Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Center and Substance of the Message

[This entry follows a sermon titled 'The Wonder of the Cross'. Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

Mark 15:33-39 give us Mark's account of the events of the crucifixion. Mark focuses his account on the darkness which covered the land and the tearing of the temple curtain. These two things correspond with the message of the cross, which is that Jesus Christ suffered under the wrath of God, often pictured as darkness in the OT. He did this to make the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, which made the regular sacrifices of the temple obsolete. Jesus was not only the sacrifice, but He is also the high priest who administers that sacrifice. So, the way into God's presence is through Christ and not through the curtain, and that way has been opened to everyone who will believe in Him. So, following the death of Christ, God testifies to all this through tearing the curtain in the temple.

This message of a crucified Christ is the center and substance of what God is saying to the world, and it must be the center and substance of what the church is saying. In evangelism, it is a good thing to share a testimony of God's work in our lives; however, our testimonies are not the gospel. Our testimonies are a result of the gospel. We don't want our friends and neighbors to simply be moved by the results of the gospel...we want them to encounter and be changed by the gospel itself. For it is only the gospel that is the power of God to save all who will believe (Rom. 1:16). So, in seeking to evangelize another, we must be primarily concerned with knowing how to communicate to them Christ and Him crucified.

Not only in evangelism, though, but in our daily lives, we must keep the gospel central and substantial. One important application of Christ and Him crucified in daily living is to consider how we respond when we sin. Of course, we do not continue willfully sinning simply because we have the assurance that we are forgiven (Rom. 6:1, 15; Gal. 5:13). We must be holy because God has called us to be holy and because God is holy. However, when we sin, what are we to do? We are to remember that One stands before the Father who has dealt with our sin. "But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins..." (1 Jn. 2:1-2a). We remember that our sin was fully punished in Christ, and it will not be punished in us. We do not believe the lie that our position in God is affected by our sin...our position in God has been forever established in Christ. We have disturbed our fellowship with God because one cannot be fully devoted to a holy God and unholy living in the same moment. However, we repent of that desire, that thought, that word, that deed, and we appropriate the forgiveness of Christ once again.

The death of Christ gives us strength in fighting against sin. Take, for example, this quote about fighting against lust from John Piper's book Pierced by the Word.

"...have you ever in the first five seconds of temptation demanded of your mind that it look steadfastly at the crucified form of Jesus Christ? Picture this. You have just seen a peek-a-boo blouse inviting further fantasy. You have five seconds. 'No! Get out of my mind! God help me!' Now immediately, demand of your mind - you can do this by the Spirit (Romans 8:13) - demand of our mind that it fix its gaze on Christ on the cross. use all your fantasizing power to see His lacerated back. Thirty-nine lashes left little flesh intact. He heaves with His breath up and down against the rough vertical beam of the cross. Each breath puts splinters into the lacerations. The Lord gasps. From time to time He screams out with intolerable pain. He tries to pull away from the wood and the massive spokes through His wrists rip into nerve endings and He screams again with agony and pushes up with His feet to give some relief to His wrists. But the bones and nerves in His pierced feet crush against each other with anguish and He screams again. There is no relief. His throat is raw from screaming and thirst. He loses His breath and thinks He is suffocating, and suddenly His body involuntarily gasps for air and all the injuries unite in pain. In torment, He forgets about the crown of two-inch thorns and throws His head back in desperation, only to hit one of those thorns perpendicular against the cross beam and drive it half an inch into His skull. His voice reaches a soprano pitch of pain and sobs break over His pain-wracked body as every cry brings more and more pain.//Now, I am not thinking about the blouse anymore..."

Another realm in which the death of Christ should daily touch us is within our marriages. Here are two sinners who have said 'I do.' Though they stand righteous before God because of the work of Christ, they continue to battle against sin. Sin often shows itself in the context of marriage...two sinners living in close quarters will do that. Christ and Him crucified reminds us of how we have been forgiven by God, and we are instructed to forgive others in like manner (Eph. 4:32). If we stand in awe of the love and forgiveness of God on the cross, then there should be something awe-inspiring about the way that we forgive one another in marriage. The gospel of Christ and Him crucified daily informs how we treat our spouse and how we freely and continually offer forgiveness to one another.

To go beyond this, the crucifixion of Jesus sets an incredible standard of love for husbands. Paul wrote, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Eph. 4:25). We are thankful that Christ's love is not equivalent to a box of chocolates or a Hallmark card. There's nothing wrong with these kinds of expressions of affection, but they do not reflect the self-giving, sacrificial love to which we husbands are called. The kind of love we must demonstrate causes deep pain...if we are to love our wives, we must be killing sin in the flesh...we must "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24).

In short, the death of Christ is meant to encourage and strengthen us for endurance as believers. The words of Hebrews 12 are especially pertinent here, and I have included a few of my own questions to help you think through it. "...let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [How are we to do this?] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, [What about looking to Jesus will help us here?] who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. [But what if it's too hard?] In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood" (v. 1-4).

In our evangelism, in our response to our own sin, in fighting against sin, in our marriages...in living for Christ...we must keep Christ and Him crucified central and substantial. May our lives, this very day, be lived as informed by the death of Christ!