While the gospel ought to always be at the forefront of our minds, I do not deny there being something special about this time of year. The Passion Week presents us with the opportunity to look closely at the cross of Christ and to share salvation’s good news with loved ones. Hearing about Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is brand new for many people. But, how does the person who’s been a Christian for years or decades keep the gospel fresh? This is one of my challenges as a Christian. So, what do I do? I look outside the gospel narratives and look at the rest of Scripture.
Since all the Bible is about Jesus, we should see things that either point forward (Old Testament) or back (Acts & beyond) to the work of Christ. Today I’d like to walk you through a quick time of study I had this morning reading a seemingly random Bible passage and how that pointed me back to the cross and helped me meditate on Christ this Passion Week.
My morning started with a reading in the first couple of chapters in 1 Timothy. As I read, one verse stood out more than others:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Yes, Jesus came to save sinners, and Paul assures us that this statement is trustworthy and worthy of acceptance. Like Paul, I can identify with these words and I lean on the truthfulness of why Christ came. After meditating on that verse and its surrounding context, the ESV cross references pointed me to Romans 4:25, which is where my study became fun.
23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)
In this context Paul is talking about Abraham and how he was justified through faith. Paul makes it clear that Abraham was declared righteous before his circumcision or any other act he performed, such as obeying the call to sacrifice Isaac. Paul then brings this forward and applies it to Christians and our justification. He shows how justification is applied through our faith in Jesus’ atoning work. The cross is now clearly in view and how it benefits my life.
At this point, a few Study Bibles provide further edification as they elaborate on the Romans passage.
4:25 Both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are necessary for forgiveness of sins and justification. raised for our justification. When God the Father raised Christ from the dead, it was a demonstration that he accepted Christ’s suffering and death as full payment for sin, and that the Father’s favor, no longer his wrath against sin, was directed toward Christ, and through Christ toward those who believe. Since Paul sees Christians as united with Christ in his death and resurrection (6:6, 8–11; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12; 3:1), God’s approval of Christ at the resurrection results in God’s approval also of all who are united to Christ, and in this way results in their “justification.” (ESV Study Bible)
4:25 The proof of justification by faith alone in Abraham’s case leads Paul back to the foundation of justification in the work of Christ (3:24-26). Christ’s death and resurrection are two indivisible but distinguishable aspects of His one saving work. In His death, Christ bore the legal penalty for our guilt. In raising Jesus from the dead, the Father vindicated Jesus, nullifying the sentence of death, and declaring Him to be righteous. This vindication grounds our justification through our union with Christ. (Reformation Study Bible)
Both of these notes drive home great points concerning the correlation between Jesus’ work on the cross and our justification. Without his death our sins are not forgiven; and, without his resurrection there is no proof that God accepted his sacrifice. Like Abraham, we only receive this through faith. In response to reading these notes all I could think was, “Ah, thank you Lord for the cross! Without your death and resurrection I am hopeless!”
But, there was one more note in the HCSB Study Bible that cross referenced one last passage in Acts, which led me to a moment of true thankfulness and hope.
4:25. Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses as promised in Is 52:13–53:12. Who delivered up Jesus? Was it Judas? Pilate? The Jewish Sanhedrin? Satan? Certainly all these were causal agents in the crucifixion of Christ, but ultimately it was the sovereign God who brought it to pass in order to fulfill His plan of redemption (Ac 4:27- 28). The Father delivered Jesus up for our trespasses, and raised Him so that His righteous Servant would justify many people (Is 53:11). (HCSB Study Bible)
Jesus’ death on the cross was not an accident. God planned it long ago and had a hand in all of it. After being released from prison, Peter and John prayed to God and recognized that he was at work the entire time, even working through wicked men. Personally, realizing the bigger picture of the Passion Week is a huge comfort to me. Yes, wicked men sentenced Jesus to death, but it was all part of God’s plan. Jesus died for our sins. He rose again, showing God’s acceptance of his sacrifice. We are justified because of our faith in the work of the cross. But, God had his plan in place before Adam even sinned. What an awesome God we serve!
I love how God can work and point us to the gospel as we read his Word. It may be Passion Week, but that’s not where I’m reading; yet, God still points me to his Son’s work on the cross and my soul is lifted because of it!