Text: Luke 24:13-35 Theme: Knowing matters: Jesus’ death and resurrection; God’s plan in those events; and knowing Jesus in person.
Richard Scarry’s busy books are beloved the world over. They’ve sold 100 million copies. The figures are endearing:Huckle the Cat; Sergeant Murphy; Bananas Gorilla; Lowly Worm. In every nook and cranny of each page, there is busy, busy activity.
We might say that the first Easter was the busiest day ever. God raising Jesus from the dead. The angel rolling back the stone from the tomb. The guards running off into town. The women visiting the grave early in the morning. Peter and John hustling to the tomb. The news spreading about.
Luke records one more event on this busy, busy day. Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. Scholars aren’t sure where Emmaus was located. But you could walk it in about two hours.
They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. They had heard of amazing, mind-boggling developments. So they were processing it.
As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them… You can picture these two deep in conversation when Jesus overtakes them + falls in step.
And now a surprising twist: they were kept from recognizing him. These two were disciples of Jesus. They certainly knew what he looked like. But they were kept from recognizing him. How? Presumably by God’s hand.
Why? Luke doesn’t say. But from what follows this seems the most natural conclusion: God wanted them to recognize his salvation plan before they recognized Jesus, the Savior.
Now: in his usual way Jesus asks a leading question: What are you discussing together as you walk along? At this question, they stood still, their faces downcast. They actually stopped in their tracks; their gloomy feelings put a halt to their feet.
One of them, named Cleopas, asked him: Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days? You do not know? It seemed incredible that anyone was ignorant of the news that dominated their minds. In reply Jesus simply asks: What things? This simple question opens the floodgates. The two disciples pour out what’s on their minds and hearts.
They start with their beliefs: that Jesus was a prophet; he was powerful in word + deed. Next they reported what happened: the religious leaders handed Jesus over to be crucified. This was a huge blow; they had hoped Jesus was the messiah, who would redeem Israel.
But now their emotions are being jerked around by some rumors. A few women reported seeing angels at Jesus’ tomb who said he was alive. Then some men confirmed that the tomb was empty. But they didn’t see Jesus. The rumors just seemed too wild- too good to be true. So the two remained downcast.
Now Jesus moves from a good question to a gentle rebuke: How foolish you are + how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? You see, their view of Jesus’ death was all wrong; his suffering was part of God’s plan!
Then Jesus moves from a rebuke to masterful teaching. Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Imagine the thrill of having Jesus himself open scripture and interpret it for you! It’s a wonder the two disciples didn’t stand transfixed and never get to Emmaus. Amazing: to have the incarnate Word of God explain the written Word of God. One commentator writes with deep longing: We should give much for even a record of the passages he used, give more for his exegesis of those passages.
Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Here Luke provides an important insight into the nature of sacred scripture. The Old Testament promises Jesus; the coming of Jesus fulfills that promise. Reformed theology holds that promise + fulfillment is a key strand uniting the whole Bible.
What does this mean as we study the Bible? It doesn’t mean that we should manufacture allusions to Jesus in every OT chapter. But it does mean we should be alert to how the grand prophecies, the precious law, the central ceremonies and symbols, the key characters the great events all point to Jesus.
For example, Genesis 3 pledges that one day the offspring of Eve would crush the serpent, an evil agent of Satan. We should see that one day Jesus fulfilled that pledge- by his death and resurrection he crushed Satan and his power. In Genesis 22 Isaac submits to God’s command that he be placed on an altar as a sacrifice. There we should see that Isaac foreshadowed Jesus: who submitted to God’s plan for Jesus to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world- on that very mountain 2,000 years later.
In Exodus Moses help free God’s people from miserable slavery to Pharaoh. We should see that Jesus is the great Moses figure: freeing us from slavery to sin + death.
In Exodus 20 the fourth commandment calls for a Sabbath rest. We should see that Jesus fulfills the Sabbath by providing us eternal rest. Perhaps Jesus explained these very passages!
Here’s a wonderful irony in this encounter: when Jesus first came alongside them, the two were astonished by his seeming ignorance: you do not know? But it turns out they were the ones who didn’t know!
They didn’t know that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead. They didn’t know the significance of Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection. They didn’t know the law and the prophets all pointed to Jesus and God’s salvation plan. And they didn’t know that it was Jesus himself at their side. How much they didn’t know!
As they approached the village…, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly: Stay with us; it is nearly evening; the day is almost over. When we offer hospitality to a stranger, who knows what will come of it? They ended up hosting Jesus himself!
After their journey they naturally sit down for some food and refreshment. When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Wait a minute! Since when does the guest serve the host?
And wait another minute: this pattern seems mighty familiar. When Jesus fed the 5,000 he took the loaves and gave thanks and broke them + gave them to the disciples (Luke 9). In the upper room, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it + gave it to them (Luke 22).
This was a case of déjà vu. Aha! At last the lights came on in their minds. Then their eyes were opened + they recognized him + he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other:Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him. Here the two are symbolic. God’s Word says that sin blinds us. II Corinthians 4 pictures it like a veil over our eyes. Vs. 4: The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.
God’s people are called to witness to Jesus and the good news of his kingdom. But we should equally pray for the Spirit’s sovereign work: to remove the veil. Then and only then will people recognize Jesus for who he is, just like the two disciples.
Then they eagerly reflected: Were not our hearts burning within us? Burning hearts. One mark of God’s Spirit in us is that God’s Word makes our hearts burn within us. God’s Word becomes personal, penetrating, profoundly powerful and alive. I think of worship times, Bible studies, personal devotions where my heart has burned. I imagine that many of you can relate to that experience: your heart burning within you.
What are we to make of people in the church who are ho-hum about God’s Word? They don’t really study it seriously on their own. They don’t join Bible study groups. They don’t make it a high priority to attend to the preaching of the Word. I must say this: if the Word of God never causes your heart to burn within you, then you need to question whether you have the Spirit of God + truly are a child of God.
You do not know? In this passage we find three layers of knowing. First, we need to know what happened- about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Second, we need to know why these things happened- their significance. Third, we need to know Jesus himself. We need to know and recognize Jesus with us.
The church is called by Christ himself to promote all three layers of knowing. Sometimes missionaries must first explain the basics: what happened to Jesus. After all, some people have only read the book of nature which tells of a great Creator. They know nothing of Jesus: his life and death and resurrection.
Second, the church must teach good theology: why Jesus had to suffer these things. There are always voices that seek to strip away the true significance of Jesus’ life + death. We need to search all of scripture to find a full understanding of Jesus’ saving work.
Third, the mission of the church is to help people to know Jesus personally. Not just knowledge about the Lord. But knowing Jesus personally- who walks with us. With those two disciples may we come to know Jesus in the full sense: all three dimensions.
Text: I Corinthians 15:54b-58 Theme: Jesus’ resurrection gives us ultimate victory in life and in death.
When I was a boy, ABC broadcast a popular show: The Wide World of Sports. Each broadcast began with this memorable line: the thrill of victory + the agony of defeat. The thrill of victory: athletes with arms upraised, sheer joy on their faces, fans cheering. And the agony of defeat: a skier wildly catapulting and crashing into a crumpled heap.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. During March Madness we’ve witness it. Winners pump their fists, jump for joy, tackle each other and get mobbed by their fans. Losing players hang their heads, disappointment all over their faces.
We see it on election night as voting results roll in. One candidate is in the lead: all smiles + satisfaction; the other camp grim and gloomy.
The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. That memorable line from The Wide World of Sports offers an apt description of life. In a sin-broken world it’s a mixed bag. We have some victories but also some defeats. With grades. On sports teams. In relationships. In our jobs. In politics. In the church.
But here’s good news: because Jesus rose from the dead we can have ultimate victory! Listen again to these electrifying words: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. I can just see Paul pumping his arms and shouting: YES!
Here’s why this victory is doubly dramatic: it’s snatched from seeming defeat. Just days before: Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice [and] gave up his spirit. He died. He was stone cold dead. His body was taken down from the cross and buried.
Sure Jesus had a commanding presence about him. Sure he was an unparalleled teacher about the kingdom of God. Sure Jesus had performed amazing miracles and healed all kinds of people. But now, like everybody else, Jesus was dead. Just dead: no loving presence, no words, no miracles, no life.
Ever since the sin of Adam and Eve there was the persistent drumbeat of death. Now it seemed Jesus was no exception. And so the disciples drifted off in a daze. They thought it was all over. But now a mind-boggling twist! When the grieving disciples visited that tomb of death, the stone has been rolled away. Angels are there to greet them. They say: Jesus is not here; he has risen. So Paul shouts Death has been swallowed up in victory!
In the emotion of Paul’s words I don't want you to miss a clever twist in our text. Often we picture death as a snake that swallows its victims. But now by God’s power there is a stunning reversal: death has been swallowed up.
The thrill of victory over death. By the way, the Greek word for victory here is nike. That's where Nike shoes got its name. Their swoosh is a symbol of victory. So every time you see the symbol of Nike, remember Jesus’ victory over death.
NOW... if Jesus was victorious and that was all, it wouldn't mean much. It would be like New Zealand winning the world cup in cricket. We’d say: so what?
But in vs 57 Paul goes on to say: He gives us the victory thru our Lord Jesus Christ. Easter isn’t just about God’s victory 2,000 years ago. Through Christ, we share in that victory. Through Christ we’re on the winner’s stand.
Think of World War II. In that terrible conflict, how did victory come? Through the Allied nations and their armies. To be a winner in the war you had to be on the Allied side: not Germany or Japan. So too, if you’re on the right side, aligned with Christ, you have victory over sin + death.
On this Easter morning let me ask this crucial question: are you on the Lord’s side? Have you enlisted in his ranks through baptism? Do you obey his commands? Are you loyal to him? If so, you will share in Christ’ victory. If not, you’ll miss out.
Now, some of you may be unimpressed with this victory. It doesn’t thrill you. To be honest, you already think you are a winner- on your own.
You have a nice family and a good circle of friends; you have a comfortable house; you have a steady job; you are in good health; you enjoy interesting hobbies. You may not say it, but your prevailing attitude is: Life is good. Who needs Jesus?
Is that what you’re thinking? If so, then perhaps you are among the fortunate. By God’s grace some are largely spared from the agony of life’s defeats. But: can you guarantee it will always be that way? Any number of events beyond your control can tear open your cozy cocoon. The lurking danger of cancer alone reminds us that no nest is entirely safe. And at the end even the fortunate will face death like everyone else. No matter how good your life is, death will come knocking. Death will defeat you. Ultimate victory- for time and eternity- is only to be found through the risen Jesus.
I also want to speak to another group. You may be unimpressed by this victory, but for opposite reasons. You believe that Jesus died on the cross to give us victory over sin and death. But honestly you don't feel very victorious.
You still face your share of setbacks and disappointments. Your GPA wasn’t what you wanted. You didn’t get that job you applied for. You stepped on someone’s toes- again. Or you struggle with a low self-image. Or you’ve got annoying health problems. The truth is: you're barely getting by. Victorious? Hardly.
Yet no defeats here and now can take away from the final victory we have thru Christ. Perhaps Paul puts it best in II Corinthians 4: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Here’s something amazing about the gospel of Jesus: when you cast your lot with Jesus as Savior and Lord, you are a winner- period. For all eternity you are a bigger winner than any successful person standing on his own.
To summarize: first Paul celebrates Jesus resurrection- God’s victory over sin + death. Second, he makes it clear that we can share in this victory- through Jesus Christ. Third and finally, this victory should give us great confidence in our lives now.
Vs 58: Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. I think of the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg. The tide turned when Union troops stood their ground against Pickett’s headlong charge. So too, because of Christ’s victory, we can stand strong against any foe or adversity.
Goliath was a giant: over nine feet tall, armed to the teeth. Yet young David was not intimidated. When Goliath advanced, David stood firm. In fact, David ran toward him, firing a stone from his slingshot. Goliath fell face down.
Or take Paul’s example. In II Corinthians 11 he recounts terrible adversity: I have been in prison, been flogged severely, been exposed to death again and again, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times shipwrecked etc. He could have said: This is too much! I can’t take it anymore! No; Paul stood firm. He let nothing move him. He carried on with the gospel. What about you? Unsure of what you want to do in life; worried about the future? Stand firm. Let nothing move you. You already have victory in Christ!
Do certain temptations seem overwhelming: overeating or drinking or pornography? Stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Has some accident or sickness thrown you for a loop? Feeling out of kilter? Stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Do you have spiritual doubts? At times does God seem far from you? Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Let’s live confident of our victory! Let’s give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.
Tomorrow night the final game of the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament will be held. Once again we’ll see the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. One team will be crowned champion. The other will fall one game short.
But the big question in life is: What victory matters most? So what if you are a winner in March Madness. So what if you are a winner at horseshoes at Family Camp. So what if you are a winner in an election or in getting a plum job or winning the lottery. So what- if you are not a winner in what matters most- for all time and eternity?
Brothers and sisters, here is good news: Christ is risen! God has triumphed over sin and death. Let’s shout with the Apostle Paul: Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?
Text: Matthew 21:10-17 Theme: Jesus our King comes to clean house and make space for God's work.
Spring is here. It is one of the most delightful times of the year. The weather gets warmer. We open up windows. The sun pours in.
Then you may notice some dust and dirt that has accumulated. And you get the urge to clean house: mop floors, scrub walls, dust under the bed. We refer to this as spring cleaning.
You might even be inspired to get rid of stuff you never use. Of course that’s only possible if you don’t have a spouse who says Don’t throw that out! You never know when we might need it.
Spring cleaning. In our Matthew 21 passage that’s exactly what Jesus does. After Jesus entered Jerusalem, the very first thing he did was clean house- the temple.
Here’s the background: God called his people to offer sacrifices at the temple. So devout people from all over Israel would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The standard sacrifice was a lamb. But in Leviticus 12 God accommodated the poor: If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons… Mary and Joseph were poor: when they presented Jesus at the temple they offered birds.
Now, carrying and feeding these creatures on a journey was burdensome. So most pilgrims would buy one from a merchant once they arrived in Jerusalem. This led to a thriving market. The closer to the temple the better. At some point business moved right inside the temple courts.
But now King Jesus arrives! Jesus entered the temple courts + drove out all who were buying + selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers + the benches of those selling doves.
He didn’t care how long they’d been there. He didn’t care about stepping on toes. This stuff didn’t belong there; it was getting in the way. So he drove them all out.
Wow! What a fascinating glimpse of Jesus’ character! Matthew has just quoted the prophet Zechariah- that the king would come gentle. But Jesus can be fierce. As C.S. Lewis pictures it, he is like Aslan: not a tame lion. In this sense we are to fear God: that is take him seriously; we don’t mess with him. God intended the temple to serve as the center of his presence among all people. Jesus reminds them of this purpose: My house will be called a house of prayer. Clearly it was a perversion to turn a house of prayer into a place of business.
But there’s more to it. Jesus actually calls it a den of robbers. The implication is: there wasn’t just business going on, but dishonest business. The merchants were gouging the pilgrims- perhaps doubling the price for an offering. What an irony: in the place where God resided, the God who said: You shall not steal- in that very place the merchants regularly robbed the pilgrims.
Jesus is the light of the world. And now his light shines in the temple. Now Jesus exposes these corrupt activities. Now Jesus comes to clean house.
Still today Jesus comes to clean house. Only his focus is no longer on a temple. We no longer need to offer sacrifices for sin; Jesus was our true and final sacrifice. We no longer need a house of prayer; Jesus provides access to God anywhere.
Today the church serves as the temple of God. In Ephesians 2 the Apostle Paul writes: In Christ the whole [church] is joined together and rises to become a holy temple. We may marvel that the temple became perverted by business interests. But how often doesn’t the church lose sight of its God-given purpose!
Let me give an example from church history- from the early 1500’s. Some Vatican leaders seemed more concerned about building huge cathedrals and wielding political power than about the church’s spiritual well-being. And in some quarters church men made it sound like you were saved by works, and that you could buy God’s pardon with contributions to the church.
So the Lord Jesus went to work to clean house- through the Reformers. The protests of Martin Luther and others sparked a Reformation. This prompted corrections of the worst abuses in the church. On some doctrinal points we still may not see eye to eye; but over time the place of the Bible and the grace of Jesus have been lifted in many parishes.
Here’s another example: forty years ago there were abuses by many televangelists. Some turned into money changers: they wanted to change your money into theirs. Others were robbers, getting rich off the gifts of ordinary people. And some perverted the gospel, treating God like a genie whom they could command to come out of his bottle to grant people their wishes.
So Jesus went to work to clean house. Scandals were exposed. Shysters shut down. Better accountability was installed. Today TV preachers aren’t perfect. But on a Sunday the sick and shut-ins can find some solid, biblical preaching.
What house cleaning might Jesus need to do in our church today? Could it be that we’re too focused on our needs, our own tastes, our own comfort? Could it be that we’ve become too attached to certain traditions? Could it be that we lose focus on Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost? If Jesus would visit our church today, where would he clean house?
And notice: Jesus says My house will be called a house of prayer. Not your house. You see, the religious power brokers came to think of the temple as their house- to use as they wanted, to promote their own business interests.
Still today it is possible for us to slip into that kind of thinking: -I’ve been here for years and years. Don’t change too much around. It’s my house. -I’ve served as an elder; I’ve invested my time and energy here. It’s my house. -I’ve been a financial pillar of the church. Listen to me. It’s my house.
