“Father, we, we being by asking that person and the work of Jesus would be at the fore front of our thinking. That God we would come to know what Jesus has done. And if we do know that we would come to a greater assurance and certainty and application of that truth. And Jesus there are some that say there is no God. There are some that say if God exists he cannot be known. Others will still say even if God is to be known he doesn’t save us, Jesus, thank you for coming to show us God, thank you for saving us as God.
It is my prayer as we study together today that you will empower and enable me by the Holy Spirit to do a good job with a very important subject. So we give our time to you in your name. Amen.”
As we get started this evening we’ll, be talking about the death of Jesus on the cross and what did that accomplish. And it is interesting as you read the four Gospels which tell us the life of Jesus, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. You will notice as you read them only two speak about his birth. But all four speak about his last week leading up to his death. And fully one third of the content of the four Gospels is focused on that final week of Jesus life, those days and moments leading up to his death by crucifixion.
John’s Gospel in particular devotes a great deal of time to looking at the crucifixion of Jesus, roughly half the Book of John is focused on the last week of his life. So, if John’s Gospel were a film it would move fairly quickly through Jesus life. And the camera would pan in and everything would slow down and then there would be an intense focus on the final week of Jesus life as the cross is approaching as that being the culminating aspect of his life and his ministry on the earth.
And leaning into that week, John Chapter 12, Jesus himself speaking of the cross and his death says, quote, “It was for this very reason that I came to this hour.” Jesus said, “All of my life and ministry and temptations and trails and teachings have all culminated in this forth coming moment that I have come to earth as God for this mission of dying upon a cross.”
And so, what I want to do is to explain for you something of the history and the nature of death by crucifixion. My fear is that some of us may be so familiar with the cross that we sort of just pass it over. Jesus loves you and died on the cross for your sins. Which is true but sometimes the significance and the horror of that can be missed.
Crucifixion was invented by the Persians. We find out historically roughly 500 hundred years before the birth of Christ. And it continued until it was perfected by the Romans in the days of Jesus. And it continued until it was outlawed by the Roman Emperor Constantine, in roughly the fourth century BC., so crucifixion did exist for almost a full millennium.
Crucifixion was the most horrendous and despicable and disgusting and distasteful way to die. So much so that the Romans who executed crucifixion tended not to crucify their own citizens, they instead beheaded them. And they instead reserved crucifixion for the most heinous and horrendous of crimes and criminals.
The Romans considered it the most disgusting way to die so did the Jews, and the ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, calls, it, “The most retched of deaths”, furthermore even the Greeks. These are three major cultural groupings of that day, the Greeks, Romans, and Jews. The Greek philosopher Cicero was quoted as saying, “That crucifixion is such an all together horrific thing, that decent Roman citizens shouldn’t think about it. And they shouldn’t hear about it because it isn’t fit for good, decent, noble people.”
Additionally the Jews also felt that it was the most horrendous way to die because Deuteronomy Chapter 21 verses 22 and 23, says that, “Anyone who is hung on a tree is cursed of God.” And so no Jew wanted to be crucified because that meant according to Deuteronomy they were cursed of God.
This being said if may astonish you to hear that crucifixion was actually very common. Tens of thousands of people were crucified. And thousands were occasionally crucified in a single day. As one illustrative example, in the moment that Spartacus died in battle then a decree was sent forth that 6,000 of his followers were to be crucified in a single day. And they were lined up alone the shoulder of a highway stretching for perhaps a 120 miles. That would be the equivalent today of 6, 000 people being crucified along the shoulder of Interstate 5 between Seattle and Vancouver or perhaps Seattle and Portland. 6,000 people died by crucifixion, in that one day.
And crucifixion continued into more recent times, when under the leadership of Adolph Hitler the Nazis crucified Jews in Dachau. With bayonets and with knives they ran through them through people, particularly men’s shoulders and their throats and their testicles and they impaled and literally nailed them to the sides of barns and such.
It was under the leadership of Pol Pat the Khmr Rouge, crucified people in Cambodia. And today crucifixion continues in the Sudan where even Christians are being crucified in our present day in Sudan.
And there is a new multiplayer, online, video game called Roma Victor where one of the consequences in of participating in that game is that you might
be crucified in the game. All of that to say that crucifixion has a long and sorted history and is essentially out of practice except for the most barbarous dictators and the most horrendous of nations.
Now to explain crucifixion is probably going to shook some of you. I’ll just tell you as we get into it. Someone at the 9:00 a.m. passed out, and someone at the 11:00 a. m. puked. Okay, which I consider a very good sermon. (Laughter) That means they got the point. And sometimes when we talk of the cross we talk in sort of glowing flower terms and we sing pithy little jingles about the cross. But to really understand the cross is to be horrified. It is so all together horrifying that we invented a word to describe crucifixion that word being excruciating, which literally means from the cross. Death my crucifixion was such a horrible way to die that we had to create a word to explain its horror.
Furthermore what we know is for the most part it was men who were crucified and they were crucified face forward. Sometimes even crucified at eye level so those who want to mock them and jeer at them spit at them and make sport of them could look right in their eye to increase their torment. And what we know that men were crucified facing outward so everyone could mock and jeer them. On a very rare occasion a woman was also crucified. But when they crucified a woman it was customary to turn her around and have her face the cross because even such a barbarous people such as the Romans were incapable of really seeing the face of a woman who was undergoing the excruciating pain of crucifixion.
