Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The need for Jesus to die on the Cross and what it did

I had the privelege today of going and doing a Bible study with the Bolton University Christian Union, who I will be working with next year as part of my Relay year. I really enjoyed the Bible study and meeting them, and as a result I am really looking forward to helping them out next year!

We were looking at the cross in Romans 3:9-26, here is a summary of my notes and some of my thoughts on the passage.

The need for Jesus to die on the cross

In this passage Paul tells us straight away that everyone is under sin - both Jews and Greeks (who we can take to refer to all non-Jews) - no one is free of sin. Being under sin means that we are slaves to sin. Sin is our master, our slave driver. We are stuck in submission to it and just like a slave, we have no means whatsoever to rid ourselves of our master's power over us.

But what is sin? If you asked someone on the street what they thought they might say murder, rape or theft. They'd tell you that sin is the bad things we do against other people. Pressed hard enough, they might say that sin is something bad you do to yourself, such as gorging yourself on chocolate cake.

But verses 10-18 say a great deal about what the God views sin as. The list can basically be split into four types of sin - the sins of not seeking God, the sins of not being righteous, the sins of speech and the sins of violence to others. These are not the only types of sins by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a list of things most of us have done. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever caused ruin or misery to someone else by something you've done? I sure have. At the start and finish of this list, like a pair of bookends, there are the two lines "no one seeks God" and "there is no fear of God before their eyes". Whether or not the rest of the list of sins applies to you, I'm certain these two will do. No one can say to themselves that they've sought God all the time and lived and worshipped God all the time. So sin is not just things against other people, it is our attitude to God - whether or not we have sought to know him all the time and worshipped him the whole time.

But what about the Law (the Ten Commandments) surely that will make people okay with God? Wrong. Verse 19 says that the Law only speaks to those under the Law, namely the Jews. But even that was given to show peoples' sins - through the Law comes knowledge of sin. V19 also says that the world will be held accountable to God. If you flick back to chapter 2 verse 12, you'll see that it says that all who have sinned without the law (non Jews) will perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law. But chapter 3 verse 19 says that every mouth will be stopped when we are all held accountable to God - we won't have any defence when we die and are judged by God.

This is all terrible news for us as a human race. Firstly, we are all slaves to sin and as we are unable to liberate ourselves from it, we continue sinning without a choice. Secondly, we see that we are guilty of sinning in pretty much everything we do. Thirdly, when we die and face God we have no defence for how we have spent our lives. This is a bad situation - we are facing judgement from an infinitely powerful and perfect judging God. But please don't stop reading here - there is some incredibly good news.

The outworking of what Jesus did when he died on the cross

The God of the Bible is not only infinitely powerful and a perfect judge, he has an infinite amount of love for us. Verse 21 starts off by proclaiming that "the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law ... through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." Let's start to unpack what that means.

This righteousness comes from God. Which is good news, because we are slaves to sin and are unable to be righteous because of our slavery. God literally has to make us righteous because we can't do it ourselves.

It comes through what Jesus Christ did on the cross. Verse 24 talks of God putting "Jesus Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood." To propitiate is to make someone favourable to you - it used to happen all the time in pagan religions where pagans would sacrifice to their gods to make them favourable to them. Here it is the same thing with one crucial difference - God is propitiating himself towards us. He put forward Jesus as a propitiation through his blood.

To understand what happened on the cross it is necessary to look at Leviticus chapter 16. This part of the Bible talks about what the Israelite High Priests were to do on the Day of Atonement. In verses 1-3 we see God warning Aaron (the High Priest) not to come into a particular part of the tent where God was as Aaron would die. This is a result of God being both a perfectly good and pure God and Aaron being a human being and thus tainted with sin. Pure and non pure cannot mix with the pure being tainted. As God is God, he cannot be tainted and can't stand non pure - our sin must go, which means we must die. But before we start to think that God is nasty, he provides a way around this problem. In verses 11-19, we see God describing to Aaron how he must kill a goat and a bull to make atonement for his and Israel's sins. The sacrifices both take away Israels sins and satisfy God's anger against sin as the bull and goat have been given the punishment that Israel deserved for their sins - death. It reconciles Israel to God again, making them at one (this is the route of the word Atonement.) However, this is not a perfect sacrifice as it needed to be done every year...

Jesus death on the cross works in the same way as the death of the bull and goat, making atonement for our sins - it propitiates God and makes him favourable to us, as well as just taking the punishment for our sins. It makes us righteous again in God's eyes - our sins have been dealt with and God is favourable to us again.

On a side issue, there has been much controversy recently about whether or not what God did to Jesus constitutes child abuse. This is a very strange point of view - Jesus was both part of the Trinity and is thus God (therefore he planned the cross with the Father and the Holy Spirit) and he willingly died on the cross (Mark 14:36.) Maybe I'll blog on this in the future, in the meantime there are many good books on the matter for you to read or borrow.

Verse 24 tells us how Jesus' death on the cross not only affects our legal standing before God, but also redeems us from slavery to sin. We are now free from the power of sin which means we don't habitually sin and are not opposed to God in everything we do. When you see Christians doing good things - this is not them trying to earn forgiveness, but it is merely a result of what Jesus did on the cross in redeeming them from the power of sin. Please note that I have used the phrase free from the power of sin rather than free of sin - Christians still sin as they aren't completely free of sin, but as they mature as Christians they become more likely to withstand the temptations that sin gives out.

The great news of this passage is that this righteousness that God has provided is for everyone. It is a free gift from God which is received by faith. All that needs to be done is for you to believe what this passage says is true and realise that you are guilty of sinning and trust Jesus to make you right before God. It sounds simple. It really is. The hard work was done by Jesus on the cross. Not to say that being a Christian is easy, because it really isn't. I'll blog some more on that in the future. In the meantime find a Christian and ask them what it's like to live as a Christian.

Finally, verse 25 and 26 show us that Jesus dieing on the cross was absolutely essential. This is why Christians bang on about it so much (like I am doing right now!) Jesus dieing on the cross is the way that God can justify us and remain perfectly just himself. It's the way that he can be patient and allow peoples sins to go unpunished for the meantime and not judge people immediately for them.


So, maybe this has got you thinking, maybe it hasn't. Feel free to discuss below. I'll try and answer any questions. If you want to find out more about Jesus and Christianity, pick up a copy of the Bible, look for the Gospel of Mark (about three quarters the way through) and read it. There you'll see a written eyewitness account of Jesus' life and death and some of his teachings. If you can't find a copy of it, there's plenty online

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