The crucified Lamb is in charge

Jesus Christ was never in any doubt that his death would change everything. He says that when he is lifted up, he will draw people from all nations to himself (John 12:32). And before he ascends into heaven, he says, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

How we need a leader who knows what he is doing and can put things right! That’s exactly what Jesus Christ claims he will be. And this is what he’s doing.

We need to know how he does this. It’s not evident from looking around us that he is in charge. And getting killed on a cross is an unlikely way to gain authority over the nations. But it is God’s way of establishing his own rule—or kingdom. So, Paul is not ashamed to announce Jesus as the world’s Saviour (Romans 1:16).

Here’s three things that are really clear about Jesus Christ’s supervising all that happens in the world and among his people. They’re all scenes from the Book of Revelation. This book is a revelation of him exercising his authority and making everything new.

We won’t understand everything we read here but that doesn’t stop us from benefitting from what we can understand. It would be good to read the chapters I refer to below and let them speak to you directly. As on television, I should warn you that ‘some may find some scenes disturbing’.

First, there’s no doubt that ‘the Lamb’ is in control of everything (chapter five). He’s given a book or scroll that’s sealed up. Only when he breaks the seals can what is recorded happen. But he’s worthy to be in charge. Why him? Because he died to save whoever will come to him.

We need to be really clear about this. The one who is ruling our world hasn’t been changed by having authority. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His love is still comprehensive and persuasive. But he can’t be ignored without consequences!

Here’s how it works out (chapter 6). A conqueror rides out to take over other countries. Peace dies. Poverty sets in—particularly for the disadvantaged. People die in huge numbers from numerous causes. All this sounds familiar!

Christians are caught up in all this. They die too and find themselves in heaven. Even there, they cry to God for justice but are told to wait until other Christians die.

The whole earth seems to be unravelling and people cry out. Notice—they cry out to be preserved from the wrath of the Lamb! They know they’ve rejected Christ. They know it’s him that’s angry!

As I said, these scenes may be disturbing. But the things they describe are happening anyway! What we know is that the Lamb is in charge. The events couldn’t happen unless they were absolutely necessary—for some reason that we don’t understand. Many believers have received great comfort from knowing that their circumstances, however painful, are under the sovereignty of this Lamb.

Second, Satan is thrown out of heaven (chapter 12). Something has changed in his ability to accuse Christians before God. Jesus notices the beginnings of this (Luke 10:18). Then, he pronounces that it will happen (John 12:31). And it is secured by him being the Lamb who takes away our sins.

Here’s how it is described. ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accused them before our God day and night, has been hurled down’ (12:10).

Notice, the authority of Christ is being exercised in us having no accuser. A person without guilt before God is free—free to live, to love, and even to die. In particular, a person whose sins are forgiven is free to trust.

If we only have what our eyes can see, Jesus Christ is nowhere to be found! But then, he has freed us from our sins. This is what enables us to believe he has everything else under control as well.

In fact, Christ’s authority is reflected in how these Christians deal with Satan. They overcome him. How? They trust in the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. They listen to and tell others the word of Christ they have received. And they think this is more important than merely staying alive!

Without this Lamb of God, we get caught up in our sins and selfishness and can’t manage our own future—let alone the future of the world. There’s only one way. The Lamb must be in charge. This is what Christians know and what makes them different from everyone else.

Third, God announces that he is making everything new (chapter 21). Everything evil will be destroyed and God will live with his people. We, the church, will be his Son’s Bride—married to the Lamb (v. 9)!

How do you prepare for a wedding like that? Imagine a future as wife to the one who’s loved us, freed us and brought us to himself. Imagine being deeply attractive to him (Eph. 5:25-27).

We are introduced to this Bride earlier (19:6-9). The finery she wears is her righteous deeds! It turns out we’re getting ready for the wedding right now.

It matters what we do while we are here. We are not just ‘being nice’ as Christians. We are preparing for a life shared as wife of the Lamb. All that will matter then is love—his love for us, and our love for him—pure, eager, delightful and forever. So, if that’s what matters then, that’s what matters now.

We tend to think of authority as power, and easily link it with injustice. But we are being taught to understand authority as love. Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God—has nothing less in mind. And it is nothing less than he is achieving right now.

We can’t see these things with our eyes, but he reveals them to us so that we actually know them. And the future is going to be an eye-opener!

Well may we boast of our Saviour who dies on a cross. And well may we entrust ourselves to him who loved us, and who does all things well!

In these articles on Christ’s cross, we’ve looked at the things he accomplished there. The world has been judged. God has got things right—us in particular. Peace with our Creator is now being announced. His love has been persuasively displayed. True human freedom has been established. And now, we see that Christ has decisively established the future of the world as a work of love.

Freedom—lost and won

Jesus tells us the purpose of his coming is to ‘proclaim freedom for the prisoners’ (Luke 4:18). He’s reading Isaiah 61 to his local synagogue, and he says this is what he is going to do.

Given our thirst for freedom, we need to know what Jesus has in mind.

