Week 2: Why did Jesus die?

Uploaded by studentalphacourse on 22.02.2012

What do the following people have in common:
Madonna, David Beckham and the Pope?
Sounds like a joke, doesn't it?
But the answer is they all wear a cross as jewellery.
But have you ever stopped to think how weird that is, actually?
Because the cross was a form of execution.
What would you think if you saw someone wearing electric-chair earrings
or lethal-injection cufflinks?
Or this? I borrowed this natty piece of neckwear from Nicky Gumbel,
the man who made the Alpha course what it is today,
clearly very groovy.
It's a nice little gallows there or hangman's noose.
What would you think if you saw someone walking around with that?
The cross was a form of execution that was so cruel
that even the Romans eventually abolished it.
337 AD, in case you were wondering.
So why do people wear a cross?
We see logos everywhere around us, don't we?
Corporate logos, fashion logos.
You could say that the cross is the logo of Christianity.
It's a reminder of what happened when Jesus died.
A full third of the Gospels are about the death of Jesus.
Then much of the rest of the New Testament is explaining why he died.
The central worship service of the Christian church is Holy Communion,
celebrating, remembering the death of Jesus,
the broken body, the shed blood of Jesus.
But why? Why do Christians put so much importance on Jesus' death?
Strange if you think about it, because most, if not all, leaders
who influence nations or even change the world,
they're remembered for what they've done in their life.
They're remembered for the impact of their lives.
But Jesus, who, whether we like it or not,
has done more than anyone to change the face of history,
he's remembered for his death even more than for his life.
OK, but other people have died for a cause,
countless war heroes, for example.
What's so different about Jesus?
When the Bible says that he died for our sins,
what does that mean?
How does that work?
John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in the Bible,
sums up the message of the New Testament.
'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'
It's amazing if it's true.
But as this edition of^I TIME magazine^I says, 'Why did Jesus have to die?'
Sometimes people say, 'Look, I don't have any need for Christianity.'
'I live a good life, you know, I try to be nice to people.'
'My life is full. I'm a good person.'
And it's true, according to the Bible,
every human being is created in the image of God,
so there's something good and noble about every individual.
There is the imprint of the divine on us all.
But there's also another side to the coin.
I know that in my own life
there's things that I look back on that I'm not proud of,
imperfections, shame even, things that I've done wrong in the past.
When I was a boy of eight,
I went round to the home of my friend Timothy Evans and ...
This is confession time, OK?
And I went round there, and I used to love going round there.
'cause he had fantastic toys.
I think his family was a little bit richer than mine.
So he had all these fantastic toys,
and he happened to have exactly the same toy as mine,
a Lone Ranger doll, OK?
OK, not doll. Action figure, OK? It was a Lone Ranger action figure.
I loved this cowboy action figure Lone Ranger.
And I used to play with mine all the time.
My brother had Tonto and I had ...
He's his sidekick, just in case you don't know.
I'm really ageing myself now. OK, so the Lone Ranger and Tonto.
And I had the Lone Ranger,
and he had this white cowboy hat made out of rubber.
Rubber cowboy hat. There you go.
And I used to play with it all the time,
turn it inside out and make him look like a farmer.
I thought it was really funny.
Until one day I put my thumb straight through it and I no longer had a hat.
Timothy still had a hat. You can see what's coming.
And then the fateful day arrived when I took that cowboy hat in my pocket,
my broken cowboy hat, and I did the switch when he was out of the room.
'Can I have a drink of water?' Did the switch.
I've never forgotten that to this day. I live with this guilt.
We all know what guilt feels like.
We haven't been taught to feel it.
And what we sometimes do when we've done wrong
is to immediately try to excuse it or to blame others,
try to get out of it in some way.
Just the other day I was reading this.
'The UK Television Licensing Authority has compiled a list of pathetic excuses
used by people caught out dodging the payments for their TV licence fee
by visiting inspectors.'
