March 13: The Cross: The Means of Freedom

March 13: The Cross: The Means of Freedom

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Audio of Scripture reading and sermon only

This morning is the second week in our Lenten Journey toward the Cross of Calvary. During Lent, Pastor Drew will be preaching a 7-part sermon series which will focus on some of things Christ specifically accomplished through his suffering and crucifixion, collectively referred to as the passion of Christ. The series is entitled “Why Did Jesus Die?” and is inspired by John Piper’s book, The Passion of Jesus Christ. The main point of the whole series is that the suffering an death of Jesus Christ was a purposefully event; many of the reasons for the passion of Christ are for our benefit. The hope is that you will come to a much greater appreciation for what Christ Jesus accomplished through his suffering and death on the cross. Today’s theme is salvation. The main point is that Jesus died to rescue us from final judgment.

Scriptures: Philippians 3:17-4:1; Hebrews 9:28

Brace yourself, I’m about to say a 4-letter word . . . . Judgmental.

These days, there’s a pretty strong prohibition against being judgmental of others. By and large, our society doesn’t think too highly of those who are holier-than-thou or sanctimonious in their dealings with others, especially those who are different than them. On the other hand, being non-judgmental is considered a very desirable attitude toward others who are different than ourselves.

The root of the word ‘judgmental’ is ‘judgment.’ If we took a poll amongst ourselves, I bet we’d find that most of us are wary of the word ‘judgment.’ In fact, any word that begins with ‘judge’—other than the term which refers to the person presiding in a courtroom—probably leaves us feeling a little uncomfortable.

Stop judging me!

Who are you to pass judgment on me?

You’re such a judgmental person.

I feel so judged by what you’re saying.

To be on the receiving end of these statements is generally considered a bad thing, something that can only be reversed through repentance of the transgression of moral self-righteousness.

Maybe this explains why most of us are uncomfortable with the idea of a God who passes judgment on human beings. And whose Final Judgment results in some people collecting $200 and passing Go while all the rest are given a Go Straight to Jail card. To our modern sensibilities, this feels arbitrary and unfair. And that’s probably because we’ve all been raised in a culture which values a live-and-let-live approach to interacting with others.

The problem with this, though, is that it’s an example of making God in our image. We make God in our image when we start with our human perspective as the acceptable standard of belief and practice and measure God by that standard. The classic example of this is the ago-old question, “Why would an all-loving God allow people to suffer?” On one level, that seems like a fair question to ask. No doubt, we’ve all wondered why this is so. At the same time, however, I think that most of the time, that particular question is rooted in a human perspective about suffering and about God. The starting place is that suffering is a terrible thing that should not happen to people. And because that’s the case, God should eradicate all matter of suffering. Our human perspective is that love, especially an all-powerful love, would never allow human suffering. And so, when we hold God to that criterion it’s easy to conclude that God is neither all-loving nor all-powerful, or that there’s something wrong with God. This is making God in our image. It’s holding him accountable to our way of viewing reality.

With this in mind, a God who judges us is a God we’re uncomfortable with because we place a high value on not judging one another, saying “I’m right, you’re wrong, which makes me good and you bad, therefore I get the blessing and you get the punishment.” And if we believe it’s wrong to judge one another in that way, then why would God do that? Especially a God who’s all-loving. I kind of see that as making God in our image.

Another reason I think we’re uncomfortable with a God who passes judgment on humanity is because judgement seems so black and white, and most of us prefer the various shades of gray. When there’s judgment, a person’s either in or out. They either pass or fail. They’re either up [in heaven] or down [in hell]. They’re either right or wrong. And, quite frankly, this seeming lack of a wide range of what’s considered acceptable doesn’t sit well with many of us. We all know that diversity is a wonderful thing! And so, it doesn’t make sense to us that God would open to door to some and close the door on the rest.

Well, just like I said last week in regard to my seminary professor’s perspective about whether or not Jesus had to die the way he did, we’re going to have to pretty much throw out the Bible in its entirety if we’re going to reject the theological belief in a God

  • who created the cosmos out of nothing;
  • who set into place a standard for acceptable living without first conferring with and getting prior approval from the creatures he created; and
  • who holds us accountable when we fail to meet that standard.

Why? Because even though it makes a lot of us very uncomfortable, there’s just no getting around the fact that the matter of divine judgment is a major theme in our Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. And since it’s there, we might as well talk about it. So, today I want to briefly touch on the very important connection between God’s judgment of sin and Jesus’ crucifixion.

But before I go there, let me preface it with a word of reassurance, and I hope you hear me loud and clear: The judgment of God as described in the Bible, and in particular, the New Testament, and about which I’ll be talking this morning, is not—I repeat—not something that anyone who’s professed faith in Jesus Christ needs to be concerned about. I encourage you to commit Romans 8:1 to memory and let it guide all your thinking when it comes to how you see yourself. Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Pop quiz! What level of condemnation is there for those who follow Jesus Christ? None! Nada. Zero condemnation from God. If there’s no condemnation from God, then there should be no self-condemning thinking on any of our parts if we have faith in Christ Jesus. Let that be a truth you hold on to when it comes to discussions of God’s judgment.

