June 28, 2010

Grace at Calvary

BY Matthew A. BediakocapTwo thousand years ago Jesus came down to this earth and made the perfect sacrifice for you and for me. He gave His life as atonement for our sins.

The Bible says that while we were yet sinners Christ died to save us from the penalty of sin. My Jesus’ sacrifice has secured freedom from sin forever and ever. It has given me, as a sinner, a new status. I am no longer a slave. I am no longer an alien, but a son of the ?living God.

2010 1520 page12 amp 29 Just before, and during the Last Supper, Jesus tried to lay before His disciples the events soon to take place. He used the occasion to give them encouragement. He walked with the group toward Gethsemane. When they reached the garden, Jesus took three of His disciples and they went a little farther. There He charged them to watch and pray with Him. Jesus went to a hidden area. He fell to the ground, feeling that sin was separating Him from His Father. As a human, Jesus had to suffer the result of human sin and endure God’s anger against sin. During this time, the eternal fate of the world hung in the balance. Satan was there to tempt Him.

Jesus came back to join the disciples and found them sleeping. He was hoping they would be awake, praying for Him and themselves. Meanwhile, Judas had arranged with the priests to betray Jesus. After Judas kissed Jesus, the mob tied Jesus’ hands as a criminal and led Him to be tried—betrayed by His own people.

The guards hurried Jesus through the quiet streets of the sleeping city. It was past midnight. With His hands still tied, the Savior moved painfully to the palace of Annas, a former high priest. Annas was the oldest member of the ruling family of Jewish ?priests. Because of his age, the people respected him as if he were still the high priest. To many, his advice was like the opinion of God (see The Desire of Ages, p. 698).

They were afraid that the younger Caiaphas, the actual high priest, might not have the force or the boldness to sentence Jesus to death. It was also against Jewish law to try a criminal in the night. But they could not wait, for fear other people could come and release Jesus.

They quickly gathered false witnesses to come and testify against Him. If they could prove that He blasphemed against God (falsely claiming to be God), the Jews would condemn Him.

There were plenty of witnesses to prove that Jesus had called the priests hypocrites and murderers, but they did not want to bring that out. The Sanhedrin condemned Jesus to die.

2010 1520 page29Jesus stood, tied like a prisoner, surrounded by guards in the judgment hall of Pilate, the Roman governor. Just outside were the priests, the judges of the Sanhedrin, and the mob. They had already condemned Jesus and had brought Him to Pilate to confirm and carry out the death sentence. They called witnesses who accused Jesus ?of misleading the people. Pilate sent Jesus to Herod. Again, the mob ?followed.

After examination, Herod asked Jesus to perform a miracle so he could set Him free. Jesus kept silent. That made Herod angry and he declared Jesus an imposter. He sent Jesus back to Pilate. Hoping to satisfy the Jewish leaders Pilot arranged for Jesus to be beaten.

He brought Jesus and Barabbas out in front of the crowd and asked which one should be freed, and which one should be condemned. The crowd shouted, “Crucify Jesus!” After washing his hands, he gave Jesus to the priests and leaders to be crucified. The cross that had been prepared for Barabbas was given to Jesus.

Christ died by His own free and voluntary consent. Though offered by the Father, He also gave Himself freely. He was a willing sacrifice. He left heaven for this express purpose. He died as the substitute for sinners. He died that He might redeem us to God by His blood.

He Did It for You
“The perfect Son of God hung on the cross for you and me. All that He suffered—the blood that dripped from His head, His hands, and His feet; the agony that tore His body with every breath, and the unspeakable anguish in His heart from being separated from His Father—speaks to each one of us. For you, the Son of God agrees to carry this guilt. For you He battles death and wins. For you He opens the gates of heaven. For you He offers Himself as a sacrifice. Each of these He does because of His love for you” (Alvin Cook, Feed the Flock, p. 403).

Mark 15:27, 28 says: “And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors” (KJV).

Of course, Jesus did more than fulfill prophecy when He hung on the cross. He went there as our substitute and He died in our place to atone for our sins (see 1 Corinthians 15:3).

