Here is a message I gave at Alexandra Gardens Aged Care in Donvale, on 18th of June 2011.
The passage we are looking at today is about the cross, which is the heart of Christianity. Jesus is the central person of Christianity, and it is his death and resurrection together which form the central event. But what is the cross about in essence – why is it necessary? That’s what we’ll consider today.
So how can something like a cross be good news? If the cross is central to Christianity, how is Christianity good news? Well, it is good news, that’s what the word gospel basically means. But to know it is good news, to appreciate the cross, to be able to really praise God for it, we need to understand the bad news and understand how the cross, how Jesus death, is good news, the great good news. And show us how God really is a God of love.
So today we want to look as the cross.
So first I’ll set the scene: what is the bad news we face without the cross
Then we will look at how the cross turns the situation around.
We will look at three pictures – and three words for these pictures respectively – three pictures which help explain the cross and what it achieves
And finally our response
what we should do
why we should be glad.
So firstly, we will look at the bad news.
Why should we think about bad news, isn’t it just depressing?
Well, we cannot appreciate a severe medical operation, unless we know the issue it is addressing, the seriousness of it. I don’t know if any of you have had one, or know a person who has, but a heart transplant is significant event, but sometimes it is needed. But if we know how bad an existing heart is then we realise the need for drastic measures.
So what is this bad news?
Paul says the following in Romans 3:20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” - Paul shows us that we cannot be righteous before God by obeying the law. Part of what the Bible shows us how we mess up. It doesn’t say, well if you try a little harder you can be good enough, and God will be please, no it says we are not good.
We see this also in vs. 23 “we fall short of the glory of God”. That is, we miss God’s target, we miss it. The word for sin is originally an archery term, so to sin was to miss the target. Miss what we were made to be, we fall short of the target, the bulls eye. We were made in the image of God, to reflect his glory, to be God’s vice regents, on Earth, but we fall short – miserably.
Do we ever lie? Or do we sin by omission, not love when we should. Do we see people who need help, but ignore, or say it is too difficult for us? Even small things show us how we fall short of God.
So where does this leave us. Well, God is loving, right? He’ll forgive us won’t he? He won’t punish us will he? Surely it’s his job to love and forgive isn’t it?
On the other hand, what sort of God would we have if he didn’t care about sin, if he thought it was okay? “Ah yes you murdered some people, but I’m kind, I won’t punish you”.
If we thought God would just forgive Hitler like this, we wouldn’t take God seriously – like a judge who never convicts murders, we would think he wasn’t doing his job, or worse – he was corrupt. What would we think of him if he didn’t care that many Christians are being put to death for Jesus sake in many countries around the world.
Well God does forgive – there is good news for us – but there is something which needs to happen first – something “crucial”. He doesn’t “simply” forgive. There is a cost. There is something he does to forgive us.
So if God is just and we are sinners then there is a problem. But this passage offers a solution. There is a “but”. We are in trouble, “but” here comes the good news.
That is where the But comes in. At the start of the passage it is announced ... “But now a righteousness from God ...” Before it said “no one will be declared righteous.” No one. But in v21 there is a big “but”, “But now a righteousness comes.” And “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ”
So how does this solution, this “but” come to pass – this big change in our status. How does it happen?
Well it’s the cross of course.
Here in the passage, there are three words which each give a picture to help us understand the cross. Three things which really tell us how God’s love and justice, his holiness and mercy fit together. His kindness and his righteousness fit. How he can be a just judge and also a forgiving father.
So the three pictures:
First one is the market place.
Second is at the temple.
And the third one the law courts.
The market place, the temple, and the law courts.
The first picture is that of the market place: and the word which goes with this is “Redemption”. We see the word redemption in the passage:
vs 24 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”
Now what is the picture of the market place? I’m sure you will be familiar with pawn shops and getting cash for your valuables. The idea of redemption is going back and paying the money to get the valuable back. You redeem it for an amount of money. Redemption is the event of redeeming an item for payment.
Similar is the idea of Ransom. The idea of paying for someone to be released who is held captive. Like a person captured in war, and ending up in slavery, and then someone can then redeem them from the slavery. This is redemption. As a picture, you could also think of it as a slave market – as in times gone by.
