MESSAGE FOR GOOD FRIDAY 2006

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MESSAGE FOR GOOD FRIDAY 2006

 

          Today we want to focus on the cross of Christ--not so much on the event of the crucifixion but more on the blessings that flow to us from the cross.  To do that, we want to turn to Romans chapter five where Paul is contrasting Adam, who subjected humanity to  death coming from his sin, with Christ and his saving work for us on the cross.  As we study this text our goal is that we would glory in the supremacy of Christís gift of grace in the cross.  Paul details this supremacy beginning with verse 15 as he writes of Christís work on the cross, ďBut the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  16And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  17If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  19For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.Ē 

          Paul labors to contrast, in a tightly paralleled structure, what Adam did in his sin and its consequences with what Christ did on the cross and its results.  The main idea he is communicating is encapsulated in two words found in verses 15 and 17.  These two words are ďmuch moreĒ and what Paul is saying through them is that what Adam did through his sin, Christ ďmuch moreĒ than made up for in his gift of grace, which is his atoning death at Calvary.  The truth of this text we want to bring out today is this:  Jesusí redeeming work at the cross is far more powerful than Adamís corrupting work in the fall.  Letís first look at this through a wide angle lens, and then we will be able to better understand what Paul is saying in detail.

          Paul presents two figures, Adam and Christ.  Adam, through his sin brought a devastating curse on humanity.  It spoiled everything from a human point of view.  His sin didnít affect select portions of humanity, it tainted, it polluted the entire race.  Fallen humanity apart from Christ is NOT simply a slightly warped or mildly distorted version of the original.  It is totally spoiled.  To illustrate:  if fallen humanity was a standing rib roast, the effects of sin would not correlate to our humanity being slightly over cooked and  a bit dry.  No, a much more accurate parallel would see that sin-laden rib roast as being completely overtaken with mold and maggots with its putrid stench rising up to God.  Apart from Christ, we are to God good for nothing spiritually. We see the evidence of Adamís lethal legacy every day as the sin and evil of this world seem to be more and more pervasive.  Sometimes, when we are daily confronted with the colossal corrupting power of Adamís sin, its tempting to think that sin has so spoiled and corrupted humanity that it is beyond hope--that Christís death and resurrection and what they accomplished are small in comparison to the massive destructive force of Adamís sin.

          This text destroys that lie as Paul argues that the goodness of the blessing of Christís redeeming work is far more potent than the badness of the curse of Adamís sin.  This only follows when you think about it.  Here is Adam--fully human and he manages to wreck havoc on humanity through his sin.  But next comes Christ, not only fully human but also fully God.  Adam is the source of the curse.  Christ is the source of the blessing.  Which of those two sources is stronger?  To put it another way, Adam disobeys God.  Christ obeys God.  Does Adamís act of disobedience have more power to spoil and corrupt than Christís act of obedience has to redeem and bless?  One scholar has put it this way, ďthe act of this second ďmanĒ [Christ] brings consequences even more glorious than those of the first man [Adam] were deleterious.Ē

          One consequence of that truth is this:  When all of those who have been saved are completed in their salvation process--when they meet Jesus and are glorified--those redeemed saints will be far more glorious than Adam was even before the fall.  There are many reasons for this but perhaps the most basic among them is this:  Humanity was created to glorify God by revealing the character of God.  That is a big part of what it is to be created in His image and two absolutely stunning aspects of Godís character revealing his glory are his grace and his mercy.  Before the fall, Adam did not/could not reveal Godís grace and mercy in nearly the same way as the redeemed community in heaven will.  The reason for this is simple.  In order to see the depths of Godís grace and mercy, there must be sin.  Sin must be present in order to reveal the depths of Godís grace and mercy.  How can creation know that God is full of grace--(that is, He gives people what they donít deserve,) if a person has never done anything wrong?  If humanity had not fallen into sin, we would not be nearly as undeserving of Godís goodness as we now areówe, who have sinned against Him in every way imaginable.  How was creation to know that God is merciful--(that is, He withholds his wrath from those deserving of it,) unless a person has done something to deserve His punishment?

