The Third Law: What God Demands, He Supplies
March 3, 2002
In this sermon series we’re looking at the basic laws of the spiritual life that apply to all Christians everywhere. These are the principles that every Christian needs to know because they meet you right where you are and then take you all the way home to heaven. The First Law states a fundamental reality: He’s God and We’re Not. Get this and everything else in life will begin to fall into place. Skip this and nothing will work right. If you are unclear about who’s God and who’s not, the rest of the spiritual laws won’t help you a bit. But once you rip that big G off your sweatshirt, you are in a position to grow spiritually. As long as you fight with God, your frustrations will follow you no matter how often you go to church. It is a great advance in the spiritual life to finally say, “The battle is over, Lord. I’m putting down my weapons. You win.” The First Law leads us to healthy submission where we can say from the heart, “O God, not my will but yours be done.”
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: