When I first read Basic Christianity about thirty-five years ago, I needed information about my new faith. I had a serious desire for an orientation because I had only bits and pieces of something that older, more experienced Christians seemed to have. To use a cliché, I did not have the “big picture.”
Of course, I caught on quite easily to the idea that I am a sinner and I need a Savior. Without Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, I knew I had no chance for a righteous life. God’s grace is a wonderful gift [an undeserved gift] and as a new Christian, I wondered what I needed to do to earn it [a difficult idea for anyone who cannot accept gifts “without strings”]. I remember the weekend I gave my life to Christ, how excited I was to try to live a different life. I had no way of knowing what would happen as the years unfolded; you might say I was in “love with Jesus” and that was all that mattered. I had already fallen in love with my wife and I knew what that was like. I could not get her out of my mind and every waking moment I thought of her and felt happy. Then I fell in love with Jesus and the same thing happened.
But there was a problem. Many, many, gaping holes were in my faith. I was a church-going child and I was baptized at the age of eleven, but going to church was expected [so I went]. I knew about the Bible and I picked it up a few times to read a verse or two, but I never tried to read it for help, for guidance, for an orientation. When I became “born again” I did read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation and I was glad I did. That “love” reading confirmed that I had made a correct choice to give my life to Christ. I had a new set of rules to follow, I had a source of help in troubled times, but I still did not have the “big picture.”
Then I opened the pages of Basic Christianity by John Stott. I was not ready to read the Old Testament at this time in my life but I needed to at least know how that part of the Bible fit in with the “New” part.
Why was Jesus a sacrifice for sin? How could a man’s sacrifice be a reasonable thing for humanity to be saved? That idea seemed so foreign to me, but I did not know much about the Old Testament.
From the beginning, sacrifice was the norm in “the Bible world.” Abel brought lambs from his flock to appease God and eventually all worshippers of Jehovah brought sacrifices to God. People built altars, animals were killed and blood was shed long before the Laws of Moses. After Moses, sacrificial offerings were a regular part of daily life. Stott writes “Every Jew was familiar with the ritual attached to the burnt offering, trespass offering and their appropriate drink offering as well as with the special occasions, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly when they had to be offered. No Jew would have failed to learn the fundamental lesson of all this” [Stott, 83]. That fundamental lesson is as follows: “the life of the flesh is in the blood and that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin’” [Leviticus 17: 11 and Hebrews 9: 22].
Even though I did not fully comprehend the story of Abraham and Isaac and the lamb in the thicket, that story and many more foretold the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ.* The suffering Son of Jehovah would be wounded for the transgressions of others: Jesus Christ would suffer for us all. When Jesus began His ministry, He felt that He must do His Father’s will and He went about His business with His sacrificial end on His mind. Stott writes “He kept moving steadily toward what He called His ‘hour’”. The closer He came to His death, the more He hinted to the Disciples that it was coming even though they did not understand His hints or accept the fact that He was going to die.
His death and resurrection take center stage in the New Testament. Stott reports two-fifths of Matthew is devoted to Christ’s last week and death. Three-fifths of Mark is devoted to this topic. One-third of Luke is devoted to His sacrifice and John spends one-half of His Gospel on Jesus entering Jerusalem and His ascension into heaven.
Then we turn to the writing of Paul, the Apostle who never tires of reminding us that Jesus died on the cross for all of us. “The Son of God…loved me, he could write and and gave Himself for me, and therefore, far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter writes about the sacrifice of Christ in his writings. Paul’s Epistle to Hebrews states “Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Finally in Revelation, Jesus is seen as the Lion and the Lamb and countless angels sing His praises “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” [Revelation 5, 6 and 12].
When I gave my life to Christ thirty-five years ago, I had no notion about what some theologians call the “scarlet thread” that stretches all the way from Genesis to the final chapter of Revelation. I knew the cross was significant [even unbelievers know that]. Crosses are all over churches, crosses appear around believers’ necks and they adorn the gravestones that mark our final resting place.
One can surely say that the cross is the symbol of Christianity.**
Stott writes “the Christian faith is the ‘faith of Christ crucified’….There is no conquest without the cross. There is no Christianity without the cross.”
Want an orientation to the Christian faith? New to the faith and needing some guidance, some basic information about your newfound beliefs? Turn to the cross. Recognize that it is central to the whole faith. On that cross of wood, Jesus gave His life for you and for me.
That is the “big picture.”
*Zechariah, 13: 7; Mark 14: 27; Daniel 9: 25; Isaiah 53; Luke 24: 46.
**Just read any of the posts for Stott’s The Cross of Christ beginning November 1, 2020.