Why the Sacrifice?

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Titus 2:13

. . . our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Titus 2:13-14 rsv

On the Friday called Good, we Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus. It stands at the center of our faith. Jesus is called the Good Shepherd, but the chief symbol of our faith is not a staff or a shepherd’s crook. He is the Bread of Life, but this wonderful provision cannot best convey the meaning of His ministry. He is the light of the world, but even the rays of the rising sun are not the image Christians cherish most. Wherever the gospel goes throughout the whole world, its sign is always the Cross. As Paul puts it, summing up the whole of his proclamation, “We preach Christ crucified.” That is not to say that His public ministry is downplayed. It is surely not to say that the miracle of His Resurrection was secondary. But nothing captures the heart of Christianity and the hearts of Christians like the Cross.

In the mystery of God’s purpose, the Crucifixion has always stood at the center. The Book of Revelation can call Jesus “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). It was a necessity that Jesus should die if God’s age-old purpose were to be fulfilled. The Son of Man, Jesus said, must be lifted up. He had to drink the terrible cup. There was no other way.

But why? we wonder. Why the sacrifice? This message of the crucified Jesus was in the ancient world a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks. A Messiah on a cross seemed blasphemous to Israel’s hopes. Weren’t those hung upon a tree under the curse of Almighty God? How could a detestable crucifixion fit into God’s holy plan?

To the Greco-Roman world, a cross was the most horrible and degrading of all symbols. Who could believe in One who had been executed in this sordid way? “This poor wretch is God?” they asked. “This death-row criminal a Savior?” And so to some, the message was offensive and still is, to others an object of ridicule and scorn. We wonder again, why the Crucifixion? Why, God, the Cross?

Here’s a couple of verses from one of Paul’s letters that gathers up a great deal of the biblical answer. I’m reading from Titus, chapter 2, verses 13 and 14:

. . . our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Let’s think for a moment about this rich condensation of Christian truth, asking ourselves as we do, “Why the sacrifice?” The question is sharpened by this tremendous affirmation of who the Crucified One is. The One who died on Good Friday, as everyone knows, was Jesus of Nazareth, a first-century Jew who lived in Galilee and died in Jerusalem. But years later, His followers can refer to Him as Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Anointed One in whom all Israel’s hopes find fulfillment. Jesus is the One, says Paul, in whom all the promises to God’s people have been realized, in whom God’s gracious rule has broken into history.

But more than that, believers speak of Jesus as “our great God.” They know Him as risen from the grave, Conqueror of death, Lord of the universe. They affirm that the One who died on Good Friday was the Almighty enfleshed in a human life, who now lives and reigns as the Savior of His people. Why then? The question comes with far greater intensity now. Why should the Lord of everything bear the agony and shame of crucifixion?

FOR US

Here’s the first great response, “[He] gave himself,” Paul writes, “for us.” What a flood of light that sheds on the Cross! Jesus was not the victim of a cruel fate. Though He was rejected by His own people, condemned by the authorities, and executed by the decree of imperial Rome, the Crucifixion was an anguish to which He freely submitted. Remember how He said, “No man takes [my life] from me, I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18)? Remember how He remained in Gethsemane when He knew that His captors were at hand? Remember how He refused to call on legions of rescuing angels? Remember how He resisted all the taunts to come down from the Cross? No. He would not escape His suffering. It was this, He said, for which He had been born. In the deepest sense, no one took away Jesus’ life. He gave it. He gave Himself.

What makes this a gospel, friends, good news for you and me and for all the world, is not only that He gave Himself, but that He did so for us. It was for our benefit that He suffered and died, on our behalf, in our place. The crucifixion was the unspeakable offering of a loving heart. God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. That’s why there is a Good Friday. It is for you and me, for all of us.

TO SET US FREE

Now the apostle begins to spell out what that sacrifice means, in what way it was for us. Listen: that He “should redeem us from all iniquity,” or “that He should set us free from all wickedness.” The basic idea in this word redeem is the price paid for a forfeited life. We get a glimpse of the death of Jesus here as a sacrifice offered to free us from the consequences of our own sins. It meant washing away our defilement, the stain that made us unfit to live in God’s presence. It meant lifting condemnation from us, since the whole weight of our sin had been borne by the crucified One. It meant setting us free from all our bondage. Christ died to redeem us so that all the peril and misery into which we had brought ourselves might be overcome. He gave Himself to open the prison doors so that we could walk out into the sunshine again.

