The Third Law: What God Demands, He Supplies
The Second Law takes us one step further: God Doesn’t Need Us But We Desperately Need Him. The key is the word “desperately,” which focuses on our weakness, our sinfulness, and our total separation from God because of our sin. God can get along fine without us, but we couldn’t live another second without him. Once we realize our true condition, we end up on our knees, confessing our sin and crying out to God for mercy.
And that leads us to the Third Law of the Spiritual Life: What God Demands, He Supplies. This is a wonderful word of hope for those who find themselves face down in the dust with nowhere else to turn. The Third Law brings us to the very heart of the gospel. If we understand this law, we know why the gospel is truly Good News.
I. An Old Testament Illustration
Let’s begin with a very familiar story from Genesis 22. One day God came to Abraham and told him to take his son Isaac to the region of Moriah and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering to the Lord. The words of Genesis 22:2 emphasize the close bond that existed between father and son: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love.” There are many questions we would like to ask at this point, foremost among them being, Why would God ask a father to sacrifice his own son? Isn’t the very request a violation of God’s nature? If there was any discussion between Abraham and God, or if Abraham hesitated when he heard the command, it is not recorded in the text. All we know is that the next morning Abraham took his son and his servants and set out to obey the Lord’s command. When they got to the region of Moriah (modern-day Jerusalem), he said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you” (Genesis 22:5). One wonders what he was thinking and how much he understood. Hebrews 11:19 indicates that he thought that God would raise his son from the dead. Somehow Abraham looked beyond the immediate circumstance and found faith to believe that the God who would take his son from him could also give him back.
As they walked along together, father and son, Isaac asked a question that must have torn at Abraham’s heart. “Father, I see the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” With an even greater flash of insight, Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:8). Across the centuries Christians have seen in these words a prefiguring of the death of Christ on the cross. There is Abraham (representing God) placing the wood (representing the Cross) upon Isaac (representing Jesus Christ). It is the father offering his son freely and without complaint, just as God the Father offered Jesus for the sins of the whole world. Somehow Abraham understood something of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. When he said, “God himself will provide the lamb,” he was pointing not simply toward the altar on Mount Moriah, but to a greater sacrifice to be offered at the very same location almost 2,000 years later when God provided the Ultimate Lamb—Jesus Christ—for the sin of the world.
When they reached the right spot, Abraham built an altar of stones and placed the wood on top of it. Then he bound Isaac and placed him on the wood. I don’t know what words passed between father and son but I doubt that much was said. What does a father say to his son in a moment like that? What does a son who loves and trusts his father say as his hands and feet are bound? Then came the moment of truth. Abraham raised his hand and prepared to plunge the knife into the breast of his son. At that very moment, not one second sooner and not one second later, God spoke to Abraham: “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (Genesis 22:12). Again, the timing is crucial. As Abraham looked up, he saw a ram caught by its horns in a nearby thicket. I am sure he ran to get that ram before it freed itself and got away. With the same knife that he would have used to take his son’s life, he slit the ram’s throat, drained the blood, set the wood on fire, and offered the ram on the altar to the Lord.
Only one detail remains. Abraham called the place “The Lord will provide.” The traditional English rendering of the Hebrew is Jehovah Jireh. The word “jireh” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to see” or “to provide.” Abraham meant, “Here is the place where God saw my need and provided the ram to meet my need.” In a broader perspective, we can sum up the whole story in three short phrases:
He saw everything, he demanded a sacrifice, and he provided what he demanded. As we read this story, it’s easy to focus on Abraham’s amazing faith. But the real hero of the story isn’t Abraham. The real hero is God! As great as Abraham was, God was even greater. He gave Abraham a seemingly impossible demand and then he provided what Abraham lacked—a morally righteous way to meet the demand. God did what only God could do. He supplied what Abraham needed to fulfill his demand. What God wanted all along was not the death of Abraham’s son but rather Abraham’s unquestioning obedience. He never meant for Isaac to die, but it had to happen the way it did in order for Abraham to demonstrate his faith and for God to demonstrate his grace.
