Was Christ’s Death Just an Inspiring Example?

John Stott: “the death of Jesus is more than an inspiring example. If this was all there is to it, much of what we find in the Gospels would make no sense. There are those strange sayings, for instance, in which Jesus said he would ‘give his life as a ransom for many’ and shed his blood….. ‘for the forgiveness of sins’. There is no redemption in an example. A pattern cannot secure our pardon.

Besides, why was he weighed down with such heavy and anxious apprehension as the cross approached? How shall we explain the dreadful agony in the garden, his tears and cries and bloody sweat? ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Again, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’ Was the ‘cup’ that he hesitated to drink from the symbol of death by crucifixion? Was he then afraid of pain and death? If so, his example may have been one of submission and patience, but it was hardly one of courage. Plato tells us that Socrates drank his cup of hemlock in the prison cell in Athens ‘quite readily and cheerfully.’ Was Socrates braver than Jesus? Or is it that their cups contained different poisons? And what is the meaning of the darkness, and the cry of abandonment, and the tearing from top to bottom of the Temple curtain in front of the Holy of Holies? There is no way of understanding these things if Jesus died only as an example. Indeed some of them would seem to make his example less commendable.

Not only would much in the Gospels remain mysterious if Christ’s death were purely an example, but our human need would remain unsatisfied. We need more than an example; we need a Savior. An example can stir our imagination, kindle our idealism and strengthen our resolve, but it cannot remove the stains of our past sins, bring peace to our troubled conscience or restore our relationship with God.

In any case, the apostles leave us in no doubt about the matter. They repeatedly associate Christ’s coming and death with our sins:

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins (1 John 3:5).

Here are the three great writers of the New Testament, the apostles Paul, Peter and John unanimous in linking his death with our sins.”

Quoted from pages 109-110 of John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity, (2008).

Have you met the Man who does all things well?

“He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 6:37

 

I have never met a man who does “all things well.” We have a lot of men in our church that could be classified as “Jack of all trades” because they are gifted in so many different ways, but I have never met a man or woman who did all things well. That is, until I met Jesus. The man Jesus Christ is unique in all of world history. There is no one else like him. He is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things and He wants to rescue your life from the pit.

 

Friend, have you met this man who does all things well? Let me tell you right now that when you meet this man, you won’t be able to stop blabbing about him. You will be like the people in Mark 7 – you won’t be able to shut up. You will be telling all your friends and neighbors and family about Jesus. Like the woman at the well in John 4, you will say, “come meet a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29). He is the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.

 

Our greatest need as human beings is to be forgiven of our sin. I guess you could say that goes along with knowing Jesus. Until we meet this Man who does all things well, we tend to think highly of ourselves. We tend to compare ourselves with others and when we do that we end up looking pretty good. But when we encounter the Light, as He is in the light, we are exposed. We end up seeing how wretched and sinful we really are, as we stand before a just and holy God.

 

But let me tell you what Jesus will do for you. He will take your wretchedness and your sinfulness and cover you with the garments of salvation. He will take your ugly, messed up life and make you beautiful. How? By giving you His own righteousness. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) This is the most amazing transaction in the world, and God will do it for you.

 

So what must you do to be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31), repent of your sins and trust Him for your salvation. Then, having met this Man, you too will say, “He has done all things well.”

Telling Our Faith Stories

One thing we don’t do enough of as Christians is to tell our faith stories to one another. What I mean by “faith stories” is quite simple – stories that communicate God’s faithfulness and sufficiency to meet our every need. I think there are at least two reasons for this. First, we aren’t stepping out in faith and trusting God so we simply don’t have any. And second, we are fearful that if we tell them, it will sound prideful on our part. We fear that if we tell the story, it will come across as if we are trying to gain glory from it. Let me affirm that our testimony as Christians should be centered upon the message of the gospel (1 John 1:1-4), but at the same time our testimony should be backed up by evidences of God’s faithfulness in the here and now (Acts 12:17). A couple weeks ago, I decided to tell one of these faith stories to our church. What follows is an account.  

 

Several years ago, I believed that God was calling me to attend a conference. At the time, I was in seminary in Vancouver and the conference was in Atlanta. If you know your geography, you will know that that’s a long trip and it would have to be by airplane – so I booked a flight. I also booked a hotel that was pretty close to where the conference would be. Now, given my flight times, I would have to stay three nights, but I only booked a hotel for the middle night. It sounds foolish but that is just how I felt God was leading me. I would have to trust God to provide accommodations for the other nights. There was also another thing that would have to be of faith. At the time, I wasn’t yet 25 and if you want to rent a car, you need to be 25 or older (maybe this has changed by now). And I didn’t have the money to hire a taxi take me all over the place so both transportation and my accommodations for two nights would have to be “by faith.”

 

As this trip approached I was starting to get concerned about how everything would come together. But the week before I left, as I was telling one of my friends about the trip and some of the details, he said that his wife’s brother was in university in Atlanta. I can’t remember how it all came together, I just remember this guy agreed to pick me up at the airport and then take me to the conference the next day. Coupled with that, another one of my seminary friends said he had a pastor friend in Atlanta who was attending the same conference I was attending. He gave me his cell number and once again, this connection would prove to be vital.

