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Sunday, April 23, 2017

To Understand Jesus’ Life, Death, and Resurrection, We Must Understand Sin

In one of my favorite songs—Worlds Apart by Jars of Clay—singing of the death of Jesus, the lyrics ask (at about the 2:29 mark in the linked video) “Did you really have to die for me?” The answer, of course, is a resounding “YES!”

One of the most important questions in the history of the universe is “Why did Jesus have to die?” (After beginning this piece, I discovered that The Christian Post recently published “Why Did Jesus Die?”) This is especially the case as we are in the throes of what many are referring to as the “post-truth” era, where “Everybody Wants to Rule Their World.” The late-great Oswald Chambers provides one of the best descriptions of why Jesus went to the cross:
The Cross of Christ is the revealed truth of God’s judgment on sin…There is nothing in time or eternity more absolutely certain and irrefutable than what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross— He made it possible for the entire human race to be brought back into a right-standing relationship with God. He made redemption the foundation of human life; that is, He made a way for every person to have fellowship with God. 
The Cross was not something that happened to Jesus— He came to die; the Cross was His purpose in coming. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). The incarnation of Christ would have no meaning without the Cross. Beware of separating “God was manifested in the flesh…” from “…He made Him…to be sin for us…” (1 Timothy 3:16 ; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The purpose of the incarnation was redemption. God came in the flesh to take sin away, not to accomplish something for Himself. The Cross is the central event in time and eternity, and the answer to all the problems of both. 
The Cross is not the cross of a man, but the Cross of God, and it can never be fully comprehended through human experience. The Cross is God exhibiting His nature. It is the gate through which any and every individual can enter into oneness with God. But it is not a gate we pass right through; it is one where we abide in the life that is found there. 
The heart of salvation is the Cross of Christ. The reason salvation is so easy to obtain is that it cost God so much. The Cross was the place where God and sinful man merged with a tremendous collision and where the way to life was opened.
One of my favorite Scriptures that explains the death of Jesus is near the end of the first chapter of the book of Colossians. (Colossians 1:15-20 is one of my favorite pieces of Scripture. It is a great answer to the question “Who is Jesus?”) Colossians 1:19-20 reads:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
In other words, Jesus was, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “The Perfect Penitent.” As Lewis puts it,
We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.
Christ dying for our sins is an amazing (and necessary) act of love and sacrifice, but it is not the end of the matter. Just as important as Christ dying for our sins is His resurrection. As I have noted for many years,
The physical resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of Christianity. British theologian Michael Green said it well when he noted, “Without faith in the resurrection there would be no Christianity at all.” Noted biblical scholar, professor, and author Wilbur M. Smith said that, “The resurrection of Christ is the very citadel of the Christian faith. This is the doctrine that turned the world upside down…”… 
C.S. Lewis notes that, “In the earliest days of Christianity an ‘apostle’ was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection,” or more accurately, a witness of the resurrected Christ. He adds that, “to preach Christianity meant primarily to preach the Resurrection.”
The facts of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection all are, of course, central to Christianity. For millennia, each of these events has been celebrated, studied, and sermonized. Most everyone—from the fervently faithful to the lukewarm to the “near Christian” to those outside Christianity—at least admires the loving life, work, and words of Jesus. However, for a complete understanding of the events of Jesus’ life—especially His death and resurrection—one must seek to understand sin and its sorrowful, destructive, and deadly effect upon humanity.

Unless you have a proper understanding of sin—especially the sin in your own life—you don’t really understand why Jesus came into this world, why He said the things He said, why He did the things He did, and why He died and was raised to life again. The first act of Jesus’ public ministry was His baptism by John. As Jesus came to the Jordan River, John declared (John 1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Since the first humans decided that they wanted to “be like God,” the world has been plagued—literally cursed—by sin. In the healing of the paralyzed man at Capernaum (recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus reveals the “sickness” from which human beings are in most need of a cure. After his friends went through the difficult work of getting their paralyzed friend to the roof of a crowded house where Jesus was teaching, and after they labored to lower their friend into the room so that he could get closer to Jesus, what were the first words out of Jesus’ mouth? As the Book of Mark records, Jesus, seeing the faith of the paralyzed man and his friends, immediately declared to the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

If you’re an adult and you haven’t suffered yourself, you’ve probably at least witnessed a loved one go through a difficult time with his or her health. Imagine him struggling with an injury or illness and when he visits a physician he believes can heal him, the first thing he is told is that his sins are forgiven. Unless one understands that his or her greatest need is spiritual, such a statement would probably fall very flat. Jesus spent His entire life on earth trying to get people to see what they really needed.

More so than any other human who has walked this planet, Jesus knew—and knows—what we need most. He understood perfectly the sin-sickness of humanity and that He alone had—and still has—the cure.

People don’t like hearing that things in their life need to change; that they are on the wrong path; that the things they are currently enjoying are really quite evil and deadly. (Being the father of four children—ages 8, 11, 13, and 15—I’ve experienced this often firsthand.) In other words, people don’t like being told that they need to “repent.”

As I noted several years ago, the greatest lie ever told is that there is no God. The second greatest lie ever told is that the devil does not exist. The third greatest lie ever told is that your (and my) sin is not really sin. One of the greatest debates within the church today surrounds the question of what is sin. If we can’t answer that question well and accurately, then we will fall short of understanding and appreciating all that Jesus did for us.

As Oswald Chambers reveals above, Jesus came for no other reason than to redeem us, to save us. Save us from what? From the sin that leads to death, hell, and eternal separation from God. We don’t get to come to God and accept Jesus on our own terms. It must be unconditional surrender. We must be willing to lay down everything that is an affront to God. He created us, He sustains us, and He alone can save us.

Instead of recognizing Jesus as savior, many seem to come to Him thinking He is a divine Santa Claus, there merely to give them what they want if they only go through the proper channels. Others seem to see Jesus as some sort of cosmic yes-man, there to make them feel good about any and every decision they choose to make.

Still others—believers and non-believers alike—see Jesus simply as a powerful do-gooder, one that we are to emulate. While it’s true that Jesus healed, fed, and cast out demons because of His great love for those in need, such good deeds were not the final objective for His earthly ministry. In other words, these acts alone did not save anyone. Those healed of one disease or sickness would someday die of another. Those fed would someday be hungry again. Christ’s ultimate goal was to bring people into His Kingdom.

The ministry of God—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick—should never be separated from the message of God—to repent of our sin and believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be: the Son of God and the savior of the world. The ministry of God and the message of God—both together complete the mission of God. In other words, God became man not simply to improve us, or to help us out of a jam, or to give us what we ask for, or to make us feel better, but to make us into new creatures.

Copyright 2017, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor is the author of The Miracle and Magnificence of America
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

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