Blood, Death, Sacrifice
That happened early in the history of the Old Testament. Several hundred years passed and one day God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the law that would guide the people of Israel. If you have read Leviticus, you know that God gave Moses instructions regarding various offerings and sacrifices. From our point of view, it was a fairly complex system that involved offering different animals to be sacrificed before the Lord. It might be a lamb or a goat or a bull. In certain cases it could be a turtledove. The priest would take the animal, kill it, drain the blood, and burn the carcass on the altar of sacrifice.
And the law was very specific. The animals had to be unblemished. No broken bones. No sores. No disease. No animals with one eye. No crippled animals. They must be “without spot or blemish.” All other animals were turned away.
Several people commented to me recently that the Old Testament system was a very bloody religion. They are right about that. If you were a priest, you spent a good part of every day killing animals, draining their blood, in some cases splashing the blood on the altar, in some cases preserving part of the animal for food, and then burning the rest on the altar. All day long that would be your job. Killing, draining the blood, burning the carcass. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. No matter how hard you tried to wash it off, you would go home with the smell of blood and burning flesh on your clothes.
That was the religion of the Old Testament. If you served as a priest for 40 years, you would have killed thousands and thousands of animals. The blood would have filled a small lake. And when you died, another priest would come along and take your place and do the same thing. Blood, death, sacrifice. There was no end to the killing, no end to the bloodshed, no end to the death because that’s the religion God gave to his people.
Do you really think that God enjoyed seeing animals killed? Do you think God was pleased with a river of animal blood? Do you think God enjoyed the smell of burning animal flesh? Micah 6:6-7 poses the question this way: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?” Hebrews 10:8 (quoting Psalm 40) answers very plainly: “‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’ (although the law required them to be made).” Whatever else you can say about the sacrificial system, it was not God’s ultimate desire. From the very beginning, he always planned something better. Hebrews 10:1 tells us that the law was a “shadow” of good things to come. It was a divinely ordained object lesson, teaching the Israelites through the monotonous repetition of blood, death and sacrifice that they dare not approach God on their own but only through the sacrifice of something (or Someone!) offered on their behalf.
II. The New Testament Fulfillment
In a sense, the entire legal system was meant to prepare the Jews for the day when John the Baptist saw Jesus and exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). What an amazing statement that is. First, he is God’s lamb sent from heaven to earth. If we offer a sacrifice, the best we can do is to offer a literal lamb or a goat or to round up a bull and bring it to the priest. Animal blood was what we could offer. When God offers a “lamb,” that “lamb” is his own Son. He is the perfect sacrifice. All those animals the priests put to death were meant to point directly to him.
Second, he is God’s lamb offered for our sins. The word translated “takes away” is used elsewhere for the rolling away of the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus. When our Lord died on the cross, he “rolled away” our sins once and for all. They are gone, removed, blotted out, covered, and rolled away forever.
Third, he is God’s lamb who rolls away the sins of the world. I was thinking about those Orthodox Jews who were murdered last Saturday in Jerusalem by a suicide bomber. They were still looking for the Messiah, they don’t believe he came 2,000 years ago. But Jesus died for them too. And he even died for the bomber who took his own life while taking theirs as well. Here is an amazing truth. The blood of Jesus is so powerful that it is sufficient payment for the sins of the whole world. Anyone, anywhere, at any time can be forgiven through Christ. There are no barriers that stand between you and eternal life. Jesus paid it all.
III. An Eternal Truth
All of this leaves us with a hugely important principle that I will state this way: There is something in God that causes him to provide whatever we need to meet his righteous demands. That “something” is his grace. The word means “unmerited favor” or “undeserved bounty” and refers to the fact that God’s generosity moves him to give us what we do not deserve and could never earn. It literally means that he gives us the exact opposite of what we deserve—eternal punishment in hell.
Here is the whole gospel in three simple statements:
God said, “Do this.”
We said, “We can’t.”
God said, “Alright. I’ll do it for you.”
God demanded perfection. We couldn’t meet the standard. So God sent his Son who was perfect in our place.
