A few weeks ago as I tucked my son into bed he asked: 'Dad, when will you die?'. That was followed by 'who will look after me when you die? What happens if mum dies too? What happens when you die? Will you come back to life like Jesus did? Does it hurt when you die?'
Death is real - we will all face it sooner or later. And it can be terrifying. But the good news is that Christians do not need to fear death.
We continue in a series of talks following the 39 articles - 39 short statements written down when the Church of England was started. Each word is carefully chosen as a summary of the Bible's teaching in a particular area and today our topic is 'The Cross of Christ'.
The articles we're covering today are part 2 and 3 of article 2 - we're simply going to work our way through it bit by bit to see how it summarises what the Bible teaches and think a bit about why it matters. So let's dive straight in and understand more about the Cross, so that we can delight in what Jesus did for us.
1. “The Son… who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried
We start halfway through Article 2. The first half is all about who Jesus is. Ian tackled that last week. We saw that the Son, Jesus is one person who is fully God and fully man. And that's really important because he needs to be both to save us – he can dowhat he did because of who he is!
And the first thing brought to our attention is the fact that Jesus truly suffered. He was put to death by being nailed to a cross. And because he was fully man it really did hurt. He really did die and was buried. It was not just a show.
The point here is very simple - this really happened! Many people witnessed it. It is a fact. And that matters. If he was not really crucified then the benefits of his death are also not real.
We've just been singing of how great it is to be a Christian - having 'a hope so sure', 'a life so true' and knowing that 'we'll rise to share his endless life'. All of that is true because Jesus was nailed to the cross..
But there's another reason why the fact that Jesus truly suffered is significant. As we shall see, His suffering is what we should have received as a punishment for our sin.
What does such a severe punishment show us? That sin is really, really bad and that it matters to God. We see how bad our sin has been when we see how bad the punishment is that we now deserve.
That's a challenge. Most of the time we don't think we deserve a punishment that severe. Which may be why we are in danger of thinking (to ourselves of course), 'oh not another sermon on the cross'. Can't we hear about something else?'
As you know Lent started this week. It may be healthy to join millions in giving up certain foods, or technology. But surely the best way to spend lent is to spend it asking God - no better begging God - to help us see again that our sin really matters. Make Job's prayer your own, 'Tell me, what have I done wrong? Show me my rebellion and my sin." Job 13:23, NLT.
So Jesus truly suffered. The rest of article 2 shows why he suffered and that is my 2nd point:
2. to reconcile his Father to us
The purpose of Jesus' suffering on the cross was to restore our broken relationship with God.
Look at Colossians 1:21. It says this: "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, "
That word 'alienated' describes the relationship between every human being who has ever lived and the God who created them. Alienated: far away from God, a stranger to him or more accurately his enemy. It's like that awful situation when you're with a close friend or your wife and you're not speaking to one another.
How did that happen? It all goes back to Adam and Eve who rebelled against God's loving instructions and rejecting Him by refusing to listen to or obey his commands. As v21 puts it, they were 'hostile in their mind' towards God. This original sin (or original guilt as the article puts it) has affected every one of us. We are all born with exactly the same hostile mind or rebellious attitude. That problem is not about what we do - it's how our hearts feel towards God. But it does then leads on to the bad things we do, to 'evil deeds' as v21 puts it.
Both those things rightly make us unacceptable to God and destroys our relationship with him. Because he is holy, he cannot tolerate our sin - in fact the Bible describes his response to our sin as anger or wrath.
But Jesus removes that, so we can now be accepted back into a relationship, reconciled with God and treated just as if we had done nothing wrong. Look at v22: [and you...] "he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him"
We were far away: now we can have peace with God. We were his enemies: now nothing can separate us from the love of God. Why? Because Jesus died on the cross. This was God's plan from the beginning...to be reconciled to us and to restore all that had been lost as a result of man's fall in the Garden of Eden.
There is so much to say about this, but surely this should firstly remind us that God’s grace is not cheap! It costs. A lot. So we should live gratefully for all he has done.
Secondly, this shows us how much value God places on human life. Every single individual - unborn, young, old, disabled - everyone of us matters to God. He created us in his image and Jesus died at great cost in order to reconcile his Father to us. We matter to God - and that should change the way we treat each other.
3. and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.”
The key word this article uses to describe Jesus' death on the cross is 'sacrifice'. What image does that word bring to your mind?
One common image comes from pagan religion and a belief that natural disasters or lack of crops were punishments from the gods. How could these angry gods be calmed down? By a child or something else being sacrificed. The technical word for this is 'propitiation' - I divert God's anger away from me to something else.
When the Bible uses the language of sacrifice we need to make sure we understand the word correctly. The biblical concept of sacrifice comes not from pagan religion but from the Old Testament. God taught us that a substitute could take the punishment we deserve for our sin. He did this using the visual aid of animals being killed in the temple.
How did it work? You arrived with your animal. You lay your hand on the animal, you confess your sin. It was a symbolic way of transferring your sins onto the animal and then the animal was killed. And as you witnessed its killing, you said that what is taking place now on the animal is what I deserved. But because there is a substitute, I am able to be forgiven. That is what the symbol was about. But they knew that this was not the real sacrifice - it was just a picture of what the real substitute would do.
