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The Seven Days of Grace that Changed Humanity

In times of chaotic change and stress we need to dig our faith deeper into the rich soil of our Christian heritage. This article is about the historic events that form the soil in which we are planted.

There are seven crucial events in early Christian history, each occurring in a day, that set the Christian faith apart from all religious systems. They not only distinguished Christianity, but also changed the very nature and destiny of humanity. Furthermore, these seven events repeat in every generation of the church and in the lives of all who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. As such, they should be celebrated in the communal life of every church and in the lived reality of every Jesus-follower. Here they are, in the order in which they appeared on the timeline of history.

1.  Birthday

The world changed when Jesus Christ was born to Mary in Bethlehem Judea because on that day God the Son became incarnate in human form. We traditionally celebrate this on the 25th of December each year although the actual day of his birth was more likely to have been in September 3 BC. The religious and secular world adopted Christmas Day as a holiday celebrating family, food, and gifts. Some delight in telling us that in ancient times the god Saturn was honoured on that day. It doesn’t matter what month or which day of the week we set aside to remember and thank God for the wonder of the incarnation, so long as we never forget that our faith started with the birth of Jesus into the world.

Our Christian lives also start with Jesus and a New Birth. We acknowledge that Jesus is God incarnate, our Saviour, and Lord of our life. In response the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Godhead, breathes his life into us. For the individual, this is also a momentous day and one we should rejoice over often.

2.  Baptism Day

About 30 years after his birth, Jesus presented himself to John the Baptist to be baptised in the Jordan River. This was the second crucial day on the Christian history timeline. In the simple act of immersion in water, Jesus drew the Old Covenant to a close and initiated a new right of passage into the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 3:13-15  Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented’. John was baptising as a sign of repentance from sin and so he could not conceive of why Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, the one who came to take away the sin of the world, would need to be baptised. Jesus had to inform him that this baptism was to fulfil all righteousness and to end the system of right standing with God through works, rituals, and laws.

In our own Christian lives, the first step of faith occurs when we are Born Again of the Spirit, The second step is when we publically acknowledge this through baptism. In that act, we symbolically die to the old self-religion of works and philosophies and rise out of the waters as a testimony that by the Grace of Jesus, we are now alive to him and his kingdom.

Church members do not have any one day in the year when they gather together to remember Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. This acknowledgement and celebration occurs whenever we gather together and witness a man, woman, or child being baptised in Jesus’ name. It is a great pity when churches and believers trivialise or repurpose baptism as an infant initiation rite into the church or as a replacement for the Old Testament obligation of circumcision. We do ourselves a disservice and we dishonour the 2nd Day of Grace on the timeline of Christian history.

3.  Crucifixion Friday

The 3rd Day of Grace occurred sometime around April 30 AD when Jesus was in His mid-thirties. Within days of each other, Jesus Christ, the incarnate God the Son, was crucified by the Romans on Golgotha, and then rose from the dead and walked bodily out of the tomb in which he had been incarcerated.

On Crucifixion Friday at 3:00 pm, Jesus took his last breath as a man of mere flesh and blood. Luke 23:46  ‘Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last’.

In that awful and almost unthinkable moment, God the Son took upon himself the sin of the rebellion of all humanity. He satisfied the requirements of divine justice which he, as a member of the Godhead, had established at the very beginning of creation.

In Adam mankind had sinned in treasonous rebellion against God and had incurred the penalty of a life apart from his creator; a penalty passed on to all of his progeny, the entire human race. On that fatal day, the human spirit died to God for ‘in Adam all die’ (1 Corinthians 15:22)

We were all born into this world suffering from spirits dead to God. We are physically and mentally alive in the world, but spiritually unable to hear his voice unaided and helpless to find our way back to him without his direct intervention. Potentially, through what Jesus achieved on the Cross, we are legally entitled to approach the Almighty, yet unable to do so. This is because God is spirit and dwells in high heavenly realms, and we are born spiritually dead. Jesus said to Nicodemus, the premier theologian of Israel, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.” (John 3:5-7)

4.  Victory Saturday

As members of the Christian Church, we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus on a day in late March or early April each year. However, we have no memorial or celebration on the day after ‘Good Friday’. On that day, the body of Jesus lay in a stone tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Most Christians have no idea that in the spiritual realm, Jesus was not sleeping the cold sleep of death, but was actively performing a momentous act.