God demanded payment for sin. We couldn’t make the payment. So God sent his Son who paid the price in full on our behalf.
God demanded righteousness. But all we had to offer were the filthy rags of our soiled self-righteousness. So God sent his Son who took our sin so that we might be clothed with his perfect righteousness.
God demanded a scapegoat who would be rejected and sent away. When Christ died bearing our sins, the Father turned his back on his own beloved Son so that Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
God demanded a bloody sacrifice for sin. But we could not meet that demand. So he sent his Son to die in our place, shedding his blood, paying the price, bearing our burden, offering himself as the final sacrifice for our sin.
Blood. Death. Sacrifice. The Old Testament system made it clear that this is what God demands because of our sin. Without blood, without death, without sacrifice no one can come into his presence. But we weren’t even qualified to die for ourselves, much less for anyone else. We weren’t perfect, or pure, or unblemished. Sin had marred every part of us, inside and out.
If God doesn’t do something for us, we’re sunk.
His holiness demanded a perfect sacrifice.
His love sent us his Son.
In this we see the glory of the gospel. God says, “You must.” We said, “We can’t.” God said, “I will.” And he sent his Son from heaven to earth to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. This is why the Bible repeatedly says that “salvation is of the Lord.” Everything starts with God. Salvation doesn’t start on earth and rise to heaven. No, a thousand times no. It starts in heaven and comes down to earth. God takes the initiative. He makes the first move. That is why the most famous verse in the Bible begins this way: “For God so loved the world that he gave …” (John 3:16). You’ll never understand why Jesus came until you grasp the meaning of those words. Jesus is God’s gift to the human race. Entirely undeserved. A gift given in spite our sin. A gift many would despise and reject. A gift that would be brutally crucified. But even his crucifixion was part of the gift from God. In his death he gave us eternal life.
We can expand this thought in many directions:
§ God knew we were dead in our sins so he sent Christ to give us life.
§ He knew we were his enemies so he sent Christ to make us his friends.
§ He knew we were like orphans so he sent Christ to bring us into his family.
§ He knew we had no hope so he sent Christ to give us a home in heaven.
§ He knew we were poor so he sent Christ to make us rich.
§ He knew we were enslaved so he sent Christ to set us free.
§ He knew we were afraid to die so he sent Christ to die and then raised him from the dead.
§ He knew we had nothing so he gave us all things in Christ.
What he demanded from us, he gave to us.
What we needed, he provided.
And there is much more:
§ He knew we needed guidance so he gave us his Word, the Bible.
§ He knew we needed power so he sent us the Holy Spirit.
§ He knew we needed encouragement so he gave us brothers and sisters in the church.
And he placed us “in Christ.” At this point the great words of the gospel come into play: salvation, forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, peace, hope, eternal life, redemption, substitution, propitiation, reconciliation, adoption, justification, regeneration, and glorification. All of it is given to us freely in Christ.
Or think of the little word “new.”
All of it is ours, all of it is free, and all of it comes to us as a gift from God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We didn’t deserve any of it. We could never have earned it in a million years. Isaac Watts said it well in these words written nearly 300 years ago:
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.
But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).
Who is a God like you? Where else will we find a God like this? He is a God who delights to show mercy to sinners like you and me. He loves to forgive sin. He longs for sinners to come to him. He sends his Son to die on the cross and then says to the whole world, “Whosoever will may come.”
There is no other religion in the whole world like Christianity. We are the only people in the world who preach free grace. Ours is the only free religion in the world. Every other religion says, “Do this and live.” Our God says, “It has been done for you.” And right there you find the whole gospel in just three little words:
Do vs. Done.
Every other religion is based on works. You go to heaven because of what you do: Give money. Go to church or to the synagogue or the mosque. Pray toward Mecca. Light a candle. Pray all night. Keep the feast days. Give alms to the poor. Offer a sacrifice. Keep the Ten Commandments. Be baptized. Follow the Golden Rule. Be a good neighbor. Don’t get in trouble. Obey the law. Stay out of jail. Be courteous, kind and forgiving. Try harder. Do your best. Follow the program. Live a good life. In looking at that list, it’s important to note that many of those things are indeed good and right and noble, but the problem with a religion based on “doing” is that you can never be sure you’ve done enough. And if somehow you finally do enough, how do you know that you won’t blow it all tomorrow by one stupid sin?
