Sunday Night Live Sermons
WHY DID JESUS DIE?
Who He Really Is
Recently Beverley and I were baby-sitting three of our grandchildren. We planned a busy time of activities, but they said they wanted to watch the DVD of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”. We objected that the film was too violent, and they might get upset as we do when we watch it, but our objections were met with pleas to see the film. So we sat with them thinking the youngest might get bored, or repulsed by the scouring and nailing to the Cross, or be turned off by the fact that all the speech was in Aramaic. To my amazement we were wrong on all accounts. Their eyes were fixed to the screen, and far from not understanding they kept telling me what was happening and what the Aramaic words meant. By the next afternoon they had watched it another two times and were engaging us in deep theological conversations. Jake and Samantha here have said it was watching that film of the experience of Jesus that brought them to this church and into faith.
Those who screen the “Jesus” film in third world countries, tell me that happens tens of thousands of times. Perhaps we know the story so well, that we miss the significance of Jesus dying on the Cross. That is why Mel Gibson made the film in a language no one speaks today — to make us think of the meaning of what was happening, to make people ask, “Why did Jesus die?” Christianity’s distinction from other religions focuses on this point: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil, chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven,” as Baroness Margaret Thatcher wrote in an article for our magazine “Impact”.
That is the uniqueness of Christianity. The Gospels do not end in the accidental death of the most wonderful man who had ever lived. They do not end with the tragic death of a man who message was love and whose gift was hope. They end on a note of triumph and power, brought about because “No one took away the life of Jesus; He chose to lay it down.” Jesus laid down His life for us because He was fulfilling God’s will, including fulfilling the prophecies of a suffering servant who would die for the sins of the world. Jn 19:28 “Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
The disciples could not comprehend His death. But Jesus knew that the path was leading to death and He chose to die. More than 50 times in John’s Gospel is the assurance that Jesus would give us life and our life would come through the giving of His life for us. Jesus had said: “I have come in order that you might have life life in all of its fullness I am the good shepherd who is willing to die for His sheep…I am willing to die for them. The Father loves Me because I am willing to give up My life in order that I may receive it back again. No one takes My life from Me. I give it up of My own free will. I have the right to give it up and I have the right to take it back. This is what My Father has commanded me to do.” Jn 10:7, 18 The death of Jesus was no accident.
The death of Jesus was no victory of cruel men. God allowed His Son to die, and His Son, of His own free will, chose to die. The death of Jesus had little to do with the coldly efficient execution by the Romans, the cruelty of the soldiers, the weak decision by Pilate, the scheming hypocrisy of Caiaphas, the denial of Peter or the betrayal of Judas — these were the accompaniments of the death of Jesus. None of them were the reason why Jesus died. We ask Why? Why the death? Why all the blood? Why did He die just outside the walls of Jerusalem, that golden city, dominated by one of the most magnificent Temples of the ancient world?
In a city whose main purpose revolved round that Temple, why did Jesus choose to die there? And why at the Passover when the city was thronged with people who had come to Jerusalem to make their sacrifice? The concept of offering sacrifices is foreign to us, but it was central to the worship of Israel. Israel had an agreement with God called a Covenant. God would be their God and bless them as a nation if they obeyed His laws. Their failure to be obedient meant they had to offer gifts of produce from the farms and vineyards and the sacrifice of animals. The Patriarchs, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, all built altars and made sacrifices. The Temples of Solomon and Herod had huge altars where animal sacrifices were made for the sins of the people. The more evil the sin, the more expensive the sacrifice. Poor people sacrificed a dove, such as Mary and Joseph did after the birth of Jesus. Part of the slain animal was placed on the altar and burnt. The rising smoke was a message to God of a person’s repentance of sin.
The religious Law said a sinner deserved to die. But a sacrifice could be made instead the blood of the sacrificed animal being given in place of the blood of the person who deserved to die. The animal’s life was the sinner’s substitute. Our punishment was taken upon the sacrifice. Jesus knew He was the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sin of the world. John the Baptist said: “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Paul said: “Christ, our passover lamb has been sacrificed.” 1 CorInthians 5:7 “God offered Him, so that by His death, He should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith in Him.” Romans 3:25
Christ’s death became an atoning sacrifice to enable the forgiving of our sins through the shedding of His blood. Why the blood? Why so much blood? They were the questions the cynical film critics asked of “The Passion of the Christ.” But they are the questions even my grandchildren can answer. The deep things of this world are often hidden from the smart cynic but understood by children. Jesus emphasized that we have responsibility today when we have wronged another, to be reconciled with that person. His emphasis was upon loving God and our neighbour and doing what was right, not in continuing to make sacrifices. He was the sacrifice on our behalf. Sacrifices were to be no longer needed. We may ask: how does the shedding of His blood upon the Cross help us today? In what ways does the choice of Jesus to die upon the Cross benefit us in the twenty first century? The answer is found in His understanding of the significance of what His blood accomplishes. His understanding has great relevance to us today.