But Jesus says: no. It isn’t your house. It’s my house- to fulfill God’s grand purposes.
By the way, the Bible doesn’t just refer to the church as the temple of God. It goes a step further and pictures every believer as a temple. I Corinthians 3 says: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple-that God’s Spirit lives in you?
Let me ask you: what dust or dirt in your life might need a spring cleaning? What needs to be driven out? Bad habits? A self-centered use of your time? Laziness with your spiritual gifts? Impatience? A sharp tongue? A critical spirit? Pride?
Michael Kingsbury, a comedian storyteller in New England, tells of Jesus cleaning house. “I started reading the Bible and attending church again. Slowly but surely, I started noticing subtle changes in my behavior and outlook.
I am not someone who handles… struggles easily. At home, a typical conversation might involve me yelling: I’ve lost the remote control- that’s proof that there is no God! But as I read the Bible, as I thought about Christ and his suffering on my behalf, the more I would laugh at things that once troubled me.” Jesus cleaned up his attitude.
Of course, the specific issue Jesus tackled in the temple was the lure of money. Why were people doing business in the temple? To make money. Money was more important to them than proper worship of God. What about you? Does your money serve God, or has your money become a god? Here’s a good way to test that: do you faithfully tithe? Do you give 10% to the Lord?
People can give all kinds of reasons why they don’t tithe. I can’t afford it. I’d have to cut back on things. I’ll start later when I’m better off. But when we tithe, we show we have faith in God to provide, not our money.
Finally I want you to notice the result of Jesus’ house cleaning. What happened after Jesus cleared the temple from the junk going on? Vs 14: the blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. Once God has cleaned house it’s wonderful to see the people he sends our way. God wants his church and his people to be sources of healing and blessing.
In the book Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario tells about poor Central Americans who make the desperate effort to go north. In El Norte they hope to make enough so their children don’t go to bed hungry. But hopping trains can be extremely dangerous, sometimes crushing limbs. Along the way these poor people are preyed on by thugs, gangs, even crooked police.
But in one village along the way a Catholic priest mobilized his church to help. Some wanted nothing to do with these dirty, strange people streaming through. They just wanted to have mass, say prayers, and enjoy the communion of saints.
But the Catholic priest was determined to help. He had the church open their doors. Every night the church courtyard was filled with migrants hungry for a meal, migrants exhausted + needing sleep, migrants desperately needing basic medical care. On the long, exhausting, dangerous trip, this church became an oasis of God’s love.
One spring day Jesus entered Jerusalem and cleaned house in the temple. Still today Jesus comes to clean house in the church and in our lives. He comes to overturn any barriers to his good purposes. He comes to make space for people to connect with God- and find healing and blessing.
I hope that you will welcome Jesus. I hope you will open your doors to him. I hope that you will collaborate with him in his redeeming work.
Text: Romans 5:6-8 Theme: When Jesus died on the cross he substituted himself for us in bearing divine punishment on our sins.
Major League Baseball has just started a new season. Fans are familiar with substitution. When a pitcher just doesn’t have his stuff and is getting hit hard, what happens? The manager strolls out, signals to the bullpen, and another player trots onto the field. That relief pitcher is a substitute for the starter.
Or when you need a clutch hit in the ninth inning, a pinch hitter may be sent in. Or if a team needs to squeeze in one run, a speedy pinch runner may be sent in- to substitute for a lumbering slowpoke on the bases.
Students are familiar with substitution. Once in awhile their teacher may not show up- because of sickness or taking a personal day to go hiking. In their place comes a substitute teacher. Then students try to figure out how much the substitute will let them get away with.
And sometimes a movie plot involves substitution. Take the 1993 film titled: Dave. In it the President of the United States suddenly has a major heart-attack. His aides fear that the news could cause pandemonium around the country. Or it might embolden enemies to attack the US during this moment of confusion.
In their mad scramble they whisk in an ordinary guy named Dave. Why? Dave has an uncanny resemblance to the president. Suddenly Dave becomes a substitute for the president in all his public appearances. And his private activities, including with the president’s wife, who hasn’t been told either. You can imagine the plot possibilities that follow.
Dave reminds us of a proverb: often there is more to something than meets the eye. Nowhere is this more true than with Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s Word teaches: behind Jesus’ physical death, spiritual events were taking place. Christians believe Jesus died on the cross for a purpose: to save us from our sins.
But how? How did Jesus’ death save us? How did it cover our sins? What connection does one man’s death two thousand years ago have with our sins today?
