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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The meaning of Christ's death
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2011 Book of Praise

Psalm 116:1-5
Psalm 116:8-10
Hymn 26
Hymn 1
Psalm 96:1,2,8

Readings:  Romans 5:1-11, Hebrews 2
Text:  Lord's Day 16
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ our Lord,

Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  In Christ’s death then, we see the overwhelming love of God for us.  We see our God who gives us the free gift of salvation.  Paul reminds us that Christ’s death was not for his own benefit --  but for us.  Those are two of the most beautiful words in the Bible:  for us.  When he came to this earth, it was not as a narcissist.  The world didn’t orbit around him.  Instead, everything he did, including his death, was with us in mind, for our salvation.  “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Ponder it.  When you do, you may sound find yourself singing that old hymn,

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood?

Died he for me, who caused his pain?

For me, who him to death pursued? 

Amazing love!

How can it be that thou my God, shouldst die for me?      

Amazing love.  That’s exactly what we see in the death of our Saviour.  This afternoon, with the help of the Catechism, we want to focus on the meaning of his death.  We’ll consider it’s meaning:

1.      For our justification

2.      For our sanctification

3.      For our glorification

It’s always good to be clear about our definitions.  So let’s begin by defining justification.  As our catechism students all learn, justification is God’s declaration that we are right with him.  It is a declaration – it is a verdict issued from God’s judgment seat.  When the Bible speaks about justification, it’s using the language of the courtroom.  God is the judge and we are the accused.  We stand accused of blasphemy and treason.  We were created to honour God and instead we have dragged his name through the mud and rebelled against him.  Justification means not only that God acquits us of all these charges, but also that he declares us positively to be righteous, right with him.  That declaration can only be made on the basis of what Christ has done for us.  Our own works, merits, and efforts count for nothing.  Our good intentions count for nothing.  The only thing that matters in the basis of our justification is Christ.  And the means by which we receive this work of Christ is through faith.  We have to place our trust in our Saviour’s work and claim him for our own.  As the Belgic Confession says in article 22, faith is “the instrument by which we embrace Christ our righteousness.” 

So what does Christ’s death mean for our justification?  Our Catechism summarizes what the Bible teaches on this point.  Christ’s death made the payment or the satisfaction which God’s justice and truth required.  God is just and his justice means that sin will never be overlooked.  Sin must be paid for – God’s honour has been maligned, and this has to be rectified.  There are only two options.  Option 1:  you go to hell and spend eternity in a vain effort to recompense God’s honour.  Option 2:  you look to the Saviour who descended into hell on your behalf.  Option 2 is obviously the more attractive option – but it is only more attractive to those who have new life through the Spirit.  For us, we look to Christ to make the payment for us.  That’s what his death has done.  As we look to Christ in faith, the death of Jesus on the cross has taken the place of our eternal death.  He is our substitute.

That’s the real meaning of those two words at the end of Romans 5:8, “Christ died for us.”  “For us” means in the first place, that it is our vicarious atonement.  His sacrifice on the cross, his death, is vicarious – which means it’s been done in our place.  So what we find in Romans 5:9 follows on that: we are justified by his blood.  God declares us right with himself because of the blood of the cross shed for us.  If that’s true, says Paul, then we can also be confident that we have been saved from the wrath of God.  We have been pulled back from the brink of destruction because of Christ’s death.  There is no more dread, no more anxiety about our eternal destiny.  Romans 8:1 says it, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...”  Brothers and sisters believe this and breathe a sigh of relief.  No condemnation!  That’s why we call the gospel good news!

Paul goes on in Romans 5 to describe two further consequences of Christ’s death and how they relate to our justification.  Verse 10 says that we have been reconciled to God through the death of his Son.  Reconciliation means that you have these two figures who have been at odds with one another.  In this case, we have an accused standing before the judge.  The accused has offended the judge.  He has slapped him in the face, rebelled against him, mouthed him off, given him the finger -- every offensive thing you can imagine.  Do that in a human courtroom and you’ll face the wrath of a human judge.  Do this in God’s courtroom and you’re in way deeper trouble for eternity.  But now, through Christ and his death, we have been reconciled to this judge.  Reconciliation means that the judge comes down from the bench, takes off his robes, puts his hand on your shoulder, and says with a friendly smile, “Welcome to my family.”  He does that because Jesus died for us and paid for all our offensive behaviour.  Because of Christ’s death we can go from the courtroom to the family room.  That movement is captured in that beautiful biblical word “reconciliation.”  That’s a gospel word.