1. THE BLOOD BRINGS LIFE.
We have seen traffic accident victims, pale and unconscious through loss of blood. But as a paramedic inserts a needle into the vein of the victim’s arm, a fresh supply of blood comes down the plastic tube and into the vein of the patient. Immediately, colour flows into the cheeks and consciousness returns. Life comes through the blood. In the history of Israel, the blood of a lamb, smeared on the doorposts of believing families saved the Jews from death in Egypt. Death passed over them, and ever since, Jews celebrate Passover, remembering the blood saved them. Life is in the blood. That is why Jews do not eat meat unless it is kosher drained totally of blood. Blood was sacred. It was the means of life and death and the Jew would not eat or drink the blood of any animal. Blood was sacred. It saved them.
Christians drink the communion cup on the words: “This is my blood which seals God’s covenant, my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:28. To Jews, this was shocking. They must never consume blood, but Jesus says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”. Jn 6:54 The blood of Jesus brings us life. We must partake of it to receive its benefits. Jesus Christ chose to die to bring us life. “Would you be free from your burden of sin, there’s power in the of the Lamb.”
2. THE BLOOD BRINGS CLEANSING.
Blood is messy, mysterious, to be immediately wiped away. But inside us it is the cleansing river of life.
Everyone of our hundred trillion cells receives a continuous supply of oxygen, nitrogen, sodium, potassium, calcium, sugars and hormones through that river of blood. Then, in return, the blood removes all waste and inert chemicals. Our blood vessels end to end can stretch for 60,000 miles. Each drop of blood on the way back to the heart and kidneys is purifying us, cleansing us. I have sat in hospital beside a person without kidneys connected to a dialysis machine. Their blood is being washed and purified in the machine that performs as their kidneys. 99% of the blood is returned into the body, but 1% is expelled by the kidneys as urine. Millions of red and white cells and platelets, feeding, purifying, cleansing, plugging leaks are in our veins.
Tie a tourniquet around your arm until the flow of blood stops. Then exercise your fingers. Soon weakness occurs, then sharp pain as your muscles cramp. Pain overwhelms and you will be forced to release the tourniquet. Then fresh blood moves in, bringing relief, movement, and freedom from soreness. By exercising your muscles without the removal of waste products from the oxygen used, you caused waste metabolites to collect in your muscles and toxin poisoning begins. But upon release, there comes the rush of cleansing blood. Your muscles are washed in cleansing blood. In the Bible a leper was washed in blood to cleanse their leprosy, a remarkable understanding of the cleansing power of blood. So the sins of people could be cleansed by being “washed in the blood of the Lamb.” Jesus Christ chose to die to cleanse us from sin. “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”
3. THE BLOOD BRINGS IMMUNITY.
In the twentieth century more people died from microscopic bacteria than from all the wars. Mankind’s greatest killer has been microbes. What keeps us safe from the ravages of disease is our blood. When bacteria infect us, the blood rallies, and the dormant white cells multiply and rage against the infection. Their number increases tenfold and defeats the disease ensuring good health. We help blood cells by giving them more time to fight disease through immunisation. A vaccine made from the blood of someone who has overcome the disease is injected into the patient causing a rapid increase of blood cells that overcome the disease.
By having the blood cells of the one who has overcome, we too overcome. The blood of Jesus Christ who overcame sin makes us immune to sin’s penalty. We will still be tempted and encouraged to sin, but we are able through His blood to withstand temptation and grow in Christian perfection. So victorious blood gives us immunity! Jesus Christ died to make us immune from sin’s effects. “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood; sealed my pardon with His blood; Hallelujah! What a Saviour!” So Jesus Christ has faced sin, and under His blood we are protected. The blood of Jesus Christ has given us life that is life abundant, given us cleansing from sin, and given us immunity to sin. The blood of Christ enables us to overcome. His blood brings us life, cleanses us from sin, and helps build our immunity towards sin. That is why Jesus died. We died that we might live. Decide now to live for Him.