Ideologies, and this world’s crusaders, say they know what will give us freedom but they all miss what is really needed. Jesus is clear: ‘whoever commits sin is a slave to it’ (John 8:31-36).

Here’s our problem. Freedom must be freedom to be what we really are. We’re made by God and if we’re fighting him, we’re already trapped—and can be seduced by many other so-called freedoms the world says will fix us.

Most of the social freedoms we enjoy have come from ordinary people fighting for them. But this freedom comes from above. It must be provided by God, and it comes with a cost. It’s called ‘redemption’ which means setting people free by paying a price.

Shortly before he dies, Jesus talks about what he is going to happen with Moses and Elijah. They discuss the ‘departure’ he will accomplish in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). The word is actually ‘exodus’. Jesus, like Moses, is going to lead his people in a great victory and give freedom to his people (cf. Exodus 7:16). It will be freedom from sin. And it will be freedom to serve God.

This is what Jesus does when he dies on the cross. He describes what is going to happen as the hour belonging to his enemies, and when darkness reigns (Luke 22:53). He’s not fooled by how hard—or costly—freeing us from our sins is going to be.

Jesus overcomes our sin by becoming our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). I don’t know how this happens, by I know it is an amazing work of love.

He personally engages what binds us. He bears sin’s futility, its pollution and shame. He owns our liability before God, and the judgement it deserves. And he dies.

But notice, Jesus has also said that Satan is coming. But Satan has nothing to hold him (John 14:30-31). Anything Satan throws at him can be overcome. If you like, Jesus dies as a free man. He’s there to do his Father’s will.

So, Jesus sets us free, by spilling his blood. He’s redeemed us. Here’s how the apostles talk about this.

First, we are forgiven (Eph. 1:7).

This becomes very practical when the gospel is first preached. The apostles announce forgiveness to Christ’s murderers (Acts 2:38). The relief of this is felt deeply and noticeably. These Jews are in big trouble with God, and in moment, they are entirely free of guilt. Their relief before God pours out in an overflowing of generosity to one another.

Guilt is awful! It binds us up in self-justification, self-promotion, self-excusing and busyness. But Christ loves us. Not just when he dies, but now. And he releases us from our sin by his blood (Rev. 1:5).

This means we are released from a life driven by the need to ‘be someone’, or to keep God off our back (Acts 13:39; Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 4:3-5). A lot of what we do is not because it’s useful, or kind, but because it puts us in a good light, or simply, relieves our conscience. We’re still slaves—not free!

We really need to ask ourselves, often, ‘Is my life starting with guilt or forgiveness?’

Second, we are cleansed.

Think of Peter when Jesus starts to wash the feet of his disciples (John 13:2-10). One minute he doesn’t want his feet washed. Next he wants a complete bath! He’s trying to show he’s in charge, but he’s making a fool of himself.

And Jesus says, ‘You are clean!’ Later, he adds, ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you’ (John 15:3).

Peter needs to find a new way of seeing himself. He is clean—because of Christ’s word. Later, Peter must also find a new way of seeing others (Acts 15:9).

Israel has been told to cleanse themselves from defilement—to ‘circumcise their hearts’ (Deut. 10:16). They won’t do this—not as a nation. So, God will do it for them (Deut. 30:6).

This is what happens when Christ dies (Col. 2:11-14). What is unclean in us is attributed to him, and, in his flesh, it’s cut off. Because we are joined to Christ by faith, we also are clean—and able to enjoy God.

Christ washes his whole church to make her pure—as a bride for himself (Eph. 5:26).

Third, we have a change of master.

When someone trusts in Christ, they are transferred to his kingdom. He’s in charge of the arena we now live in (Col. 1:13-14). This has some amazing consequences

What we used to be—our old humanity—is no longer in charge (Rom. 6:6-7). God has joined us to Christ’s death and resurrection, so our ‘body of sin’ is disabled. Being freed is actually being ‘justified’. Where the guilt of our sin is removed, its power is decisively broken. Notice, Paul at this point is not talking about how we are to behave but what we are to count on (Romans 6:11).

So, sin is no longer in charge (Rom. 6:15-23). We really want God’s good news, and part of this is that we want a new life—living for God. This is not our goal. It needs to be our starting point—all of the time.

If there is no cross where Jesus dies, freedom dies—in a restlessness of guilt, a quagmire of pollution, and a collision of rival powers. But freedom lives and thrives for God’s people because it has pleased him to unite us to his Son, in whom freedom is granted as a gift.

We are free to serve God, and to serve our neighbor. This is what we are created for. Everything is working properly.

Many people have died to preserve freedom for others—a freedom to live in their own chosen way. But Jesus has died to provide true human freedom. And it is free people who can move out into life creating freedom for others—in their families, communities and countries.

Love is God’s nature and project

When we study something, we try and understand it. But who can understand God loving the world? How can we talk about God giving his only Son to us? And who can understand a Saviour needing to die as he did to save us (John 3:15-16)?