 

So off I went to attend this conference. My flight arrived at midnight the night before the conference started and just as planned my friend’s wife’s brother (sounds funny doesn’t it?) picked me up, and I stayed overnight with him and his little family. Early the next morning, he drove me to the conference about a half hour away. It’s amazing to me, but that’s the only contact I have ever had with him. God placed him in my life for that very short time and I have never talked to him again.

 

I attended the first day of the conference, and quite frankly, the conference was a disappointment. I could tell you more about it but I think the Lord had me there for other reasons. The theme of this trip was – faith.

 

After the first day ended, somehow, I was able to find transportation to the hotel I had booked. I had a good nights sleep but there was no “resting easy” in the sense that I knew the next morning I would have to find someone to drive me to the conference center. I could only rest in the knowledge that God would care of everything. The next morning, yet again, the Lord provided free transportation to the conference. A coincidence? I think not.

 

During the second day of the conference I was able to connect with my other friend’s friend who was a pastor. I didn’t have a cell phone so I think I was just borrowing other people’s cell phones but eventually I got a hold of him and we found each other and really hit it off. After the conferenced was over I was privileged to spend some time with the staff of his church and they took me out for a fancy meal and then ice cream afterward. By now, you won’t be surprise, but my new friend asked if I would like to stay overnight at his place. Of course I agreed, and after a short sleep he took me to the airport first thing in the morning (like 4am) for me to catch my flight home.

 

There is more that I could tell you about that trip but I think you get the picture. Just like the Christian life, this trip was all about faith. I remember when I first told that story to my wife (we were dating at the time) – she thought I was crazy! After six years of marriage, she now knows that without a doubt, but as I look back on that whole experience, I see God’s hand. Simply put – He took care of me. Not having transportation and accommodations was no barrier too difficult for God (Job 42:2).

 

My wife and I could tell many more stories of God’s faithfulness in our lives (you may have already heard some of them). But as the apostle Paul reminds us, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17). Paul also tells us, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). God must get all the glory! Let me encourage you to tell your faith stories, and to tell them often, but do so in a way that honors God. The orientation of faith is always off of self and onto God. Telling these stories will remind others that God is faithful and trustworthy. So go ahead – tell your story!      

The Apologetic of a Transformed Life

I once read the story of a pastor who was invited to debate an atheist. The pastor agreed to debate on one condition – that the atheist would bring 50 people who had been transformed by being atheists. The pastor in turn would bring 50 people who had been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. As you may have guessed, the atheist admitted he would not be able to find that many people impacted by rejecting Christian theism.

 

As you seek to give an answer for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15), please don’t forget about the power of testimony. Please don’t forget about what Christ has done in your own life, but also in the lives of millions upon millions of people the world over. Like the blind man healed by Jesus, we can confidently say as Christians, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). It is only Jesus Christ who has the power to transform and heal our sin-sick lives. By all means, we must seek to present a rational defense of the Christian faith, just don’t forget that there is a place for testimony in our apologetics.

 

No one has ever been transformed by rejecting the existence of God. But millions upon millions of people have been transformed by the rescuing power of Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures remind us, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). So lets get to work, telling the world what Christ has done for us.

What People Believe About Hell

According to a recent poll (June 6, 2013), “56 percent of Americans surveyed believe in the devil, 53 percent believe in hell and 43 percent believe in hell as “a place of suffering and punishment where people go after they die”. Some might think these numbers are low, but it is quite remarkable that more people believe in hell than don’t believe in hell. The only explanation for this is Christianity’s influence on the culture. The other side of the coin is as follows: “An equal amount of respondents (38 percent) believe that people who commit violent criminal acts go to hell as well as those who don’t ask God’s forgiveness for their sins before they die. Greater than 61 percent of respondents believe they’re going to heaven, while only 1.5 percent believe they will go to hell.” So while most people believe in hell, almost nobody (1.5 percent) thinks they are going there. Of course this doesn’t surprise us. If a person has a notion of heaven and hell, chances are they believe they are going to heaven.

In short, Christian’s have been successful in helping people see that hell is real, but unsuccessful in helping people see that apart from Christ, they are headed there. Back in the day, hellfire and brimstone preachers made a name for themselves by focusing on God’s judgment. In my estimation, most preachers today focus on God’s love with little or even no mention of God’s judgment. The Bible speaks of both and if we are going to be faithful to our calling as preachers, we must preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Jesus spoke more about hell than everyone else in the Bible combined and did not shy away from speaking about the consequences for those who reject God’s gracious offer of salvation. So whether we are preaching, doing personal evangelism, or counseling a friend, let’s not shy away from speaking the truth about God, and the consequences of rejecting Christ.