'These range from the highly implausible,
"My 11-year-old son must have bought the TV during the night",
to the downright odd,
[West Country accent] "I've not been making payments
because I cannot leave my home."'
''A baby magpie flew into the house
and I have had to stay in all the time to feed it."'
We all know what it feels like, we all know when we get things wrong,
and depending on what you get wrong and what harm you cause and how often,
we construct this scale of how good we are,
how good people are, don't we?
And where would we place ourselves on that?
Imagine on this stand here, that's a scale of human goodness.
And, you know, you've got evil right down the bottom
and good sort of up here somewhere.
Now, I've written some little sticky notes here.
I've got a name from history. Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa. Where shall I put her? Down near the bottom or up near the top?
Up here, up here, up here? Shall we put her here?
OK, there you go. There's Mother Teresa.
And I've got Adolf Hitler. Where shall we put him?
Well, let's stick him on the floor, OK?
And, now, how about this one?
This is me.
So where shall I put this one?
Lower? Oh, higher. What, seriously? Higher?
Higher than Mother Teresa?
- [woman] Lower. - OK.
I'd like to think I'd come somewhere in the middle somewhere.
But is that what we do?
We have this scale of sort of like good and bad and evil.
Now, when someone leads a good life, how do you know where you stand on that?
How do you know that it's a good life on this scale?
What is the standard? What's the benchmark of goodness?
Is it the top of the stand? Is it the ceiling here?
Romans 3:23 says, 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'
The standard is not the top of the stand here.
It's not even the ceiling.
It's the sky, it's infinity,
it's the full glory of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'
All of us, compared to him, fall a long way short.
And you can bet Mother Teresa would have been the first
to agree with that statement.
Someone might say, 'Well, if that's the case, we're all in the same boat.'
'We're all imperfect, so what does it matter?'
It matters because there are consequences to that sin,
to what the Bible calls sin.
Firstly, there's the pollution of sin.
Jesus said there is pollution inside each one of us.
In the Gospel of Mark he says,
'What comes out of you is what makes you unclean,
for from within, out of your hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality,
theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness,
envy, slander, arrogance, folly.'
I was reading in the paper just the other day of an organised crime gang
that made huge amounts of money
by illegally disposing of vast quantities
of highly toxic industrial waste.
What they did was they'd simply load it all onto a ship,
take it out into the ocean and sink the ship.
And when I read that, my heart sank.
Imagine the damage done to the ocean, to marine life.
But our lives are actually very similar.
We sink this stuff into ourselves,
greed, malice, slander, envy, whatever it is,
all the stuff that we do and that's been done to us.
It's all in there, and it comes bubbling up.
And we wonder why our lives are so polluted, so damaged.
Jesus lists these various acts and attitudes,
evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery.
Someone might say, 'Look, I don't do all of those. It's a very long list.'
'I'm not that bad, for goodness sake.' But it doesn't matter, really.
Any and all of these things,
they penetrate and they permeate all that we are,
just like that toxic waste in the sea.
And anyway, it's not these individual acts, you know,
the slightly naughty or the downright evil acts that we perform.
Those aren't the things that constitute this thing called sin.
Sin is simply me believing that I know best, ignoring God.
Choosing spiritual self-sufficiency, if you like.
Living for myself. And that really messes everything up.
It messes everything up because if it's not dealt with,
sin has more power over us than we have over it.
The first consequence of sin is the pollution.
The second consequence of sin is its power.
That overall attitude of self-governance, self-sufficiency,
'all about me', it's very addictive.
Likewise, the individual things that we do wrong,
they can be addictive as well.
It's not just drugs and alcohol.
We can be addicted to all kinds of things.
What about bad temper or resentment?
What about pornography or envy or gossip?
These things get a grip on our lives and then they end up controlling us.
We become, as Jesus puts it, a slave to sin.
And if it's not dealt with, sin pollutes me. It has power over me.