So the cross was God’s act. On Calvary He met the challenge of the enemy and really dealt with the problem of sin. On Calvary, God’s grace was manifested in Jesus’ death.

What Is Grace?
Grace is unmerited favor. It is the love of God in action. Grace is also defined as the love of God—spontaneous, beautiful, and unearned—at work in Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinful men and women. It is God’s work in Christ Jesus freely bestowed upon us.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul adds this important fact to his assertion that salvation is by grace through faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9, NKJV).* Human beings deserve nothing from God but eternal death (Rom. 6:23).

The basis of God’s grace is love. God loves us in spite of ourselves. Grace always starts with God’s caring initiative. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV).

Salvation is always God’s initiative. That is how it happened in the garden with our first parents. It was God who came looking for them.

In his book Amazing Grace, Lonnie Melashenko writes: “Jesus came down from a throne in heaven to this dirty little planet. He came down here to live among people like you and me. . . . He came down here knowing He was going to be rejected and persecuted and ridiculed and killed. But He did it anyway so that something called grace could be our rescue. Grace. Amazing grace.”

Philippians 2:5-11: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (KJV).

The Three Crosses
There were three crosses on Calvary. There were also three men on the crosses (see Luke 23:35-43).

Let’s call the cross of Jesus the “Cross of Redemption.” Wicked men could nail Him to the cross, but they couldn’t stop Him from saving a soul, even from the cross.

2010 1520 page29 We could call the cross of the thief who repented the “Cross of Reception.” The Word of God says: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11, 12, KJV).

That thief was saved at the last minute and saved by faith alone. It was a victory of grace. He was not a good man by his own confession. And so by grace his sins were covered by the blood shed on that center cross.

The other thief’s cross we can call the “Cross of Rejection.” The man hanging on this cross wanted to be saved in his own way. He did not want salvation from sin, but salvation from his suffering—the result of his sins. So he joined the priests and elders who said, “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Matt. 27:42, KJV).

Today there are millions who want salvation from suffering, from fear, from pain, from poverty, from inconvenience and death, but they don’t want the cross.

God does not impose His gifts on us. Whether we are saints or sinners depends entirely on our attitude toward the Savior and His cross.

Amazing Grace   
One of the attractions for tourists visiting Ghana, my country of origin, is to see the slave markets at Cape Coast and Elmina Castle. When you hear the stories of what took place in the various rooms and dungeons, you realize the wickedness of humanity.

It was an evil and depraved way to make a living. And that was the world of John Newton. It is said that Newton was a captain of a slave ship. I am sure he stopped at the Gold Coast—now Ghana.

In his book Amazing Grace, Lonnie Melashenko writes this about John Newton: “He made his money, his livelihood, bartering in human cargo.?. . . If ever a man were lost, it was he. If ever a man were blind to the anguish and misery around him, it was John Newton. Blind to the saving power of Jesus Christ” (p. 58).

However, on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, Newton experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance.” He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”

Later, in his cabin, he reflected on what he had said, and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him.

Newton later became a priest.

When John Newton called out to God, my merciful God reached out to him with His miracle grace. He had an encounter with Jesus of the “Cross of Redemption.” He came face-to-face with Calvary and accepted the gift of God’s grace.

It is said that with the same pen he used to calculate his profit in trading in human lives as captain of a slave ship, he wrote the gospel song that we all love to sing, “Amazing Grace.”

It Is a Matter of Choice
Remember the two thieves who were on crosses with Jesus. One turned to Jesus and asked for forgiveness. The other one did not. It was a matter of choice. What choice you make right now affects your destiny.''

Don’t believe the lies of the devil.

Don’t believe that what you have done in the past cannot be forgiven.

Don’t believe that you are not good enough for God to forgive. He died because He loves you. All that you have to do is choose to call upon Him. Accept what He did on the cross at Calvary for you. His grace is sufficient for all the sins you have committed. Right now, if you call out to God, “Lord, have mercy upon me,” as John Newton did, He is ever ready to reach out and save you!

*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Matthew A. Bediako is the Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.