The Shame of the Gospel

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16

Let’s make an assumption here. The apostle Paul would not have said these words if he didn’t feel there was reason to be ashamed. If there were nothing shameful about the gospel, then it would be pointless to make such a statement. In all reality, the gospel will always be considered “shameful” by the world. Why do I say that?

1. The Gospel tells me I am a sinner.

No one wants to be told they are a sinner, but that’s what the Bible tells us (Romans 3). If we don’t understand that we are sinners who have broken God’s law, we will never come to see our need for Christ.

2. The Gospel tells us there is only one way to heaven.

Postmodernism has taught us quite the opposite – that there are many ways to heaven and many ways to God – you just have to pick your vehicle to heaven.

It’s tough to respond to that, isn’t it? I can remember sharing the gospel with a friend of mine several years ago. After I was done, he told me – “that’s great Dan that Christianity works for you, but it doesn’t work for me.” That kind of response is quite common today. To affirm the exclusivity of Christ does not sit well with most people.

3. The Gospel tells us that a man was and is God.

For 2000 years, scores of people have found it shameful to say that Jesus was God incarnate – God in the flesh.  But that’s what the Bible tells us – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As Christians, we affirm that Jesus was fully God and fully man. It is precisely because of that that Jesus could be Redeemer.

4. The Gospel tells us that one day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

This is another tough one for modern man to accept. We have come to believe that we are not accountable to anyone and no one has a right to judge us – even God. But the bible teaches that everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ where we will give an account for everything we have ever done. Our only hope will be the mediating work of Jesus Christ. If you can’t say the blood of Jesus has covered your sin, God will hold you to account.

5. The Gospel tells us that we can’t work our way to heaven.

It is only natural to think that we should be rewarded for our efforts. For example, if we have worked for many years at our job, we expect that eventually we should be rewarded with an adequate pension or retirement plan. We have paid our dues and now it’s only fair that we are rewarded accordingly. Once again, however, the Gospel message is opposed to such thinking.  No matter how hard we work and how much good we think we’ve done, it’s never enough (Isaiah 64:6). The only way we can be saved is by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and by trusting in the finished work of Christ. We must accept that the infinite merit of Christ is enough to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. And we must realize that our own performance could never be enough before that same just and holy God.

6. The Gospel teaches us that the wisdom of man is foolishness to God and that the strength of man is weakness to God.

We want to be seen as wise. We want to put our knowledge and learning on display. We want to be strong. We want to be successful. And on and on it goes. But the Bible teaches that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:25) Sinful man does not want to admit that all his wisdom and understanding is foolishness to God. In our prideful hearts, we find that shameful.

7. The Gospel tells us that we need to repent of our sins and believe in Christ for our salvation.

Modern man would like to think he is autonomous – that we don’t need anyone, much less God. We’d like to sing along with Simon and Garfunkel, “I am a rock; I am an island.” So when we hear a message that demands humility and surrender, you can bet that that message will viewed as shameful and foolish and ultimately rejected. But the Gospel tells us that we need Jesus Christ. There is no other way to be saved from our sin. God made provision for our need through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So….. “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  (1 Cor. 1:18) We might as well accept that the world views the Gospel message as sheer foolish. However, if you are a true believer, you will glory in the message of the cross. You will glory and rejoice in the gift of God, which is eternal life (Romans 6:23). The solution is not to downplay the shame of the gospel, but to preach it faithfully and pray that God would own the eyes of the blind and rescue the souls of those who are perishing.

Finding that “open door for the word.”

“Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison.” (Colossians 4:3)

Every Christian is surrounded by non-Christians.  Whether it is next-door neighbors, co-workers, relatives, or friends, there are people in your life who are not following Jesus.  Unfortunately, there are many professing Christians who are unconcerned about this reality.  They are not burdened that people around them live without hope and have not embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We would do well to look at the evangelistic example of Paul and his heart for the lost.

As you will note from the verse quoted above, evangelism starts with prayer.  The apostle, as much as anyone, knew the power of prayer in converting the lost.  As skilled as he was in apologetics (check out Acts 17), Paul’s evangelism strategy was not limited to persuasion and strength of argument.  Above all, he relied on the power of prayer.  We too must pray for the lost souls around us.  If you don’t see results immediately, please don’t give up.  I have been praying for a friend of mine for over a decade and I believe that one day God will save him.  But we MUST persist in prayer.

When we are consistently praying for the lost souls around us, it goes without saying that we will also be looking for opportunities to “share” the gospel.  Part of our prayer will be that God would give us the opportunity to share the gospel.  That is exactly what Paul requested from the Colossian believers – an open door to declare Christ.  Friend, don’t be afraid to pray that prayer, just make sure you’re ready when God brings the opportunity your way (1 Peter 3:15).

I do understand that evangelism is not easy.  If it was easy, Paul would not have ended up in prison.  But we must realize that temporary suffering is well worth the price.  Remember that we not only have the greatest, most glorious news in the world (the gospel of Jesus Christ), but also the most powerful vehicle on earth (the Holy Spirit of God) to spread that news.  I want to encourage you to keep praying for your lost friends and then watch how God works and uses you in the process.