I don’t know how far spring has descended into your life, but for Nashvillians, we’re in the blissful middle of low-seventies and green buds. I have a single tulip that, with admirable resistance, has pushed forth her blush petals against the frost and chill of winter. The blooms of my azaleas look like cotton balls exploding out of previously barren bushes. The doors are open. Everything is waking up, and the birds are singing about it.
So, what does all this make me want to do, you ask? Spring clean, of course. Spring is an innate wake-up call for us to mimic the newness we witness in creation. Dust off those window sills, pack up the wool sweaters, and get rid of a few piles. Not only am I ready for my hardwood floors and kitchen countertops to glow like the lengthening days of spring, I want my soul to reflect the purity and newness of this hopeful season.
It is no accident we celebrate Jesus’s resurrection in the middle of spring, the season of old giving way to new, death trampled by life. In an effort to deepen our understanding of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, I want to look at three aspects of Jesus’s death that I pray will be like taking a lemon-scented cloth to the dust that may have collected on our hearts. The more we understand about what the cross accomplished, the more we can appreciate Jesus’s sacrifice.
Three Aspects of the Cross
You may have wondered, why did Christ have to die? Couldn’t there have been another way? What did Jesus actually accomplish for me? Part of the answer to that question is found all the way back in Leviticus. In chapter 16, we see that animals were sacrificed as a way of atoning for Israel’s sin. In other words, since God is holy and righteous, Israel’s sin had to be dealt with. Instead of God’s wrath falling upon His people, it would fall upon the animal sacrificed for the sins of the community. This is what we call substitutionary atonement, because the animal stood in the place of the people (substitution) as the necessary sacrifice for sin (atonement).
Substitutionary atonement has two unique features, the first is propitiation. It means the appeasement of wrath. I think most of us shirk back from the idea of God’s wrath. How can a loving God be angry toward people? I think of some of the terrible evils inflicted upon children, or the betrayal and abuse of perpetrators. Aren’t we glad that God is not passive, but hates sin and the effects of sin (Matt. 18:5-6)? But back to our main point. In ancient days, the animal was the propitiation in that it appeased God’s wrath.
One of my favorite aspects of the atonement, is the second feature: expiation. It means, the removal of sin. Lev. 16:20-22 says,
When he has finished making atonement for the most holy place, the tent of meeting, and the altar, he is to present the live male goat. 21 Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ iniquities and rebellious acts—all their sins. He is to put them on the goat’s head and send it away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry all their iniquities into a desolate land, and the man will release it there.
The Old Testament gives us such a visual. A literal “scape goat” representatively takes our sin upon itself and carries it into the wilderness, never to be seen again. For those of us who deal with regrets or shame from the past, what a picture of freedom this is.
The problem is that substitutionary atonement in the Old Testament was a temporal answer for the problem of sin. It was a provisional means pointing toward an ultimate solution. In keeping with our spring-cleaning metaphor, the sparkling house got dirty again. Another round of dusting and polishing was needed. This is where the sacrifice of Jesus comes in. Instead of the blood of bulls and goats being slaughtered over and over, year after year, Jesus laid down His life for us once and for all. He was our substitute. He provided the payment necessary to deal with our sin. Not only did He forgive our sin, but as John writes in 1 John 1:9, He cleansed us from all unrighteousness.
Living in Spring’s Newness
As you welcome the longer days and linger outdoors, watching Blue Jays alight on your porch, enjoying the scent of flowers throwing off the covers of winter dormancy, remember these are all signs of the resurrection. Reckon that you can live in spring’s newness because of what Christ accomplished for you on the cross. He stood in your place, becoming sin for you, so that you can become the very righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21.) Get up! The sun is shining. Browns are giving way to every hue in the rainbow. Jesus paid an incalculable price so that you might live. It turns out, spring cleaning isn’t just for houses, it’s also for hearts. Let Him cleanse you anew.
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