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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Day that Everything Changed
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-07-18
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 116:1,8,9                                                                                         

Hy 1                                                                                             

Reading – Romans 6:1-14; 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Ps 22:1,6,10

Sermon – Lord’s Day 16

Hy 68:1,6,7,8                                 

Hy 80:1,2,5,6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, do you remember the 11th of September, 2001? If you’re old enough, I’m sure that you do. 9/11 was planes exploding, buildings crumbling, a sense of panic and disbelief that this was even happening. 9/11 is one of those days when everything is turned upside down, a day people that look back on and say, “That’s when the world was changed.” There’s been many changes since then—but are things really that different? No matter the time and place, human hearts are still the same.

Yet there was a day when suddenly everything did change—a turning point like none other. This was a moment when the old order of things passed away, and a new age began. The day was Good Friday some 2000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross.

It happened not in a world centre like New York City, but an insignificant province of the Roman empire. Just outside the walls of Jerusalem a Jewish man was killed by Roman soldiers. Nothing unusual—two other criminals were killed on the same day, and in the same way. It’s not surprising that historians of the time make no mention of it.

But if you were on the scene, you would’ve seen there was something different about that man on the middle cross. You would’ve read that intriguing title over his head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” You would’ve seen a large crowd of people around him—some grieving, others gloating. You also would’ve heard him speak words that seemed peculiar: He was quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures, comforting his disciples, praying for his killers, even encouraging one of the fellows dying beside him. This was a strange man! What’s more, on that day you would’ve noticed that odd things were happening in the sky: for three whole hours the sun stopped shining—as if night had fallen, hours early.

Then suddenly, the man in the middle seemed to run out of life. A couple times He cried out, first in utter anguish, then in humble surrender. He bowed his head, and breathed his last. To everyone present, it was clear that Jesus was dead—and this was a reality that at once resounded throughout that little corner of the world.

For at that moment, you would’ve felt “the earth shake” and seen “the rocks split” (Matt 27:51). Even more amazingly, “tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life” (v 52). And when you went back into the city that day, you would’ve heard about something eerie that happened at the temple, at the moment Jesus died: “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (v 51).

What to make of all this? What was going on in the death of that man from Nazareth? If you’d hung around Jerusalem for a while, the puzzle pieces would’ve started to come together. Wait until Pentecost, then go and listen to his disciples declare amazing things. “This Jesus,” they said to the crowds, “was a man accredited to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him. This man was handed over… and put to death. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death… Therefore God has made this Jesus both Lord and Christ!” (Acts 2:22-24,36).

They weren’t exaggerating—Jesus’ death really had changed things! By that time, Jesus had already ascended into heaven, yet everything depended on what happened that Friday afternoon, some weeks before: Jesus had been crucified, dead, and buried. So this afternoon let’s consider this world-changing, life-transforming event, looking at Lord’s Day 16 on this theme,  

By the death of Christ, we have new life in every way:

  1. justification
  2. sanctification
  3. glorification

 

1) justification: Sometimes we avoid the big words. A term like “justification” sounds difficult, so we’d rather not use it in conversation or in prayer. And of course, there are simpler ways of putting the gospel. Yet the beauty of that term “justification” is how accurately it expresses what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. With a single word we get to the heart of the matter: that God has justified us on the merits of his Son.

This word brings us into the courtroom of God. For the LORD God, the Scriptures tell us, is a righteous Judge. He established a holy law for those who bear his image, and He wants it followed exactly. But those who don’t obey his law have to appear before the heavenly Judge and answer for all their misdeeds. For God has resolved to punish those who do wrong. If true obedience isn’t given, there’ll be a price to pay—a heavy price, an eternal price. It’s not a pleasant thing, and yet we have to say it remains perfectly just. It’s what God in his law always said He would do: “The soul who sins shall die.”

And the fact is, we’re closely involved in this courtroom scene. It’s a case that we have an interest in, for we’re in the prisoner’s box, and we stand accused. We’ve broken God’s law in more ways than we know. Law-breaking isn’t just the gruesome murders that we hear about the news. It’s not just the adultery all around us, or the false religion. This trial before God is about your pride which you keep carefully concealed, but which is always there. It’s about your unkindness to the brother in the church who irritates you. It’s about your impatience with the kids. It’s about your ungrateful spirit toward God. We could go on—for we’re all guilty.

I wonder how often we pause to consider this? We’re comfortable with the language of grace and forgiveness, and we try not to dwell on the terror of God’s judgment. Yet judgement brings us close to the beating heart of the gospel!

Our whole lives stand exposed before God’s judgment, and He has every reason to condemn us. He would condemn us, if it wasn’t for the most wonderful act of justification by which God declares us completely free of all sin. Put it this way: the charges are thrown out, the conviction overturned, the penalty waived. Justification means that our countless misdeeds and transgressions—sins past, present, and future—these have been taken off our record entirely, and permanently. God has justified his believers, and made us right with him.

Now to the point: this reality is possible only through that single event of so long ago, that death outside Jerusalem, some twenty centuries past. It’s the one foundation, reason, and basis, of our salvation.