The prophecy of Isaiah 53 described the real substitute God would provide who would be sacrificed so we can have peace with God:
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
God did provide a substitute to take the punishment we deserve. The substitute needs to be human like us. An animal would not do. The substitute also needs to be without sin. Jesus was that substitute - fully man and without sin and always pleasing to the father. Yet the punishment for our sin was placed on him.
2 Corinthians 5:21 "For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
This raises some important questions. First: If God wants to forgive us, why doesn’t he just do it? Did Jesus have to die?
The answer is that sin needs to be dealt with justly - God cannot ignore it, or pretend it doesn't matter. If God were not angry with sin, then he would not be good. But God is good and so forgiving us means punishing sin. So yes, Jesus had to die so that it is possible for God to remain just (in not leaving sin unpunished) and to forgive us.
Second: Isn't it unjust for God to allow someone else who did nothing wrong to be punished for our sins?
This is where we see the difference between the cross and pagan sacrifice. Yes, God's anger is diverted away from us but the point is that it is not me who is doing the diverting.
As we saw last week, Jesus was fully man AND fully God. So God is not punishing someone else! Jesus is not an 'innocent third party'. God himself is taking the punishment for our sin by substituting Himself for us in the person of Jesus.
Third: Did Jesus die for every sin ever committed by everybody?
1 John 2:2 tells us "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
Notice this verse says Jesus died for the sins of all the world - rather than all the sinners in the world. The bible teaches that Jesus' death on the cross was sufficient to atone for every sin. Of course that does not mean everyone is forgiven and saved: it is not automatic.
The offer of forgiveness through Jesus' death on the cross is available to all so if you haven't done so yet can I urge you: take it! There is no other way we can be saved. If you'd like to know how - come and speak with me or take a Why Jesus from the back of church.
So Jesus was a sacrifice and died for us. So what?
The amazing news is that his death dealt with every possible kind of sin. Both the root cause of our separation from God (original guilt) and all its after effects (our sins) have been dealt with. It is not now possible to sin in a way that cannot be forgiven by the blood of Christ.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
Charitie L de Chenez (1841-1923) © Jubilate Hymns CCL No 2054
Also, nothing more is needed - the cross is sufficient!
When God looked at the payment for sin that his Son made on the cross, paying for the sin of the world that the Father had put upon him, it was so complete and full that he was able to declare, “I am satisfied with my Son’s payment for sin.” That is, “My Son’s payment so perfectly and completely fulfills my just demands that no other, and no further, payment is required.”
4. As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also it is to be believed, that he went down into Hell.
Article 3 states that after Jesus died and was buried and before he was raised Jesus went down into hell. The original wording in English of the Apostles Creed said the same thing.
What does the word hell in this article mean? It refers to the Greek word 'hades' which is a general term with variety of meanings (as you can see from my outline). It does not necessarily mean the place of final punishment - which is what we now mean when we use that word.
So does the Bible teach this?
Acts 2:31 is the clearest passage that teaches it and you can see that on the handout.
The point it makes is that Christ was not abandoned to Hades. And if he wasn't abandoned there, then he must have been there! That however is as far as I think we can safely go. The Bible simply states that Jesus was in Hades it without giving an extensive explanation.
What I love about article 3 is that it doesn't try and explain it. There are some things the Bible tells us without explaining them to us and we are on dangerous territory when we try and explain those things that the Bible simply states.
It also shows the strength of the Anglican 39 articles in being deliberately relaxed about things that are not essential to allow us to have unity in primary things and freedom in secondary things.
Why is this included in the 39 articles? In order to give us assurance in the face of death.
Death is real - we will all face it sooner or later. And it can be terrifying. But the good news is that Christians do not need to fear death. As the songs says, "Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered." (Keith Getty and Stuart Townend © 2003 Kingsway CCL No 2054)
So, to end I want to read a quote from David Holloway's book, 'Where did Jesus Go?':-
"It has to be admitted that the doctrine of the descent of Christ to the dead is not one of the essentials of the faith.
Its importance is not so much theological as practical. It is a doctrine of practical importance for the Christian, and it is here you get assurance and hope. It tells us that Jesus Christ was truly utterly human, as well as divine. He really died. He' entered Hades'. He experienced all that death means from a human point of view.
This is indeed good news. It is a wonderful answer to our natural fear of death. Even though we may believe that God has accepted us in Christ, as the Christian believes to be the case, we can still be worried and anxious in the face of death. No doubt for some here... death may be relatively near. While you may believe that the 'sting of death' has been drawn by Christ' (1 Cor 15:56), you may still fear the 'act of dying'. Like child going into a darkened room, in their better moments they know there is nothing to fear. But they still prefer to go into that room with someone else.
The 'descent to the dead' by Jesus tells us that he knows all about the darkened room of death. What is more by his 'descent' he seems to have turned that darkened room, which used to be thoughts of as a place of 'shadows', truly into a place of pleasure, 'paradise'. At least that is where he promised the penitent thief he would go that first Good Friday (Luke 23:43). Jesus wants that to be a room without shadows for us.
He wants to go with us into and through that room of death when our time comes. He wants to be with us in our dying and our death. The doctrine of the 'descent' tells us that he is an experienced traveller. The Puritans knew that well. Richard Baxter put it like this 300 years ago: 'Christ leads me through no darker room than he went through before'. And John Preston, another Puritan, when he lay dying was asked if he feared death. No, he whispered, I shall change my place, but I shall not change my company."