And what made death by crucifixion so excruciatingly painful is that it was very painful and slow arduous death by asphyxiation. What I mean is this. The medical professionals tell us that when someone is crucified essentially their body weight causes them to slump and slouch. The result being they strain to fill up their lungs with air. And that slowly they suffocate to death as they chock on their own blood or vomit or sweet and tears. They start chocking and their lungs are straining to gather air in and exhale air out.
Sometimes they would pass in and out of consciousness. This would mean that someone could remain on the cross in excruciating pain for days, baking in the sun during the day, freezing in the cool at night, dehydrated the body traumatized passing in and out of consciousness, straining to breath, loosing great amount of blood sweating profusely as the body is in shock.
Well invariably what occurred is that those men who simply wanted to end their agony. And to simply die and put an end to their disgrace and shame, they would intentionally slouch on the cross, and lose their breath and die. And so, to insure their cruelty continued for as long as possible. The sadist of that day and built a little seat and nailed it to the cross under the man’s buttocks so that he would be forced to remain upright and suffer for as long as possible.
This was the most despicable, disgusting, deplorable way to die, death by crucifixion. And what preceded crucifixion was scouring that in of itself was so horrendous that it was not uncommon for those who were scourged to die before they even made to their crucifixion.
The Bible tells us regarding Jesus, it simply says, “They took Jesus, and had him scourged,” a very simple little statement. But from history we learn what scourging is. And that is that a professional executioner would take a handle that had many straps of leather proceeding from it and at the end some was a metal ball that would beat the flesh of the man and tenderize it as you might a steak in preparation for grilling.
And that in addition there were hooks attached to the end of the pieces of leather and those hooks were made of bone or metal. And they would gather into the man’s flesh, into his neck and his back and his shoulders, his buttocks, his legs and he would be stretched out for maximum capacity to gather all of the flesh off of his back.
And if you saw the movie the Passion of the Christ, this was actually very accurately portrayed. And then the professional executioner would take a tug at the cat of nine tails, which it was called. To ensure that the hooks were all sunk deep into the flesh and then with two hands would rip the flesh off the man’s body. So, violently if they had hooked a rib for example, it was not uncommon to see a rib go flying off a man’s frame.
This would happen so that the man would have lost the flesh from his back. That he would be bleeding profusely. That he would be traumatized, the body would be in shock and there was a tremendous amount of blood loss. Regarding this some 600 or 700 years prior the prophet Isaiah foreseeing the coming of Jesus and his death by crucifixion explains it this way, Isaiah 52:14, says, “There were many that were appalled at him,” or had we seen the scourged, crucified Jesus we would have been appalled at him.” Some of you would have thrown up. Some of you would have passed out. Some of you would have looked and looked away because it was just too horrific to gaze upon. It was appalling. His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.”
Jesus was so bloodied and so beaten that he underwent a sleepless night of beatings and trails. They punched him in the nose in the mouth and in the body and then a mob assaulted him. And Jesus eyes would have been swollen. And he had likely cauliflower ears and he’s bleeding out of his nose. And he is bleeding out of his mouth. And they ripped his beard out. They plucked in out, which in that culture was a great disgrace for a man, and the robbed Jesus of his dignity. Then the scourged him striped him naked further humiliating him. The Bible says, “Had we seen him in that bloodied, naked, fleshless mess that we wouldn’t have even recognized him. Had you even known Jesus prior when you would have seen him in that state he was virtually unrecognizable.”
Perhaps some of you have had someone that you love very dearly, family of friend, be in a horrific accident. They were burned, or a car wreck or some horrible trauma. Maybe they’re body was riddled with some excruciating disease. And as death came upon of them they became less and less
recognizable. That is what happened to Jesus. He was completely disfigured.
And furthermore we then know that Jesus bled a tremendous amount. There was blood from the crown of thorns. There was blood from the beating. There was blood from the scourging. There would be more blood from the nails. And I know some of you at this point are thinking why do we have to talk so much about blood? Why are Christians so into blood? Why do they sing songs about the blood?” Why do they celebrate blood? What is so good about blood? Blood is gross.
Let me say this. There are two reasons the Bible talks about blood so much. And it talks about blood a great deal. One, blood is indicative of death, which is as we’ll sin in a moment what sin causes. And secondly, you and I tend to be horrified at the sight of blood. It tends to disgust us. And God connects blood and sin so closely because he is trying to illustrate for us that as sickened as we are by blood is equally how sickened he is by sin.
And so, by connecting sin and blood God is wanting us to violently respond and physically feel the horror of our sin in the same way he does and the blood does that for us. It causes us to feel horrified.
We then know that the bloodied disfigured appalling Jesus was given his cross to bear. It was a recycled used cross. It had been used for the execution of other men. It likely was covered in their blood and their feces and their urine and it was laid across Jesus bare back. This cross might have weighted about 100 pounds. It was rough, hued timber with splinters and edges. And Jesus back, with the bones and the muscles exposed and the flesh removed, that was laid upon his back.
And though he was a strong, healthy, essentially young man, he was too weak to carry it after his bloody beating, after his sleepless night. And so the appointed a man named Simon of Cyrene to assist him in the carrying of his cross. And then the Scripture records, “Then they took the Lord Jesus to his place of crucifixion, they stripped him naked, they put a crown of thorns on him.” They mocked him, they false worshipped him, they made a big spectacle of him and thought it was a joke. And Jesus who was a carpenter, and that he himself had driven many nails was laid on the wooden cross and spikes five to seven inches in length, were driven, the Bible says, “Through his wrist or his hands and through his feet.” And that Jesus was literally nailed to the cross.
