The Past, Present and Future Meaning of Christ’s Death
2nd Sunday of Lent.(B)
6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Pentecost Sunday commemorates the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost according to His “just right” timing. St. Paul wrote in Galatians that Jesus was born at just the right time for the work of redemption. Born to die! All God’s best comes to us through the singular event of the death of His Son. The Romans chapter 5 verses shown above, in their claim that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” give us an incredible statement of grace! God’s love is shown to us by Christ’s dying at just the right time. Through some of the word pictures of the Text, the purpose here now is for us to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of what our Lord’s death means for ALL time: Past, Present and Future. God gave His love through the past event of Christ’s death. His love is still with us, and it will be to the end!
A. 1. Three times the Text itself relates God’s love to Christ’s dying, also pointing out that Christ isn’t just anybody, but God’s very own Son. It would have been beyond terrible for anyone, but the obscene tortures which His trial and execution involved were faced by the innocent Son of God!
The thorn crown was roughly shoved down to His eyebrows. Great nails bored through His wrists and ankles to suspend Him from the splintery wooden Cross. Hung up as a public spectacle, countrymen and foreigners alike laughed and made fun of Him. And, as He slowly suffocated, God’s love came to us as He even abandoned His Son to the torment of hell!
2. The scene was without doubt all of history’s most awful display of hatred and inhumanity, but St. Paul asserts that this death was beyond the usual in also another way. The world was moved by the 1976 news photo of the body of a Nun draped over Rhodesia’s respected Catholic Bishop, having attempted to protect him from a terrorist machine gun attack. We’re touched by gestures like that of a boy who donated his right kidney to his brother because he figured “it would be the best and strongest one to give,” when he didn’t have to give one at all. Those kinds of unselfish sacrifices do happen, but they are admittedly relatively rare! Christ went so much farther in that He died not just for the highly respected, or intimate friends or family, but for us when we were ALL weak, ungodly, sinning enemies of God!
B.1. Animals that fall and are too weak to get up slowly starve or become easy prey for others. Newborn babies are too weak to even lift their heads, let alone do anything else. Sometimes the dying lose even the will to live due to physical weakness.
The essence of Paul’s words “weak” and “ungodly” fit that example. NO strength, not even of the will, to do ANYthing which God would consider commendable!
2. We’ve heard it said that many churches don’t preach about “sin” any more. People have gotten the idea that, if anything is lacking between them and God, it’s not sin, but merely a matter of ignorance, innocent unawareness, or a no-fault misunderstanding. That’s a lie, of course!
Once some years ago, observing them while supervising a day camp archery booth set up for some six year olds, it was hard not to note that not only did none of the children hit a bulls eye, but most never even got near the target at all! The definition of “sin” in Scripture is to “miss the mark,” which means a total separation from God. The Bible pulls no punches. It clearly labels us as sinners who have willfully done what our hearts know is wrong.
3. The term “enemies” in the Text is even more stark. How can someone who has never been an embezzling, adulterous murderer be called that? But it’s there in black and white: Jesus didn’t die for the bad and the "not so bad," as though for two classes of people, but ALL are described with this word that depicts active rebellion--> “enemies.” Anyone who has ever been apathetic or indifferent, or self-determining and self-reliant in his or her life, has also been openly hostile towards God – and we all fit the scene.
With such a description of humanity’s condition, even the death of Mother Theresa after investing her life for the sake of ghetto children in India couldn’t be compared. Christ’s death is in a class by itself! If nothing else the Bible says about sin convinces you about how truly hideous it is, just consider the fact that the Son of God died so horribly in your place.
The happy side of Christ’s death, though, is what it means for us now. St. Paul used two favorite words “justified” and “reconciled,” that give an even deeper glimpse into God’s love.
A. “...Now justified by His blood” is as true as our being “sinners” and “enemies.” Christ not only stood in for us to take the penalty that was ours, but also absolved and removed the guilt, so that the penalty is no longer even deserved! It’s not human psychology’s groundlessly affirming that people are “O.K.” and basically good, but it’s Christ’s blood covering our sin from God’s sight that has Him in Heaven at this very moment looking upon us and authoritatively pronouncing us “Not Guilty.” And that’s the simple definition of “Justification,” the doctrine that Luther called chief: Not guilty!
B. Now too, “we are reconciled,” Paul wrote; no longer the enemies we once were. It’s not a thing that any of us did, but God declared peace and an end to hostility by one-sidedly determining not to fight back. Perhaps about the best synonym for “Reconciliation” is friendship. The Almighty Creator at this present moment considers us His personal friends. Christ has endeared us to God by His death!
Looking, then, to the future, a principle of argument that Jesus sometimes used was to the effect that “If A is true (which obviously is so), then B is most certainly true.” He used it, for example, in the expression that: “If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
A. If God’s love was shown to us when we were guilty, which it was by Christ’s death, how much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God now that we’re NOT guilty! And we’d better believe that an awesome wrath is being stored up and coming! Just a few chapters earlier in Romans, St. Paul wrote some pretty sobering truths about it, and Peter warned that the heavens will dissolve and earth melt. Don’t be deceived, Scripture warns, because on account of fornication, evil desires, and covetousness the wrath of God is coming! But blessed are all those whom even now God calls “Not Guilty.”
B. Or again, if God’s love came to us when we were enemies, which it did by the death of His Son, how much more (now that we’re His “friends”) shall we be saved by His life! Jesus was raised from death to a life of glory that He intends to share with His close friends. His resurrection marks His death as satisfying the required restitution for sin, but more, His own new and glorious life is being lived right now for our sakes and is that power by which we, too, will be raised.
Let’s face it! We were truly in a bad way when God’s love was first shown to us. But now we are God’s justified friends who have an assured future life through faith in Christ. We can rejoice with the Apostle John as he wrote: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood... be glory and dominion forever and ever!"