And the worst power of all is that it puts this partition between me and God.
The pollution of sin, the power of sin, the partition of sin.
You and I were born for a perfect relationship with God.
We were born to enjoy eternal life.
But sin cuts us off from that,
puts a great big wall in the way.
How else could it work, really?
The Christian belief is that God is perfect.
Now, I am fully aware of every imperfection in me.
You know, so if those imperfections have not been dealt with somehow,
then by definition how can I come into relationship with the perfect God?
The two can't mix.
In Romans 6:23 St Paul writes, 'For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
'For the wages of sin is death.'
What he's saying is the wages, the natural payback of sin,
the natural consequence of sin, is death.
And by death, Paul is not talking about physical death.
He's talking about spiritual death, the death of your soul,
cut off from God forever.
So there's this partition, this wall between us and God,
simply because we choose to hold onto all of that toxic waste inside us,
doing our own thing.
It all affects us, the pollution of sin, the power of sin, the partition of sin.
Fourthly, the fourth consequence of sin is the penalty, the penalty of sin.
You know that feeling when you read in the newspaper or hear on the TV,
watch on the TV or hear on the radio or something
some awful wrong that's been done,
some child that's been abducted or abused,
so-called ethnic cleansing of an entire people group.
We all know that feeling.
Everything inside you cries out for justice, doesn't it?
'The people who did that should be caught.'
'The people who did that should be brought to justice.'
'The people who did that, you know ...'
'There should be a penalty paid for that crime.'
'Someone's got to pay for this.'
What if the reason we feel that way
is because of that divine imprint upon our lives?
What if we feel instinctively the same way that God does
about evil and injustice,
like a righteous anger against what's hideously wrong in our world?
Something inside our nature cries out for justice.
We instinctively know it. There has to be a penalty paid for this stuff.
There is a penalty to sin, if you like.
And this is the Christian belief.
God came to this earth in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ,
to die for you and me, to pay that penalty.
Jesus chose to die in our place.
And it was the most horrific death imaginable.
The Roman philosopher Cicero described crucifixion as
'the most cruel and hideous of tortures'.
It was designed to bring to the victim the ultimate humiliation,
designed to bring to the victim excruciating pain.
That's where we get our word 'excruciating' from, from crucifixion.
It's the longest, most torturous death imaginable, several hours, if not days,
enduring such physiological trauma as blood loss
leading to suffocation of the internal organs, blood poisoning, asphyxiation,
dehydration, hypothermia, exhaustion and cardiovascular collapse.
Jesus died.
Yet what is so extraordinary is that the New Testament
does not concentrate on the physical suffering, the physical agony.
After all, many people throughout history have died horrific deaths.
Thousands were crucified by the Romans.
The New Testament doesn't concentrate on the physical agony,
nor does it concentrate on the emotional pain
of Jesus being deserted by his friends, rejected by the world.
What the New Testament focuses on is that Jesus suffered spiritually,
because he was cut off from the Father.
He experienced that partition.
As sin came upon him, so that partition between him and the Father,
that perfect relationship, was broken,
for us, as he took that punishment that we deserved.
And there's this awful desolation.
When you read the Gospels, you see Jesus hanging there,
nailed to the cross.
This horrible desolation in Jesus.
That perfect relationship shattered.
You can say, 'Well, OK, if that's the case, if Jesus has done this,
why is there still so much pain in the world?'
And there aren't any simple answers to this. It's a very difficult question.
But the most incredible thing that we can know
is that God, Jesus, suffered for us and he suffers with us.
He suffers alongside us.
I find that the most extraordinary thing of all,
to know that God knows what we go through.
He knows what it is to suffer.
The cross and the resurrection tell us that evil has been defeated.
Because, as we looked at last week, Jesus rose from the dead.
The cross was not the final act.
It goes with the resurrection,
and it's because of that we can know that there is victory,
that death itself has been defeated.
You know, there's so many aspects to the cross.