And then there would have been a hole in the ground to hold the cross upright. And so the cross was lifted up and shoved forward and then fell into the ground, traumatizing the body as Jesus literally shook on the cross. And that Scripture says is what was done to Jesus.
And it was not uncommon at this point for men in that condition to completely lose control of their bodily functions. Men would urinate all over themselves. Men would weep. Men would sweat profusely. They would bleed and then would defecate. So, what is dripping off the man’s body are all of us fluids, his urine, his feces, his blood, his tears and his sweat, pooling up in a little pile underneath his dying body.
And it is recorded in history that this moment the crowds would gather. Some of the lowest life scum would show up. They would get drunk and turn it into a party and throw rocks at the guy and spit on him and make fun of him and turn it into a big game. I mean, while maybe his mom and his friends would gather around weep while everyone is turning into a big drunken mayhem joke. And so the men on the cross who had a little bit of fight in them like some of you men. They would not tolerate this and they would want to get back at all of the people who were gathered to make fun of them. And so they would curse them out and they would spit on them and they would urinate on the crowd.
They Bible says, “That Jesus didn’t do any of those things.” Isaiah says, “As a lamb is going in for a shearing is silent a calm, so Jesus was that way.” And Jesus did not declare war. He didn’t curse everyone out. He didn’t spit and urinate on his enemies instead he said things like, “Father forgive them” Jesus was a loving, compassionate, gracious man to the very end. And even his suffering did not diminish his character.
And perhaps what is most astonishing about this is crucifixion was not done in obscurity, off in a corner in a private place. This was done publicly in very open public highly trafficked areas. This would be akin today of you going to the grocery store on a Monday and seeing a large crowd in the parking lot and wonder, “Hum, I wonder what is going on.” You go over there and you see that they are crucifying a man. And he’s hung up in a parking lot at the grocery store. And all the drunks and deadbeats, without anything else to do, are just there making fun of him while he cusses them out and messes all over himself and urinates on them.
And then let’s say Tuesday, you came back to the grocery store, because you forgot something on Monday and he was still there, even though he looked even worse. You came back on Wednesday and he was still there. Maybe you came back on Thursday and finally he was dead. They just took his body and threw it in the dumpster at the grocery store. That is exactly how it happened.
Speaking of this Isaiah, 53, again prophesized before the coming of Jesus how you and I would have responded had we seen Jesus after his scourging and during his crucifixion. It says this, in Isaiah 53:3 and 4, “He was despised and rejected by men.” We would have seen people screaming at him, yelling at him, rejecting him, hating him, turning their back on him, despising him, a man of sorrows. We would have seen Jesus in agony and in grief.
Furthermore says, “Familiar with suffering.” You would have seen Jesus, physically suffering, deeply traumatized, in the process of dying. “Like one whom men hide their faces.”
Some of you couldn’t have even looked at him. You would have passed out. You would have thrown up. You would have been traumatized. Others of you would have looked and looked away and simply declared, “I cannot even stomach that. That is just disgusting.” “Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.”
Had we been there we would have looked at Jesus and said, “He must be a horrible man, for God to do that to him. He must be the worst of men. Thank God I’m not evil like that man Jesus.” Isaiah says that would have been the conclusion we came too. “Cursed is any man hung on a tree. He must be cursed. He therefore must be the most despicable of men.”
Now what I also found curious at the crucifixion of Jesus is again Isaiah prophesied many years before Jesus birth that he would die with criminals. That he would be crucified with the guilty. And as Isaiah promised Jesus was crucified with two guilty thieves with two guilty sinners, “One on his left and one on his right.” And what’s interesting unlike Jesus we don’t know the names of these men.
Unlike Jesus there is no religion for these men. Unlike Jesus there is no holiday like Christmas, or Easter for these men. There are not books written about these men. There are not songs sung to these men. There aren’t billions of people gathering around the earth today to worship these men.
Again, tens of thousands of people were crucified like Jesus. The reason why Jesus is remembered and celebrated is that Jesus was different than those two guilty men. He was a man who was guiltless. And Jesus is not a mere man was we looked at in the first week. He is a man, he is God rather, who became man. He’s the God man. And so the reason we celebrate Jesus, and we don’t even know the name of these other men. Is not simply because Jesus was crucified but he was superior and different from all other men, who have ever been crucified.
So much so that people began giving their allegiance and devotion to this man Jesus. I mean you think of a man that was crucified at the grocery store parking lot soon being worshipped by billions of people today, on the earth that’s an astonishing thing.
The next time someone is put to death by lethal injection or the electric chair, I am assuring you there will not be a number of people that want to be just like them. But that is what happened with Jesus. So much so that the leader of his disciples Peter who was there at the crucifixion of Jesus, and saw it first hand, and went on to write two books of the Bible, First and Second Peter and to preach about Jesus.
He was eventually arrested and he was told in essence, “Peter, you keep saying that Jesus is God and that he did something on the cross for sinners like you. We want you to recant of that. And if you don’t, you saw how we crucified Jesus; we will crucify you just like that. So recant. Peter said in essence, “I cannot recant. Because Jesus is God and his death did do something for me. And I will not lie and say that Jesus is not God. And say that Jesus didn’t accomplish anything on the cross.” They said, “Well fine Peter we will crucify you.” And Peter basically said, “Don’t crucify me like Jesus. I’m not honorable enough for that fate. Crucify me upside down.” And so, Peter was crucified upside down.
