Importance - Introduction - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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The importance of Jesus' Death - an introduction


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The Importance of Jesus' Death


OT Reading:  Psalm 22
NT Reading:  1Cor.2:1-10


Introduction
Anyone who wants to think about the Christian faith will very quickly be confronted with the fact that Jesus died and his death was really very special indeed. The simple fact that we (and perhaps millions around the world this very day) are considering the death of a man who lived on earth 2.000 years ago already sets him apart from others.

But what are we to make Jesus' death? How are we to understand it? Was it a monumental failure of strategy that brought about a premature end to an otherwise promising life or was it something else? What is the meaning and what is the significance of Jesus' death?

I'm not talking now about how cruel his death was and how painful the whole experience was – it was cruel and painful but many others have also suffered appalling pain as they have died and we don't try to tell the world about them.

Nor am I talking either about Jesus' death being unjust – it was unjust because he was innocent of any crime – but plenty of others, while not being perfect, have nevertheless been executed for no good reason too and yet we are content to forget them.

No, Jesus' death is special because of who he is – no ordinary man this prophet from Nazareth, he was and is the God-man.

His death is also special because it was followed by resurrection – the stamp of God's approval upon his entire life and ministry – and that sets him apart too.

Indeed so important are his death and resurrection that if they were set to one side or removed then we'd find that the very heart of the Christian faith had been ripped out. What we would be left with could hardly be described as good news at all and would not be worth having.

So what does Jesus death really mean? Why is it so important? We need to be clear about this for ourselves and the Bible has a great deal to tell us if only we will stop to listen. The very fact the Bible does have so much to say is surely a strong indication that whatever it means the death of Christ can't be dismissed as a mistake that should never have happened.


History
When we come to think about Jesus' death and resurrection we must not for a moment begin to imagine that we are in the imaginary world of fantasy literature. The Bible records Jesus' death as real history, as something that really did take place. The record is written down in a very-matter-of-fact manner. It is of course much more than mere history but it is certainly not less than that!

So when we talk about Jesus dying upon the Cross of Calvary we are talking about something that actually happened and no serious historian doubts that in the first century a man known as Jesus of Nazareth lived and was put to death under Pontius Pilate.

But we are not dependent upon the views of current historians; there are many strands of evidence that come together indicating that we are to understand the accounts of Jesus' death is this straightforward way:

  • OT prophecy spoke about the death of the Messiah Ps.22 is just such an example – what a detailed description this gives of a man suffering the pains of crucifixion and that centuries before crucifixion was even used as a method of execution!


  • Jesus himself taught before the event that he would die a particular sort of death, he didn't do this on just one occasion but again and again:


Eg. Mk.8:31-32a "And (Jesus) began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly."


  • Eyewitnesses testified to what they saw:


Eg. Jn.19:33-35 "But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness––his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth––that you also may believe."


  • The Resurrection accounts that followed the record of Jesus dying would be meaningless if Jesus had not really died:


Eg. Lk.24:4-8 "While they (the women who had gone to the tomb) were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise." And they remembered his words,"


  • Non-Christian sources contain statements confirming the detail that Jesus really did die

Josephus – a first century Jewish historian
Tacitus – a Roman author who wrote early in the 2 nd century


But who was responsible?
Having underlined the historical nature of Jewish death we need to be aware that not everything that men and believe about this death is in harmony with what the Bible teaches!

For example if were to ask the question: "Who was responsible for Jesus' death?" we would probably receive a variety of answers:

  • Some might say that Jesus brought it upon himself by his intransigence and by his failure to appreciate just how the wind was blowing


  • Others would look at the involvement of the Jewish authorities: they hastily convened their kangaroo court and did all they could to secure the judgment they wanted. Having got it they put pressure of the Roman authorities to finish the job for them.


  • Yet others would focus on those who actually carried out the execution. Jesus was crucified at the orders of Pontius Pilate: crucifixion was a Roman punishment, Pontius Pilate was a Roman official therefore it was the Romans who were responsible.


If that were all there was to it then we might well struggle to find any meaning at all behind the events. And that is where many folk stop – all they can see is the sad and tragic rejection of a man who went about doing good. This man had been innocent – what a shame that men treated him so badly! All they are left with is a sense of loss, a sense of what might have been…

The Bible however, while recognising the role of both the Jews and Romans in the death of the Lord Jesus, has something else to tell us – something that is extremely significant. Men were involved but much more importantly it tells us that God was heavily involved too!