Well, early Christians searched the scriptures to gain understanding. And they noticed Bible passages such as Romans 5:8- While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Here’s one natural way to understand this statement: Jesus acted as our substitute. On the cross he took our sins on his shoulders; he suffered God’s wrath in our place. Jesus died for us. This is the classic doctrine of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement.
This doctrine is clearly found in the Heidelberg Catechism, our church’s main confession. From Q+A 12: God requires that his justice be satisfied. Therefore the claims of his justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or another. Did you catch that? By ourselves or another. This leaves the door open for a substitute. Then the Catechism sets up Jesus as the only substitute able to pay the price for our sins.
The substitutionary atonement of Christ. But some balk at this conclusion. I once preached on Jesus’ substitution on the cross at an ecumenical Good Friday service. Afterward a mainline pastor was a bit miffed; he dismissed it as a “mere theory.”
Why do some reject the historic teaching that Jesus was a substitute for us? Here’s why: an action for someone doesn’t necessarily mean being their substitute. For example: you can do a favor for someone. You can give them directions to a store. But that doesn’t mean you take their place to drive there. Doing something for a person may simply mean you’re helping them in some way.
Here’s a second objection: substitution doesn’t always seem fair. Shouldn’t each person stand on their own two feet? Doesn’t justice require us to pay for our own actions? Is it right for an innocent person to suffer instead of a wrongdoer- who gets off free?
So, what do we make of this? When we look at our courts we find a mixed precedent. Substitution is allowed with certain penalties- like fines. If a teen gets caught speeding, her parents may step in to pay the fine- to pay the penalty.
On the other hand, substitution for a jail sentence isn’t allowed. If you are convicted of murder, no court allows someone else to take your place in prison.
So why has the church long maintained that on the cross Jesus acted as our substitute? Because God’s Word contains more clues than just Romans 5. Probably the strongest evidence comes from the Old Testament. There God seems to intentionally prepare us to understand the Messiah as our substitute. God did that in at least three ways. First, God cultivated the concept of substitution through an Old Testament figure. Remember when Jacob’s sons journeyed to Egypt to obtain grain during a famine? On their trip back the Egyptian lord had his prized silver cup found in Benjamin’s sack. As a consequence the Egyptian lord threatened to keep Benjamin as his slave.
Jacob’s sons know their father would be crushed by losing his cherished son Benjamin. Faced with that horrible prospect, Judah offered to be a substitute. He pleaded: Now then, please let your servant remain here… in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. Judah offered to be a substitute in slavery. He foreshadowed the substitution of Jesus, who one day was born from the tribe of Judah.
Second, God cultivated the concept of substitution through sacrifices. Take the Passover sacrifice. In Exodus 12 God was about to bring judgment on Egypt. He was about to send his angel to strike down every first-born son in the land.
But for his own people he commanded that blood from a lamb be put on their door frames. Then the angel of death would pass over them. The blood of the lamb was clearly a substitute for the blood of their own first-born child.
Then God commanded them to celebrate the Passover every year. Every year that ceremony reinforced the concept of a saving substitute. Then one night in an upper room Jesus claimed to fulfill the Passover with his own blood.
Third, God cultivated the concept of substitution through prophecy. The most clear and compelling example is found in Isaiah 53: He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him + by his wounds we are healed.
So, the church has longed maintained that substitution is central to God’s salvation plan. It is foreshadowed by Judah; by the Passover Lamb; and by the prophecy of Isaiah. All that was fulfilled in Jesus. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Here’s the wonder of it all: Jesus was willing to be our substitute on the cross. No one forced him. God the Father didn’t make him. As Jesus said in John 10:No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord. Even though it cost him scorn and excruciating pain and laying down his very life. The very Son of God was willing to die as our substitute. That’s mind-boggling!
In my Grand Rapids church there was a dear mother of three whose kidneys were failing. She was forced to start dialysis- with the grind of treatment three times a week. At the same time they set out to find a donor for a kidney transplant. In the search it’s common to start with family, who may have compatible blood types.
Sure enough, one good match came up: her brother. But he had young kids. He was busy with his career. What if something happened to his other kidney later on? In the end he chose not to donate his kidney for his sister. And you can’t really blame him. You can’t expect or demand a gift from someone.
In the same way, you can’t expect or demand God’s Son to be a substitute for our sins. Here’s the wonder: in his love for us, Jesus freely chose to be our substitute on the cross. He chose to suffer the awful wrath of God on our sins. That should take our breath away.
