Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Death of Jesus - A Life Giving Mystery


Spurgeon once said, “If you would have your faith made vivid and strong, study much the story of your Savior's death.”

People seek all kinds of sign today. They look for miracles, they look to Israel, and they even look to America or some other earthly sign. But Jesus already told us that the sign of Christ’s death and resurrection symbolized in Jonah would be the only sign given to us. And how repugnant is it when supposed children of God downplay His sufferings and seek some external sign? Oh the blood, oh the sweat, of the stripes, oh the thorns, oh the pain! If you truly understand and embrace those awful wounds, and if you have truly been redeemed by those sacred horrors, then you and I need no further sign. They are more than enough for all eternity.

It is out of vogue today to speak about the death of Jesus the Savior. People swarm to hear upbeat messages of success and divine favor. They will give great amounts of money to a King Midas god and then await the prosperity which must come. But they wait in vain. But to speak at length and width and depth and height concerning Christ’s death has all but vanished. Many recoil as such a savage spectacle. It is as they say, “a downer”.

But when the church turns its back on the preaching of the cross it has turned its back on the true Jesus. Without the cross there is no faith and no eternal life. I realize it seems so unsophisticated and archaic and even barbaric to imagine that this excruciating death is the exclusive path to eternal life. I realize that in these enlightened days we need a more esoteric and intellectual faith which appeals to our minds. I realized that a more metaphysical or even a more utilitarian faith is required to appease the modern hunger for more knowledge and more usefulness. That which can enhance our earthly lives and bring us to a higher level of self esteem is what sells today.

But God in His infinite and immeasurable wisdom has mocked the intellect of the wise and the power of the rich and brought to nothing all the religious constructs of man. It is through the cross that all things eternal were given life. There is no other way even though men are still attempting to weave a patch quilt from all religions and spiritual streams and then suggest that all sincere paths lead to God. But the cross has no friends, no competitors, no contenders, and no equals. In fact the cross has no helpers. It stands alone as the door to eternity through which all must pass who hope to gain that eternal life.

But before you can fully see this cross you must fully see this man they called Jesus. This was a man, born in Bethlehem to a young woman, and raised in Nazareth. But the young woman named Mary was a virgin when she gave birth. What, you say? Yes, she was a virgin, and when that fact penetrates your mind and heart you have begun a journey which can and should lead you to who this man really was. This was a man, but this was not just a man. This man was God in the flesh. And within that succinct statement lives the mystery of the universe.

The incarnation begins its monumental mystery in Bethlehem and in an animal shelter, however that mystery unfolds as years pass and this God-baby begins to grow in human form. Miracles and love and profound teachings will come from this One sent from God and who is God as well. Does that shake your human sensibilities? It should. Only God the Spirit can illuminate a human heart concerning God the Son. Can I share a personal experience with you? I had heard the name of Jesus as I grew up. I knew who people said he was and I went to three years of catechism and was confirmed as a believer and a church member.

But when the Spirit began to draw me to Christ it was something special and something I had never experienced. My earthly comfort zone had been invaded and I could not shake this feeling that there was more to it than just a religion. And somewhere along a period of several months I broke loose from my religious moorings and I began to entertain the thought that maybe Jesus was more than a good man and good teacher. And then one night in March of 1975 on top of Garret Mountain, in an indescribable instant, my heart was filled with a sacred knowledge I had never known before. I believed that Jesus was God and that He was who He claimed to be and that He had died for my sins. And even though I was a theological novice I became a joint heir with Christ. How can I describe something that fills you with wonder and awe and spiritual certainty while at the same time you enter a world that is also filled with mystery? No one who has never been born again can even approach understanding what the experience is.

I now knew that Jesus was a God-man although that was a colossal mystery. I knew He had been born of a virgin but again that was still a colossal mystery. I knew He had died for the sins of the world but still that was a vast mystery. Can I make a confession that we all should openly confess? I have been to Bible college and studied theology and I can recite to you all the major redemptive truths of Scripture with confidence in their validity and integrity. But they remain profound mysteries that have so impacted our hearts that we have dedicated our lives upon their truth. And at the very center of it all is this man called Jesus. Who can explain the incarnation or the death of God or the power of the resurrection? But to us whose lives have received the breath of illumination we cannot deny any of it.

