It was actually a while after I accepted Christ as my Saviour before I truly understood how ‘it all worked.’ We hear it every Christmas, Jesus was born to save the world. We hear it at Easter, Jesus died and on the 3rd day he rose to life and now we are allowed to go to Heaven if we accept him. But, does any of that make sense without the back story?
I always struggled to understand this. Yes, I know Jesus is God’s son, and he died, and came to life again (witnessed by hundreds) but how does that mean I am forgiven of my sins? It never made any sense to me at all. I knew we were all sons and daughters of God, just like Jesus, and I knew we were supposed to call Jesus our Saviour to be recognized as his before God, but still the connection seemed to be missing for me as to how I was forgiven by someone being crucified.
I want to take some time to explain this, because I feel like many people coming from a non-Christian upbringing may also struggle with connecting these dots as I did.
I grew up believing in God. Without going to church regularly, I picked up a few things here and there, and throughout times of my life, I would pray to God but I never understood Jesus so my prayers never included him.
I was sure that God had to have created us and the universe, because things seemed too complicated to be ‘just a fluke.’ I had Grandparents who would say grace with us at holiday meals, and I have a few memories of conversations about Jesus with my Grampa but I still never really got it, so I went on believing in God and thinking that was it. Jesus was just some guy all the religious folks seemed to admire. I knew there were religions called Judaism, Christianity and Islam but I didn’t know a single thing about them, their similarities or their differences. I just believed in the existence of God.
Fast forward to after I accepted Jesus as my saviour at 22, and still didn’t quite get the connection. I knew from learning about him that Jesus was an amazing man, and someone I wanted to be more like, so I felt confident accepting him as my saviour, but I began to wonder – How do we know that Jesus truly is the son of God not just some other guy from the Bible? What does his death mean? I found some answers in the Bible, but it seemed like I barely knew anything and there was so much, (this is why I recommend a study Bible.) The more I read through the book of Matthew (on of 66 books in the Bible) and learned of Jesus’ teachings, miracles and lessons, the more I realized that I truly believed, he was the true Son of God. He just was too perfect and did far too many awe inspiring things to be entirely human in my eyes.
So, what makes him the Son of God?
Before Mary (Jesus’ Mother) was pregnant, as the well known Christmas story goes, she was a virgin. An angel of the Lord appeared before her and told her that she was chosen to carry a child. Here is the text from Luke Chapter 1, Verses 30-36: ““Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favour with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”
From this we can see that the baby was conceived miraculously, his true Father being God Himself. We also see reference to Israel and David. Israel is the name of God’s chosen people who today would be referred to as Jewish and the old Testament promised that King David, a wise ruler over Israel (who wrote many of the Psalms in the Bible) would have the Saviour (Messiah, Jesus) born in his lineage. Joseph (Mary’s Husband) and Jesus’ legal father was a descendant of David, and that’s what the verse was referring to. There is so much more to this part of the story, for example an angel approaches Joseph as well, but in trying to keep this simple, I will invite you to read any of the 4 Gospel books in the Bible yourself for the full version (The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.)
So, why would the son of God have to come to earth?
This is where the connection was always lost for me because I didn’t ever read the Bible, or have any experience in understanding the Old Testament or Jewish traditions.
The Israelites (or the Jewish people, referred to as Israelites in the Old Testament) followed the law that God had given them through a previous leader named Moses. Each time a person broke the law, there was a sacrifice that required being made – consider it a penalty for breaking the law, like paying a fine or doing jail time in today’s terms. Often, the penalty was something like an ox, a bird, oil or something of value from that day and time that would need to be poured out or sacrificed at the altar to get forgiveness for the sin committed.
The problem with the Israelites (and, really.. all of us) is that they were a sinful bunch. The Old Testament books are full of stories where the Israelites would rebel against the rules God had given them, they would even go as far as to worship idols, and completely disregard God’s will for their lives. Time and time again we see them punished as a nation for the crimes they committed against God, and yet they never seemed to learn their lesson. God came to their aid many times, he bailed them out of many situations, and they were always so quick to forget the miracles He had done and think of themselves and what they wanted.
So, God sees this is not going well. His people are stubborn, they don’t seem to be learning or changing, and therefore they need the ultimate sacrifice: His son. God sends Jesus to earth through Mary, and when Jesus was about 30 years old, he began his ministry. His time spent teaching was very limited (about 3 years total before his death) as the zealously religious folks at the time really loathed him and wanted to punish him with death for saying that he was the Son of God. They didn’t believe him, and felt he was speaking blasphemy. Some even feared he was possessed by demons because of the miracles he was committing.
He scared them because they couldn’t explain his actions, they felt convicted by him and they were so focused on the law and rules that they couldn’t understand why this man would act differently than many of the traditions they were accustomed to (including eating with the lowest people of society like prostitutes and tax collectors, healing the lame and forgiving those with major problems.)
During his time on earth, Jesus travelled and taught many. He had 12 main followers referred to as Disciples, and of them he had 3 who were particularly close to him. He interacted with many, including women though that was unheard of for males in his time. He treated all people with dignity and respect, and by the time of his death many knew who he was and longed to meet him, follow him and be taught by him. Those followers became the early Christian church. Many of their stories are recorded in the book of Acts in the Bible.
