Friday: What Does Christ’s Death Mean?

jesuscross

On Friday — the day we call Good Friday — Jesus Christ was nailed to an old, rugged Cross. I can only imagine. The cosmos paused in stunned silence to see the Son of God, bearing our sin, forsaken of God, torn by a whip and hounded by Satan. There he hung, the God-man, winning the ages-old battle for souls. There has never been a moment like that moment — and all the ages of eternity will echo with ceaseless wonder at what happened the day Jesus died.

I thought it would be good to apply our minds and hearts, on this day, to that central day of history when our Savior died for us all.

There has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95. Continue reading

Wednesday: What is Christ’s Death Worth?

Mary-Magdalene-Anointing-Jesus-stained-glassOn Wednesday of Jesus’ last week, he again told his disciples he would be crucified: “You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” (Matthew 26:2, NKJV). They didn’t get it, or if they got it, they didn’t like it.

Two equal & opposite events immediately happened, side by side:

1. A woman anointed Jesus for burial from an expensive alabaster flask. The disciples were offended: “But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste [loss]? “For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor.'” (Matthew 26:8, 9, NKJV). Jesus correct them, saying she had done a “good work” for him.

2. Judas bargained with the chief priests to betray Jesus. They settled on the standard price of a slave, 30 pieces of silver. And said, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?” And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew 26:15, NKJV).

What is Christ’s death worth? Continue reading

The Cross

iPad“Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you.  It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’  Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross.  All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary.  It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”

[John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (London, 1968), 179.]

As a pastor, I tailor my instruction to the audience.

Sometimes, I’m talking to people who are broken and desperate. They need to be built up, as Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery. Continue reading

Good Friday

jesuscrossThere has never been a message so amazing as the gospel. No religion offers anything like it. Its astonishing gift of grace sets the gospel of Jesus in a class by itself. Paul summarized the gospel in one sentence, so simple we easily overlook its riches:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4, NAS95.

This gospel ranks highest on our list of biblical truths; it is “of first importance.” There is no truth in Scripture more important for Christians to comprehend, cherish, rest upon, and communicate to a needy world.

The core of the gospel lies in five monosyllables:  Christ died for our sins.

Let’s chew on this one grammatically…

crossvandyke.jpgThe Subject:  Christ. The subject of a sentence performs the action of a sentence. Any right understanding of the gospel recognizes Jesus as the central actor in a cosmic drama that spans the ages. Christ goes to war against Sin, Satan, and Death. He does this singlehandedly, without aid from me or you. He is the focal point of the gospel’s attention, and to divert attention to anyone else’s performance shatters the gospel.

The full name and title of Christ would be Our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but each word emphasizes something different about him.

  • When Scripture writers wish to emphasize his human nature, they call him Jesus.
  • When they wish to emphasize his divine nature, they call him Lord.
  • When they wish to emphasize his unique personhood as the God-man who came forth on a mission from God, they call him Christ, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term, Messiah.

Any accurate communication of the gospel will make Christ central. He is the sun, and all other truths orbit him. I get jittery whenever I hear a “gospel presentation” that makes US central, our works, our response, our efforts, our self-reformation, our act of giving something to God. No way!  Christ is the great subject of salvation, and any gospel that doesn’t preach Christ is no gospel at all.

The Verb: died. The Greek verb is in a tense we don’t have in English: the aorist tense (say AIR-ist).  It’s a simple past tense, with a slight twist. Grammarians might call this a punctiliar aorist, meaning he died one, and he died once for all. HIS WORK IS FINISHED, and it was finished one dark day, two thousand years ago.

The terms of the Crucifixion are brutal, and worth remembering on Good Friday. Here is a medical look at Christ’s scourging:

“The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across the  shoulders, back and legs. At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as  the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues, producing first an  oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial  bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce  large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin is hanging  in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissues.  When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the  beating is finally stopped.” [Truman Davis, “The Crucifixion of Jesus” Arizona Medicine, March, 1965, p. 185]

On this Good Friday, it’s good to remember the death Jesus died. Please don’t turn away from this, today of all days. Here is a doctor’s description of the medical effects the crucifixion:

Most commonly, the feet were fixed to the front of the stipes by means of an iron spike driven through the first or second inter metatarsal space, just distal to the tarsometatarsal joint. It is likely that the deep peroneal nerve and branches of the medial and lateral plantar nerves would have been injured by the nails. Although scourging may have resulted in considerable blood loss, crucifixion per se was a relatively bloodless procedure, since no major arteries, other than perhaps the deep plantar arch, pass through the favored anatomic sites of transfixion.

The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. The weight of the body, pulling down on the outstretched arms and shoulders, would tend to fix the intercostal muscles in an inhalation state and thereby hinder passive exhalation. Accordingly, exhalation was primarily diaphragmatic, and breathing was shallow. It is likely that this form of respiration would not suffice and that hypercarbia would soon result. The onset of muscle cramps or tetanic contractions, due to fatigue and hypercarbia, would hinder respiration even further.

Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves. Lifting of the body would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wooden stipes.  Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort.  As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.

The actual cause of death by crucifixion was multifactorial and varied somewhat with each ease, but the two most prominent causes probably were hypovolemie shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Other possible contributing factors included dehydration, stress-induced arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure with the rapid accumulation of pericardial and perhaps pleural effusions. Crucifracture (breaking the legs below the knees), if performed, led to an asphyxic death within minutes.

Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, excruciating (Latin, excruciatus, or “out of the cross”).

cross2It’s easy to emotionally sanitize the Cross. It’s so easy to read, “Christ died…” and forget the awfulness of it. What Scriptures describe in two little words, all the words ever spoken or written could never do justice to. It was a real death, in a real body, of a real person, in real history. This is the heart of the gospel. Christ died…

Why?

The Prepositional Phrase: for our sins. The first two words of the gospel are history. These next three represent theology.  We state this so casually that we can easily overlook its meaning.

The Greek construction here consists of the preposition huper (“for”, say HU-pair) plus the plural noun (sins) spelled  a certain way. This spelling makes it a grammatical form called the genitive case. Huper plus the genitive indicates SUBSTITUTION. We could translate this: Christ died AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR our sins.

This is the biblical emphasis of the message of the Cross. Christ did not die simply as our moral example. He did not die simply to prove his love. He did not die simply to topple Satan. He did not die simply to advance God’s kingdom and cause in the world.

He died SUPREMELY, and above all other reasons, as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. God punished him for our sins instead of punishing us. God laid our sins on him. God executed him.  Whatever condemnation, wrath, punishment, hell, and agony our sins deserved, Christ endured in full measure.

What great love! Who can comprehend such a sacrifice? Who could fathom the agony of the Cross and the love that motivated it?

This is the gospel; it is the only gospel worth the name. It is the only gospel the Bible knows. It is the only gospel that makes the Christian’s heart skip a beat.  It is the only gospel that saves a soul.

Do you believe?

Bible scholars call this the vicarious atonement, or the substitutionary atonement for sin.  Christ died for our sins, as our subsitute, in our place.

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.


Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou, My God, shouldst die for me.
(Charles Wesley)

Thank God for Good Friday. Thank God for the Cross.  Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for a gospel so rich we can never fathom it, but so simple we can say it in five monosyllables: Christ died for our sins.

crossgrunewaldFor comments today, please only brief expressions of gratitude to God, or favorite brief Scripture verses.

The truth… the whole truth… and…

BXP64677“Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

The whole truth.  That’s what a witness pledges to tell in a courtroom. Sometimes, the partial truth becomes an untruth. There’s a tragically hilarious spoof in Talledega Nights (Todd Skinner told me about this, and when I saw it, I laughed out loud at the satire of our culture)… in which the lead character prays for his family meal.  This guy is so narcissistic, that he chooses to pray to “Baby Jesus” and “tiny infant Jesus” and “little baby Jesus”  and “Eight pound, six ounce Jesus.”

His wife and father-in-law challenge him, but he basically says, “I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace.  When you say grace you can pray to grown up Jesus… or whatever Jesus you want.”

This satirical punch to the gut of truncated Christianity is super-effective (you can see the clip here).  

sap_nativityThere’s truth in “baby Jesus.”  He is the reason for Christmas. 

But baby Jesus isn’t the whole truth.  The whole truth is summed up in the angel’s instruction to Joseph:  “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, NKJV).

You will call his name Jesus–the word for Savior.  For he will save his people from their sins.  From their sins.  Not from the corruptions of the government, or from political oppression, or from psychological disturbance, or from financial poverty… though all these things can be the outcroppings of sin, and are addressed tangentially in the gospel.  Yes, we should be involved in the mission of bettering lives on earth.

But never forget that on Christmas God gave us a Savior from our sins.  There’s the whole truth of Christmas.  That’s why we celebrate.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. Our family goes crazy with Christmas… we even decorate two massive trees. So, I’m not diminishing the drama of the Incarnation. The virgin birth. The angelic hosts. The shepherds and Magi. There’s enough drama here to fuel the imagination for generations. The birth of Christ is an epic adventure in its own right. Immanuel, God with us. Born the king of angels. Little town of Bethlehem. Joy to the World!

But never forget that God-with-us is predicated on Jesus dying for us.

nativity_storyHad Jesus remained an infant, we could not be saved, and God-with-us would seal our doom. His Incarnation did not save us. Nor did his teaching. Nor did his Moral Example. Nor did his love. He saved us by his death and resurrection. Everything else was preparatory for Calvary. 

That’s why Jesus so often told his listeners NOT to talk about him. They didn’t yet comprehend the core of the story. My sermon 3 weeks ago (Secret Jesus) pointed out that telling the story of Jesus, and omitting the Cross is like talking about the 1990’s Chicago Bulls and not talking about Michael Jordan.  The story isn’t only incomplete, it’s wrong.

Just as praying to “Baby Jesus” — because he’s more manageable than Grown Up Jesus — is wrong, too.  

I’m NOT saying that EVERY TIME we talk about Jesus, we have to include the gospel, or Calvary, or the Cross.  That would be a silly legalism.

I am saying that we need to come to the place, in our own hearts, where the Cross is so central to the identity of Jesus and the mission of the Jesus, that the fact of Calvary colors everything else we say about him.  The message of the Cross should permeate our thoughts of Christ as salt permeates the sea. 

Because Christmas is the set up for Good Friday, which is the setup for Easter which is the setup for the over-the-top party of the eternal Great Banquet that is heaven.

That is the whole truth. I’m a witness. Merry Christmas.

Blown Away by Law

old-library.jpegI was blown away this morning by Law. Henry Law was a pastor in the Church of England. He lived from 1797 to 1884. I’ve had his book, The Gospel in Genesis, sitting on my very own bookshelves for more years than I can count; but I’ve never read it. Until this morning.

What first blew me away was this quote on the back cover: Continue reading