How could a dead man, crucified liked Jesus, cause a man like Peter to consider it such an honorable thing that he himself was not even considering himself worthy to be crucified like Jesus.
Christians have followed in the legacy of Peter’s honoring of Jesus. And what I find to be altogether curious is that beginning, in so far as we can tell, with the early church father, Tertullian, Christians had to decide for themselves what will we use as the symbol of our faith. We need, we need a logo. We need a branding, right. And they could have taken the rainbow before the homosexuals did, that’s ours back in Genesis around the days of Noah. They chose not to do the rainbow. They could have had the dove before the, you know, the peace activists, and the, and the non violent types stole it, because that was how the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his Baptism. They chose not to pick something as nice as inoffensive as a rainbow or a dove.
The Christians chose the cross. They begin making the sign of the cross. They began wearing crosses around their neck. They began adorning their homes with crosses as artwork. Their children began drawing pictures of the cross. They began singing songs about the cross. They began delighting and celebrating in the cross.
And so regarding the cross there has been a great deal of controversy. Many different opinions about Jesus’ death on the cross, was it worthwhile? Did is accomplish anything? Is it something that we should adore? Is it something that we should despise?
I’ll give you some specific examples of the perspectives of both the famous and the infamous. I’ll start in the second century. There was a painting that was found that shows a man being crucified. It’s the body of a man. But instead of the head of a man there is a head of a jackass. And beneath it is a man who is looking up to the crucified jackass and he is raising his hands in praise and worship. And the quote says, “Aleximenos worships his God.” Now by many the person of Jesus being crucified was not someone too, be worshiped because that is nothing more than a dead jackass. And if you worship that man then you are equally ridiculous. Some still think that.
Paul said, “That the cross would be foolish to some and offensive to others.” And it has been since the earliest days of Christianity, all the way back to the second century.
Give you some other perspectives. Philosopher John Jacques Roseau, “If Socrates lived and died like a philosopher Jesus lived and died like a God,” interesting statement. Some of you may of heard or may have said, “Aren’t all religions the same and don’t they all essentially all teach the same thing?” Not about Jesus.
Mahatma Gandhi, the great Hindu teacher says this, “His death – Jesus death on the cross – was a great example to the world but there was anything like a mysterious and miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept.” Gandhi basically said, “I’m a good guy. Jesus was a good guy. Jesus suffered wrongly. I’ve suffered wrongly. Jesus is a good example of how to suffer injustice and still maintain moral character and fiber but as far as him dying, for me, or accomplishing anything, I don’t accept that.”
America Satirist, Lenny Bruce said, “If Jesus had been killed 20 years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.”
In 1892 there was a Supreme Court, decision that was handed down, that declared, “That Jesus Christ is the redeemer of mankind.”
There is a branch of Al Qaida operating out of the leadership in Iraq called the Mujahideen Shura Council and when the Pope recently made is comments about Islam they declared war on, quote, “The Worshippers of the Cross.” I found that very curious, that they have identified, Christianity with the cross. One thing that they got wrong radical Islam is that we don’t worship the cross we worship the man who died on the cross. Many men have died on the cross but no man is like Jesus and we don’t worship the cross. And as a general rule we don’t worship men who died on the cross. We only worship one man, who died on the cross, that being the God Man, Jesus Christ. They went on to say, “We shall break the cross and you shall have no choice Islam or death.” That’s kind of silly. They don’t know even if they kill us we just go to be with Jesus because that’s what he did on the cross.
Martin Luther King, Jr. conversely said, “In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s Hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime, the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality and thus fell below their environment. The other Jesus Christ was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness.”
What I also curious is that the symbol of the cross has moved from Christian faith into pop culture as a fashion statement. This to me is most curious. Watch TV and if they every play videos again, I know its all reality shows for high school kids trying to get a date. But if they ever show a video on cable TV again and you get the opportunity to watch if, notice how often rock stars who have no interest in Jesus wear crosses as fashion statements.
I noticed on the 2006 MTV Music Awards, where Guns and Roses lead singer Axel Rose came out wearing a cross and then later Rapper 50 Cent came out wearing a cross as well. Very curious that it is now a hip cool fashion statement. And I hope you didn’t catch it but Madonna was on tour this last year. She had a tour called Confessions.
She grossed $193,000,000.00 and at the end of each performance they would bring out a large disco cross and she would have a mock crucifixion on the disco cross. And obviously this was very controversial so she issued a statement and she said quote, “I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today” – which is a weird statement he is, I mean, she’s got the cross thing down she should have keep reading the book it gets better. He is alive today. “I believe in my heat, if Jesus we’re alive today. He would be doing the same thing.” Madonna basically says, “I’m just like Jesus.” Not really. (Laughter) I might point out the obvious. Laying on a disco cross while you make a $193,000,000.00 is not exactly the same as Jesus.
The issue then with all of these perspectives and opinions and controversies regarding the cross, how in the world can Christians declare this to be the Gospel? And Gospel means what? Good News. This is what I found shocking as a non Christian. People would say, “You need to hear the Good News about Jesus. And then they would tell me what happened to him. I mean I’m like, “What is so good about that. That seems like Bad News to me. That was done to Jesus that seems like a horrible thing. How can you possibly call that Good News?”