And that gospel word brings us to the last consequence and that’s in verse 11, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”  We rejoice in God through Christ!  The Puritan William Gurnall once wrote, “The reason why many poor souls have so little heat of joy in their hearts is that they have so little light of Gospel knowledge in their mind.”  Loved ones, part of gospel knowledge is knowing how we have been graciously brought into God’s family through Christ’s death.  If you know that, if you know that to be true of yourself, the heat of joy will be there in your heart.  We will rejoice in God through Christ!  That means that when we gather together, we’ll sing our songs of praise and adoration to God.  But it also means that each day of our lives, we have a joy that our circumstances can’t diminish.  It’s the joy of faith.  It’s not a superficial happiness, not about having a silly grin on your face.  Instead, this joy of faith is a deep contentment and comfort in being God’s child.  You know you don’t deserve it.  You know you didn’t earn it.  You know you put Christ on the cross and pursued him to death.  But grace has pursued and found you.  The gospel gives us this joy – it’s the only thing that can give us this joy.

So Christ’s death means something profound for our justification.  It is the basis and it produces this beautiful fruit of salvation, reconciliation, and joy. 

Now what about our sanctification?  Here too, we have to first be clear about the definition.  If someone were to ask you at work tomorrow for a simple clear definition of sanctification, could you give it?  Let me remind you.  Sanctification is the process by which Christians are being made holy.  Justification is an event.  It takes place at a certain point in time.  It only takes place once.  But sanctification is a process, it is an ongoing thing.  It is the process by which we are being made distinct and separate from the world of unbelief.  It is a work of Christ in us through his Holy Spirit.  But it is also a work in which Christians are active.  In justification, we do nothing but believe.  There is no room for our works in justification.  But in sanctification the regenerated person is always an active participant.  Our minds, hearts, and wills have been given life through the Spirit, so we can work together with him in this process.  That’s why Paul says in Galatians 5:25, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  He’s speaking about our sanctification.  The goal of sanctification is to make us look like Christ.  The goal is to have our lives conformed to his.  In other words, sanctification is about making us godly.

But where does Christ’s death fit into this?  Question and Answer 43 points us in the right direction.  Christ’s death involved us.  When Christ was nailed to the cross, not only were our sins nailed with him, but also our sinful nature.  When Christ died, so did our sinful nature.  When Christ was buried, our sinful nature was buried with him.  Without Christ, we would be a slave to that sinful nature.  We would do its bidding every time without hesitation.  But now, because of Christ’s death and burial, we are not under its sway.  Instead, we are under the sway and dominion of Christ.  We belong to him now.  He is our Lord and Master.  He has bought us with his blood and made us his possession.  Christ has freed us from the tyrant.  Now we can and will offer ourselves as sacrifices of thankfulness to God. 

Think of what Scripture says in our reading from Hebrews 2.  Specifically, what we find in Hebrews 2:14-15.  The author of Hebrews says that Christ shared in our humanity so that with his death he could free us from the devil, the one who holds the power of death.  By his death, he frees those who were in slavery through their fear of death.  Unbelievers typically won’t talk about it openly, but they’re afraid of death and what it will hold for them.  So instead of death, they would rather think about how to indulge their sinful desires in the here and now.  In fact, they are enslaved at exactly that point.  Life is about indulgence – indulging me and what I want.  That was the lie that the devil told Adam and Eve.  He told them that life, the world, and everything revolves around them.  Christ has set us free from that slavery.  He has given us the divine reality check.  We’ve been created to live for others.  First of all, to live for God.  Second, to live for our neighbour.  This realization is foundational to our sanctification.  A big part of the process of becoming holy is to wake up to why we’re here in the first place.  Not for me, but for others, and most importantly of all, for God.  This is where Christ’s death brings us.

Christ’s death means that we are free from slavery to sin.  We are free from the devil, the world, and our own flesh.  When the devil tempts us to sin, we’re not compelled to follow him.  When the world draws us in to sin, we don’t have to go along.  When our own flesh, our own sinful nature, betrays us, we can say “No!”  Christ’s death means that we can.

Christ’s death also means that we increasingly will.  There is definitive freedom from the curse of sin at the cross of Christ.  But there is still the power of sin which remains in our lives.  We still have the remnants of the old nature with which we need to struggle each and every day.  But the death of Christ means that victory will more and more be ours.  He conquered sin and death.  Christ has given us his Spirit and his Spirit will transform our lives.  We have peace with God through the cross, but this is a peace which has started a war.  It’s a war with our sinful desires, a war with the world of unbelief, a war with Satan.  In this war, because we belong to Christ, we will and we must fight until the fight is over.