In closing I’ll highlight one more glorious angle to this great doctrine: God’s genius. When Adam and Eve plunged the world into sin, God found himself in a pickle. In his pure holiness, he couldn’t stand sin. In his holiness + pure justice, his natural reaction is to punish every last wrong on the spot.
But in his pure love, he wouldn’t sit around and see us perish. Our misery stirred up his tender mercy. In his love for us he longed to spare us the punishment we deserve.
It was a pickle. How could God be true to his own nature and solve this dilemma? Here we come to the genius of the gospel. By pouring out his judgment on Jesus, God’s pure justice is satisfied. By sparing us, God’s love + mercy prevails. Jesus’ substitution is a stroke of genius.
A new baseball season is upon us. Every time you see a relief pitcher stroll in; every time a pinch hitter steps up; every time a pinch runner trots to first base, remember the great substitution. while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This is why we remember Jesus’ death. This is why we worship him. This is why we love Jesus.
Text: Luke 23:32-34, 44-49; Romans 3:25-26 (original NIV) Theme: Jesus' cross reveals God's perfect justice and love.
Why do we make such a big deal out of Jesus’ death on the cross? We commemorate it with special services during Holy Week. Churches build crosses which soar into the sky. People wear gold or silver crosses around their necks.
Why do we make such a big deal out of the Jesus’ death on the cross? After all, he wasn’t the only one who died on a cross. Two other men were crucified with him. We don’t sing songs about that. And the Roman Empire crucified thousands of people during their lengthy reign.
So, why do we make such a big deal out of the Jesus’ death on the cross? To answer that we have to look behind the cross. We just read Luke’s account of what happened- on the outside. To understand their significance, we have to look behind the cross of Christ.
A week after I was ordained into gospel ministry, my grandfather wrote me these words: I am real thankful to God for the way it all worked out. And now I pray daily [that] you may be a good minister, preaching the gospel, Christ died for sinners. By the way, what a blessing to have a grandfather praying for you like that!
Preaching the gospel: Christ died for sinners. This gives a glimpse behind the cross. Now at first glance Jesus’ death doesn’t seem to have any gospel, any good news. Crucifixion was a most hideous way to die. The tearing and rending of the flesh. The pain. The gasping for air. Dragged out over hours. All as a public spectacle.
Let’s not forget that our songs of the cross are pretty bloody. Listen to these titles: There is Power in the Blood. Are You Washed in the Blood?Nothing But the Blood. All these songs about blood and gore might be shocking to our modern sensibilities. Because of the cross, the Christian faith has been called a brutal and barbaric religion.
How can Jesus’ horrible crucifixion be good news? Why do we call it Good Friday? To answer that question, we must look behind the cross to see what was happening. To help us look behind the cross I want to ask and answer two questions. First, why did Jesus have to die to save us? Second, why was Jesus willing to die for us?
First, why couldn’t Jesus save us some other way? Why did we need Jesus to die for us? After all, there is no universal agreement that Jesus did have to die. Most Jews today deny the need for a particular Savior who would be sacrificed for us. Muslims think that God is just able to forgive us- period; no sacrifice needed.
Why did Jesus have to die to save us from our sins? Answer: To satisfy God’s justice. To satisfy the pure justice of God's righteous wrath against our wrongdoings.
We cannot understand the cross of Christ unless we understand God's pure justice. Justice says that wrong must be punished and thereby have the moral balance restored. It is simply a fundamental principle of God's universe that wrong deserves punishment. As Romans 6:23 says: The wages of sin is death. Pure justice.
You may know the light-hearted musicals of Gilbert & Sullivan: like The Mikado. Our human desire for justice even pokes its head even such a frolicking play. One song declares: Let the punishment fit the crime, let the punishment fit the crime. All of us, from child to adult, from comic to serious, have a built-in sense of justice.
For example, how often don’t you heard children say: It’s not fair! I grew up in the middle of five boys. There was plenty of competition and jostling- to use toys, to get seconds at meals, to determine who had poked whom first. My Mom was the homemaker + the disciplinarian. You know what would really bug me? When my Mom settled a spat in a way I thought was unfair!
Adults have a built-in sense of justice too. I once served a church near Toronto. In Canada there is no death penalty allowed. But one day a popular, athletic girl was abducted from her safe neighborhood. Later her body was found in some underbrush. Immediately the city was up in arms. A massive manhunt was launched. And there was an outraged cry for the death penalty.