We may not be the most effective communicators but we must be the most committed followers. You see there is a vast and even eternal difference between knowing facts and knowing truth and having that truth come upon you and open your heart and from that day forward that truth who is Jesus now owns you. Yes, I said owns you. And for the rest of your life you are invited to continually unwrap a package that was placed in your heart and with each ribbon you remove a new and fresh flood of sacred truth comes rushing out and once again changes you. It may not even be a new truth. It may be a new and deeper revelation of a familiar truth, but you are amazed once again.

I fear that so many do not comprehend the magnificent mystery expressed through the cross of Christ. Even those who profess Him and may well be redeemed but have such a limited and doctrinal understanding of its horrific beauty so that they dwell in a theological wasteland which is dry and void of the deep revelation which captures the soul and owns the heart. How many of us have actually seen a crucifixion in person? Just that thought of standing in a town square and watching a man die for hours should shock and disgust us. Most of us could not bear that sight.

But if we truly know that Jesus was God the Creator wrapped in human flesh, and then we couple that with the gruesome pageantry of the crucifixion, then we are undone. And after we process those two truths, and if we still scarcely have some room for any more truth, then we can add this to those swirling mysteries: It was ALL for us. Oh my. I must now bow my knee and dip my head for such knowledge cannot be completely unraveled by any human mind, and yet the Spirit presents it to my heart all within a framework of a grace that breaks my heart and makes it whole at the same moment.

But let us tiptoe with reverence even further. There is a conundrum here which confounds the wise and shatters the fallen intellect. How can a suffering and then a dead Jew hanging upon a Roman instrument of punishment give anyone life? This makes no sense at all. This is even offensive to our sense of logic and fair play. The innocent are murdered so the guilty can go free? And this is some twisted kind of justice? It goes against all that we as humans know to be right. And yet here it is. The Spirit did not attempt to minimize the cross or push it to the back burner of spiritual realities.

In fact all four of the gospel writers took time to openly reveal the excruciating details of His sufferings and death. The cross was never meant just to be just a foundation for our faith although it is surely that. But it was meant to be the foundation and the mortar and the bricks and the walls and the roof and entire housing for the faith which follows Jesus. And if we find ways to build bridges which minimize and dilute the cross as if it is an archaic embarrassment then we have left the faith altogether. The cross has within its message and revelation a power which can reach the most stubborn heart, even hearts which can be reached by human logic but to no eternal effect.

This is not child’s play or theological gamesmanship. What would we think of a man who reads a treasure map and embarks on a journey to find that treasure ad when he reaches the X which marks the spot he sits down and dwells completely on the knowledge that he has indeed found the spot where the treasure is buried? And yet how many believers have found the Savior and now sit upon that treasure and dwell upon that fact the He is indeed that Pearl of Great price yet do not dig to find the ever expanding revelation of that treasure?

The death of the Lord Jesus is indeed a bottomless treasure which will reward the seeker time and time again if that seeker is relentless in his quest for Christ. The church has misrepresented to people that when you receive Christ as Lord and Savior your quest is finished when in fact it has only begun. Dig, my fellow saints, and the Spirit will guide you into truths which will energize your spirit and reward you with unspeakable treasures of glory which can sometimes be so wondrous and astounding that they cannot be communicated with words. Only a similar experience can substantiate to another what you cannot speak.

And so I close this with thorns and whips and sweat and groans and lashes and spears and spit and mocking and robes and nails and wood and cries and gasps and a gruesome amount of blood. And through all of it…life and life everlasting. You cannot believe it on your own. But if you repent and allow the Spirit to illuminate your heart, then and only then can you truly believe. And in that moment you will pass from death to life. And through a death that lasted six hours you will receive a life that never ends.


Anonymous said...

God bless you, Rick. What you have written lines up with the witness of the Apostle Paul. Truly our witness is Christ crucified and Him risen.

Annette said...

Amen and alleluia! Appreciate the telling ananlogies penned in this post Pastor Rick.

Grateful for another Gospel Message this morning. Praise our LORD.