Now there are those who say that this is a defeatist view of the Christian life.  There are those who say that we are a new creation in Christ, the old has passed away, and that means that there is no more struggle left for true Christians.  If you have a struggle with sin in your life, that just means that you’re not yet a true Christian.  It means that you haven’t attained to the highest level of spirituality.  Maybe you’re on your way to becoming a Christian, but you’re not there yet.  These people say you’ll know when you’re a real Christian when you don’t fight anymore with sin.  You’ll know you’re a real Christian when you don’t have to confess your sins to God anymore and ask for his forgiveness.  Loved ones, this is a delusion.  This is an unbiblical and dangerous teaching.  When you hear that sort of stuff, alarm bells should go off in your head.  Read Romans 7 and notice how Paul speaks about himself.  Was Paul a real Christian?  Someone might say that Paul was speaking about before he became a believer.  Well, then it’s rather odd that he uses the present tense, isn’t it?  Romans 7:24 says, “What a wretched man I am!”  Not, “What a wretched man I was!”  And in Galatians 5:16-19 the same apostle speaks of an ongoing struggle between the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit.  That struggle is taking place in Christians, real Christians.  Real, true Christians struggle with sin.  Real Christians call out to God with the words of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  They call out to God with those words all their lives.

That brings us to briefly consider what Christ’s death means for our glorification.  In that word “glorification,” you can see the word “glory” and that’s what this is all about.  Some day we will receive glory.  Some day we will be done with that struggle against sin.  Some day there will be peace not only with God, but also total peace in our lives in every single respect.

So how does that connect with Christ’s death on the cross?  Well, look at Hebrews 2:9.  God says that Jesus has been now crowned with glory and honour.  Why?  “Because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”  Christ’s death means that he has been crowned with glory and honour.  His name has been lifted up and exalted, because he took the death that we sinners deserve.  He accomplished the work of our redemption – completed it perfectly and in precise obedience to what was agreed upon by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  He went from utter humiliation to glorious exaltation.  The pivot point for this transition was his death and burial. 

Now the beautiful thing is that we are united to this Saviour.  Our union with him means that now already we share in his glory in principle.  But some day, we will share in his glory in every single way.  We will be perfected and there will be no stain or defect to keep us from dwelling in God’s presence forever.  All because of the death of Christ.

That’s why the author of Hebrews writes of Christ “bringing many sons to glory.”  Through his death, and because we embrace it as the payment for our sins, we can be confident that some day we will be where Christ is.  Not only will we be in the same location, but we will also be in the same condition.  Right now he has a glorified body, a glorified existence, in a place of glory.  All of that is waiting for us too.  Waiting for those who have a share in his body.  For us.

For us, death has been transformed.  It is not the payment for our sins.  It is not the gateway into shame and eternal condemnation.  Death is not to be feared.  Death is not the great unknown.  There is something that we know very definitely about our death and this is the greatest comfort:  it is an entrance into eternal life.  For us who believe in Christ, death is an entrance into glory. 

Loved ones, think of the time that our Lord Jesus attended a funeral.  It was for his friend Lazarus.  He spoke words of comfort to Martha and Mary with the loss of their brother.  And listen to what he said in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  There is glory ahead for all who believe in Christ because he not only paid for our sins with his death, but also rose from the dead victorious over death.  But in order to rise from the dead victorious, he had to die first.  His death is thus our life.  His death guarantees our glory.

God demonstrated his love for us in Christ’s death.  He showed his love for you, brother, for you sister.  What now?  How about this – we love him who first loved us.  In love, we offer our lives to him.  In gratitude, we sing our songs and pray our prayers.  We aim to please him with everything in our being.  We don’t hold anything back from his service.  Such a good and beautiful gospel calls for nothing less.  Don’t you agree?  AMEN.


Our loving Father,

Thank you for the love you have shown us in the death of Christ.  We’re glad through his death we may be right with you.  It encourages us to know that we have been reconciled with you through the blood of the cross.  We have joy in you through him.  Thank you for this, Father.  We thank you for freeing us from the slavery of sin through the death of Jesus.  The curse has been removed and we’re relieved at that.  We also praise you increasingly setting us free from the power of sin which still remains with us.  We do pray for that ongoing work of your Spirit in our lives.  Please help us with the fight.  We often feel so helpless and so weak.  We need you today and every day.  Please uphold us and help us to be steadfast and persevere.  And Father, we thank you for our hope of glory in Christ’s death.  We look forward to being with you and with him.  Help us to always be ready to be called before you, so that that moment will not be a time of anxiety, but of peace and joy.  Father, whether death comes sooner or later, please help us to die well.  Help us to die with the gospel hope in our hearts so that you are praised and our loved ones are comforted.        


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

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