And so let me explain for you why Christians believe. All Christians believe that the death of Jesus on the cross is in fact Good News. And in doing this I’m going to pull together what were parts of 12 sermons last fall. And let me move very quickly through a series of related truths about Jesus.
The first is that Jesus Christ is alone without sin, sinless, perfect. In the first sermon in the series we looked at Jesus’ claim in John 8:46, where he looks at a crowd and says, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin and no one could because he had no sin.” This is an unparallel, unbelievable statement, to be without sin. This is confirmed in Hebrews 4:115, where it says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness; rather he has been tempted in every way as we are yet without” – what – “sin.”
So Jesus is without sin. Okay, how about you and I? Are we without sin? No. If you said yes, that was a sin. And now you’re on our team with all the other sinners. (Laughter)We’re all sinners. The Bible says, “That all of sin falls short the glory of God.” Isaiah says that we all sheep of God have gone astray.” We’ve turned our back on God to be our own God and do whatever we want to do. And we’re rebels and law breakers and we do whatever we want and that’s the problem, that we think that we are a little God.
We’ve all sinned. We sin in our thoughts, our words, our deeds, our motives. It’s not just what you do. It’s why you do it, if it’s not to the glory of God that’s a sin too. Words count. Deeds count. Motives count. And so do thoughts and longings of the heart. And God sees all of that.
I was dealing with a man not too, long ago, he said, “I feel like I’m a pretty good person.” I said, “Would you say that if I had a monitor connected on top of your head and I could see all of your thoughts?” He looked at the ground. He couldn’t even look me in the eye. He looked at the ground and he said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t be so good.” I said, “Yeah, that’s kind of what I figured.”
God see that. God see the motives and intents and desires and longings and the lust of the heart, whether or not we do them. And they count, too.
We sin through omission. We don’t do what we’re supposed too. We sin through commission. We do what we’re not supposed. We’re sinners. So, Jesus is different than we are, because he is sinless and we are sinful.
Next thing that you need to know is the result of sin, is death. God said this in Genesis 2, “Before sin entered the world,” – he told our first parents Adam in Eve, Genesis 2:16 And 17, “Do not sin because if you do you will – what? – “you will die.” That death is spiritual separation from God. It’s also physically that we actually do die. And we all die because we are all sinners. The Bible says, this as well in the Book of Romans, where Paul writes, “The wage for sin is death.” Okay, that being said, Jesus never sinned. How could Jesus die if you only die because of sin? That’s the question.
And this is where we hear the Good News. The Good News is that Jesus died for, that’s the key word, our sin. Theologically, if you like big words, we call this, penal substitutionary atonement. Penal; meaning the penalty for sin is death. Substitution meaning; Jesus stood on our place and died for our sins. Atonement; meaning at one meant, that we can be one with God that sin separates us from God and that Jesus can take away sin. So we can be one with God again, in a loving connected relationship.
See God is the living God. God made us to live in relationship with him. When we sin we rebel against God. We disconnect ourselves against God. It’s not unlike an appliance of a piece of technology that unplugs itself from its power source, it still exists, but it is essentially dead. The Bible says that we can be physically live and spiritually dead.
Paul in Colossians and Ephesians, says, “That we’re dead in our trespasses and sins.” That we’re all born physically alive but we must be born again to also be spiritually alive, sin taken away, reconnected to the Living God to live the life relationship that he intended. Where he is God and we don’t foolishly think that we are God getting to do whatever we please. Because that leads to death and you need to know this. Sin leads to death. If it wasn’t for sin we wouldn’t have funerals. We wouldn’t have mortuaries, cemeteries, we wouldn’t have hospitals. We wouldn’t have obituaries. We wouldn’t have sickness and disease, and war and famine and plague and death. First Corinthians 15, basically says, “It is our enemy and death is a result of sin.”
God made everything alive and good. And we have sinned and brought death and everything is very bad, and that’s why sin even creeps into practical matters like marriages and just dies because of sin. Friendships just die because of sin. Families and communities and love and hope and joy and unity and peace die because of sin. Sin is a problem.
And the reason that Christians know that Jesus’ death is Good News is because Jesus died for us. Let me explain this. Martin Luther calls what I’m going to explain to you now, the great exchange. What I’m going to explain to you now. The great German reformer calls this the Great exchange.
Second Corinthians, 5:21 says this, “God made him that is Jesus, who knew no sin. Jesus alone is without sin. God made him who knew no sin to become” – what –“sin,” so that in him we might become the righteous of God.” That’s the great exchange. Let me emphasize the first half. “God made him who knew no sin.” That’s Jesus, “To become sin.” Let me explain this. I’m going to push you on this issue to, a place where you will not be comfortable, if you understand what I’m saying.
You may have been raised in church. You may have been told Jesus died for your sins, which is true. Jesus also became your sin and that is precisely why he died. Let me explain this. Everyone in this room is a sinner. Some of you eat too, much, your glutton, some of you drink too much, you’re drunkards, some of you are liars, your thieves, your covenanters, you’re perverts, you’re fornicators, who have sex before marriage. You’re adulterers, who have sex in the violation of your marriage covenant.
