DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Filtering by Category: cross

It Is Finished (John 19:28-30)

Most deaths, when they occur, come as a surprise. This past week, Tim Hetherington, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and photographer, was killed in Misrata, Libya. His last tweet is chilling: “In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.” He was killed the very next day, a victim of a rocket-propelled grenade in that war-torn country.

It would be easy to see the death of Jesus as a surprise. It was Passover. Tensions in Jerusalem were running high. We’ve seen recently what happens when massive crowds gather, especially when there’s political unrest and suspicion. It’s a tinderbox. I’m sure that many back then thought that Jesus was caught up, arrested and killed, by events that were swirling out of control.

But the text we have in front of us says something very important. John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” This morning, I’m preaching a sermon on one word, the last word that Jesus spoke before dying. In our English versions it’s three words: “It is finished.” It’s Jesus’ last teaching before he dies, the last thing that he has to say. In Greek, it’s one word: tetelestai. It means that all has now been completed. It’s not the cry of a victim who’s caught up in events that are out of control. It’s the triumphant announcement of someone who is fulfilling his mission, who sees that all the necessary steps have been taken and fulfilled.

Here’s what we need to see: Jesus was not a victim. At the cross, he fulfilled his obligations and did what he set out to do. Earlier, Jesus had said:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:18)

Still later he said this as he looked forward to the cross:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

And here, even as he’s being killed, you see him in complete control of what’s happening. This is so much so that when he dies, John says that he “gave up his spirit.”

Here’s the one thing I want you to hear this morning as we look at the final teaching from Jesus as he hung on the cross: At the cross, Jesus completed his work. At the cross, Jesus finished what he set out to do.

And specifically (and briefly) I want to look at two things that Jesus finished at the cross: he fulfilled Old Testament prophecies; and he completed the plan of redemption.

First: Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.

Verses 28 and 29 say:

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.

At first glance the Bible looks like a huge book of many different types of stories. If you’ve attended church for a while, you’ve heard many of them. But then there are huge parts of Scripture that you don’t hear a lot about, that are sometimes more difficult to understand. When you pick up this book, it’s easy to think that it’s a mishmash of loosely related stories and themes that go in every direction.

But when Jesus lived, he kept picking up threads from the stories that we thought were unrelated. Genesis 28 tells the story of angels ascending and descending on a ladder. In John 1, Jesus says that this story is about him. Numbers 21 tells the story of Moses placing a bronze serpent on a pole. In John 3, Jesus says that this story is all about him. In John 8, Jesus claims to be the God who revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. When one of the disciples turns against him, Jesus points to this as a fulfillment of Scripture. Over and over again, both John and Jesus take the Old Testament Scriptures and say that it’s not an unrelated series of stories. It’s all about him.

Here John alludes to what seems at first to be an obscure verse from Psalm 69:21. The psalmist is writing as a faithful person who is suffering. In the middle of the psalm, the psalmist says, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” We would probably never read that and think that this is a prophesy about Jesus. But on the cross, Jesus says that this too is about him. Crucifixion used thirst as part of the process of torture. As Jesus hung on the cross, though, his primary concern was not for his own thirst. His mind was on the relevance of what David wrote and how it applied to Jesus. And so Jesus said, “I thirst,” so that we could compete, and fulfill, all that was written in the Old Testament about him.

David Greenglass was a World War II traitor. He gave atomic secrets to the Soviet Union and then fled to Mexico after the war. His conspirators arranged to help him by planning a meeting with the secretary of the Soviet ambassador in Mexico City. Proper identification for both parties became vital. Greenglass was to identify himself with six prearranged signs. These instructions had been given to both the secretary and Greenglass so there would be no possibility of making a mistake. The signs were:

  1. once in Mexico City, Greenglass was to write a note to the secretary, signing his name as ‘‘I. Jackson'';
  2. after three days he was to go to the Plaza de Colon in Mexico City, and
  3. stand before the statue of Columbus,
  4. with his middle finger placed in a guide book. In addition,
  5. when he was approached, he was to say it was a magnificent statue and that he was from Oklahoma.
  6. The secretary was to then give him a passport.

The six prearranged signs worked. Why? With six identifying characteristics, it was impossible for the secretary not to identify Greenglass as the proper contact. How true, then, it must be that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah if he had 456 identifying characteristics well in advance and fulfilled them all. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” he was stating that all of Scripture is about him, and that he has fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies and signs that point to him. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” As Spurgeon put it, “He meant, first of all, that all the types, promises, and prophecies were now fully accomplished in him.”

Secondly: Jesus completed the plan of redemption.

Not only did Jesus fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies; he also completed the plan of redemption. Think again about what Jesus prayed the night before he said these words. In John 17:4 he prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” You may want to ask, what is the work that God gave him to do? It’s a good question. Jesus had hinted a few times throughout John that he was sent by his Father to do something. In John 4:34 he said, “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” In John 9:4 he said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

So we get a sense that Jesus was up to something. Jesus knew that he was sent for a purpose. Surprisingly, Jesus announces that he has finished his work at a surprising moment. His work involves his death. On the cross, he can say that he has completed the assignment that God has given him.

We need to ask what it is that Jesus finished or completed on the cross. And the answer is this: he completed the plan of redemption. We have a problem: we have sinned against God. All throughout Scripture, God gives us hints as to how he will deal with this problem. In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sin, God covers their nakedness with the skins of animals. Death had to take place in order for shame to be covered. When God brought Israel out of Egypt, he commanded them to celebrate Passover. At Passover they would sacrifice the Passover lamb. They would mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb. God said that when he saw the blood, he would pass over them. He would spare their lives. Blood had to be shed so that they could live. Then God instituted a sacrificial system. At the temple, priests would sacrifice the blood of goats and calves. You had this sense that our sin demands justice, and that justice must be paid. The killing of animals pointed to what was necessary. But you’d also have the sense that it wasn’t enough. The blood of animals is not enough to meet the demands of justice. Besides, the sacrifices were ongoing. Tomorrow there would be more sin, and more sacrifices would have to be shed. If you’ve ever seen what a sacrifice is like - they have a video on YouTube - you would realize that it’s a messy thing, and one that you wish could end.

Then Jesus comes along. In John 1, John the Baptist looks at Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you know what John is saying? Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice that all the other sacrifices pointed to. At this death, he pays the ultimate price for sin. On the cross Jesus sheds his blood to deal once and for all with sin. He bears the judgment as the sacrifice for our sins. On the cross, Jesus could say, “It is finished,” and say that the plan of redemption has finally and fully been completed. The word that Jesus uses for “It is finished” is one that people would write on a bill once it had been paid. Jesus is saying here that the bill has been finally paid. His work is now complete. Hebrews says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

I love how Spurgeon puts it:

The debt was now, to the last farthing, all discharged. The atonement and propitiation were made once for all, and for ever, by the one offering made in Jesu’s body on the tree. There was the cup, hell was in it, the Savior drank it — not a sip and then a pause; not a draught and then a ceasing, but he drained it till there is not a dreg left for any of his people. The great ten-thonged whip of the law was worn out upon his back, there is no lash left with which to smite one for whom Jesus died. The great cannonade of God’s justice has exhausted all its ammunition, there is nothing left to be hurled against a child of God. Sheathed is thy sword, O Justice! Silenced is thy thunder, O Law! There remains nothing now of all the griefs, and pains, and agonies which chosen sinners ought to have suffered for their sins, for Christ has endured all for his own beloved, and “it is finished.”

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant that he had fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies that pointed to him. He also meant that he had completed the work that God had sent him to do, of offering his life as a sacrifice for our sins.

So let’s think for a minute of what this means for us.