And just as there are so many consequences of sin,
there are so many consequences of the cross, if you like.
What the New Testament is trying to do is say,
'Well, look at this picture. It's a little bit like this.'
Or 'How about this one? Does that work for you?'
In particular there's four images in the New Testament I'd like us to look at.
Firstly, the temple.
In this picture we see that the result of the cross
is that there is forgiveness.
We can be made clean.
The cross is the answer to the pollution of sin.
No matter what you've done, you can make a new, clean start.
In the Old Testament they were very careful, they had very careful laws,
about what happened when you did something wrong.
Basically, what would happen is you would have to go to the temple,
and you got an animal, a perfect, unblemished animal,
and you would confess your sins over the animal,
and then the animal would then be sacrificed,
your sins having passed to it.
But people knew that couldn't work.
The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews says,
'It's impossible for the blood of bulls or goats to take away sins.'
And when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he said,
'Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'
He was saying, 'Jesus, he's the one.'
'He is the one perfect sacrifice for the whole of humanity.'
The blood of Jesus washes away all of the pollution,
washes away all of the muck, all of the toxic waste inside us.
The cross wipes the slate clean.
When we look at the cross, we can know we can be forgiven,
that shame lifted off us,
the power of forgiveness released into what's been done to us as well.
The cross enables us to make a fresh start.
On the Alpha course in our church just a few weeks back, on the last term,
I got to know some people in the group that a friend was running.
One of them had been a self-confessed drug addict and prostitute,
suffering from deep depression.
And when she got up to give her story in church at the end of the Alpha course,
it was extraordinary.
And the thing that really just summed it all up,
she just stood there and she said,
'Clean. I feel clean.'
The cross is the answer to the pollution of sin in our lives.
It's the picture from the temple.
The second image that we have in the New Testament is the marketplace.
The cross is the answer to the power of sin.
We can be set free from the bad stuff, from the habits, from the addictions,
those things that would have us in their power.
In the ancient world, just like today, people got themselves into debt,
but back then one of the ways you could get out of debt
was to sell yourself into slavery.
You'd go to the marketplace, a price was hung around your neck
and that price would be whatever debt you owed
so that that debt could be paid off, and someone would buy you into slavery.
Now, that price around your neck was called the ransom price.
And what would happen, what would happen
if an unusually kind person came along and said,
'You know what? I'm going to pay that price.'
'But I don't want you as a slave. You are free to go.'
That's what Jesus did. Jesus used these words.
'I have come to give my life as a ransom.'
To set us free.
Whatever it is that we're under the power of, Jesus can set us free.
I love to think back on when a guy who's a friend of mine now,
he first came to church, and he came to the front and we prayed together.
It was the second time he'd been there. He'd been the week before.
And he knew that there was something going on in his life.
If you like, he would say he could feel God doing something.
And we prayed that night and he became a Christian that night,
and then he came on the Alpha course, and six weeks in he said to me,
'You know, I've got to tell you something.'
'I've waited this long to tell you
because I wanted to check that it was true.'
His name's Chris, and he said,
'Up until that moment that we prayed together in that church,
I was doing £500 a week of cocaine.'
I said this to someone the other day, I think that they were from Canada,
and they thought I meant 500 pounds in weight of cocaine per week.
That's quite a lot.
£500 sterling of cocaine. He was spending £500 on cocaine a week.
And then he said, 'Up until that moment we prayed, I haven't touched it since.'
'That was six weeks ago.'
He said, 'I smell it on people and it makes me feel physically sick.'
Something in that moment was broken by God,
set him free from the power of that drug.
Jesus sets us free from the power of sin.
Jesus said, 'If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'
The temple, the marketplace. What about the family?
The third image that we have in the New Testament
is that we can become part of God's family.
The cross is the answer to the partition between us and God.
We were created to be in a relationship with God who loves us.
Both the root and the cause of our sin and selfishness
is this broken relationship.