          How was creation to know the nature, the depth, the tenacity of Godís love in a context where there is no sin?  ďGod demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.Ē  In order for God to demonstrate His God-like love to the fullest degree, there had to be sin because what exalts divine love over every other love is that when God looks down at people who are spitting in His faceórather than immediately judging them as he legitimately could, he insteadÖdies for them.  God, at untold sacrifice to himself, loves the totally unlovable--that is divine love.  How is God going to demonstrate that kind of love in the spiritual terrarium of the Garden of Eden?  What is UNlovable about Adam and Eve before the fall?  They were morally and physically perfect--without sin and rebellion.  Whatís not to love?  How are you going to know the depths of Godís patience apart from the presence of sin?  How far did Adam stretch Godís patience before the fall?  He didnít.  He did precisely what the Lord said when He said it.  Itís fallen humanity--us, who spend years pushing Him away that enables him to show the depths of His patience.  Our sin reveals the depths of His glory.

          We must understand that the fall of humanity was no surprise to God, but was instead part of his eternal plan.  We see this in several places.  Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:9 that God saved us, ďbecause of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began  God the Father planned to save a sinful humanity, creating a company of redeemed, glorified sinners from ALL ETERNITY.  In Revelation 13:8, John is speaking of those who will not remain faithful in the persecution and says, ďand all who dwell on earth will worship it, [the beast] everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.Ē The Lambís book of life--that designation speaks of those saved by Christís redeeming work on the cross.  The names of the people saved by Jesus in that book were written down BEFORE Adam and Eve ever stepped foot in the garden.  God allowed Adam to fall, in part so that He could reveal the greatness of His grace and mercy and love and patience and sovereign power within a context of sin.  His radiant, resplendent light is seen most clearly--is most gloriously manifest in the spiritual darkness of sin and death.  Because the fall of Adam was part of Godís plan--(He did not CAUSE Adamís Fall--Adam was fully responsible for his sin)óbecause it was part of His God-glorifying plan, then it is unthinkable that the sin of Adam and what it brought would be more powerful than the grace of God given through Christís death and what it brings.

          Now that weíve seen the big picture, we can better understand Paulís more detailed treatment.  When you sort through the rather intricate parallel arguments contrasting Adam and Christ, you discover he is simply contrasting the reign of sin and death that came through Adam with the reign of grace that leads to life which came through Christ and his obedience at Calvary.  His inevitable conclusion is that the grace of God through Christ crucified is much stronger than the sin of Adam.

          One main point coming from the text to support the supremacy of Christís victory in the cross over Adamís defeat in the garden is this:  Adamís sin left us but sinners, but Christís work of grace makes us righteous.  The fact that Adamís sin made us all sinners runs strongly throughout the text, but is stated explicitly in the conclusion in verse 19, ď...through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners...Ē  On the other hand, the text says of Christ, ďthrough the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.Ē  Paul says ďWILL be made righteous,Ē using the future tense because he is looking to the time when our righteousness will be completely realized in heaven.  In order to see just how much greater is Christís work on the cross in making us righteous, over Adamís work in making us sinners, we must think about what is involved in being a sinner.  Without claiming to be comprehensive, we could say that to be a sinner is to be spiritually dirty, spiritually crooked and spiritually condemned.  

To be a sinner is to be spiritually dirty or defiled--tainted with the filth of sin.  Isaiah 1:18 says, ďCome now, let us reason together, says the Lord:  though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.Ē  Our sins are compared to the colors scarlet and crimson and thatís instructive in at least two ways.  First, our sin, like scarlet is glaringóit is in Godís holy sight vivid and stark and impossible to overlook.  It jumps out at youóor more accuratelyóit jumps out at God because it is aimed directly at him.  Second, scarlet and crimson were colors noted for their fastness.  That isóif a garment was dyed scarlet, in the Ancient Near East that particular color was impossible to get out.  It did not fade and it could not be washed out.  It completely infiltrated and took over the garment and remained there no matter what was done to try to remove it.  Our sins are scarletóthey are glaring eye sores before God and their stain is humanly speaking, dominating and impossible to remove.

 God created Adam without spot and blemish--morally perfect and he makes it clear that this kind of person is the only person He will accept-- ďBe holy, even as I am holy  Adam was holy, morally like God until with one sin he and Eve became horribly tainted.