I don’t know that there could be any better news than this one word that Jesus proclaimed from the cross: It is finished. It means that the work is finally and fully complete. There is nothing left to do other than to receive the benefits of this work, to put our faith in the one who offered his life as a sacrifice for sin. Christ came to secure for us what we could never secure for ourselves. He finished the work that God sent him to do.

Author James Herriot tells of an unforgettable wedding anniversary he and his wife celebrated early in their marriage. His boss had encouraged him to take his wife to a fancy restaurant, but Herriot balked. He was a young veterinarian and couldn't really afford it. "Oh, do it!" the boss insisted. "It's a special day!" Herriot reluctantly agreed and surprised his wife with the news.

En route to the restaurant, Herriot and his wife stopped at a farm to examine a farmer's horse. Having finished the routine exam, he returned to his car and drove to the restaurant, unaware that his checkbook had fallen in the mud. After a wonderful meal, Herriot reached for his checkbook and discovered it was gone. Quite embarrassed, he tried to offer a way of making it up. He had no way to pay the bill that he had incurred.

"Not to worry," the waiter replied. "Your dinner has been taken care of!" As it was, Herriot's employer had paid for the dinner in advance.

God has done the same for us. Jesus' utterance on the cross, "It is finished," is a Greek term meaning "paid in full."

One more story. A girl signed up for a class on English literature. She found it far more difficult than she had expected, and she desperately wanted to drop it. She went in to see the teacher to see if she could drop out and switch to a regular English class as well. The head of the department said to her, “I know how you feel. What if I promised you and A no matter what you did in the class? If I gave you an A before you even started, would you be willing to take the class?”

The girl said, “Well, I think I could do that.” The teacher said, “I’m going to give you and A in the class. You already have an A, so you can go to class.” The teacher took the threat of a bad grade away so that she could be freed to do her best without fear of punishment.

That is what God has done for us. At the cross, Jesus dealt with our sins. He finished the work. The course is complete. We’ve been given an A, not because we earned it, but because Jesus did. The threat of failure, judgment, and condemnation has been removed. It is finished; everything has been done. We only have to receive what Christ has done for us at the cross in offering his life for us.

At the cross, Jesus completed his work. You can stake your life on it.

The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21:4-9)

When you go to a doctor, or when you go to a pharmacist, you will probably see a symbol with one or two snakes wrapped around a staff or a rod. One of these symbols is called the Rod of Asclepius. It's used by the Canadian Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and countless others.

Where did this strange symbol come from, and how did it ever get to be associated with medicine, with healing? There are a few theories, but you'll notice that the account we just read includes a snake, a staff, and healing. There are some who think that the medical symbol we used today has its origins in the account that we just read.

But this raises even more questions. What in the world is this passage about? It's incredibly strange. At first glance it looks like some primitive magic from ancient times. It also looks at first glance like there's a drastic overreaction to a pretty common problem. There are many passages in Scripture that are hard to understand. This one's easy to understand, but it leaves us scratching our heads.

But as we look at it again, we're going to see that this passage tells us three things that we need to know. First, what's wrong with us. Second, where things start to turn. And finally, how we are healed of what's wrong with us.

So first let's look at what's wrong with us.

If you've read the books of the Bible that recount the wanderings of Israel on the way to the Promised Land, you know that it wasn't smooth sailing. They kept grumbling and complaining the whole way through. But when we get to Numbers 21, we've reached a turning point. Right before the passage we just read, Israel defeats a Canaanite king. This is the first victory over the Canaanites, and many more are going to follow. It really looks like things are finally turning around for them.

But some things don't change. In verse 5, we encounter a problem that stayed with the people of Israel, and that if we're honest it stays with us today. Verses 4 and 5 say:

But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"

Now what's going on here? When Israel wandered through the dessert, there obviously wasn't a lot of food. But we read earlier that God miraculously provided for them. Every day he gave them what they called manna, which was a fine, flake-like frost. It was like a coriander seed, white, and it tasted like a wafer made with honey. They ground into a meal, boiled it in pots, and made it into cakes.

When you think about it, it's amazing and miraculous that God provided so well for such a great multitude in the middle of the dessert. But here we read that the people are impatient. And if you notice, they don't really complain that they're hungry or that they lack food. What they do say is that they "detest this miserable food." The manna that God provided for them, they begin to see as worthless, good for nothing, and miserable.

Now, that doesn't look like much, but that's probably because we suffer from the same problem that they had. It's a problem that really doesn't look too serious, but as we're going to see in a moment, it's fatal, and there are very few cures.

What is the problem? Do you notice when this sense of dissatisfaction hit? It hit right after a victory. Israel had just achieved a great success, and right after they're complaining. They're empty.

The New York Times ran an article of some successful people. One of them, Diane Knorr, a former dot-com executive, said, "The first time I got a call way after hours from a senior manager, I remember being really flattered." She thought, "Wow! I'm really getting up there now." But eventually her work and family life became a blur with hours that were hard to scale back. Back in college, she had set the goal of making a six-figure salary by the time she was 49. She had reached her goal at age 35, years ahead of schedule, and yet she said, "Nothing happened; no balloons dropped. That's when I really became aware of that hollow feeling."

Do you know the problem with us? Inside of us, there is this hunger, this longing. And we think, "If I just get this" - a marriage, a job, children, an achievement, this house, this car, recognition - "If I just get this, then I'll be satisfied." But it never happens. We reach our goals, we achieve success, but we're still left wanting more.

Brad Pitt starred in Fight Club, which is about a man who has the American dream and yet remains unsatisfied. Rolling Stone interviewed him. Listen to what Pitt said:

Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us--the car, the condo, our version of success--but if that's the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness? If you ask me, I say toss all this--we gotta find something else. Because all I know is that at this point in time, we are heading for a dead end, a numbing of the soul, a complete atrophy of the spiritual being. And I don't want that.

Rolling Stone asked him what we should do to avoid this dead end of dissatisfaction despite all that we have, and he said:

Hey, man, I don't have those answers yet. The emphasis now is on success and personal gain. I'm sitting in it, and I'm telling you, that's not it. I'm the guy who's got everything. I know. But I'm telling you, once you've got everything, then you're just left with yourself. I've said it before and I'll say it again: it doesn't help you sleep any better, and you don't wake up any better because of it.

This isn't a new problem. It goes as far back as Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were in paradise. Everything was good. They could enjoy everything - everything! - except for one tree that God placed off limits. And even though they were in paradise, it wasn't good enough for them because they wanted more. They wanted what they couldn't have. They got it, too, but instead of leading to satisfaction, it led to disaster and disintegration, and the world has never been the same since.

In fact, the apostle Paul says that this dynamic is at the heart of what we call sin. In Romans 1:21 he says, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." Sin is essentially looking to other things besides God for meaning and satisfaction, thereby rejecting God and refusing to give thanks to him. And the results, as we're going to see it, are disastrous. One author put it this way:

It is the desire for God which is the most fundamental appetite of all, and it is an appetite we can never eliminate. We may seek to disown it, but it will not go away. If we deny that it is there, we shall in fact only divert it to some other object or range of objects. And that will mean that we invest some creature or creatures with the full burden of our need for God, a burden which no creature can carry. (Simon Tugwell)

And this leads, ultimately, to not only a rejection of God, but to enslavement and deep dissatisfaction. You see this in what happened in response to this problem in the passage.

Some have wondered why God responded so severely to this problem. We read in verse 6: "Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died." The word venomous literally means fiery. The snakes would bite, and the result was this burning inflammation. This would probably lead to other symptoms - paralysis, blindness, thirst - and ultimately to death. Why so severe? Tim Keller has pointed out that the physical symptoms here are merely a mirror for the spiritual symptoms. When we're bitten by this dissatisfaction of the heart, a dissatisfaction that is ultimately a rejection of God, a very similar thing happens within our souls, and the ultimate result is death. We think it's not a big deal, but our spiritual condition is just as fatal as these snakes.

