The Death of Jesus

Title: The Death of Jesus

Text: Matthew 27:41-44, Isaiah 53:5-6, Mark 16:6-7

Time: March 25th, 2010

As far as holidays go Easter isn’t even close in comparison to Christmas in respect to participation and celebration. The Christmas season is by far more popular than the Easter season as far as the different types of observances and the amount of time devoted to celebrating. But as far as spiritual importance, Easter is clearly more important from a theological standpoint and also from an eternal personal standpoint as well. Why is Easter so important? Because with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ salvation is accomplished for those who put their trust in him. And salvation is the difference between an eternity of sadness and an eternity of gladness. Of course, for those who for one reason or another never placed their confident trust in Jesus Christ it’s as if salvation had never existed, as if forgiveness had never been offered, as if the whole Easter event had never taken place. And many people live today as if Easter had never happened – more and more people, I’m sorry to report, simply ignore the whole Resurrection Day celebration, by neither attending a church service, nor by even reflecting on the significance of the day. But let us never be guilty of that as Christians. Let us always remember the day as well as the season, and gain a deeper appreciation for what actually happened and why it means so much. Why is Easter important? Why is it even more important than Christmas, even though you’d never know it from the level of excitement and participation by people in our country and culture? It’s important because, like I said before, it ushers us into eternal salvation. Eternal life, now there’s a concept that’s taken quite a beating in the modern world. From the looks of things today, for most people, eternal life is about as clear as a mid-summer morning mist. We’ve become so good at manipulating the material world for our own benefits that we’ve all but forgotten anything about the unseen world of spirit. If you listen to the lectures they are giving now in colleges and universities to young people you would definitely get the impression that there is no spirit world, that the only thing that exists is matter and energy. The move in the academy and intellectual circles is to dismiss the world of spirit entirely as a vestige of bygone days when people believed in superstitions, myths and fairies. If that really is the case, then of course eternal life would be nonsense and the resurrection of Christ, which opened the way to eternal life, makes no sense either. But if the modern world is wrong about the spirit, if our preoccupation with the material world has blinded us to a different reality, if we need to be reminded once again that reality is larger than logic, then Easter really does have great importance to us all. This is what I believer strongly is the case. We need the Easter season every year to remind us once again that there is more to life than materialism. When our life on earth is over, when our natural world and our body dissolves, we are going to turn to spiritual reality as our only hope. Our response to spiritual reality now will determine whether the next life offers us hope or despair.

First, there are those who reject the spiritual work of Christ on the cross. Matthew 27:41-44, “ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself. He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, I am the Son of God.’ In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” With hindsight we can see how foolish these skeptics were in their insults of Jesus, but do we also think of how foolish modern day skeptics are also in their rejection of Jesus? The whole death, burial and resurrection account of Jesus is essentially meaningless to a growing number of adult members of society. More and more people are classifying themselves as “non-religious,” because they want to state that they disbelieve all religion. What then do they believe? They believe in science, in rationality, only in what the human mind can reason out – and so when it comes to spiritual reality, God, life after death, eternal life and so forth, they disbelieve. They reject Jesus just like the old Jewish leaders did, only for different reasons. They wouldn’t see Christ as a blasphemer; they’d see him as a nonsensical person. They might not even believe there was a person Jesus Christ or that he died on a cross; they certainly wouldn’t believe he rose from the dead. But in rejecting even the possibility of atonement and resurrection, these modern people are rejecting their only way salvation. The old Jews rejected Jesus as the way of salvation, but they believed there was another way to be saved according to the Jewish faith. Today, when people reject Jesus for modern, skeptical reasons, they not only reject Jesus’ way of salvation but they reject all ways of salvation. To them there is no after life, there is no judgment to fear, no sin to forgive, ho hell to avoid, no heaven to obtain. Their only hope is in this life, in this world. Like John Lenin’s song says, “Imagine all the people , living for today.” More and more people are living for today because they literally believe there is no tomorrow. How sad, but totally unnecessary! They think they have to limit themselves to dream and aspire for anything more than earthly accomplishments. They are afraid to hope for more – and this limited vision hinders them in living a truly fulfilling life because they occupy themselves with trivial and petty experiences thinking that everything must be crammed into this one-and-only life. How pitiful an existence. Yet it’s totally unnecessary. We were meant for more.

Second, we can embrace the spiritual work of Christ on the cross because it’s real. Isaiah 53:5-6, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” I reach back into the Old Testament into the book of the Prophet Isaiah because it so clearly explains the spiritual work of Christ on the cross on our behalf. It’s not hard to understand, if only one takes the time to think about it. It’s amazing that we can live in one of the most sophisticated times in all of human history; there are more college graduates alive today than ever before. There are more books in print, more information available in libraries, bookstores and on the Internet, yet with all of these intellectual resources available today people are still vastly ignorant about what the death of Christ actually represents. Ask a random person what the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ means and you’ll likely get some kind of answer that has nothing to do with anything the Bible describes. Everybody thinks they know all about it, yet they really know very little about it. Without going through the whole chapter of Isaiah 53 – which isn’t a bad idea for everyone on their own at least once a year, ideally around the Easter season – let me summarize the spiritual work of Christ on the cross. According to the Bible everyone has sinned and is guilty therefore of offending God. That presents a problem because according to the perfect justice of God every sin and sinner must pay. But payment for sin is death – and in the next life, eternal death or separation from God forever. Now that’s the dilemma. If god were to exact the punishment we all deserve as sinners, we’d all die and be eternally separated from God. But God doesn’t want that to happen because he loves and cares about us. So then he implements a plan whereby to save us – if we’ll go along with it – Christ Jesus dies a sacrificial death for sin and sinners. The punishment we deserve, he takes upon himself, leaving us forgiven and saved. Now our only responsibility is to go along with the plan and trust it to work and trust God to work it. We do this by placing our total and unconditional trust in Jesus Christ to save us from sin and take us to eternal life when we die. It couldn’t be easier. Now the only issue each of us faces is – do I believe in the plan, do I accept it, do I go along with it? Have you heard of this before? Do you believe it? Do you accept it? Are you willing to go along with it? It makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between being a true Christian or not. A true Christian goes along with God’s plan of salvation. A non-Christian doesn’t go along with it, rejects it, or just ignores it altogether. Which one are you?

