Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Importance of Death

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ...” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

What is Christianity? It is not simply about moral virtue. One may be moral, yet not Christian. It is about redemption. Sin fractured the relationship between man and God. Christianity is the result of repairing the broken fellowship brought about by the guilt and power of sin.

People called Jesus a great Teacher. Certainly, He was … but the apostles never spent any time belaboring that fact. Jesus has also been called a Reformer and a Healer … but again, such emphasis hasn't been made by those who were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The central fact repeated over and over again by the apostles was that Jesus died for our sins. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The apostles then went out into this world baptizing, making disciples and teaching “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”

When you examine the gospels in their entirety, a quarter of it is spent on Jesus' death. In John 20:30, the apostle admits that there were “many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book,” yet abundant room was made for the death of Christ.

The epistles make up the majority of the New Testament. In those letters, we are barely given any quotations from the lips of Jesus. Interesting. If Jesus primary role was that of teacher, why not simply make people memorize His words? If His primary role was that of healer or reformer, why not simply emphasize those aspects of His ministry? Yet the apostles chose to focus again and again and again upon His death. The epistles are literally soaked with blood. Why? Surely there must be a reason for this … especially since these letters – and the gospels – were inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself.

What was it – in three and a half years of training – that Jesus REALLY taught His disciples? He taught them about suffering and death. He taught them that the climax of God's great revelation was the redemption of the world.

John the Baptist set the stage. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He knew that Jesus was sent here for the express purpose of dying. Jesus then came teaching and preaching. Whether publicly or privately, His ministry reflected that prophecy. John 3:14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Nicodemus didn't understand it, yet that was what Jesus chose to focus upon in their conversation.

In John 2, Jesus went to the Temple and drove out those who were making His Father's house a den of thieves. When questioned about His actions, Jesus didn't dwell on economics, but death. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

When He was later surrounded by great crowds of hungry people in Capernaum, He fed them … but accompanied that meal with the real message, “the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:51). In John 10:11, He says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

In John 12, a group of Greek worshipers came looking for Him. They wanted to hear Jesus. What He gave them was, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Then, in vs. 31-33 of that same chapter, He concludes by saying, “'Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. [32] And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.' [33] But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.”

Churches are filled with preachers and teachers focusing upon Jesus' good works, and the way in which Christians can live good lives here on this earth … yet Jesus' focus was single-minded, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! [50] But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:49-50). James and John's mother “said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” [22] But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”” (Matthew 20:21-22).

People may not have understood His message completely then, but there's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't understand it now. He made His message clear, especially to His disciples. Matthew 16:21 says, “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.” Peter tried to dispute that fact with Jesus … and was soundly rebuked! God's plan was simple, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

“We're a New Testament church!” That's the declaration of many. Then why not focus upon that which the apostles focused upon? Take Peter for example. A simple man … a fisherman … one who at times had been rash and temperamental. What did he focus on? Jesus' healing ministry? His good works? He writes to Christians facing persecution. What encouragement does he give them?

He tells us “to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (1 Peter 1:2). He wants Christians to know, “you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, [19] but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Will all our troubles go away when we become Christians? Peter says in chapter 2, “you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

In chapter 3, reminds us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). In chapter 4, He says, “since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose” (1 Peter 4:1).

This is certainly different than the sermons we hear so often today! But Peter's real message – his real encouragement – is right there in black and white. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.”

Why aren't we hearing THAT message preached? Why aren't we hearing about the death of Christ? “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, [2] by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. [3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, [4] and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

Even to the very last book of the Bible, the message is the same. Revelation 1:5 says, “To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood ...” Revelation 2:8 refers to Jesus as “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life.” Chapter 5 declares the glorious message, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

There are so many visions … so many descriptive images … but at the center of all of them is Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Redeemer of man. So many messages today are about the love of God, which in truth are nothing but excuses to preach the toleration of sin. The real message of God's love is a sacrificed Lamb, shed blood, the removal of sin, the reestablishing of fellowship with God and an eternal home in a “sin-free” heaven.

So why aren't preachers focusing on the cross? Why are men trying to remove such songs from the hymn books? “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; [17] and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17).

“But we need to be more relevant in our preaching!” some say. “We need to teach people how to apply the Bible to their daily lives!” As Paul says, “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, [5] who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [6] In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, [7] so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; [8] and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, [9] obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).

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