Ok, let’s move on. I begin with Hebrews 9:28 – “Christ was offered once to take on himself the sins of many people.  He will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

In this verse, the author makes two important points about the work of Christ. The first is a statement about something he did, something that’s already taken place. “Christ was offered,” is a direct reference to what past event? His crucifixion. And why did he go to the cross according to this verse? To take the sins of many people—all people, to be exact—upon himself. Your sins, my sins, everybody’s sins. On the cross he bore the guilt of our sins, and he did it only once, and the effect of it will last until he returns.

His return, according to this verse, will accomplish something different than what his death accomplished. It says, “He will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” So, the Cross of Calvary dealt with sin. It doesn’t need to be dealt with ever again. Upon his return, those in Christ will be saved. The question for us is from what will be saved?

Before answering that question, let me just back up and say a quick word about the timetable of salvation. Scripturally speaking, the Christian idea of salvation relates to past, present, and future. The Bible says, “By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2.8). That’s the past; it happened when you said yes to Jesus. It also says that the gospel is the power of God “to us who are being saved” (1 Cor. 1.8). That’s in the present; our salvation is in process and always unfolding. And it also says, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13.11). An aspect of salvation is yet to be revealed.

So, we have been saved.
We are being saved.
We will be saved.
And at every stage we are saved by the death of Christ.

So, back to my question: from what are we saved? Well, in the past, on the cross, Jesus saved each of us from having to bear the guilt of our own sinfulness. In the present, the death of Christ secures the power of God’s Spirit to save us progressively from the domination and contamination of sin. By that I mean, when we apply the work of Christ on the cross to our lives, we’re given the power of the Holy Spirit to resist sin and temptation, and when we do that, we’re saved from the stain of habitual sin. And in the future, it’ll be the blood of Christ, poured out on the cross, that protects us from the wrath of God and brings us to perfection and joy.

And there it is; I mention the wrath of God. The blood of Christ saves us from God’s wrath, or judgment. Judgement of what? Judgment of sin. The wrath of God is another way of saying the anger of God. It’s God’s anger which is poured out not such much against persons as much as against sin itself. God utterly hates sin. Why? Because it’s the exact antithesis of God. God’s way leads to life, but sin leads only to death. God’s way leads to freedom, but sin leads only to captivity. And so, from the moment sin entered human history and marred our relationship with God and each other, God instituted a plan to destroy first the power of sin and eventually sin itself. The power of sin was destroyed by the death of Christ. And when Christ returns, sin itself will be destroyed. So, the anger that God will pour out on sin in the Last Day is what is meant by the term ‘the wrath of God.’

John the Baptist warned the people of his day to “flee from the wrath to come” (Mt. 3.7).

Hebrews 10:27 says that “there’s only a scary expectation of judgment and of a burning fire that’s going to devour God’s opponents.”

And two chapters later it calls us to live “in a way that is pleasing to God with respect and awe, because our God really is a consuming fire” (12:28-29).

On the Last Day, this “consuming fire” of God’s will do to sin the same thing that fire does to impurities in gold and silver; it’ll burn it away forever.

Now, to return to a point I made earlier, God’s final judgment is not a scary proposition for the follower of Christ. Why? Because as Christ-followers, we’re friends of God. We’ve been reconciled to God. We’re no longer under God’s condemnation because our sins have been washed away and we’ve been made whole and righteous by the blood of Christ. This is good news!! God’s judgment is a scary expectation where one’s sinfulness hasn’t been washed clean by the blood of Christ. This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind in his word to the Christians in Philippi, “As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross.  Their lives end with destruction” (3:18-19). Many people live as enemies of the cross. Their lives end with destruction.

But followers and disciples of Jesus Christ aren’t in that same position. On account of the cross of Christ, and us appropriating his work to our lives, our situation is altogether different. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 says “[we] are waiting for his Son from heaven.  His Son is Jesus, who is the one he raised from the dead and who is the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath.” When Christ saves us in the end, it’ll be on the basis of his blood. So, all of this is to say, one reason Christ suffered and died was to rescue us from the final judgment.

At this point, I feel the need to add a brief addendum to this message. I began by talking about how we rightly do our best to be non-judgmental in our relationships with people. It’s vital that we keep in mind that only God is in a place to make judgments about people because only God knows each person’s deepest heart. I know it’s cliché, but he knows each of us far better than we’ll ever know ourselves. Only he knows our true motivations, our true drives. We don’t know the heart of other people, even those who claim to be athiests. No matter what we believe about another’s situation, it would be totally irresponsible for us to come to conclusions about their eternal well-being. That’s just not our call to make. Period. My point today is simply that the passion of Jesus Christ is a sure shield from the anger God will one day pour out on unforgiven sin. And the only person you can know for sure is covered by that shield is yourself. If Christ lives in you, then you’re covered by his blood. Thanks be to God. Let’s pray.


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