Third, in case you’re thinking it’s just too good to be true, there’s proof! Mark 16:6-7, “’Don’t be alarmed,’ he (the angel) said, ‘you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, he is going ahead of your into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” I’m getting ahead of myself in talking about the resurrection, but I can’t help it because it’s a key piece to believing in the spiritual atoning work of Christ on the cross. Just like in times past, many people today learn about the account of the death of Christ on the cross – today, people can watch a movie on television, for example, like The Passion of the Christ or The Robe or The Greatest Story Ever Told. Yet their problem is not in understanding what happened, it’s believing it. They have all kinds of problems, for example, with the whole idea of the fallen sate of humanity. Modern thought teaches that man is essentially born neutral and only through faulty social structures turns out bad – that’s the assumption of the modern sate whether socialist or secular democratic. Or maybe modern thinking admits that man is selfish, but that’s only because he has selfish genes developed through evolution, the survival of the fittest. But these conditions don’t make man guilty or in need of forgiveness, just flawed in need of repair. But according to the bible we are guilty of sin because we’ve inherited that condition from our original parents Adam and Eve because of their disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden. We need forgiveness, not just fixed. The Jews understood all this, so did most ancients, but today it’s explained away through rationalism. But following the biblical system, our sins must be atoned for through sacrifice; someone must die. That’s where Jesus comes in because he volunteered out of love to die for our sins and take them upon himself. In this way, sin is paid for, but we don’t have to give our lives paying for it, Jesus pays for it with his own life. By trusting in Christ to save us from sin and judgment, by depending on him, we are saved. Now that goes against a lot of modern thinking, the whole idea of universal human sin, the threat of the penalty of judgment, the atonement solution, and saving faith, so then, how can we cut through all the fog and doubt that surrounds this understanding of reality? Simple – the resurrection! Jesus know that people could debate endlessly about sin, judgment, atonement, forgiveness and faith, but he came up with a way that would demonstrate the truthfulness of everything he taught, and that was the resurrection.

Mark 16:6-7, “’Don’t be alarmed,’ he (the angel) said, ‘you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, he is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Think about these words of the angel – “There you will see him, just as he told.” Jesus had told his disciples about his purpose, which was to die an atoning sacrificial death for the sins of humanity. This teaching presupposes that humanity is trapped in universal sin and needs an atoning sacrifice. This is something that the Jews and other ancients would have accepted, but something that modern people find hard to accept. And I don’t know why it’s so hard to accept the fact that everyone is sinful – it’s the most universally proved and empirically observable doctrine of Christianity! But Jesus taught it and offered himself as the solution to it. But the most dramatic proof he gives for the validity of his teachings and his atoning work is the resurrection. Here’s a way skeptical modern mankind can work out a faith in the gospel: work backwards from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the resurrection happened, then it proves what Jesus was teaching is true. What was he teaching? That he offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for sin. If he did indeed offer himself as sacrifice for sin, then it must be we are all sinners in need of an atoning sacrifice for sin, which also implies that if we don’t take advantage of Christ’s atoning work on the cross on our behalf then we’ll miss out on its benefits. And if we as sinners fail to take advantage of an atoning sacrifice on our behalf, then it must be that we’ll have to make the payment ourselves for our sins. But if we do that, we’ll perish, we’ll never make it out of the penalty phase – that’s why Christ offered to die for us, so that we’d not have to go through the penalty phase, which is judgment and damnation. So for skeptics and unbelievers and the typical modern thinking person who isn’t familiar with sin, judgment, atonement, forgiveness and eternal life, the best place to start is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and simply work backward and ask, “The resurrection, what does it prove?” And then after that, trace back all the teachings and assumptions of Jesus that led up to and give meaning to his death on the cross. If the resurrection was Christ’s proof, ask, “What did it prove?” And then work backwards from that. In this way, the full meaning and purpose of Christ’s death how it relates to you and me will be clear. Try it. Start at the resurrection and ask, “If the resurrection occurred, then what does it prove?” Work backwards from this point asking questions until you get to the question, “Now what does all this mean to me personally here and now?” You’ll find it all ties together. Have you trusted Christ’s atoning sacrificial work on your behalf? Think about it and see if it doesn’t make sense. Of course, you’ll have to exercise faith because simply understanding it won’t get you all the way. Bu only you can take the final step and that requires faith. Are you ready to take that step today?

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