So what do we do, then? We've seen our condition, and how serious it is.

Let's now look at where things begin to turn.

We read in verse 7:

The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

You see what's happened here? One minute they're complaining. The next moment, they've realized what they've done wrong. There's no blame-shifting going on here. There are no excuses. What there is is a simple confession of sin, a recognition of what's gone wrong.

The biblical word for this is repentance. One of my favorite authors, Jack Miller, says that repentance is a form of sanity. He says that "Repentance is a return to God as my center...What a simple thing it is to humble the heart and return to sanity by repentance and praise."

We know that repentance itself is a gift of God. It may be that God is giving some of you this gift this morning. Most of us are scared to death of repentance. We have this picture of a traumatic experience, or some dramatic experience. Repentance is something we think we're going to hate. But repentance is actually just a return to sanity, a recognition that we've put other things at the center of our lives that just don't belong there, and that can kill us. Repentance is coming to our senses and returning to God as our centers, which leads us to the cure for our disease.

That's the last thing I want to look at this morning: the cure for what's wrong with us, or how we can be healed.

Verses 8 and 9 say:

The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

This is the last thing you'd expect. Shouldn't there be some medicine, some treatment? When you're being bitten by venomous snakes, the last thing that you want is to look at a bronze version of that snake. And you certainly wouldn't expect that this would save you! You would at least expect a list of things to do in order to get better. But here you have the simple cure: that anyone who is bitten and about to die can simply look to this bronze snake, and they live.

The poet and composer Michael Card wrote a song about this passage, and he got it right when he said, "the symbol of their suffering was now the focus of their faith, and with a faithful glance the healing power would flow." What does this mean? It's a paradox! They're saved by looking at the very embodiment of what had bitten them.

And that's exactly how we are saved as well. In one of the most famous passages of Scripture, Jesus explained to Nicodemus and to us what why he came to the world. And, amazingly, Jesus talked about this snake. Listen to what he said: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him" (John 3:14-15).

Do you see what Jesus was saying here? Three times in the book of John, this phrase "lifted up" appears. John tells us later in chapter 12 that this "lifting up" image was given to show us "the kind of death he was going to die" (John 12:33). In other words, Jesus was saying that he was like this bronze serpent. That's shocking! He was going to be lifted up and placed on the cross at Calvary, and that everyone who believes and simply looks will be saved.

On the cross, Jesus became the very embodiment of what was killing us. He became the curse; he became the embodiment of our sin; he absorbed the venom. And Jesus became the source of our healing, so that all who look upon him live. When we look at the cross in faith, our sin and God's wrath are taken away, and we live. We are healed by looking at what has been lifted up on the tree. We are healed by looking to Jesus. All we have to do is to look.

In 1850, Charles Spurgeon was a young 15-year-old boy. One morning he was walking to church in a snowstorm. The snow was so bad that he never made it to his destination. He turned into a little Primitive Methodist chapel. Only a dozen or fifteen people were there.

The minister never showed up at that church; he probably was snowed in. A thin man who was a shoemaker or a tailor, but not a preacher, was called upon to preach. Spurgeon describes what happened:

He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth [Isaiah 45:22]."

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus: "My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, 'Look.' Now lookin' don't take a deal of pain. It ain't liftin' your foot or your finger; it is just, 'Look.' Well, a man needn't go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn't be worth a thousand [pounds] a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.

"But then the text says, 'Look unto Me'. . . . Many of ye are lookin' to yourselves, but it's no use lookin' there. Ye will never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the father. No, look to him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, 'Look unto Me.' Some of ye say, 'We must wait for the Spirit's workin'.' You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, 'Look unto Me.'"

At some point in the sermon, with only a small congregation present, the preacher noticed the young Spurgeon there. Spurgeon said:

Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I dare say, with so few present he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart he said, "Young man, you look very miserable." Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, "and you always will be miserable--miserable in life, and miserable in death--if you don't obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved."

Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a primitive Methodists could do, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live." I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said--I did not take much notice of it--I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me.

I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" What a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could have almost looked my eyes away.

There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to him...

And Spurgeon's life was forever changed. Let's pray.

We've seen this morning what's wrong with us. We've seen that it's far more serious than we expected. But we've also seen that things begin to turn as we come to our senses and repent.

And we've seen that we are healed as we look to the cross and believe. We have nothing to do but to look and live.

I pray, Father, that we would look to the cross, that we would see what Jesus has done for us in absorbing the venom, and that we would live. Because whenever anyone is bitten and looks at what was lifted up, they live.

May everyone here look to the cross today, and live. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

The Promise of the Cross - Strength to Get Through Anything (2 Timothy 1:6-12)

This morning I want to look at the life of an old man. This man had almost nothing going for him. He was cold, in prison, literally chained to a guard. He was about to be killed. He had gone from being well-respected and successful to being an outcast. His life had been full of hardship, and, according to tradition, he was about to be beheaded.

Yet you get a sense that this old man was full of confidence and joy, that he could take anything that you could throw his way. He knew that he was about to die, yet you get the sense that he really didn't care. This man had been transformed so that he could handle anything that life threw his way.

He's not the only one either. If he was the only one, you could say that he possessed an unusual strength of character, or was one of these unusual people who are better than the rest of us. But he wasn't the only one. You look around, and you see that there are a whole bunch of people you could only call cowards who were transformed into people who were willing to stare death in the face without flinching. What changed in these people?

Maybe a better question is, how can we get what they got? What did they have, and how can we get it? To find out, I'd like to read the words of this old man, written to a younger man who didn't quite have the same courage. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn them to 2 Timothy 1 as we look what exactly this man had that allowed him to face anything.

2 Timothy 1:6-12 says:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

You see what this old man, Paul, had? He not only had confidence and joy in the face of death, but he invited his young protege Timothy to join him and to have the same confidence, so he could face whatever came his way. By extension, I think we could say that we are invited to embrace what Paul did, so that we can face whatever comes our way with complete joy and confidence.

What is it, and how can we have the same strength to get through anything that life throws our way?

According to Paul, it's because of something that has been true for a long time, but has been hidden. Verses 9 and 10 say that whatever it is has been present for as long as the world existed, but it's only been revealed in the life of Jesus.

You know, some people were able to figure this out even before and they had the same confidence that Paul did. Hebrews 11 lists a number of people who lived the way that Paul did. A lot of the stories are ones of faith in which everything turns out well. Near the end of the chapter, though, the writer lists some stories where things didn't turn out well:

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35-38)

One of the most moving stories actually took place between our Old and New Testaments in the Apocrypha in 2 Maccabees. A mother and her seven sons were arrested and tortured unless they disobeyed God. They replied, "We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors." So one by one the king brought the brothers out, and in front of the mother he cut off their tongues, scalped them, and cut off their hands and their feet while the mother looked on. He then burned them in a pan until they died. It's a horrible chapter to read.

But as each of her sons was tortured, the mother said to them, "The LORD God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us." She encouraged each one of them to stay faithful even as they were being tortured.

When she only had one son left, they tried to get her to talk that son into giving in so his life could be spared. They promised to give him riches and a powerful position if he turned his back on God. His mother instead said this:

My son...I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you...Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers. (2 Maccabees 7:27-29)

As they were about to torture one of the brothers, he stuck his tongue out and stretched his hands out for them to cut, and he said, "I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again" (2 Maccabees 7:11).

This is gory and hard to read. What gave them such courage? The writer to the Hebrews says that they refused "to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35). In other words, they believed that God would raise them from the dead if they put their trust in him.