So there was a price to be paid to free us from sin. There is a cost and it is Jesus’ death, his blood, his life, which is the price paid. Jesus died for our redemption. As the passage says “we are justified by the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”
The idea of a price being paid leads us to a question – why is this the price, why does it need to be paid. This leads two our second picture.
The second picture is that of the temple. More specifically the temple sacrifices – since that’s one of the main roles of the temple. Now the Jews had a sacrificial system, offering lambs and bulls, as sin offerings and in atonement, as especially on the special Day of Atonement. A death is made as atonement for the sin of the people. People set apart the required animals – maybe lambs. The animals had to be perfect – without defect – and they were offered as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the people.
The second picture is captured by the word “sacrifice of atonement”. The passage says: “God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith, in this blood”. Atonement or as the older translations like the King James Version, it is “propitiation” – I think propitiation is the technically the most accurate word, but not many people use it or know what it means.
The idea of atonement, or propitiation, is that since God is justly angry at our wickedness and our rejection of him, something needs to be done. God is just and he can’t turn a blind eye. God doesn’t let the murder off the hook, he demands justice – it is part of his character - he is righteous and holy so he can’t abide sin – and sin – our rebellion against him, for going our own way must be punished. This is not the wrongful anger of a human which is laden with sin, but of one who is righteous and his anger is the correct response to our rejection of him, our going our own way. For we don’t treat him like God as he should be.
So this is what happens on the cross – Jesus bares the wrath of God – the punishment due to our rebellion. He takes it on the cross.
As the Old Testament prophet Isaiah looked forward to this day.
“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.”
So that is the picture of the temple, the temple sacrifice – Jesus death is our atonement for sin. Bearing the punishment we deserve.
We have looked at the pictures of redemption and propitiation which describe the rescuing and dealing with sin justly. So where does this leave us.
Finally the third picture is of the law courts.
Imagine we stand before a judge and jury. About to receive the verdict and then the sentence.
The scene is set, the crimes have been read, the evidence has been laid bare. The verdict is in. It is read ... And what is it? “Not guilty... Not guilty” “you are free to go” – cleared of all charges.
The word with this picture is “justified”. The passage says we are justified by faith.
This means we are declared righteous – we are reckoned to have a right standing, our record is clean – there is no crimes recorded. That’s what is says when we are “justified by faith”. As in the two pictures before – the price has been paid, redemption, God’s justice, and righteous anger has been satisfied – so where does this leave us – we are declared righteous.
But how can this be – well as we have seen – the price has been paid already – there is no punishment due – the slates are wiped clean – Jesus has taken the wrap for us, he has taken our place.
But who does this apply to – who gets the not guilty verdict – who has there slate wiped clean.
Well, it’s those who have faith – that is – it is those who trust in Jesus to rescue them, those who rely and depend on Jesus Christ to take the punishment for their rebellion. They depend on Jesus because it’s their only hope.
It’s the only way we can be saved – and here we can find eternal life – heavens doors are opened to us.
So to summarise, the three pictures fit together. Jesus redeemed us, by offering himself as a sacrifice of atonement, so we could be justified.
Well as those who know and love the lord. Why do we need to talk about this?
There is joy in have our consciences cleansed. We know how much God loves us, knowing that despite our failings God loves us and has saved us. This should give us praise to our saviour Jesus, just as we sing in these songs.
We have a temptation to start thinking our deeds our goodness is what gets us to heaven. We need to remember Jesus has done it for us, he has made the way open. Our acts of service are our response to our loving God.
Are we tempted to think we deserve being rescued – no - it’s out of grace, God’s kindness; it’s not something we earn, since we can never earn it. No one is good enough that’s why we gladly cling to the cross as the way to God, the way to know heaven’s joys.
How well do you know the cross
do you value it, love it,
do you love the one who died for you?
Do you need to come, to come and rely on Jesus? [ forsake your own sense of goodness, your own pride ]
Come to the cross
come and see salvation at the cross
have your guilt taken away, have your consciences cleansed
Know life and love in Jesus
Know joy eternal
See the goodness of the cross.