It was a fact that Jesus walked this earth, the discrepancy lies in whether you believe or not that he was the Son of God. Of the three major religions, this is where the difference is. The Jewish people don’t believe he was the Son of God, and the Islamic people think he was just a prophet. Christians are the people who believe that Jesus was the son of God, follow the teachings of Jesus and believe he was conceived miraculously, died on the cross and rose to life again 3 days later, ascending into heaven shortly after.
The Old Testament is full of prophecies predicting Jesus’ life that were accurate, and he fulfilled so many. Jesus himself warned of false teachers, including the Islamic ideology that he was just a prophet. The amount of evidence in the Bible that Jesus is the true Son of God is immeasurable. Again, don’t just take my word for it!
Now, lets get to how the death of Jesus forgave us all:
Traditionally, the Israelites would celebrate an event called “Passover”, to commemorate when Moses helped them escape slavery from Egypt. They celebrated Passover every year, and as required by law they would sacrifice a lamb at the altar of God.
In God’s perfect timing, Jesus was taken to the cross during Passover (and this is why he’s often referred to as the sacrificial lamb.) His death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. It all comes down to that. God sent Jesus to earth knowing he would die on the cross during the Passover celebration.
He sent Jesus knowing that Jesus would be an amazing example of God’s own love, that Jesus would be able to transform the lives of many through his godly actions, and he would revolutionize the world. He also sent Jesus because he knew since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve willingly betrayed God (often called the fall or the original sin) that Jesus’ sacrifice as the only innocent human being (like the lamb) would forgive all of mankind. This is the Christian doctrine of atonement if you’d like to read more about it.
Now, when God looks at his people, he doesn’t just see the Israelites who struggle to follow his rules despite how much He loved them, He sees all of us who have accepted Christ as our personal Saviour as children of His. He literally sees Jesus in us, and loves us the very same way He loves his true son Jesus. He sees perfect, flawless Jesus when he looks at our faces, and not our problems, our faults, our shame, our guilt and our troubles.
On the 1st day (known as Good Friday to Christians,) Jesus was crucified and died. The Bible tells us, at the exact moment of Jesus’ death, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew:27:51) The curtain in the temple allowed only the holiest leaders to have access to God, and the tearing down of the curtain meant all of us can go directly to God. God literally is saying all may enter my presence, all may have a relationship directly with me because of Jesus.
On the 3rd day (known as Easter Sunday) Jesus appeared alive first to women. The fact that this was recorded demonstrates the truth, because a man of that day would not have wanted to record that he appeared first to a woman. Again, this shows Jesus love for women, and his elevation of them despite their cultural norms.
He was also seen by his disciples and many others alive and well, complete with the holes in his hands and feet from the nails, and the incision on his side. He rose to life from death (the ultimate miracle) to prove that he was indeed God’s son and not just some random human. When he literally ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was left behind on earth as the gift for those who accept Jesus as their Saviour (as though the gift of being forgiven isn’t amazing enough?)
The Holy Spirit immediately dwells in your heart when you have accepted Jesus and this allows us so much including the ability to hear from God through promptings, through the words of others, and to be seen as sons and daughters of God himself, just like Jesus. Think of it as our own piece of Jesus living in our heart, helping us to be more like him, and helping God to see us as his own.
Thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross, when we are sinful (and we all are) we don’t need to sacrifice a bull or an ox, or what have you. Jesus was the sacrifice for the past sins and those future ones too. Jesus paid it all on the cross, he was the sacrificial lamb that changed the face of the world. He didn’t have to die for us, but he accepted this fate and chose it out of deep love for each of us. He knows how amazing God and His love is, that he took this painful death upon himself so that we might know that too!
So, how do you accept Jesus’ offer? Its so simple. Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Yup. That’s it. You don’t need to fix yourself first. You don’t need to clean the skeletons out of your closet. You don’t need to be perfect in any way. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Believe that he died, and rose again. Believe that his death was a sacrifice for all sin, and say out loud “Jesus is my Saviour.”
Here is a sample prayer you can pray: “Father God, thank you for recognizing our need for Jesus here on earth. Thank you for sending your Son to earth in human form to die the death on the cross that took the penalty for my sins. I know I am a sinner, and I know I am in need a Saviour, and I am thankful that Jesus is my new Saviour. Thank you for the gift Jesus has offered me through his death. I accept it, and I am thankful for it. In Jesus’ Mighty name I thank you and pray, Amen.”
Don’t just take my word for it though, pull out the Bible and start with the Gospel books to learn of Jesus, his life, his miracles, his lessons and his death. I am confident that the more you learn, the more you will grow to love and appreciate Jesus and the more you will benefit from trying to be more like the example he provided. He wasn’t just some random religious person as I always thought, in fact, he is extra-ordinary, and someone whom I struggle to describe with human words. But in my heart, Oh do I ever know who Jesus is. I pray that you do too.
Please, if you pray that prayer and found these words helpful – let me know. Reach out and tell someone that you’ve accepted the gift Jesus gave. Allow others the privilege to pray for and with you, and may you be blessed today and everyday.