But then the writer to the Hebrews has the audacity to say that we have something even better than they did. "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:39-40). In other words, we have even greater reason for courage in our lives, because we have what they only hoped for. What do we have that will give us the strength and the courage to get through anything?

Paul tells us in verses 9-10 of 2 Timothy 1. He says, "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus." Paul is saying that God has revealed something through Jesus Christ that was there all along, but is now there for everyone to see. The apostle Peter says it's something that the prophets searched for "intently and with the greatest care," and that "even angels long to look into these things" (1 Peter 1:10-12).

So there's something that this old man had that gave him courage and strength to get through anything. It's something that some people caught a glimpse of even before it was fully revealed, but even a glimpse was enough to give them the courage they needed to get through torture and to stay faithful to God. It's something that all the prophets strained to see, and even angels long to look into it. And if we have it, it will give us the grace to get through anything.

What is it? Verses 9 and 10 say, "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."

In other words, the thing that can give us the strength to stay faithful and true to God, the thing that will give us the strength to get through anything, is the grace that is revealed to us at Easter. If we really get what happened at Easter, we'll have the courage and the strength to get through anything. It's what kept Paul going, it's what Paul told Timothy he needed to remember. It's what we need, because if we really get it we'll have the strength to get through anything.

Paul says that it's been "revealed through the appearing of our Savior." At my house, we have this battle about turning off the lights. Can you relate? I think I'm the worst. I'm always trying to get the kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. The problem is that sometimes they listen, and I'm in one end of the basement and have to make it through to the other with the lights turned off. I end up tripping everything because it's there, even if you can't see it.

Paul says that there is something that has been there all along, but for most of history people couldn't see it. It was still there; it was just hidden. What is it? It is the grace given in Christ Jesus. Throughout all of history, the grace of Jesus Christ has been the only thing that has kept us going. I love what Tozer writes in The Radical Cross:

No one ever was saved, no one is now saved, and no one will ever be saved except by grace. Before Moses nobody was ever saved except by grace. During Moses' time nobody was ever saved except by grace. After Moses...anywhere, any time...nobody was ever saved in any other way than by grace.

"God felt no different toward us after Christ had died for us," he says, "for in the mind of God Christ had already died before the foundation of the world."

So the grace of Jesus Christ has been there all along, and even a glimpse of it was enough to give someone the courage to deal with anything.

But now, Paul says, the lights have been turned on, and what was hidden all along is now revealed for everyone to see. What is it that has revealed the grace that we need to get through anything?

Paul says in verse 10 that it's "been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus." In other words, Jesus coming to earth flipped the lights on so that we could all see the grace that was there all along. And if you want to look where the light shines brightest, you have to look at Easter weekend. Easter reveals the grace that gives us the strength to get through anything.

If you get just a glimpse of what Jesus did for us at Easter, it will change your life. You won't have to fear anything anymore. Take a look at the cross and all that it did:

  • Relationally, at the cross, Jesus changed us from being enemies of God. He reconciled us so we could enjoy a relationship with him.
  • Legally, at the cross, Jesus paid the penalty of our sin so that the verdict of condemnation no longer applies to us.
  • Cosmically, at the cross, Jesus freed us from our bondage to the powers of evil - from principalities and powers, sin, the devil, and death.
  • Ethically, at the cross, Jesus gave us an example of how to stand up under injustice. "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21).

If you get just a glimpse of the cross, just a glimpse of what he did for us relationally, legally, cosmically, and ethically, it will give you the strength to get through anything.

But it doesn't end at the cross. There's more. Tozer said, "It should be remembered that He could not save us by the cross alone...A dead Christ would be as helpless as the ones He tried to save." You see, there's not just the cross. There's also Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead. And if you really get a glimpse of what Jesus did on Easter Sunday, it will give us the strength to get through anything.

What did Jesus do on Easter Sunday? Verse 10 says, "who has destroyed death..." Would you agree that death is a problem? Of course it is! Hebrews 2 says that the devil holds the power of death, and that all of humanity is "held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15). Death is number seven on the top list of things Americans are afraid of. The only reason it's not higher is because we all think it's a problem we won't have to deal with today.

Epicurus, the great Greek philosopher, said that he could die happy if he was absolutely sure that death was the end. We could die happy if we were sure that death is just peaceful oblivion. But because nobody is sure that death is the end, nobody can die happy.

People sometimes say that it's better to die if you're suffering. It's better to pull the plug so people can be at peace. Epicurus says, "What are you talking about? How do you know what happens after death?" We could die happy if death was the end, but what if we don't know what happens after we die? So death is a big problem for all of us.

But Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus "shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14). Paul says in verse 10 that Jesus has destroyed death. Let me tell you what happened on Easter weekend. Jesus and death went toe to toe, and Jesus won. He defeated death. As a result, the Christian can face death, because we know that death isn't the end. Jesus has defeated death, and we no longer have anything to fear.

Now listen. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about this - about how Christ has overcome death as "the last enemy" (1 Corinthians 15:26), and he said, "If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the resurrection - that is what Easter means." If you and I really got a glimpse of the victory over death that took place at Easter, it would change us. We'd no longer have to fear anything. Paul was in prison and was about to be beheaded, but he didn't care. Desmond Tutu was under scrutiny by the South African apartheid government, but he said, "There is nothing the government can do to me that will stop me...what is it that they can ultimately do? The most awful thing that they can do is to kill me, and death is not the worst thing that could happen to a Christian." When you see the grace that is revealed to us at Easter, you don't have to be afraid of death anymore. Easter reveals the grace that can give you the strength to get through anything - even through death.

But that's not all. Verse 10 says, "who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." In Paul's day, the Greeks believed that only the gods like Zeus, and a few extraordinary heroes, were immortal. Everyone else is mortal. Paul says that Jesus has turned the lights on to life and immortality. We have eternal life through his resurrection, and that life begins now. The resurrection life now belongs to everyone who has trusted in Christ, because "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:20). Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we will be raised from the dead as well.

So Paul could sit in that dungeon in Rome and be full of courage and strength. He could face his own death. He could face anything, because Easter reveals the grace that gives us the strength to get through anything.

And Paul could say in verse 12, "I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day." It's not that Paul had a great faith. It's that he had a great Savior. His confidence wasn't in himself. Because of the grace revealed to us at Easter, he knew that God would never let us down.

At Easter, God revealed to us the nature of the resurrection life which can now be ours. If we really understand what Christ did for us at the cross and in rising from the dead - if we really get a glimpse of the grace that was revealed for us at Easter - we'll have the strength to get through anything. Remember what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: "If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the resurrection - that is what Easter means."

And so this old, dying man wrote to a younger guy who lacked courage and said, "Timothy, if you want to have courage in your life, look to Easter. It's given me courage and it can give you courage too. Because Easter reveals the grace that will give you the strength you need to get through anything."

Father, thank you for the example of these seven sons, who only got a glimpse of grace, but it was enough for them to get through torture, because they wanted to gain a better resurrection.

Thank you that what they only got a glimpse of has now been illuminated and revealed to us, so that it's plain for us to see. Now may we not only believe it - believe that Christ has conquered death and given us eternal life - but may we also act on it in our daily life, so we'll have the strength to get through anything. Give us the confidence that comes from knowing whom we have believed, and being convinced that he is able to guard what we have entrusted to him until that day. Help us to live in light of the resurrection. In the name of the risen Christ we pray. Amen.

The Provision of the Cross (Colossians 2:13-15)

I came across a news story last month that made my heart ache. A Calgary mother left her children in her SUV for a short time while she ran an errand. Through a series of tragic events, the younger of the two children ended up dying. The story breaks your heart, and I continue to pray for this mother.