The sin they committed caused their souls to become as scarletóvivid and stark in their evil before a holy God and it clung fast to their heartsóhumanly speaking, there was no way to get it out.  To see the supremacy of Christís cleansing work over Adamís defiling work, all we need to do is compare what is involved in making something dirty with what is involved in making something that is dirty, clean.  How much effort does it require to take a silk blouse and throw it in a pig pen or drop it into the sewer?  Not much--clean things get dirty very easily.  Itís the same in the spiritual realm.  One sin, one act of disobedience leaves an entire race of people absolutely wretched before a holy God--one sin.  Leave that silk blouse in the pig pen for a week.  How much work does it take to make that garment wearable again?  The truth is, no one here would be foolish enough to try--itís ruined.  Full of the rancid smell and stuff of animal waste--it wouldnít make a good rag--itís destroyed by the filth.

          Adamís work in defiling humanity took no great effort on his part.  But Christ died for a group of people who had been tainted more profoundly than any garment in a pig pen.  And his mission was to cleanse us and heal us so that we would be NOT functional or merely presentable but ďholy, even as His Father is holy.Ē  There is only one cleansing agent in the universe supernaturally potent enough to do that--his own holy and innocent blood.  Wesley reminds us that ďhis blood can make the foulest clean  Do you see how much greater the work of grace in Christ is than the work of sin through Adam?

          Another indicator of the supremacy of Christís work is seen in the fact that to be a sinner is to be spiritually twisted or bent.  One of the most common Hebrew words for sin literally means ďtwisted.Ē  This is that part of the fall that bent or twisted the will of humanity away from God and toward ourselves.  Another word for it is rebellion, but a twisted or bent will captures it well.  Again, with one rebellious act, Adamís and the rest of humanityís will was twisted from being completely compliant, delighting to do Godís will, to one that continually thumbs its nose at God.  Chapter 1:30 says sinners are ďinventors of evil  The fallen sinner exerts earnest effort to devise new and more heinous expressions of rebellion against God.  Adamís sin horribly bent or twisted our will away from God.  As in the case of our spiritual defilement, compare which is the greater work--to make something crooked or to straighten out something that is crooked so it will do what it is supposed to do.  Anyone here ever seen a bent drive shaft on a motor?  Anyone here ever bent the shaft of a 3 iron?  How successful were you at restoring them to their unbent condition?  You probably didnít even bother trying to straighten them out?

          Bending or twisting something is a very uncomplicated and unremarkable act.  Something or someone with sufficient force exerts pressure on the shaft to move beyond a certain tolerance and itís done.  Itís easy to do thatómany have.  To straighten out something that has been bent so that it is straighter than it was before is in most cases, impossible.  Yet, when Christ came with his grace, his mission was to straighten out twisted wills and he does this by giving us sinners new hearts he purchased for us at Calvary.  In the cross, Jesus did the work necessary to fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel 36:26-27.  God tells the prophet, ďAnd I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.   A spiritual heart transplant will successfully straighten a hopelessly twisted human will back to being God-centered and away from self-centeredness.

           A third indicator of the supremacy of grace over sin is seen in the fact that to be a sinner is to be spiritually condemned.  Paul says in verse 16, ď...For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation.Ē  Adam commits ONE sin and God as the righteous Judge immediately renders the guilty verdict and condemns Him to death.  As a consequence, every person born into this world sits on a spiritual death row awaiting their spiritual execution with only one valid hope for rescue.   Thatís powerful--that sin of Adam carried with it grievous and staggering destructive power.  But Paul says in the second half of verse 16, ďbut the free gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.Ē 

          This brings out the supremacy of Godís grace through the cross in at least two ways.  First, we see the difference in the supremacy of the cross in the depth of the power of grace versus sin.  Adam sinned once and was judged and condemned.  That is simply what justice required.  Godís warning to them was when they sinned, they would die.  There is nothing remarkable about that.  However, when Jesus came to confront the sin problem, he didnít have just one sin to deal with, He had untold trillions of sins to address.  Yet in his ONE work of grace on the cross, he wiped all those sins away.  Even one sin deserves eternal judgment in hell.  How many of us have violated that standard in the last hour?!  Yet, Christís work of grace is so MUCH MORE powerful because it confronts untold oceans filled with sin and with one work of grace on the cross totally removes the guilt of every person who trusts in Him.