But we need to know these things. God loves us. And his love is not mere posturing, or experimenting. He knows what is needed and sees that it’s done.

Here’s some pointers about the death of Jesus as a work of love—from Jesus and then the apostles. (I’ll use ‘the cross’ as shorthand for all that happens when Jesus is crucified.)

First, the cross shows that love is God’s project before it is ours.

It may sound cheap to talk about God’s ‘project’, but I do so because Jesus comes with a purpose, and before he dies, he announces, ‘It is finished’. He says he came that we may have a full life (John 10:10). This must mean he will teach us to love because it is where we love that we actually live.

But love is a ‘God thing’ (1 John 4:7). It begins with him. But it also is him. He doesn’t need our loveliness, or even our need, to attract him. He just loves.

If, on the other hand, we imagine that love is our nature and project, we begin to unravel—personally and socially.

Can we create a society that is good and loving? Indications are that we can’t. If we imagine it to be so, our insights shrink until we only see what pleases us. And our horizons shrink until they only include the people we agree with.

But what God does through the cross is a power that creates love. It’s an action we need to live in. Jesus’ death constrains us to love—that is, it encloses us on both sides and moves us from behind into all that life now can be (2 Cor. 5:14).

Second, the cross shows love is God’s priority

It’s easy to give first place to getting things done or accumulating whatever makes us feel secure. But Jesus is putting his life on the line for love. Everything else can come or go, but not love. Here’s some things he says just before he dies (all quoted from John’s Gospel).

He will love his people ‘to the end’ (13:1). He wants us to love him (14:24). He will go to the cross so the world will know he loves his Father God (14:31). This is his first love. He knows the Father’s love for him and that’s how he loves his disciples. This is where he wants us to live as well—in his love (15:9).

He prays that the love he receives from the Father will also be in his disciples (17:22, 26). He wants us to love one another like he does (13:34; 15:13). And he knows none of this will ever happen unless he dies.

Jesus has already told us that the greatest call on our humanity is to love God and to love one another (Mark 12:28-31). Now, he will do just that. If we’re not interested in love, we can let Jesus pass without a thought. But if love is the way to live, and if it’s what we want, we need to know what happens when Jesus dies.

Third, the cross shows love is not deserved.

Jesus is the ‘friend of sinners’ (Luke 7:34). So-called ‘righteous’ people don’t need his help (Mark 2:16-17).

Paul helps us think about this (Romans 5:6-10). We are weak. That’s about as low as you can get—someone without the power to be properly human. Then we are ungodly—we coast around as though the world doesn’t need a Creator, let alone a Saviour. And then, we are sinners—we just don’t ‘get it’ and constantly miss what we are supposed to do.

That’s where we are when Jesus dies for us. We are not lovely people. God is saying, ‘Look at me. What kind of God am I?’ He is asking us to think about whether his love is real or not.

Jesus gets closer to us than we can get to ourselves. The thought of us being wrong, polluted, unlovely and arrogant doesn’t fit easily into our thinking. Jesus sees all of that in us and still says, ‘I want to be with you. I’ll wear what you are. I’ll suffer what you deserve.’

And he also says, ‘I’ll give you all that I am so you can be pure before my Father, and before your Father.’

Fourth, the cross destroys love’s enemy—fear.

What kills love is not busyness or difficult people. It’s threat and shame. Jesus lovingly does something about this. He is sent to be an atoning sacrifice for our sin—a propitiation (1 John 4:10). He needs to turn the wrath of God away from us, and does so by bearing it himself.

We’ve noted that there’s something deeply built into us that wants to make love our project. But love is ‘of God’. He is where it comes from and why it works (1 John 4:7-12).

Because Jesus so comprehensively endures God’s wrath, there is no fear of it touching us. We no longer need to fear meeting God (1 John 4:17-18). Love and fear don’t belong together. But, if fear is gone, love can thrive!

John explains this by saying, ‘as Jesus is, so are we in this world.’ In other words, Jesus is in heaven. We are on the earth. But we are as he is.

Think about what this means. There was a time when Jesus was in torment—on his cross. He could not say ‘Father’ as he usually did. He said, ‘My God. Why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46). He is in torment.

But then, he announces that his work is finished (John 19:30), and entrusts his spirit to the Father (Luke 23:46). And God raises him from the dead. He raises him to sit by his side to administer the kingdom. His torment is over. This is how he is now. And we—in this world—are as he is.

Our torment is over. Love has begun. ‘God abides in us and we are made perfect in love’. This is not about us being perfect in love, but about God’s love being perfected or coming to its goal in us. He is confident that his work will bear fruit and cause us to love.

Lastly, the cross creates something entirely new.

To see the cross as God’s revelation and gift of love is to be a new person. Love is not strange to us now. One man dies for all. So, that is the end of all we have been. What happens from now on is all new—made by God (2 Corinthians 5:14-17). Life comes to us, and sometimes, at us, with many difficulties. But the cross is our assurance that nothing that ever happens around, or to us, will separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39).