Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big Rocks: Debt Free – Isaiah 53:4-12 and Luke 23:26-29, 24:1-8

This week we are continuing our preaching series entitled Big Rocks where we look at the big rocks or tenets of the Christian faith. Last week we spoke about Grace and how Grace impacts and informs our lives as Christians. Today we are going to talk about Salvation, why it was necessary, and what our response should be to this incredible act of love.

Earlier this year, Debbie and I had the incredible opportunity to spend two weeks following the path of the Exodus of the Israelites, from Egypt through Jordan and eventually traveling into Israel. It was our tenth wedding anniversary present to ourselves a little early. The last several days of our trip were the most meaningful for us as we spent them in the city of Jerusalem. And on one of those days we got the privilege of walking for ourselves in the footsteps of Jesus’ last hours before his death.

We started the morning in the center of the old city of Jerusalem at what would have been the Temple in Jesus’ day. Now on top of the Temple Mount is a Muslim mosque called the Dome of the Rock. We got the opportunity to walk around outside the mosque and one of the things we came across on the grounds was this tiny cupola sitting off by itself with no sign to indicate what it was. When we asked our tour guide Avi, he told us that many people thought that this marked the site of the old temple’s Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwelt. That took our breath away. And right on the edge of the Temple Mount is the Wailing Wall. We got to go there and pray and it was such a joyful time because it was bar mitzpah day and the place was packed with families who were celebrating. Later we made our way to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus would have prayed with his disciples before being arrested. Then we traveled on to the high priest Caiaphas’ house and stood on the steps that Jesus would have gone up to go before Caiaphas on trial. Then we followed the route to the ruins of the Praetorium, now with a convent built on top, and we saw the stones where Jesus would have stood for his trial before Pilate and been beaten by the soldiers. Then we followed the Via Dolorosa. It is also called the way of suffering or the way of Calvary and it’s said to be the path that Jesus took as he was led through Jerusalem carrying his cross on the way to be crucified. Something that had never clicked for me before until we were there was the fact that Jesus was paraded through the crowded city streets, right through the marketplace. This was done to discourage others from committing these capital kinds of offenses. And finally we went out to the supposed site of Golgatha just outside the city gates where Jesus would have been crucified – atop an outcropping of rock that looks like a skull. At one point I kind of went off from the group a bit and stood on the steps Jesus would have climbed to get to Caiaphas' house. And from that one spot I could see it all. I could see the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and was arrested. I could see the path the guards would have taken him down to reach Caiaphas' house, the steps Christ would have climbed to reach the door. We had just been inside and in the dungeon where he would have been kept, I even got to read Scripture to the group from in the dungeon. And I could see the path Jesus would have walked, the Via Dolorosa, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where they say Golgotha is. All of that I could see from that one spot. And then because we serve a risen Savior, we concluded our time in Jerusalem by visiting the Garden Tomb – and Debbie and I had the privilege of actually preaching there that day. It gave me goosebumps then and it still does today.

What we discovered on this trip was that the Bible really seemed to come alive for us as we traveled and walked in the places where so many events had occurred. Scripture took on a whole new meaning because sometimes as we read passages over and over, especially one like the crucifixion scene from Luke’s Gospel this morning, we become almost jaded to the details. It’s hard to understand and visualize from a modern perspective what was happening and somehow the crucifixion of Jesus loses its powerful effect. I came home with a new appreciation and understanding of how much God must truly love us in order to allow his only Son to suffer through such a humiliating and painful death for our sakes.

But Why?
But why would Christ have to suffer such a humiliating and painful death for our sakes? The short answer is because we are sin prone and that combined with our free will to make choices, men and women have the capacity to sin and turn away from God and we do it alot. You see sin has been around since the beginning of humanity when Adam and Eve ate of the tree in the Garden. And since God did not create us to be alone but to be connected with Him and since sin is that which separates us from God, ourselves, and those around us, there had to be some kind of bridge to cross that great chasm.