Is.53:10a "Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief;"
Rom.8:32 "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"
Rom.3:25 "(Jesus), whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood,"
Jn.3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

The early Christians understand this and so prayed:

Acts 4:27-28 "truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."


Do you see what this means? The death of Jesus is ultimately to be attributed to an exercise of divine sovereignty! Jesus' death was not an accident but it was part of the divine plan, the master plan of salvation.

Now if you make a plan it is because you want to achieve something, you have a purpose, a goal in view. Sometimes your plan will work out and sometimes it won't but you have a clear idea of what you want to do. When God plans something he too does so with a purpose, a goal in mind. Unlike us however God's plans never fail – after all he has perfect wisdom to plan well and he has the power necessary to carry out his purposes – he is not limited in either understanding or ability! So when we read that Jesus' death formed part of his plan we must conclude that he had a clear purpose in mind. It will be our task in the weeks to come to investigate just what the Bible has to say about this purpose – we will find it has a great deal to say.


Various ways of speaking about the "death of Christ"
The importance of the death of Jesus Christ is further underlined by the way in which the Bible writers use a variety of words to talk about the same idea.

Yes, we read about Jesus telling his disciples that he would be put to death and we read about him dying but we also read that he was crucified – the meaning is not just that he was nailed to the tree but that his life came to an end in that way. The cross becomes a sort of Christian shorthand to sum up the everything that is meant when we say that Jesus died.

Similarly, when we read about the "blood of Christ" we are not to think about what the warm red liquid that coursed through his veins we are intended to understand that he died – the blood means that he gave his life's blood, he didn't hold back at all but in going all the way to Calvary he died for me!

At the institution of the Lord's supper and each time the Supper is celebrated our thoughts are turned to broken bread. This bread is identified as representing Jesus' body that was broken for us – thus this reference to the body of Christ once more directs us to what he did with his life – he laid it down in death for the spiritual nourishment and well-being of his people.

Jesus is also described as having offered himself as a sacrifice to God – while not every sacrifice in the OT involved death (though most did) the writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that the model for the sacrifice Jesus offered did involve death.

That there are many different ways of speaking about the death of the Saviour is one more way in which the importance of his death is pressed upon us. The Supper tells us that not only will his death be spoken about in different ways but it will be continually spoken of right up to the very end of time:

1Cor.11:26 "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."


And lest we think that the subject of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ is only of interest to men and women on earth we must realise that such is the importance of our Saviour's death that it is the object of praise and worship not simply on earth but also in heaven. In the very throne room of God this is what takes place:

Rev.5:9-12 "And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!""


We could probably go on and refer to other words to that are also used to speak about this most remarkable of all deaths but we must move on.


Contrasting Effects of "the Cross of Christ"
With the Lord's help we will come in the weeks to come to consider in much greater detail just what the death of Christ means and what its far-reaching effects are. For this evening let's conclude simply by highlighting how people's attitude towards the cross can be radically different and how their reactions lead to radically different experiences.

The cross of Christ is God's means of setting aside the debt we had built up in our regular and repeated failure to keep his laws demands. By the cross he establishes peace for those who will have it – peace with himself and peace within his new covenant community. But it is peace on his terms only and many find his terms offensive and will not have any of it.

How do you respond to this gospel of the cross of Christ – do you delight in what is freely offered to you or are you offended by it?

The cross of Christ demonstrates and reveals the power of God but such power must be embraced if we are to benefit from it. Paul wrote:

1Cor.1:17-18 "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

Does the cross make sense to you? Or do you think it was a colossal mistake? How you really think deep down will reveal much about you – it will reveal whether you are being saved or whether you are perishing!

The apostle Paul shows us the Christian way to respond to the cross of Christ: he centres on it, he is prepared to lay everything else aside so that the cross takes centre stage (in a very real sense he sees everything else as unimportant in comparison to what has been achieved by this cross of Christ). But not only is it in the centre of his thoughts and his preaching and teaching ministry it is at the very heart of his Christian emotions and Christian commitment. Can I say with the apostle Paul and can you say with him:

Gal.6:14 "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ"


Well may it be so in all of our lives.

Amen.


 
 
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