It's like a parent and a child who've fallen out.
Have you ever had an argument with your mum or dad
and you just, you don't want to talk to them?
And the result of the cross is this restored relationship with God.
There's this great scripture that says,
'God was in Christ
reconciling the world to himself.'
Now, if it was that Jesus was just some guy that God punished instead of us,
that would be barbaric.
But what that verse says is God was 'in Christ'.
That's why last week's talk was so important,
because if Jesus is not God, then it doesn't work.
But God was in Christ, God was in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ,
who died for you and me.
And therefore it's possible to be restored
in this right relationship with God.
Last week we looked briefly, didn't we, at Jesus' fulfilment of prophecy,
Old Testament prophecy.
And there's an example of that in Isaiah 53:6.
Here we find a prophecy written hundreds of years before Jesus.
It's very detailed about the death that Jesus was going to die.
And in the middle of it Isaiah says this.
'We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.'
The iniquity, the sin, the wrongdoing of us all.
I once saw it explained like this.
Supposing this hand represents you and me.
And what this verse says is, 'We all, like sheep, have gone astray.'
We've all done things that we've done wrong.
Now, let this book represent those wrong things that we've done.
'All, like sheep, we've gone astray.'
And these things, there's that partition. It cuts us off from God.
Let this hand represent Jesus Christ. Never did anything wrong.
There he is in this perfect relationship with the Father.
'All we, like sheep, have gone astray.'
'We've turned, every one, to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.'
There we are, because of Jesus taking that partition,
able to enjoy that relationship with God.
And that's why Jesus on the cross cried out,
'My God, why have you forsaken me?'
Because at that moment he was God-forsaken,
he was cut off from God for you and me.
The wonderful news is it leaves us open to have that relationship with God.
And all of this is seated, if you like, in the fourth and the final image,
the law court.
The cross is the answer to the penalty of sin.
Because of the cross, you and I can know total forgiveness.
St Paul says that 'through Christ's death we have been justified'.
'Through Christ's death we have been justified.'
Now, 'justified' is a legal term.
If you went to a court, you're acquitted,
you're pronounced not guilty, you have been justified.
It's a bit like this.
There once were two little boys who were best friends.
They played together, went to school together.
They even went to university together.
They were inseparable.
Until their careers took them in very different directions.
One became a lawyer, the other a criminal.
As one was promoted to a judge,
the other disappeared deeper and deeper into a life of crime.
Eventually the criminal was caught and sent to trial.
On the fateful day in the courtroom,
he came face to face with his old best friend the judge.
And so the judge had a dilemma.
He loved his friend, but he had to do justice.
And so he fined him the appropriate penalty for the offence.
It was a huge fine.
There was no way he could ever afford to pay what he owed.
But then the judge took off his robes, went down, stood with his friend
and wrote out a cheque covering the cost.
He paid the penalty himself.
Jesus paid the penalty for sin.
Jesus paid the penalty for my sin, for your sin,
a penalty that you and I could never pay ourselves,
so that we could be free.
Jesus offers freedom, and he offers it to you today.
He longs for you to come into that experience.
We read in Galatians 2:20, 'The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.'
It's as personal as that.
And he longs for each of us to know deep in our heart the experience, the truth,
God loves me.
But it's important to say that a response is required.
Jesus is offering us that complete payment today.
And there's a choice there.
I was writing out a cheque earlier
as if it was from God, as if it was from Jesus.
And I've written on it, 'All debts paid.'
Signed Jesus. Dated today.
And then who should it be paid to? You? Question mark.
And that's what Jesus did on the cross. All the debts are paid.
'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
so that whoever believed in him should not die but have eternal life.'
'So that whoever believed in him.'
The response required is to believe
and accept that free gift that he offers.
Now, the choice is ours.
Do we accept that and say, 'Yes, I want that'?
Or do we just say, 'No, thanks' and just rip it up?
The choice is yours.