A day after the story appeared, I was still thinking and praying for her when I came across another article. The article said that she would do anything to turn back time.

"I just want a do-over so bad," the grief-stricken mother said in an interview Thursday. "I made the wrong choice that day."

"I just want a do-over so bad." Can you relate to that?

Many of us here know what it's like to wish we could have a do-over. We'd like one day that we could do over, one decision we wish we could make once again. A do-over is exactly what many of us wish for, and for some of us the stakes are just as tragic and important as they were for this woman. It would make all the difference in the world.

The sad thing is that the Calgary mother can't get a do-over. When a tragedy hits, or you say something inappropriate, or you make a really bad decision, the consequences are often immediate and permanent. You wish you could have a do-over, but they're pretty rare. Most of the time we're stuck living with the consequences.

There's a reason for this. It's a theological reason, but it's as real as the seat you're sitting on, and it affects every minute of your life. We live in a broken world.

Most of you know this, but we sometimes forget that the Bible teaches that God made everything good. The world was in a state of peace or shalom - the word literally means peace, wholeness, well-being, not just the absence of conflict but a portrait of how God intended life to be. Think about that. Everything was exactly the way it was supposed to be. You and I have never experienced a single day like this. It was all good.

But then sin entered the world, and we've been living with the consequences ever since. Josiah's toe was injured a couple of weeks ago. It really hurt. He asked, "Why did this have to happen?" I didn't figure he wanted to hear, "Because Genesis 3 tells us that sin entered the world, and because of sin, death." Instead I just said, "That must really hurt."

But of course, that is the answer. We live in the post-tragedy, live with the consequences reality of things having gone terribly wrong.

Every injured toe, every broken heart, every broken marriage, every trip to the hospital - all of it can find its ultimate cause in the moment that sin entered the world. You and I have never experienced life the way that God meant it to be. We get glimpses of the world's goodness, but we haven't experienced a single day of life the way it meant to be lived.

Talk about needing a do-over!

Picture life at the end of Genesis 3. Adam and Eve have sinned and are now experiencing all the effects: relational breakdown, alienation from God, shame, the loss of a perfect world. They soon experience murder. Within generations they are experiencing drunkenness and revenge and ugliness. Within a short time, the Bible says:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. (Genesis 6:5-6)

In other words, you have a world that's ready for a do-over.

What I want to do today is to skip from this point - a broken world - forward thousands of years to the death of a man in his thirties just outside the city of Jerusalem. His name was Jesus.

At first it looks like there couldn't possibly be any connection between the condition of the world and the death of this man. It's just another execution, another life gone off the rails or else just another tragedy. But according to the Bible, that's not the case at all. The death of this man is exactly what this world needed to be put right again.

The death of Jesus provides us with a do-over.

Do you get that? The death of Jesus provides us with a do-over.

Where do I get that from? We're going to look at three short verses that are found in Colossians 2:13-15. Let's read them together.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Three realities from this passage. First, our lives and our worlds were in a mess. Second, the death of Jesus changes all of that and provides a do-over. Three, we can live in the light of this reality. We don't have to just live in a condition of brokenness. We can live in light of the one who has changed everything and is restoring it back to the way it was in the first place.

Okay, so first. Our lives and our worlds were in a mess. Anyone want to disagree with this?

Verse 13 says, "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature." This is what we were like before we had a do-over. It's not a pretty picture, but it's where we started out.

There are days that everything seems right and pure and good. But most of us live in the reality that things aren't quite right in the world. We are living life outside of the garden, and even the good moments make us realize how temporary they are, and how we long for more.

A friend of mine has just written a book. He writes:

He designed us as eikons (in God's image) with Garden cravings—longings for beauty, yearnings for wholeness, a magnetic pull to connect with the divine, and a deep connection to the dirt from which we were taken. Is it possible that every time you see this"—I gestured out the window—"you're quietly, but unmistakably reentering Garden moments?"

We know inwardly that we long for wholeness and peace, and that this isn't it. We're wrong, the world is wrong. Even the best moments aren't quite what they are supposed to be.

Paul says that we are living in after-garden life with broken lives. We're dead spiritually. We haven't experienced a day of the shalom that God created us for, but what's worse is that it's not just the world out there that is broken. We ourselves are broken. Something within us has gone desperately wrong, and we know it.

You and are are much less than we are made to be. We were made in God's image. We were made for that peace, wholeness, and well-being. But we are cracked and broken. Who we are and what we experience is much less than what God created us for. Humanity is broken, and sin is making us less and less who we were meant to be. No argument here, we all know it.

Here's the second reality that Paul talks about. Second, Paul says, Jesus changes all of that - the brokenness and the mess - and provides a do-over. What does this mean? In what way does the death of this man have anything to do with the condition of this world and our longings for the way things should be? Well, read verses 13-15 with me:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

There's a lot there, so let's unpack it a little bit. Paul talks about two things that God did through the cross. We're really good at understanding one of them, and we're not so good at understanding the other.

The first thing that God did at the cross was forgive us. Paul talks about us being forgiven, and he uses the ancient custom of canceling debts in that time - "having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross." The picture is of an IOU that's been wiped out, so that we no longer owe what we used to.

When I was at my previous church, they had an arrangement with pastors that I quite liked. They used to have a manse, but when they sold the manse they still wanted to be able to help their pastor with the cost of living in Toronto. So they gave the pastor an interest-free loan of $50,000 for as long as you stayed at the church. I still remember that before I ever worked a day there, they gave me this check for $50,000. I thought, "I love being a pastor!" But in order to get that money I had to sign an IOU saying that I would pay it back when I left.

Seven years later, I went to this church called Richview. There was this small matter of $50,000. The IOU had my name on it and I couldn't get around it. I would love if they had cancelled the notice of debt or ripped it up and put it through the shredder. But no such luck! I had to pay.

According to Paul, all of us had our names on an IOU. The IOU is the obligations we have not kept to God, listing what we owe. But there's not a chance that we can pay it.

Here's what God did at the cross. He canceled it. It's like he said, "This is void. It no longer applies." He's wiped it clean. Then, he took it away and nailed it to the cross. When Christ was nailed to the cross, Paul says, our debt has been completely forgiven.

God has forgiven us. What we owe has been pardoned. Every offense against God, every bit of our brokenness, every part of our mess and rebellion has been forgiven by God through the cross.

Now, I think you'd agree that if we stopped here it would be pretty good. In fact, this is usually where we stop when we talk about what Christ did at the cross. We say that your sins can be forgiven, and we stop there. That's good, but it's not enough.

Being pardoned is one thing, but what about the mess? We can be forgiven, but we still live in a broken world, and the mess isn't getting any better. It's great that we're forgiven, but what about all the mess?

We're really good at talking about forgiveness. It's what we often mention when we talk to others about when we share our faith. But there's more to what God accomplished at the cross, much more. Verse 15 says, "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." God didn't just forgive us at a cross. He defeated evil at the cross. God conquered Satan and conquered evil at the cross, which is one of the first steps to putting things right again.

Let me give you a picture of this. Jesus once talked about his battle against Satan. He said, "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder" (Luke 11:21-22).

At the cross, all the forces of evil came against Jesus and God, and for a moment it looked like they had won. But we know what really happen. The death of Jesus, which looked like a triumph of evil, was actually the victory of God over evil. The strong man, Satan, has been disarmed, and it's time for plunder. Jesus won a victory over evil through the cross.

That's why Paul wrote, "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross."

In that day, when the Romans conquered somebody, they stripped the soldiers of their clothes and weapons and marched them through the street so that everyone could see that they were completely defeated.