There is seldom any sound teaching on this so we don’t often hear anything about the events of Easter Saturday. If we do catch a whisper in the intellectual wind and try to research the subject, we tend to get lost in the complex and convoluted commentaries on biblical texts that have a bearing on the subject. I want to spend some time on this Fourth Day of Grace because it is such an under-exposed subject yet one of great significance and importance.

A few biblical texts point us in the right direction but they are difficult to grasp adequately, so we tend to pass them by. For instance:

Hebrews 2:14 ‘Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil.’ In what way did the crucifixion destroy the power of the devil? Did something subsequent to what the world witnessed on Good Friday occur that ‘destroyed’ Satan’s power over death? If so, what was this and when did it occur?

1 Peter 3:18-20 ‘He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built’. Who were these spirits and when and where did this occur?

Then to add to our confusion, the late 3rd century Apostles Creed of the church states that  Jesus ‘was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again.’ Not only were the words ‘descended to the dead/hell’ not in the original creed but they are based on a poor interpretation of Ephesians 4:9 which contains, in brackets, the words ‘What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions.’ Within the context of this passage, it appears obvious that Paul meant that Jesus could hardly ascend to Heaven if he had not previously descended into the lower dimension of earthly existence. However, at least this section of the Apostles Creed gives us the insight that its drafters believed that Jesus entered into a spiritual realm between his physical death on Friday and his resurrection on Sunday.

Colossians 2:13-15

However, the most revealing text concerning what happened on the Saturday of Easter weekend is Colossians 2:13-15 where Paul wrote:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’.

This a notoriously difficult passage to interpret, there are numerous opinions on what it means, and detailed and complex arguments derive from the use and tense of the Greek words used. N.T. Wright analyses the passage from most perspectives, as does Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology.

First, let’s consider the immediate context of the passage. In the very next verse (vs 16) Paul wrote: ‘Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.’ The three things cited by Paul are all religious observances thought by Jews and some others to be essential to a right standing with God.  No, says Paul, you don’t need ritualistic obedience. Why? Because Jesus has set you free from all this. And the source of that freedom is what Jesus did as described in the preceding three verses. He cancelled the regulations of religion and its power over us by dying on the cross and then, the next day, by publically disarming and triumphing over the devil and his powers and principalities. We were all dead to God because of our sin of rebellion and the religious code of Judaism served to convict and remind us that we were unable to change this reality through obedience to rituals, and good works. (Galatians 3:19-25) When Jesus died on the cross he was satisfying the requirement of divine law. You see, when Adam walked with God in Eden the Lord made a covenant with him. This offered the benefits of life, earth’s bounty, and God’s presence forever. However, it also contained a penalty clause: “If you break this covenant obligation of trusting and obeying me then you will certainly die”. (Genesis 2:17) This penalty was entirely satisfied by Jesus’ selfless sacrificial act on our behalf.

In dying on the cross Jesus took away the devil’s main weapon of condemning humanity because they were guilty, cut off from God, unable to change this reality, and therefore under his power and dominion.

But wait there is more! (as cheesy salesmen say).

Jesus cancelled the debt of the Law on Friday at 3 pm, but on Saturday he strode spiritually into the realm of Satan with the armies of Heaven behind him and stripped the devil of all authority over humanity. He also banned Satan from ever again appearing before the throne of God the Father to plead his case of absolution from the guilt of rebellion by virtue of humanity’s lawlessness.