Some of you are homosexuals, have sex, sex with someone of the same gender. Some of you worship false Gods. Some of you are total perverts. Some of you are jealous. Some of you are bitter. Some of you are petty. Some of you are harsh. Some of you are negligent. Some of you are lazy. And some of you think, “I’m not that way.” And you’re self righteous and proud. Okay, so you’re actually the worse. (Laughter) True story, right, I thought I was a great guy. I was in high school, most likely to succeed, student body president, four year letterman, man of the year, on the football team, captain of the baseball team, natural helper, write for the newspaper, the whole thing. Every dance they put a crown on my head because I’m the King of every Tolo and whatever stupid dance we had at the school.
And a buddy of mine came up on day and said, “You need to become a Christian.” And I said, “Why do I need to become a Christian?” He said, “God, will forgive your sins.” I remember saying. “I don’t have any sins.” I’m a good person. I don’t get drunk. I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t beat up anybody that doesn’t deserve it. I don’t take advantage of woman. I’m a great guy. I’m glad that Jesus takes care of the down and outers and the bums and the alcoholics and the drug addicts and the pedophiles that’s great. “But I don’t need him. I’m doing good.”
“Pride,” Agustin says, “Is the mother of all sins.” Do you know that morality and religion are the most offensive to God? Self esteem is what go Satan got kicked out of heaven, pride. Some of you here today say, “You keep talking about sin. I’m a good person.” That is the worse sin of all. Thinking that you and Jesus have the same resume is the most offensive thing in the world. And the Bible says, “That Jesus Christ became our sin. What does that mean? That means if you’re a pedophile in that moment of Jesus crucifixion where the Father became disgusted and horrified by the Son, that Jesus Christ became the worst of what you are.”
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Luther days this, rightly, so many commentators get skittish at this point. Luther proceeds with Biblical courage. What he says is this. “That the beautiful, glorious sinless Jesus at the moment of his crucifixion became the horrendous despicable, disgusting, deplorable, retched, ugly thing in all creation.” “Ugly thing in all creation.”
And the Father as the Bible says, “Is too pure to look on evil and he couldn’t even look upon the Son, and Jesus Christ was cursed and hung on a tree became sin. Jesus Christ became the worst of what you and I and we are. “God made him who knew no sin to become sin.” And then what did God the Father do, punish Jesus. Jesus suffered and died in my place, for my sins. They key word there is for. It’s a little word but it’s so important.
We get the historical facts of Jesus’ death. But without that transition word for, that explains what that means for us. Jesus death is not Good News. There is no Good News in that Jesus was wrongly accused. He was beaten. He was run through a series of false trials. Through a series of false trials, that he was scourged, that he was mocked, that he was stripped naked, that he was crucified and died.
That is not in and of itself Good News. That is the worst atrocity in the history of humanity. That is little word for that the Bible uses, makes it Good News for you and I. Because it doesn’t just tell us what happened to Jesus it tells us why.
And the Bible says that faith comes by hearing the word of God. So, I just want to just read some Scripture and I want you to hear it. I’ll give the first from Isaiah 53:5, “He – meaning Jesus – was pierced for –there’s our word, he was pierced a historical fact – “for our transgressions.” “He was crushed for our iniquities.”
First Corinthians 5:3 and 4, Paul summarizes the Gospel, Good News, and what he says is this, “What I received I passed on to you, first importance.” Meaning, there is a lot of things that you can know. “And perhaps there are a lot of things you should know, but there one thing that is one thing that is more important than anything that you have to absolutely have to know, this is “What I received I passed on to you, at the first importance. Christ died for our sins,” according to Scripture. Jesus lived the life I could never live. Jesus died the death. I should have died. And Jesus went to the cross for me, for my sins. That’s why it’s Good News. He did that for me. He did that for you. He did that for us.
I’ll continue. Romans 4:25, “He was delivered over to death for us our sins.” For – there’s that word again- us, our sins. Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for” – for who, us. First Peter 3:18, “Christ died for sins, once for all the righteous for the unrighteous.” First John 2:2, “He”– meaning Jesus – “is the atoning sacrifice.” Some of your translation will say, “propitiation for – here’s the word again – our sins.”
Looking at what happened to Jesus. The only way that we can declare that is Good news for us is when we realize that Jesus died not for his sin but he substituted himself in my place paying the penalty for my sin. And he went the cross for me and for my sin.
And then three days later Jesus rose. Because death could not hold Jesus because Jesus was without sin, and so contrary to Madonna’s statement he is alive today. And he doesn’t need anyone to pretend they are being crucified. He needs everyone to remember his crucifixion. Now for some of you this may be hard to remember.
So let me give you a word picture from the Old Testament. The Old Testament is all foreshadowing and anticipating the coming of Jesus. The whole Bible is about Jesus. Every page, every word, it is all about Jesus. And if you’ve read the Old Testament you know that they have many feast and festivals and holidays. Perhaps you even have a Jewish friend that is not a Christian. And if so you can answer this question. What is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people, Yom Kippur the Day of what, the Day of Atonement, the day when people get their sin dealt with because the holy righteous just God is unhappy with sinners and their sin. And so what they would do, they would have the day of Yom Kippur.
And I am, no High Priest, but by way of analogy and illustration let me simply explain it to you. If I were the High Priest, what would happen is we all would gather as a nation. And two goats would be brought to me, both without defect and pure, showing sinlessness and perfection. One goat would be the substitute and one goat would be the scape goat. And the first thing that would happen, is I would foreword the substitute that innocent animal that deserve to die and didn’t do anything deserving death to symbolize and represent and to stand in the place as the substitute of all of us sinners.