But Christianity is based on grace. Sometimes you hear the phrase “free grace” but that is a redundant statement. If it’s not free, it’s not grace. If you have to do something, anything at all, to earn it or merit it or deserve it, it’s not grace. Grace is no longer grace if you have to do something to earn it. The whole difference comes down to this: Christianity is based on what Christ has done for us. Every other religion is based on what we ourselves do.
Do this and live the law demands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
A better word the gospel brings,
Bids me fly and gives me wings.
Christianity vs. Radical Islam
Let me make the point a bit sharper. In recent months world attention has been focused on the radical version of Islam that causes young men to hijack planes and blow themselves up in the service of Allah, in the hope of being rewarded with 72 virgins in the next life. According to syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, Attorney General John Ashcroft offered a simple explanation of the difference between radical Islam and Christianity. Although he later said his words had been misunderstood, whoever said it was right on the money:
In radical Islam God tells you to send your son to die for him.
In Christianity God sends his Son to die for you.
Who wouldn’t serve a God like this?
Let me bring the discussion to a very fine point. Are you satisfied with what Jesus did for you on the cross? If you are, then all you have to do is rest on him for your eternal salvation. If you aren’t satisfied with what Jesus did, then you’ve got to do something to add to his work on the cross.
God is satisfied with what Jesus did.
Jesus himself said, “It is finished.”
The price has been paid in full.
What do you say? Is Jesus enough to take you to heaven or do you think you’ve got to add to what he did?
Let me explain what all this means. Because of the work of Christ on our behalf, we now have full forgiveness for all our sins. Not only that, we have the assurance that when we die, we will go to heaven. And we can say with confidence that even the worst sinner can be saved any time, anywhere. The door to heaven has been opened by the bloody death of God’s Son. Will you not go through the door marked “Enter By Grace?”
As we wrap up this message, let me share two simple applications:
A. If God has provided all that we need, then we must reach out and receive what he offers.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.
Jesus himself made the invitation very clear when he said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). And the words of Isaiah 1:18 offer this hope to seeking hearts: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”
Come to me … taste and see … let us reason together. How simple it is to be saved. Just reach out your empty hands and take the gift God offers you.
B. If we have experienced God’s free grace, we ought to respond with profound gratitude.
God has done it all. He has made a way for lost sinners to be forgiven. He found us, saved us, redeemed us, gave us new life, and set us on the road to heaven. Should we not give thanks to our great God every single day? If the truth of grace does not move your heart, either you don’t understand your sin or you don’t understand what God has done for you. One writer said that we come to Christ by faith and the rest of our life is one big P.S. where we say “Thank You” to the Lord.
Robert Robinson wrote these words in 1758:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.
Poor pauper! Run to the cross, run quickly. Lay hold of the riches that are yours in Christ Jesus. Lay aside the rags of your own righteousness and receive the pure white robes of the righteousness of Christ. Hold out your hands and he will fill them with every spiritual blessings. All that God has promised is yours for the asking. Would you like the water of life? Come and drink all you like. It’s yours and it’s free, flowing from the throne of grace in heaven. Think of what is yours through Christ:
He forgives with no payment whatsoever.
He forgives all our sins once and for all.
He promises complete reconciliation with God.
He gives you assurance of your salvation.
He makes you his child and adopts you into his family.
He places you in Christ.
He gives you access to God 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
He gives you a new heart and a new life.
He gives you a home in heaven for all eternity.
He promises to raise you from the dead.
He promises that you will be like him and will reign with him in heaven.
All of this is yours in Christ. Christian, does this not lift your spirit? Does it not make you want to sing? Why aren’t you on your feet right now, praising the Lord?
Remember this truth. What God demands, he supplies. All that we need, we find in Christ. This is the Third Law of the Spiritual Life. Amen.
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