The scene is reminiscent of a military Court Marshal. See the scene: The Lord Jesus Christ stands before Satan and his evil hosts, with the angels of Heaven behind him and declares: “Know this Satan. I have personally settled the penalty on behalf of all humanity by becoming a man of flesh and blood, perfectly obeying and trusting my Father, and then dying under the most extreme conditions imaginable. In that act I, as it were, nailed to the cross of Golgotha a notice that read ‘Fully satisfied’. In so doing I wiped out the condemnation and penalty of the violation of the divine covenant. I have won the right for all humans to step out from under the condemnation of the law of religion and in me and through me to once again have eternal life. Death no longer has a sting in its devilish tail and you no longer have any authority”. Then reaching forward, Jesus stripped the insignia of rank from the devil’s shoulders, removed his armour and weapons and in a thunderous voice declared, “It is done! Now be gone!”

The implications of this for us are vast. If we are born again of the Spirit in and through Jesus Christ then we need not fear death because for us it is just a portal into Heaven. We are no longer under the devil’s authority and he has no right to subjugate us in any way. We possess the delegated authority of the Lord Jesus and can command the powers and principalities of the demonic realm to leave us and to desist from troubling us. Praise God!

5.  Resurrection Sunday

I ended my comments on Crucifixion Friday by pointing out that because of it all men and women are no longer under the condemnation of the violated covenant. However, if it were not for Resurrection Sunday, we would be legally absolved but still spiritually dead!

We all know what this great day signifies and celebrate it annually because on that Day Jesus rose from the grave. He rose, not as a resuscitated man, but as a transformed man no longer restricted by time, space, or matter. He arose in the form that we shall have when we inhabit the new HeavenEarth in the age to come.

In his resurrection, Jesus became the second Adam, a man who would live forever. He became a template of one who could enter Heaven so that we too can enter Heaven when we die physically.

The cross signifies our freedom from death and the Law of Religion and the Empty Tomb signifies our new eternal life in the presence of God. What links us to this wonder is our confession of our sin of rebellion and our heart-felt request that God would breathe his life into us by his Spirit so that we can be born again into a new life in Christ Jesus.

6.  Ascension Day

In years gone by, churches used to celebrate Ascension Day with some form of congregational meeting. This does not seem to be the case nowadays with many churches. Although it may seem like the Ascension is only a conclusion to the Easter sequence of events, it is more. Its deeper significance is that the bodily ascension of Jesus from Earth to Heaven means that;

  • The Godhead now includes a representative of humanity. Jesus, God the Son, has included physicality in his makeup whereas before he was a spiritual being only. This is an astonishing thought!
  • We have Jesus as our intercessor at the Father’s throne. Romans 8:34 ‘Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us’. This too is a wondrous truth that gives us great comfort and assurance.

Ascension Day deserves honour!

7.  The Day of Pentecost

Sadly, Pentecost Sunday also seems to have slipped from the community calendar for many churches. We commemorate the birth of Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection, but we don’t honour the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church on Earth?

At the Tower of Babel God scattered the nations of  the world and gave them different languages. On the Day of Pentecost, he gathered people from the nations and united those who believed into one new nation, the Kingdom of God. He even evidenced a new language for his people, the church, that we call Tongues. On that day the power of the Holy Spirit was dispensed onto and into the people of God and in this power the church grew and went out into the world preaching the Gospel. (Acts 2)

During his time on Earth, the Lord Jesus depended entirely on the power of the Holy Spirit to achieve the things the Father directed him to do. The same applies to us. Without the anointing of the Spirit, we cannot do what we are called to do. We can’t even live Jesus-like lives of obedience and trust. Why then would we not want to remember and honour the Holy Spirit and rejoice in being part of the church that was birthed on that day?

Conclusion

I started this article by observing that in uncertain times we need to dig down into the rich soil of our Christian heritage. The more insecure the times, the more we need to dig down. It gives us stability and hope to realise again who we are in Christ Jesus. When we consider how God scheduled and executed his plan of salvation in past times, we can more easily believe that he can act in our times. I hope that this overview of parts of our shared history inspire and encourage you. God be with you.

 

 

Picture of Christopher Peppler

Christopher Peppler

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.