And as the High Priest, I am working as mediator, intercessor, and representative of God and the people. So trying to teach God’s word to the people and I’m trying to bring the people’s words, and prayers and sins and repentance to God, in this mediatoral function. And so what I would have done. I would have laid hands on that animal identify myself as representative of all of us on that animal. And I would confess our sins, publically.
The cultural equivalent today would be me laying hands on that animal and saying, “God, some of us are alcoholics, and some of us are drug addicts and some of us are thieves. And some of us are porn addicts. And some of us are homosexuals. And some of us are fornicators. And some of us are adulteress. And some of are gluttons. And some of us are liars. And some of us are harsh. And some of us are mean. And some of us are bitter. And I would go through every single sin that I could think of, until I absolutely offended everyone of you because I named your worse sin. You’re most pernicious, beloved, entrenched addiction to that which is vile.
I would have said, “God, some of us are religious and self righteous, hypocrites and we think that we’re better than everybody else. And we think that we are morally good people and superior. And we look down our nose at people and we make sport of them.” I would have named it all. That I would have taken that innocent animal that wouldn’t have done any of those things I have mentioned and I would lift up its head and would grab a knife and I would slit its throat. And that animal would wale and it would kick and it would flail. And it would bleed to death. And it would make the most horrendous noise and it would be flopping in its own blood. And that animal would be seen as a substitute for us sinners and what we deserve, though that animal itself innocent and its bloodshed was without cause.
That is substitution. And the Bible says, “That Jesus died for our sins.” That’s what it means. That he was innocent and pure. That he is the Lamb of God come to take away the sin of the world.” John the Baptizer said.
Theologically we call this propitiation, because God is good. And God is just, And God is holy. And God is righteous. God is not happy with sinners
and their sin. The result is that God’s angry wrath burns against us. I know I’m not supposed to tell you this. I’m not supposed to tell that God is a God that gets angry at sin. I know that you get angry at sin. Somebody sins against you; you’re just in a real fit. I’m not supposed to tell you God feels the same way, with you.
We don’t talk about the wrath of God. It’s not even spoken of anymore. But it’s mentioned more than 600 times in the Bible. If you took all the verse for the wrath of God, and all the verses for the love of God, the wrath of God pile is bigger. Am I saying God is not loving? He is, loving. But I’m telling you that he is, loving and hates sin. And his wrath burns against sinners. And the doctrine of propitiation is that Jesus put himself in our place as a substitute that the penalty for the sin, death, was poured out on him, that he became the worst of what we are and he suffered what we deserve. And that the wrath of God was diverted from us propitiated from us to use the word that appears at least four times in the New Testament. And Jesus like that sacrificial animal, though innocent, suffered, bleed and died as a substitute for me. And the wrath of God was poured out on him. And the justice of God was poured out on him so that now I need not live in fear because there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
When Jesus said, “It is finished.” My sin was atoned for. The penalty for my sin was paid. The holiness the righteousness the justice and the wrath of God was taken care of. And that is what is shown in that first sacrifice.
Now in addition there is the second goat which is called the scape goat. And that goat as well would have been participating in this event with one major distinction. Would I slaughter that goat? No, I would let that goat run free if I were the High Priest. That goat would run to live his life. To have joy and happiness and go do whatever goats do. Showing that not only has Jesus taken care of my sin. He’s taken it away. Right, the concept of the scape goat is that he takes all of our guilt and all of our shame and all of our defilement and all of our past identity and all of our old ways of living and all ways
of thinking and he just takes them away and we never see them again, they’re gone.
That is what the New Testament calls the Doctrine of Expiation. God forgives my sin and cleanses it in Jesus, in taking it away. So I don’t feel dirty and disgusting and filthy any more.
Friends we only have three options. Our identity is marked by the sins we have committed, or the sins that have been committed against us. Or the work of Jesus that takes away sin. The result being we can be new creations in Christ. That all things pass away and all things come new. That, that Jesus does take away our sin like that scape goat.
It’s curious that we keep that word in our nomenclature, isn’t it? I don’t want to be the scape goat. No one wants to be the scape goat. Jesus was the one, the scape goat. He is the one who takes it all away. He takes it all away. We read of both of these aspects of Jesus person and work, the propitiation for sin and they expiation of sin.
In First John Chapter 1 verses 7 through 9. There was a man who was like a kid brother to Jesus and perhaps loved him the most. And he says, this, First John 1 7 through 9, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light “ – Jesus – meaning if we are honest and open and confess our sin and tell the truth and come clean and don’t have secretes and don’t have shame and tell our parents what we’ve done. And tell our spouse who we are and what we’ve done. Tell a Pastor, tell a Biblical counselor, come clean, no more lies, nor more shame, nor more hiding, no more fear, no more condemnation. “If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another”. The sin doesn’t kill the intimacy it’s actually taken away so there can be intimacy. If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another. “
“God is faithful and just,” it says, to what? Forgive us of what sins? All of our sins, past present and future, all of our sins, even the worst of them. And it goes on furthermore state, “To cleanses us,” from what? From all of our unrighteousness, that is only possible through Jesus. No other religious leader of any major religion will tell you, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I’ll give you rest.” If you need your sins forgiven I will accomplish that for you. My yoke is easy my burden is light. Walk in the light with me. I will forgive your sin. I will cleanse your unrighteousness. ”
“I will take away your guilt, your shame your filth your defilement your condemnation. I will remove your sin from you. I will make you a new creation. I will put my spirit in you to empower you to live the life I intended for you as the Living God.” See there’s no one like Jesus. There’s no one like Jesus. No one offers what Jesus offers. Taking away wrath and giving love.