Paul says that in the death of Christ, God has triumphed over evil powers, stripped them of their weapons and their clothes, and shown them to be powerless, dragging them in a triumphal procession so that everyone can see they're done. Satan has lost, God has won, and the world is being made right once again.

I know it doesn't always feel like this. It sometimes seems like Satan is as active as ever. John Stott writes:

This, then, is the situation. The devil has been defeated and dethroned. Far from this bringing his activities to an end, however, the rage he feels in the knowledge of his approaching doom leads him to redouble them. Victory over him has been won, but painful conflict with him continues.

But don't ever lose sight of these realities. First, our lives and our worlds were in a mess. Second, the death of Jesus changes all of that and provides a do-over. God could have left us at the end of Genesis 3 with a broken world and with everything gone wrong, but he didn't. He's made us right again, and he's apprehended and overpowered the evil one.

There's one more reality this morning. Three, we can live in the light of the reality of what God has done through Christ. We don't have to just live in a condition of brokenness. We can live in light of the one who has changed everything and is restoring it back to the way it was in the first place. John Stott writes, "The victory of Christians consists of entering into the victory of God and enjoying its benefits." Our job isn't to win the victory. Our job is to enjoy and enter into the victory that Christ has already won.

What would it mean if we really believed this? What would it mean if we believed that God has forgiven us and conquered Satan and evil through the death of Christ? I mean, how would we really live if we believed these two realities? I'm going to give you a minute to talk about this, and then we're going to share some of our ideas.

[Discussion]

Can I just give you something I've been thinking about? We talk so much about forgiveness and heaven. I think it's time to start reminding ourselves that salvation is about much more than forgiveness. It's about God restoring this world to what it should have been in the first place. It's about restoration, of things being made the way they were before sin ruined everything.

Rob Bell writes:

The point of the cross isn't forgiveness. Forgiveness leads to something much bigger: restoration. God isn't just interested in the covering over of our sins; God wants to make us into the people we were originally created to be. It's not just the removal of what is being held against us; it is God pulling us into the people he originally had in mind when he made us...

It is one thing to be forgiven; it is another thing to become more and more and more and more the person God made you to be...

Salvation is the entire universe being brought back into harmony with its maker.

Salvation, in other words, is getting a do-over.

Let's pray.

God, what an amazing salvation. Thank you for what you accomplished through Christ on the cross. Thank you for the provision of the cross.

They sang a new song, saying:

"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" (Revelation 5:9-13)

The Price of the Cross (Mark 8:27-9:1)

A restaurant near our house advertised that for one night only all entrees at the restaurant would be free. That was far too good to pass up. So, on that night, we went to that restaurant, paid for parking, lined up for over an hour in a rain, and eventually got in. The entree was free, so we thought we could live a little. We ordered all kinds of appetizers. We ate the free entree, but then we splurged on desserts. We really had a good time.

Finally, the time came for the waiter to bring us the bill for the free meal. We were shocked! Not only had we paid for parking, and lined up in the rain for over an hour, but we also ended up paying the same amount of money as we would have if we had gone out on a regular night. Our free meal cost us far more than we bargained for.

One of the greatest dangers that we face spiritually is that we sign up for something that we think is free, when in reality it comes at great cost. One of the greatest dangers we face is something I want to talk about this morning. It's that we don't understand, and that we aren't prepared to pay, the price of the cross.

John Piper says, "Living to magnify Christ is costly." Did you hear that? The only thing that I want to do today is to talk about the cost of following Jesus, because it is far more costly than we have bargained for. "Living to magnify Christ is costly."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church...Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God...Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church. This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives.

Let's put it this way. If we don't understand the price of the cross, the price that it costs us, then we don't understand the cross at all. If we understand everything about the gospel but don't understand the cost, we don't understand the gospel at all.

There's a flip side. Embracing the price of the cross changes everything.

So I want to do only two things today. The first is to ask what the price of the cross is. The second thing I want to do is to look at the payoff: what happens if we pay this price. What's the price of the cross? And what's the payoff when this price is paid? Let's look at these two things.

The Price of the Cross

The story we're going to look at today is the watershed event in the Gospel of Mark. The main question of the first part of the Gospel of Mark is this: Who is Jesus? Who is this man, this teacher, Jesus Christ? Finally, in the passage that was just read for us, the question is answered. Read verses 27 to 30 with me:

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?"

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

Peter answered, "You are the Messiah."

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

So here we have it settled. Finally we have the identity of Jesus revealed. Peter is willing to commit and say, "I have listened to you talk, and I've seen what you've done, and I'm prepared to say that you are the Messiah." What does Messiah mean? Literally, it means anointed one, someone chosen by God and empowered by God to accomplished a specific task. Around the time of Jesus, the Messiah was understood to be a king who would deliver the nation of Israel, and restore David's kingdom to its former greatness. Peter identified Jesus as the one who would become king of Israel and to reign on the throne in Jerusalem. So this is the watershed moment of Mark. Jesus' identity has finally been revealed.

But here's the thing. The Messiah, the deliverer who would restore David's kingdom, is a victor. They had no category for a Messiah who suffered. There was nothing in their understanding of who the Messiah is from their understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures to indicate that the Messiah would suffer. Sure, there were Scriptures that talked about a mysterious suffering servant in Isaiah, but they didn't think of the Messiah when they read that. They had no category for a Messiah who suffered.

At this watershed moment, look at what happened in verses 31-32:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three dayse rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Well, let's look at that. What does "Son of Man" mean? It's Jesus' favorite term for himself. We look at it and think, "Of course, everybody is a son or daughter of man." But that's not what Jesus meant when he used this term. He was using a term from the Hebrew Scriptures. The most revealing passage is from Daniel 7:13-14:

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

So here you have Jesus: Messiah, the king who would restore David's throne, who would appear in the glory of God and be worshipped by everyone in an indestructible kingdom. It's all good. The Messiah, they thought, was a glorious and powerful figure, not a suffering one.

But Jesus says that "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected...and that he must be killed." You can see why Peter argued. It was a horrible instrument of execution in which you were stripped of all dignity and clothes and barbarically killed. The cross is the very opposite of the throne. But the Son of Man, Jesus says, must be killed.

Look what happens in verse 34: "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'"

Here's what we need to know. Christianity is essentially about following the leader. No true follower refuses to go where the leader leads. And this is where the road to following Jesus leads: to the cross. The price of following Jesus is that we have to go where Jesus went, and where did Jesus go? To the cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Jesus doesn't call us to a pleasant afternoon walk. He doesn't ask for a few modest adjustments. He calls us to die. Jesus says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

Let's look at what this means for us today before we look at the payoff.

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves..." We generally organize our life around - who? - ourselves. Let me tell you some of the things I like. I like getting things my own way. I love ease, comfort, and security. We generally like our lives to be as long and trouble-free as possible. Is this right? This is our natural inclination.

But Jesus says that following him means denying ourselves. This doesn't mean that we deny things to ourselves, like giving up ice cream or TV. It's much more radical than that. It's about renouncing myself as the dominant element in my life. It's turning away from the idolatry of self-centeredness and every attempt to orient one's life by the dictates of self-interest. It's a fundamental reorientation of the principle of life. God, not self, must be at the center of life.

It also means taking up the cross. What does that mean? People who carried a cross back in that day were on their way to be executed. Taking up our cross means following Jesus to suffering and death. John Piper says:

Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. The dying I have in mind is the dying of comfort and security and reputation and health and family and friends and wealth and homeland. These may be taken away from us at any time in the path of Christ-exalting obedience. To die the way Paul did, and to take up our cross daily the way Jesus commanded, is to embrace this life of loss for Christ's sake and count it gain...Take up your cross and follow Jesus. On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain. Life on every other road is wasted.

