Why Did Jesus Die?
Jesus death released us from the power of sin and God has designed us to be able to change our habits, to change our lives. Some of you may be wondering about the tradition of fasting during Lent. I read a great article recently by Rob Moll entitled, What Neuroscience Tells us about Lenten Disciplines. He began by sharing about how some folks fast for a cause. They want to identify with the poor so they don’t eat or they eat the diet of the poor. But he comments that there is an important place for allowing God to shape us through spiritual disciplines in and of themselves, not for any additional cause.
Fasting and all other spiritual disciplines are not simply reminders of other more important things. We may use hunger like a string tied to our fingers, prompting us to pray or consider the plight of the poor. But more importantly, spiritual disciplines shape us in deep ways. Because our brains—at the very least—mediate, process, and experience our spiritual lives, the disciplines can train us to become more attuned to God himself. Fasting then teaches and enables us to live by deeper truths and in accord with a deeper reality than the basic cravings of our bodies.
For example, when our blood sugar runs low, chemical signals from the blood stream reach the brain, which sends out signals to eat. This can happen whether or not your stomach is empty. We obey those cravings and grab a snack—perhaps without ever consciously deciding to eat it.
Similar processes occur in social situations, when we interpret bodily cues to determine if a new acquaintance will become a friend; when we study and can't figure out a problem until we've slept on it; or when a hunch leads us to a friend's house even when we couldn't remember the precise directions. The subconscious brain is at work, guiding our actions and our behavior.
This subconscious self is not wholly uncontrollable. It can be trained and shaped. Fasting and other spiritual disciplines train these processes, shape them, and thereby shape us into spiritual people. Fasting schools our subconscious. We exert our will over the cravings of our body so that we have a mental process in place that is strong enough to overrule other temptations we face. We slowly become people who are less driven by temporary cravings, whether for food or sex or personal fulfillment. While spiritual disciplines shape who we will be, they also reveal who we are. As we struggle and often fail—week after week—we discover our true selves. We learn about our weaknesses and can seek forgiveness.
All of us cry out for justice. Where we hear the terrible news of a serial rapist or murderer and we want them to suffer the penalty for their crimes. We want justice to be done. They need to pay for what they have done. This applies not only to criminals, but to us as well. We need to pay the penalty for our sin and God’s word tells us the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23).
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Because of God’s justice we are pronounced guilty and the sentence of death is given, but then God sends his Son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for that guilt. J. Allan Peterson about a boy who was chronically coming home late from school.
His parents warned him one day that he must be home on time that afternoon, but nevertheless he arrived later than ever. His mother met him at the door and said nothing. At dinner that night, the boy looked at his plate. There was a slice of bread and a glass of water. He looked at his father's full plate and then at his father, but his father remained silent. The boy was crushed. The father waited for the full impact to sink in, then quietly took the boy's plate and placed it in front of himself. He took his own plate of meat and potatoes, put it in front of the boy, and smiled at his son. When that boy grew to be a man, he said, "All my life I've known what God is like by what my father did that night."
Our sin separates us from God. Isaiah 59:1,2 tells us that sin provides a barrier between us and God.
What Jesus Christ did for us on the cross is called the Gospel, or the Good News. He came to earth specifically to die for our sins. This is sometimes referred to as his dying in our place. In 1 Peter 2:24 we read:
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
From the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem there was a heavy veil or curtain in the Temple that separated the special area where the Presence of God dwelt, called the Holy of Holies. It signified in a physical way this partition between a holy God and sinful human beings. An amazing thing happened to this partition when Jesus died on the cross. It split in two. In Matthew 27:51a we read that at the moment of Christ’s death: “ …the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Jesus solved the problem of the partition and as the parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates, God, our Father runs to meet us when we turn to him.
Philippians 2:9-11 tells us about what God has done and will do. As wonderful as the cross was, it was not the end. There was Easter Sunday just over the horizon.
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
What an amazing hope we have.
Last Sunday the Crane family decided to go see the new movie, The Hunger Games. We started out at the Edmonds Theater, but discovered our friends at Campbell Nelson had rented out the Theater for the evening so we ended up at the mall and saw it in IMAX format. I won’t take time to tell you much of the plot, nor do I want to do a spoiler for the movie for you, but the theme centers around a future time in America when the central government, called The Capital, exercises powerful control over twelve districts spread across the country. One of their methods of control are the hunger games in which each district sends two children between the ages of 12 and 18 to an annual event in which the children fight to the death with only one survivor. However this year something is different. Just like the ancient Greek myth of Theseus, who overthrew the political powers to bring into existence Athens, so Katniss and Peeta endeavor not just to win the games, but to defeat the system as well. As they meet with some success, President Snow says to the master of the game, “Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous.”
Christians should be dangerous people because of the events of this week, this Holy Week, we have been given a lot of hope. And this hope is not wishful thinking. It is based on the powerful truth of what happened in history and we join a procession of billions in finding life, because of His death and resurrection.