Lesson 1: Grace That Justifies

You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

– 1 Peter 1:18-19 (NRSV)

This week we examine the second form of unearned love, the grace that justifies us with God. The Bible uses several different metaphors to discuss what God accomplishes for us in Jesus: restoring us to the covenant community, reconciliation, and participation in Jesus sufferings/resurrection. By far the most popular way of understanding “justification” is the legal metaphor of “pardon.” We explore that powerful image tomorrow. However, before we turn our attention to Paul, for it is in his writings where the majority of references on justifying grace are found, let us explore the metaphor of restoration to God’s covenant community in a gospel reference.

Devotion: The language of justification (Greek, “dikaio”) is a part of the same word family for being declared innocent or righteous (“dikaios”) and for the declaration of God’s righteousness (“dikaiosune”). God’s righteousness refers to our Creator’s faithfulness in keeping covenant promises. The strength of God’s faithfulness lies at the heart of one of the metaphors for justification. God offers grace that justifies and declares us “righteous” because God welcomes us as members of the covenant people. Keep this image in mind as you read John 1:29-34.

The sacrifice of lambs has deep Jewish roots, but when John says Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” he refers to the Passover story (Ex 12:1-13). John’s gospel shows other ties between Jesus and Passover, including that his crucifixion occurs the day Passover lambs are killed (Ex 12:46; Jn 19:14, 31-36). Lambs in the Passover story are not associated with sin, but with marking God’s covenant people for protection. The Passover lamb enables them to leave slavery. The implication is that Jesus, as the Lamb of God, marks a New Covenant people, enabling them to overcome slavery to sin. How important is it to be marked as part of God’s covenant community by Holy Baptism? What is the link between Baptism and membership? What is the problem with thinking about Baptism and membership in terms of how they benefit us rather than how they benefit God’s kingdom?

Personal Worship Option: Read 1 Peter 1:17-21. What is God saying to you through Jesus’ sacrifice? How does being loved affect the way you should view yourself? What would change about yourself if you valued yourself as much as God values you?  

Dig A Little Deeper:

1:29 Because John’s gospel begins by celebrating Jesus’ role in the creation (Jn 1:3-4), some believe he repeats the phrase “the next day” (1:29, 35, 43) so readers will recall the “days” of the creation story (Gen 1). Compare this passage to Isaiah 53:7-12 and Revelation 5:1-14. What are the writers communicating in their use of the lamb image?

1:30 “Before me” has many possible meanings: 1) Jesus is Sovereign, and thus superior; 2) Jesus is the new Elijah (Jn 1:21; Mal 4:5); or 3) Jesus existed before creation (Jn 1:1-4).

1:31 John does not begin his ministry knowing Jesus is the Messiah. He calls people to repentance through baptism in order to prepare them for the Messiah’s arrival. Apparently he learns his cousin Jesus is that long-awaited Messiah during his baptism.

1:33 The prophets tell of the outpouring of God’s Spirit when the Messiah arrives (Joel 2:28; Ez 39:25-29; Zech 12:10). Pentecost and Christian baptism represent the fulfillments of this prophecy (Acts 2, 10:44-48; Rom 5:5).

1:34 “Chosen one” (Greek, “eklektos”) echoes Isaiah 42:1.

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