Some of you say, “I cannot accept that God will do this.” Well he does. He is our High Priest. He is our substitute. He is our scape goat. He is the High Priest who mediates between us and God. And when you look at the cross do not think, “I cannot foresee the love of God, only in the cross.” Only in the cross friends, can you clearly see the love of God.” The Bible says this; God demonstrates his love for us in this, and “While you were still sinners Jesus died for us.” Jesus says, “No greater love can there be, than someone lay down their life for friends.”
John 3:16, says, “God, so loved the world that he gave his only son, that if we believe in him we need not perish and go to hell and suffer the fate he did but instead receive the gift of eternal life.” And Jesus’ dear friend John says, “It is not that we love God but that God loved us, and sent Jesus as the atoning sacrifice, or the propitiation for our sins.”
If you wonder does God love me? Look at the cross. He loves you. He loves you with an unquenchable love. He has perused you with reckless abandon. Not because we are good people but because he is a good God. Because Jesus Christ wants more for us then sin and death but salvation and life.
And I know that some of you are here today saying, but, I am a Christian I’ve heard this before. I thought you would tell me something new. If you are
a Christian just let me simply ask this. Do you really believed in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross? Not just theologically fill in the blank and get an A in Sunday school.
If you still have shame you don’t really believe in the cross. If you’re still trying to present yourself as a good person instead of being honest and walking in the light and saying, “Here’s my humanity. Here’s my frailty and my temptations and my struggles and I’m not the hero Jesus is and I don’t save myself. Jesus saves me. I’m not the good guy he is.”
If you’re still worried about your image and how you appear and being moral and religious and upright and pious and good, you do not yet fully truly believe in the cross. If you are a person who is trying to do good works and trying to do what God wants so that God will love you. You do not get the cross. You do not get the cross. God loves you not because of what you do but because of what Jesus was done for you.
That Jesus takes away sin. That Jesus makes all things new. That Jesus is the hero of the story. Jesus is the Savior of the soul. That Jesus is the redeemer of the wicked. You don’t need to do anything so that God will love you. He has already loved you through Jesus. You don’t need to do anything for God to embrace you. He will embrace you through the finished work of Jesus. When Jesus said it is finished. What he meant was there is nothing left for us to do to be saved. Just trust in him. That’s why religion and morality are the enemies of the cross. Trying to be a good person to pay God back, Jesus took care of everything. We don’t need to pay off a debt that needs to be paid. Trying to be a good person so God will love us when Jesus has already loved us and the love of God has been poured out through his work on the cross.
If you live with guilt, shame, condemnation, if you have secrets you’ve never told anyone. If you have sins you have never confessed to God. If you have shame that binds your identity. Do not yet fully believe in the cross. And if when you sin, you hide, you blame, you deflect, you excuse, you change the subject, you flare up in anger, you try and defend your appearance instead of just coming clean with God and others. You do not yet really believe in the cross.
And if you are here and you are not a Christian it is all Jesus, the problem is sin. The answer is Jesus. Let me state that as simply as I can. Jesus Christ loves you. Jesus Christ lived the life you cannot live. Jesus Christ died the death you should have died. Jesus Christ rose. He is alive and well today. He was our substitute. He is our scape goat. And he is our God Man, mediating, High Priest. If you pray to him today, he is alive and well. He will hear your prayer. You can ask him, “Jesus, forgive me of sin. Make me Christian. He will. There’s not one person that would come to Jesus, no matter, what they have done or failed to do, that Jesus would turn away, not one. There is hope for us all.
So we ask you now to respond to Jesus. Become a Christian, or if you are a Christian to grow in your trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross to take away sin. And stop trying to be a good person, so God will love you. Accept in that in Jesus, God has loved you. And that enables you to become a different person. Not so that God would love you but because he already has. And like Romans says, “It is the kindness of God which leads to our repentance. That is what changes us.
When you are ready you can respond by becoming a Christian, giving your life to Jesus. You can become a Christian today by just praying even in your seat asking him to forgive you and he will.
When you are ready you can take communion. All of you who are Christian or become Christian today. It’s the remembering and the celebrating of the body and the blood of Jesus on the cross.
We’ll give our tithes and offerings, those of us who are Christian, as part of our worship. And then we’ll sing and we’ll celebrate that Jesus is good and Jesus is life and that Jesus is waiting to hear from his people. Well pray.
“Lord Jesus you told us to pray to you. So we are. You told us you could forgive sins so we are confessing them to you. You told us you were eternal God come down from the heaven to live the life we could not live to die the death we should have died, and to rise in victory for us. Jesus it is my prayer that you give us faith to believe. That we would walk of religion where we are trying to be good so you would love us. That we would walk away from morality where we think somehow we can be good enough, that the holy and righteous ruler of the universe would thing that we are pretty good people. May we walk away from condemnation and shame and secrecy and hiding and guilt. May we walk in the light. May we have fellowship in the light. May you propitiate our sin. May you expiate our sin. May you forgive us and cleanse us and give us new life. I pray that for all of my friends. And Jesus I thank you for being our substitute. I thank you for being our scapegoat, and I thank you that you are alive and well and that you are a great high priest, Amen.
In the third sermon in the Vintage Jesus series, Pastor Mark examines what Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross.
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