It is simply a fundamental principle of God's universe that wrong deserves punishment. Because of our ingrained sense of justice, many look at current events and wonder: Where on earth is God’s justice! We see abusive homes where kids don't have a chance, we see playground bullies, rapes, political corruption and terrorist bombings. Where is God's justice? People with moral sensitivity have long been troubled by this.
Our unmet desire for justice may lead to bitterness + cynicism- unless we look to the cross. Now, it is true that final justice is not completely handed out in our time. It is true that God allows sins to accumulate in our day without always being punished.
But that’s not because God lacks a sense of justice. Rather God is being patient with us. As Romans 3 says: in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished. God is being patient, longing for us to accept Christ's saving work on the cross.
On the cross, Jesus bore God's awful, majestic judgment for every last one of our sins. Only the divine Son of God could bear such thundering, consuming wrath. That is why creation seemed to creak and groan and heave! The sun stopped shining. Darkness came over the whole land. When Jesus died, an earthquake shook the land.
God's pure justice was perfectly demonstrated at the cross.
In turn, the cross points to God's pure justice on the last day- the Judgment Day. Romans 3 says that Jesus saves us through faith in his blood. It is by faith that Jesus takes away our sins. It is by faith that we are saved.
But for all who reject Christ, the cross reveals the awful punishment waiting for them. The punishment Jesus endured on the cross foreshadows punishment at the Judgment Day.
Do you get indignant when God seems to do nothing- when injustice runs rampant? Then you better first look at yourself- your mixed record. Then look at the cross + tremble. Praise God for his patience with us.
Praise God that he presented Jesus as a sacrifice… to demonstrate his justice. The cross of Christ demonstrates God’s pure justice.
The second question I promised to ask: Why was Jesus willing to die for us? We all know the answer- love. Sheer, unexplainable, unbelievable love.
It was out of love that Jesus could say of the soldiers who crucified him: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. It was out of love that Jesus assured the criminal at his side of being with him in paradise. It was out of love that Jesus suffered the tearing and rending of his flesh. It was out of love that Jesus endured the awful anger and rejection of his own Father.
Out of love God wanted to be, as Romans 3 puts it: the one who justifies us. As this great hymn puts it: What wondrous love is this, O my soul. What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
Do you want to know what real love is? Don't look in a dictionary. Look at the cross! I John 3 says: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. For our good, Jesus was willing to give up his rights, his dignity, his health, his very life. The cross of Christ supremely demonstrates God's perfect love for us. F Finally, I want to apply the justice and love of the cross to our daily lives. Perhaps, in a moment of frustration, you said hurtful things to someone you care about. Later, you saw how wrong and hurtful it was; it was inexcusable; you felt ashamed. And then you felt down on yourself; you really blew it; so you felt rather unlovable.
Can you relate? In that situation, besides apologize, you need to look to the cross. On the cross Jesus already satisfied God’s pure justice- even for your worst behavior. And God's perfect love shown on the cross is strong enough to love you- even when you’ve blown it.
Another application: a woman I met became Muslim after growing up in the church. She cited the awful things going on in society: racism, crime, rape. She said: All Christians talk about is a nicey, nice love in the face of his terrible injustice. So, she turned to the stern Allah of the Koran to satisfy her craving for justice.
The truth is: she didn't need to look elsewhere to find a God of justice. She simply needed to look to the cross and what Jesus suffered there. If she had, she would have seen God's pure and absolute justice.
A third application: even in our parenting we should look to the cross. Offering children justice without love will leave kids rigid, shriveled and unforgiving. Offering children love without justice + discipline will leave kids wild and selfish- not knowing the seriousness of wrongdoing and how their behavior hurts others. Parents must reflect the cross in the wonderful interplay of justice and love.
A final application: perhaps some of you here just aren't doing that well. This has been a rough stretch. Maybe you’re down because you don’t have true friends. Or maybe your job is a real grind. Or maybe there’s a lot of bickering at home. Maybe you’re dealing with health issues. It’s draining. It’s getting under your skin. Bottom line: with all this you are beginning to wonder if God really loves you.
Then look to the cross! Read about Jesus' crucifixion. Ponder what he suffered for you! Then you may grasp in your heart what you know in your head-God absolutely loves you!
So, friends, let’s make such a big deal out of Jesus’ death on the cross? Let’s sing songs of the cross. Let’s celebrate Good Friday. Let’s build crosses that soar to the sky. Let’s wear cross necklaces. Let’s glory in the cross: the demonstration of God’s pure justice and perfect love for us.