In the Old Testament it was done in the form of animal sacrifices. The Israelites were instructed by God to offer many different kind of sacrifices to God – some as a way of saying thank-you, some as a way of marking special occasions, but most often as a way of atoning or paying for their sins. This last kind of offering, a sin offering, involved sacrificing the life of a perfect animal, usually a lamb, so that God would forgive their sins. These sacrifices had to be made over and over again as a person sinned throughout his or her life.

But in the New Testament, everything changed! God expressed His love for us in a way never before seen, and never seen since. God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ to meet us where we are, to be one of us, to love as one of us, to feel pain as one of us, and eventually die like one of us. Jesus did not come like a mighty conquering King to vanquish evil, but rather Christ came in the form of a little baby, vulnerable and helpless. And because of that there is nothing that we can experience that Christ has not already been through. But unlike us Christ was perfect. And unlike us He came to be the perfect sacrifice to be the bridge so that we can be restored to a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Our Debt Paid
Our Old Testament lesson this morning from Isaiah was a prophecy of a time when there would be one final sacrifice that would pay for all sins, so that when it was fulfilled, no longer would anyone have to go repeatedly to the temple and offer up a lamb to pay for sins. Did you listen as that passage was being read? It should have sounded similar to the account of Jesus’ last days in Luke. That’s because this prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the New Testament we find that Jesus is the final sacrifice - the ultimate sacrificial lamb. His blood shed on Calvary so long ago paid the price for the sins of the world - people who died before him, people then, people now and people who will come after us.

There’s an important line in the Gospel of Luke which shows that Jesus was indeed the final sacrifice needed for the forgiveness of sins. In chapter 23, verse 44 – the Bible speaks of the sky growing dark in the middle of the day as Jesus uttered his last words and died. And as he was dying, the veil or curtain in the temple was torn in two. A lot of people just skip over that and misunderstand the symbolism. The curtain that is being talked about here was the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the temple. It was said that the Most Holy Place was where the presence of God dwelt and for this reason no one except the high priest was allowed in there and he was only allowed in once a year to make a sacrifice on behalf of the sins of the entire nation on the Day of Atonement. By tearing the temple veil, it was as if God were saying that his presence which had been barred from humanity was now being made available to all men. Access to God is now open through the death of Christ.

There is not a person born into this world who is not need in need of the salvation that Jesus’ death provides. Romans 3:23 tells us that we are all sinners. And there is not a thing in the world that we could ever do on our own that would be enough to pay for our sins. But the amazing thing is that Jesus did it for us. It's like having a huge debt at the bank that you couldn’t ever possibly hope to pay off, and going into the bank one day to find out that someone you didn’t even know paid your debt off for you. The bank register now shows “Debt Free.”

Salvation is made possible through the atoning death of Jesus Christ upon the cross and his resurrection; to receive salvation from sins, one must repent of their sins and have faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If someone paid your debt off at the bank, would you go and argue with the bank manager and say that you didn’t want it paid off? My guess is that you would take the freely given gift and be thankful for it. That’s the same thing with salvation – it is a free gift from God and your sins have already been paid for – you just have to decide whether or not you are going to accept God’s gift and let it change your life.

So what do we do with this “Big Rock” of salvation? What should our response be to this free gift of salvation, our debt marked “Price Paid in Full”?

Have You Accepted The Gift For Yourself?
First, have you accepted the gift for yourself? Maybe you are just hearing about this for the first time ever this morning, or maybe you’ve heard it before but for some reason it’s making more sense than it has in the past. Make sure you accept God's gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ! Don’t leave here this morning without getting that squared away. If you have questions, I’d be glad to talk with you about them. It’s the single most important decision you can make in this life.

Do You Make It A Practice To Share This Gift With Others?
Second, if you have already accepted this free gift and Jesus is a part of your life, do you make it a practice to share this gift with others? I’m sure that we can all think of at least one person that we know - whether it’s a neighbor, friend, co-worker, relative – who still needs to make this decision for themselves. Make sure you share with them the good news that their debt of sin has already been paid for by Jesus, and the possibility of a new life in Christ!

The whole world needs to hear that their life can have meaning. And that meaning begins when they accept the free gift of salvation, paid in full by Jesus the sacrificial lamb upon the cross on Calvary.

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