It also means following Jesus, no matter where that leads. It's about following him obediently no matter where he leads. We want to follow Jesus, but with conditions. We want to follow with terms that must be fulfilled. But discipleship can tolerate no conditions. We follow where Jesus chooses us to go, not the way we would choose for ourselves. Somebody has said, "Discipleship can tolerate no conditions."

What's the price of the cross? Everything. It only costs our lives. That's all. It involves a complete reorientation of our lives away from ourselves and around Christ, no matter what it costs. "Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying" (John Piper).

Let's stop here for a minute. This isn't optional for the advanced Christians. Jesus says, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." These aren't the advanced requirements; these are the minimum requirements.

And this is exactly where, perhaps, we're coming short. We face the temptation of:

...a more congenial, less rigorous variant of Christianity...We live in a consumeristic society, and many approach a religious life no differently than any other aspect of their life. They come to churches as consumers, wanting to know, "What am I going to get from this?" They want a full-service church with pleasing worship, a good youth program, excellent child care, nice facilities, pastoral care when they need it, and at last passable preaching. They want the best but are not always willing to pay for it. The prefer religion a la carte and opt for the salads and desserts, but not the main course with its hard demands of obedience. (Darrell Bock)

The very response we want to offer Jesus - half-hearted devotion without it costing too much - is the one response that isn't on the table. We can completely reject the demands of Jesus and hate him, or we can give up all of our lives in complete devotion. The only thing we can't do is to follow him a little. If we follow him, it costs us our lives.

The Payoff

So why would we ever do this? Why not hold on to our lives instead of losing them? You have a choice. You can hold on to your own life if you want - but the results are disastrous. You can hold on to your life, but in the process you'll be wasting it.

John Piper tells a story of a couple that he read in the Reader's Digest. They took early retirement from their jobs when he was 59 and she was 51. They moved in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells. Piper says:

Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life - your one and only precious, God-given life - and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: "Look, Lord. See my shells." That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don't buy it. Don't waste your life.

David Lodge wrote a novel called Therapy. The therapist of the main character asked him to list all the good things about his life in one column and all the bad things in another. Under the good column he wrote, "professionally successful, well off, good health, stable marriage, kids successfully launched in adult life, nice house, great car, a many holidays as I want." Under the bad column he wrote just one thing: "feel unhappy most of the time."

You can hold on to your own life, Jesus says. That's your choice. But if you hold on to your own life, Jesus says, you'll lose it. "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it" (Mark 8:35). You can hold on to your own life and preserve it, but in the end you'll end up empty-handed. Attempts to hold on to our lives are destined to fail. You can choose this option if you'd like. Jesus will not force you to follow him. But if you choose the path of preserving your own life, you'll lost not only your own life in the end - you'll lose everything. You can gain the whole world and, in the end, lose your own soul.

But there's an alternative. If we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, there are three results:

A new identity - Jesus says in verse 35, "whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." What Jesus is talking about here is our psyche, our identity, our sense of selfhood. What is Jesus saying here? He's telling us not to get our identity from the things of this world.

Tim Keller reminds us that every culture points to certain things and says, "If you gain those and acquire those, and achieve those, then you'll know you're somebody. Then you'll have a self." In our case, it largely has to do with career, possessions, and status. In other words, culture tells us that our identity is performance based. Jesus tells us that doesn't work. If we gain the whole world, he says, we still don't have an identity.

The reality is that no matter what we accomplish in our lives, it still doesn't give us an identity. And if those things are taken away - our career, a relationship - we fall apart if our self is based on it. Jesus says, don't get your identity from these things. Don't even switch to spiritual performance-based identity. Do something new. Lose your old identity and base your new identity on Jesus and the Gospel.

When we follow Christ, we aren't captive to what we've accomplished or who approves of us. We get our identity and strength not based on how we're doing. It comes from Christ. We die to the old ways of getting our identity. Nobody puts this better than C.S. Lewis in the last couple of pages of Mere Christianity:

The more we get what we now call "ourselves" out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of "little Christs," all different, will still be too few to express Him fully...It is no good trying to "be myself" without Him...It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.

So Christ gives us a new agenda, not based on what we do or have but based on Him and his relationship with us, which can't be shaken. It's an identity that can't be taken away. Ironically it's only as we stop trying to earn approval that we receive the love and approval we've always longed for, and that will never be taken away.

He also gives us:

A new agenda - Peter was furious with Jesus because he had an agenda. Jesus had other ideas. When we come to Christ, we discover that we've given up our right to negotiate. You don't negotiate with a king. We go where he goes, even if it's to a cross. But because he went to the cross for us, we can trust that him. "Lord, whatever you say, I will do. Whatever you send, I will accept. Because at the cross you said 'Not my will but thine be done' for me, now I say 'Not my will but thine be done' for you."

When we come to the cross, we die to ourselves, to our self-determination and our own agendas.

A new destiny - The last couple of verses project what happens as we take this course. Those who refuse this path end up living out the consequences of not following Christ. But those who choose this path see something else. Mark 9:1 says, "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power." Jesus isn't referring here to his return to earth. He's saying that he started in weakness, but that it ends with a new heaven and earth. But it won't always be a kingdom of weakness. One day, love will totally triumph. Even now in this generation, you'll start to see it happen. Whatever it costs you now, it will be more than made up for later.

Lewis says:

Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything thrown in.

Living for Christ is costly. It will cost you everything. But it's not nearly as costly as living for ourselves. "Take up your cross and follow Jesus. On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain. Life on every other road is wasted." (Piper)

The Power of the Cross (Romans 6:1-14)

You have probably seen the bumper sticker that says this: "Christians aren't perfect, they're just forgiven." What do you think about that?

Or maybe you have heard say something like this. I found it on a blog this week, written by a friend:

I am no better than you. I am likely worse. Please keep that in mind as you read my blog. I am a mess. I am arrogant and stupid. I am selfish and pig-headed. I am confident, and yet a total chicken. I am opinionated and rude. I pretend to know stuff, and speak well "on my feet"... but I know very little, I just have the need to sound smart and together and right. I am lazy and forgetful. I am rarely the person I should be, or the person I really want to be, or the person Jesus created me to be. I am a miserable failure in many ways.

What do you think? The underlying message is that Christians aren't better than anybody else, but they have been forgiven.

Well, I can relate. What's more, I like the honesty. Is there anybody here who can't relate? Sure, we're all broken. We are all sinners. We are very aware that although many of us have come to faith in Christ, we continue to struggle and stumble. We're all there, right?

But today I want to suggest that our lack of change is a real problem. Many of the things my friend says are true of me as well. But I want to change. I'm not talking about perfection, but I do want to be transformed and to experience real change. The problem is that some of us are stuck and we're not really being changed.

A Christian shared her faith with someone at work, and used the phrase "being saved." Listen to what happened:

To which my guy replied that he knew lots of people who said that they were saved, and they seemed to keep right on cheating on their taxes, having trouble with their marriages, fighting with their kids, gossiping about other folks in the office, and so on. And he said they also seemed to get catastrophic illnesses and suffer hardship at about the same rate as everybody else. So life with Christ to him seems like just about every other life, and he doesn't see a compelling reason to make the switch.

She told her pastor about it, and her pastor said this:

"The Same." That's what a friend of mine said Christians should have printed on their T-shirts because we divorce, argue, backbite, become serial killers, and get incarcerated at about the same rate as the general population. Statistically, we're indistinguishable. (From Static by Ron Martoia)

I think that many of us would agree with this assessment. We are Christians, but we continue to struggle. We can relate to why somebody would say, "I am no better than you. I am likely worse." We are not surprised by Christians who sin, or for that matter, with our own struggles.

