Cor. 5. 21.
Mark 1. 11; 9. 7.
John 17. 24.
John 1. 18.
Mark 15. 34.
Isa. 53. 6.
Matt. 26. 39.
Probably in 163 BC. See, F. F. BRUCE, Israel and the Nations, Paternoster, 1969, pp. 155, 156.
1 Maccabees 6. 43-46 (NRSV).
1 Maccabees 6. 44 (NRSV).
Matt. 1. 21 NKJV.
Heb. 2. 3.
JOSEPH HART, The Christian’s Duty, Exhibited, in a Series of Hymns, Leibert, 1791, hymn number CXVII.