The Catechism makes this plain with the first Question and Answer. It asks, “Why was it necessary for Christ to humble himself even unto death?” Lord’s Day 15 tells us how Christ suffered from the moment He was conceived. He was a man of sorrows, each day of his earthly life. So why did it have to go all the way? Why not put a stop to it, once Jesus showed He was willing, or once the blood started to flow from the marks of the whip? Wasn’t that enough? Why descend “even unto death”?

But the Catechism reminds us that salvation is always on God’s terms: “Because of the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God” (Q&A 40). He’s a God of justice, whose perfect justice can only be satisfied in this most costly way—this is what it takes. So how good that we can confess it in the creed every Sunday again: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died.

Paul puts the gospel like this in Romans 6:10, “The death he died, he died [for] sin once for all.” God now has the legal grounds to overlook our transgression and to release us from the punishment that the law required. As the Spirit says in Colossians 2, “He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (vv 13-14).

God forgave us, and more than that, the cross means that God can accept us. He clears our name, then brings us into a covenant of love. Think of how this new fellowship was signified at the very moment that Jesus died, if you recall how the curtain of the temple was torn in two. This was confirmation that a new age had begun, one of true communion between God and his people. The tearing of the curtain meant that the impossible separation has finally been overcome by the death of the Son of God. Now through Christ, believers can go directly into God’s presence, because sin is forgiven.

That’s not just Sunday theology, but something with real consequence for every day. Because Christ died, we can approach the holy God in prayer, and speak to the LORD with a true openness, with joy, in a spirit of trust. We know what Hebrews says, “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living away opened for us through the curtain… [So] let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (10:19-22, NIV). The curtain has been opened—by Christ’s death, we’ve been given the gift of speaking with God. We’re allowed to draw near to him with ease and confidence and with a living hope.

Beloved, is this costly privilege something that we make good use of? Is prayer a gift that we take the time to enjoy often? Say you had an unlimited pass to a theme park with exhilarating roller coasters and other wild rides—you would go all the time, wouldn’t you? Of if you paid for an annual pass to our national parks—you’d want to make use of this access! In prayer, we’ve got “behind the curtain” privileges. We’re allowed access to God’s holy presence through Christ. So Hebrews says, “Let us draw near!” More than when you’re in trouble, more than when you’re worried, but draw near, simply to praise God for his abounding grace, simply to thank him for his loving-kindness.

Because of Christ’s death, God says that we can draw near with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith. Ask for wisdom. Ask for strength. Ask for mercy. Ask for comfort. In prayer, thank him for his gifts. Confess to him your sins. Praise him for all that He is, and express your love to him. We can go through that curtain boldly in Jesus’ blood.

 

2) sanctification: There’s a second word we all need to know, a second reality we need to experience every day. And that is “sanctification.” This is the process by which God transforms us more and more by his Spirit into the image of his Son. God gives the gifts and abilities that help us live like the Father’s children.

And the basis for this renewal can also be traced back to that moment of Christ’s death! It all springs from the cross, we said, even that miraculous project of changing sinners into people who resemble Christ. The Catechism asks, “What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?” (Q&A 43). It was such a loaded event, such a significant occasion full of saving value, so what further benefit is there?

The answer is given, “Through Christ’s death our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with him” (Q&A 43). It’s saying that when Christ died, more than just his own life came to an end. In a sense, Jesus’ death meant the death of millions of sinners. We died that day. For on the cross, Christ took away sin’s power over us. He snapped its cruel chains from our hearts and minds. By dying Jesus said to Satan, “I won’t let you dictate to my people anymore. I won’t let you dominate them with your accusations and your suggestions of guilt. By my death I’ve set them free, and I’ve made possible a new life for all who believe.” On Good Friday, Satan met his match, and he was crushed.

Ponder the consequence this has for us, for how we think and speak and act. Paul puts it to us directly, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Rom 6:2). Sin belongs to the outdated order of things; it’s part of the obsolete life we’ve left behind. As Paul says in verse 6: “[We know] that our old man [or old nature] was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with.” Yes, our old self—that whole wicked manner of thinking and speaking and acting—our old self was even crucified along with Christ. As far as God is concerned, sin’s power has been irreversibly broken, its appeal has been shattered, “done away with.”

Yet we know the struggle is far from done. It’s an ongoing process. That’s why Paul says that as Christians we must continue to put to deatheven continue to keep crucifying—whatever in us is still the work of Satan.

That’s graphic language: crucifying your old self! As those who’ve never seen a crucifixion, it’s hard to understand. Yet recall what a crucifixion was. Far less clinical than death by lethal injection or hanging, which is over in minutes or even seconds, crucifixion was absolute torture. It was the hours-long process of draining all the life out of a human being. By loss of blood, by suffocation, by the onset of total shock, a man crucified was sure to die.

God says that’s what we must now do with our sin: Crucify it! We must deal with our sin, resolutely. In the power of the Spirit, we must address sin decisively, with every intention of wiping it out, killing the evil still within us. Even if it takes a long time, there shouldn’t be any doubt about what’s going to happen to the sin in our life—it’s going to end.