But I wonder if all of this is symptomatic of a deeper issue. We generally understand about forgiveness and the cross. We get that the cross sets us free from guilt. Maybe we're not as good at understanding the other thing that the cross does. It sets us free from sin's guilt, but it also sets us free from sin's power. The cross means that we don't have to stay captive to sin, just the same as we used to be. We don't have to be "The Same."

I think it's a real problem. That's why I want to look at the power of the cross today. What Jesus accomplished at the cross not only sets us free from the guilt of sin, it also sets us free from sin's power. How can we experience this transformation in our lives so that we experience deep, real, and lasting change? How do we get past this situation in which nothing seems to have changed, and we're still battling the same sins as we ever did?

How We Are Changed

To answer the question of how we can be changed by what Christ accomplished at the cross, I would like to look with you at a passage that lays out more clearly than anywhere else how we can be changed.

Let me give you a bit of background. The apostle Paul has been carefully unpacking what the gospel means. He's outlined how we all stand guilty because we have rebelled against God, and he's also described the consequences of our rebellion. Then Paul gives the amazing news: we have been made right before God, and he has given us a righteousness that is not our own. We have been forgiven and are no longer under judgment. "Therefore," he says, "since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). The cross has taken away our guilt. That's the first part, and we're pretty good at.

But here's the problem. Have you ever deliberately done something wrong, knowing that you could pray for forgiveness? You do it, pray "Lord, please forgive me," then do it again tomorrow, and so on. If the cross only sets us free from the guilt of sin, this is exactly where we are. We're stuck. We can't do anything except to continue sinning, and then praying for forgiveness.

Somebody's said, "God likes to forgive, I like to sin: what a great relationship!" This is the cycle of sin and forgiveness that most of us are caught in. We sin, God forgives, we sin, God forgives, we sin, God forgives, and so on. Is that all that there is to the gospel, or is there more?

According to the apostle Paul, there is more. We are not just forgiven because of the cross, we are changed. The cross has a power to completely change us and set us free from sin's power. How does this work? To find out, look with me at Romans 6. It's one of the most important passages for understanding how we can be transformed.

Paul makes a surprising statement in verse 2. He's reacting to the way of thinking we just talked about: that because God forgives us, we can sin all that we want. He says in verses 1 and 2: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"

Here's the key phrase to understand: "We are those who have died to sin." What does Paul mean by this? He certainly doesn't mean that we aren't tempted by sin, or that we are incapable of sinning. That's not what he means at all. I once heard a preacher say that since he became a Christian, he hadn't struggled with a certain temptation even once. I don't know if he was telling the truth or not, but I know one thing: we do continue to experience temptation. We are still capable of sinning. I don't think that any of us would argue with this.

Here is what Paul means when he says, "We are those who have died to sin." When we became Christians, our relationship to sin changes. It's as dramatic a change as is a change from life to death. We have died - past tense - to sin. Our relationship with sin has changed.

Paul explains exactly how this happened - how our relationship to sin changed so that we're dead to sin - in verses 3-4:

Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

This is pretty deep stuff. It's easy to get sidetracked. Paul is saying that when we become Christians and are baptized, something happens. What exactly happens when we come to faith and are baptized, two events that are always tied together in Scripture? Baptism always takes place right when someone becomes a Christian, not years later.

Here's what Paul means. We are united with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Through the cross, you are united to the past and the future of Jesus' life. In other words, when Jesus looks at you, he no longer sees your past. He sees Christ's past. He doesn't see your failures and your sins and your brokenness; he sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We're forgiven.

Paul also says that we were raised with Christ. Verse 5 says, "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his." Verses 8-10 say:

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So here's the power of the cross. When Jesus died, we died along with him. Our spiritual history began at the cross. We were there. In God's sight we were joined to him who actually suffered on it. When Jesus was raised from the dead, we were raised along with him. We are free from the power of sin. You can live a life of obedience now. The power of sin has been terminated once and for all because of what Christ did at the cross.

You may feel like this doesn't apply to you. Here's what you need to know: it doesn't depend on you. All of this, you see, is not about what you have done. It's about what Christ has done. Look at verse 5 again: "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his." Read that word: certainly. This isn't something that is optional or that only happens sometimes. It doesn't depend on you. This is what God has done for you in Christ.

Tim Keller says, "When we come to Christ, we come with unbelievably small expectations." It's true, isn't it? We rarely grasp what God has done for us in Christ. C.S. Lewis puts it this way in Mere Christianity:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

What God is doing in you is no small thing. This is huge. You have died to sin. You are free from its power. Sin no longer has any claims on your life. It's what Augustus Toplady wrote in his famous hymn "Rock of Ages." "Be of sin the double cure: save me from sin's guilt and power."

Live Daily as a New Person

The question is, why don't we live this way? Why do we feel like sin has so much power? This is what is true, but it's not our daily experience. We don't feel like we're dead to sin. It looks like sin has mastery over us. Paul says it's true. How come it doesn't feel like it?

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives us a picture that I think might be helpful. Imagine a country in which one group has oppressed another group for centuries. Whenever a member of the enslaved group meets a member of the oppressing group, the member of the oppressing group can order that person around. If they didn't obey, the member of the oppressing group can have him beaten or even killed.

But then a good king comes to power. He decrees freedom for all the slaves. He sets up his soldiers and his police in every town. The oppressed group is free!

But, Lloyd-Jones, that's not all there is to the story. The oppressed group is free. But whenever a member of the enslaved group meets across a member of the oppressing group, having been enslaved for centuries, they tremble and quake. When the members of the oppressing group ordered members of the enslaved group around, they still did it.

The oppressing group didn't have the power to do that anymore. If the group that had been set free had stood up, the oppressing group couldn't have done a thing. But they kept acting like slaves. Although their status had changed, and they were truly free, they hadn't grasped it yet. They hadn't realized. They couldn't live according to it.

Lloyd-Jones concluded his illustration by saying that every Christian in this room is in that condition. We feel like we're still enslaved by sin because we've forgotten who we are. We've forgotten what Christ has done. We have a real status change, but we haven't grasped it. We don't live according to it.

That's why the first real command is this passage is given in verse 11. "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." The word count is an accounting term, and it's in present tense. You don't lack any resources. You have everything you need. You just need to count what God has given you and live in light of that reality.

Thelma and Victor Hayes struck it rich. In August of 2005, the Canadian couple won more than $7 million (Canadian) in the lottery.

There are a few additional facts that make the story interesting. According to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, Thelma and Victor are one of the oldest couples ever to win such a large jackpot. At the time they won, the Hayes' had been married 63 years, and both of them were 89-years-old.

During a televised interview, Thelma and Victor were asked the typical question, "What are you going to do with the money?" The couple responded that, at this stage in life, they were unlikely to become "giddy high spenders." In fact, they intended to remain in the retirement home where they lived.

While her husband planned on buying a Lincoln Town Car, Thelma's personal shopping list contained only one item. She told reporters, "I'm getting a new pair of nylons."

How could someone win a fortune and change nothing but her nylons? In the same way, how can we who have been set free from the guilt and power of sin not live out what Christ accomplished at the cross?

Look with me at verses 12-14:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Verse 14 says, "Sin shall no longer be your master." You can read this as a command, but you'd be reading it wrong. It's not a command; it's a promise. Sin shall no longer be your master. It's not allowed. You are free from the power of sin.

That, my friends, is the power of the cross. The next time you see a bumper sticker that says, "Christians aren't perfect, they're just forgiven," or the next time you feel like you'll always be the same, remember that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, because you have been united with him in his death and resurrection. Count on it, and live in light of that reality.