The word translated iniquity here means literally, “lawlessness.” Lawlessness is the supreme expression of rebellion against God. We are not willing to be subject to His rule. We’ll conform our lives to no standard except one of our own choosing. We are determined to go our own way. But Christ dies to redeem us from that headlong course, that madness that can lead only to destruction and despair. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

TO MAKE US HIS OWN

But that isn’t all. What God had in mind in the death of His Son was also to “purify for himself a people of his own.” What God seeks is a restored relationship with us. In the dawn of creation, He had made human beings for Himself, in His own image, to live in happy fellowship with Him. Sin, our sin, changed all that. Our disobedience created distance between ourselves and God. A great gulf now separates us from His presence. A flaming sword turns every way to block the path back to the tree of life.

But God’s love, though grieved, was not defeated. He made known a desire and set in motion a plan to bring His banished ones back. The whole of the Old Testament is the revelation of this searching, seeking love. The worship of tabernacle and temple was designed to show both God’s quest for fellowship, and the barrier to it which sin had caused. Centuries later, in the death of Jesus, the veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The way was opened up again into the presence of God and all His wandering children were welcomed home.

Just this morning I heard some wonderfully cheering news. A young man and his wife, parents of four lovely children, had come together again after months of estrangement and separation. Once again they were a family. Once again they belonged to each other. My heart leaped with joy. Reconciliation! That’s what God desired and gave His Son to die for, to make us His very own, a people for His possession, His dear children back forever. For that to happen, for estranged ones to be restored to His fellowship, they had to be purified by a great sacrifice.

TO MAKE US EAGER FOR GOOD

But one more thing is added here. The Cross is not only God’s redeeming power to free us from our lawlessness and His reconciling love to bring us home again. It’s also the sign that God wants to make us a particular kind of people for our life here in this world. Christ died for us so that we may be, as the apostle puts it, “zealous for good deeds.”

The apostle, in this brief letter, has a great deal to say on this subject. He wants Titus, the young friend to whom he’s writing, to show himself in all respects “a model of good deeds.” And he twice urges this preacher of the gospel to carry on his ministry in such a way that his hearers also may “learn to apply themselves to good deeds.”

The Christian gospel reminds us over and over again that we are not saved by our good works. It’s not by works of righteousness that we have done. No man or woman, no boy or girl, can ever be justified, made right with God, by the works of the law. Our works don’t measure up. All we like sheep have gone astray. There is none righteous, no, not one. Our best efforts are shot through with selfishness and sin. It’s God’s grace alone by which we are redeemed, Christ’s sacrifice alone that sets us free, the ministry of the Holy Spirit alone that transforms our lives. Salvation – from beginning to end – is “of the Lord.”

But good deeds have a place. They are not the root of our salvation but they are surely the fruit of it. God’s design is that His redeemed people, His beloved children, should, as Titus puts it, “adorn the gospel” by the way they live. In them, the real beauty of gracious living is to appear for all to see.

It’s moving for me to read the journals of John Wesley, to learn about the beginnings of what we now know as the Methodist Church. Wesley and his young companions were dubbed “methodists” because they were so methodical and disciplined in their Christian living. They were not only concerned to live pure and blameless lives and to witness boldly to their salvation in Jesus Christ. All of their group meetings and class meetings were also strategy sessions for doing good. Were there hungry people to be fed? Were there children to be cared for? Were there sick ones unattended? Were there human needs unmet, prisoners, addicts, prostitutes, for whom no one cared? Why then, there was work for God’s people to do. And you get the impression that all this was not for these early Methodists a matter of grim, unwelcome duty. They were zealous, they were eager about it. They enjoyed it.

I heard just this week about a lady in Mexico named Martha Soliz. A friend of mine, born of missionary parents there, told her story. She had taught him Spanish when he was a tiny child. In many ways, she was like a second mother to him.

My friend went back to visit her in Mexico recently. She was living in a simple one-room house with a sheet that divided it into two sections. Martha embraced him like a long-lost child, told him about her children. All three were now studying at the university.

Her guest was surprised to notice seven little children around the house. Where had they come from? Well, it seems that a mother nearby had died leaving four children behind. The father was not willing to assume responsibility for them. “So,” Martha said, “I took them.”

“But that’s only four. What about the other three?” “Well, there was another young mother who was left by her husband with three children. Later another man wanted to marry her but he didn’t want to care for those children. “So,” says Martha, “I took them.”

In two large tins in her back yard, she does more than a thousand pieces of clothing a day, washing, in order to keep her children in the university and her new family in school. “And all of them,” she said with a beaming face, “all of them know Jesus Christ.”

Why the sacrifice? To create people like Martha, fountains of good deeds. God seeks, through the gift of His Son, redeemed human beings, children of His own heart, eager to do good. Oh, may we, through faith in this Jesus, be people like that!

Prayer: Father, how we thank You for the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ and for all that it means for the lives of people. May everyone sharing this program so trust in Jesus as to be transformed people. In the name of Jesus. Amen.