That puts a challenge to us, because so often we’re easy on sin and we’ll let things go. Instead of fleeing wickedness, we come to terms with it and we accept certain sins as a part of our life. Perhaps we leave a favourite sin where it can be uncovered quickly when we’re feeling bored, or rebellious, or angry. Sin has been killed by Christ, but it’s like we keep lifting the lid of the coffin because we want to take a peek at its rotting corpse. Take a look, even climb inside! But how shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

Crucifying our old nature means we aim to destroy the wickedness that remains. Fighting sin cannot be a passive activity, where we merely hope to avoid it in the future, with a bit of luck and the right circumstances. Jesus once said that it takes plucking out the eye that sins, cutting off the arm that offends!

It’s smashing the bottle of booze because you know your drinking always gets out of hand. It’s getting accountability for your use of the internet because there’s too much temptation lurking there. It’s selling the fancy car that has become an idol. It’s breaking off a friendship that’s leading you into sin. Can we name our personal sins? Can we say what our evil habits are? If we can, then we should be ready to kill them, even bury them.

It sounds drastic, but this is true sanctification. It’s a struggle, fighting the temptation that’s all around us. At times it feels like Satan’s breathing down your neck, like you’re always on the verge of ruining your life. But this kind of intensity just means you’re engaged in the battle. It’s by God’s grace alone that you’re fighting, putting to death the old ways, and letting the new come to life.

That’s the other side of it. Being a child of God is much more than just staying away from evil. Being a child of God is also a life of actively doing good, busy with the Father’s perfect will. The Catechism explains: We must crucify our old nature, “so that… we may offer ourselves to [God] as a sacrifice of thankfulness” (Q&A 43).

In the Old Testament, a sacrifice of thankfulness was given to God in gratitude. It wasn’t given to atone for sin, but simply to praise God’s Name for his goodness. Similarly, in positive ways we can offer ourselves to God: in worship, in prayer, in service, with our gifts. This is what Paul calls “walking in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). In Christ we died already—so now we live again for a new and better purpose. We live for serving God!

So offer yourself to the Lord. Again, this can’t be something we’re passive about, where we simply hope that one day we’ll find a way to really contribute to God’s kingdom, and until then we’ll sit back and stay busy with our own life. Instead, find those ways in which you know that you can serve. God has given you gifts, and opportunities, and energy. So notice those areas—in the church, in the community, in your family, in the world—where you can put your gifts to good use, for the glory of your Master. In the power of Christ, seek whatever means you can to praise your glorious Redeemer.

 

3) glorification: Time for one last important term, because through the death of Christ, we also receive “glorification.” For in Christ, God the Father promises that we’ll also receive glory—not the glory of earthly wealth and material success, but the glory of entering the real presence of God. This is the destination that lies before us. And we have to see that this blessing too, has its only foundation in the bitter death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The question is asked, “Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?” (Q&A 42). If that single moment on the cross was really so world-changing, why do things carry on as they have since the beginning? Since Christ’s death, people still get sick with cancer and then die. People suffer with dementia for years, and then die. People, even young people, are suddenly confronted with the final enemy. It will happen to all of us, should the Lord delay. For every person, the shadow of our own death is a constant companion.

Here the Catechism teaches us to look at the whole picture: “Our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life” (Q&A 42). You could say that since the cross, even death has transformed. Death is still a terrible enemy, and it still runs counter to God’s good purpose, for He made us to live with him forever! Yet we know when a believer does die, this isn’t God inflicting some last-minute punishment. Remember the courtroom: the penalty has been paid, in full.

For even while He was alive, Christ suffered the torment of hell. In those three hours of darkness, in that terrible loneliness on the cross, He experienced hell’s “unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony” (Q&A 44). He went through hell, so that we don’t have to! There’s nothing left for us to suffer. This means that when we die, we know exactly where we’re going, or where our loved one in Christ is going. Death serves as a gateway to life eternal.

Even this truth was seen at the moment of Christ’s passing, so long ago. Remember that after Christ breathed his last, “the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised” (Matt 27:52). They rose from the grave—and what was the point of this miracle? Because in principle, Jesus had just broken the cruel power of death! The cross means that death is no longer God’s punishment: not for the holy in Christ, not for those who believe.

And that remains our sure comfort today, that death isn’t the end. For when we die, the Father is taking his own to himself in advance of the full resurrection. On that great day the tombs will again break open, and our bodies will rise in order to be glorified. As Scripture says: “The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Cor 15:42-44). Our bodies will be restored completely, because Christ’s body was broken so utterly. Once again, by his death, we have life.

Beloved, this is the glorious victory that’s ours in Christ. It’s a victory that allows us to live in good courage, with hearts at rest. Since that Good Friday so long ago, we don’t have to worry that God is going to change his mind. We died that day—our sins were paid for, in full. In this way, Christ’s death gives a real security when we’re shaken. His death gives a sure hope when we despair. His death gives a purpose for living now that we’ve been raised in Christ.

Think about that moment often: that moment when the whole world changed, that moment when new life was made possible. Think about that glorious day of Christ’s death, and live differently because of it. As Paul exhorts us, “My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58). If it’s done in Christ, it’s not in vain.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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