          But thereís more.  We could call the second element the supremacy of the cross in justification.  In verse 16 Paul says Christís sacrifice brought us justification.  The sin of Adam put us on death-row.  The gift of grace offered through the cross did much more than simply reversing Godís guilty verdict.  Believers in Christ are more than simply pardoned of their guilt.  They have been taken off death row, had their filthy criminal record tossed in the deepest sea, given a new set of clothes-the very robe of Christís righteousness and made to sit eternally at the table of the Great King who they now are able to relate to as ďabba, Father.Ē  Thatís not just a pardon.  The condemnation of sin for the believer is MUCH MORE than obliterated.  ďTherefore there is now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus  Perhaps the most glorious hymn in Christendom says, ďNo condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!  Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own

          Now, what does all this comparison of Adam and Jesus mean to us?  Is this just a chance for us to sit back and say, ďYeah, that grace sure is a wonderful thing  How do we apply this truth?  One two-pronged application is simply, we must deeply appreciate the power of grace and seek to make its presence clearly manifest in our lives.  For many people grace is a very delicate and gentle concept.  Although it is very precious, grace is not fundamentally delicate or gentle--it is virile--it potent--it is overcoming--it is victorious.  We are saved by graceógrace through the cross defeated sinís power.  We have been given grace through the cross that cleanses our grossly defiled hearts, straightens our twisted wills and justifies us out of the pit of hell to our Heavenly Fatherís right hand.

          Are we living like people who have continual access to this overcoming grace?  This same overcoming grace that cleanses us, straightens us and justifies us--this spiritual dynamo of supernatural power is available to us every moment.  Do we, who have this awesome power of Godís blood-purchased grace at our disposal, live in a manner consistent with grace?  Are we overcoming sin, are we regularly experiencing things in our lives that are consistent with the awesome power of THIS grace?  If we are not then we are with our lives denying the sin-crushing, overcoming power of the cross.  Our spiritual resume--that is, what God has given us to enable us to live supernaturally is impressive beyond comparison.  We have been given the grace of God--this potent element of Godís character that has defeated spiritual power behind the sin of Adam.

          Any genuine believer has an impressive spiritual resume because of Christís work on the cross.  If a violinist graduated as the concert master from the worldís best music conservatory and spent years studying under Itzhak Perlman--that would be impressive.  Would you expect a person with that kind of resume to play a pretty good fiddle?  If that person were to come out on stage and play like an average junior high student, we would wonder what on earth was the matter with them considering what they have been given. Yet, we in the church have access to this grace which MUCH MORE than overcomes the power of sin but spiritually speaking; we often live spiritually on a junior high level.  How much that is truly unexplainable apart from this awesome power of the grace of God is regularly happening in our lives?  Are we overcoming sin, or are we still struggling with the same issues and on the same level as we did ten years ago?  Something is wrong because that is not the nature of the grace Jesus gave to us through his obedience on the cross.  There is still a fight to be fought and often the battle is pitched with white hot intensity but this grace is sufficient for all our needs.

          Are our expectations of what the Christian life and church life should be like shaped by the fact that we have been endowed with this awesome, sin-overcoming grace?  Or are they shaped by a church in North America which frankly shows very little of this power?  WHO ARE WE?  Are we living only as children of Adam or are we those who have access to the very grace of God through the cross of Christ?  May God give us the grace to begin expecting of ourselves and of our church that which is consistent with saints who have been given the overcoming grace of God.    

          Finally, if you are here today and you have never accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savioróif you have never placed your trust in Christ and what he did on the cross to save you from your sins, allow this message to be sobering warning.  The reason is this:  if you have not accepted Christ, you are still in Adam.  That is, instead of being in the family of God, you are in the family of Adam and all those who are only in the family of Adam when they die will be sent to the fire of hell.  The Bible says your sins are as scarlet to Godóthey are vivid and repugnant in his eyes and no matter who you do or how nice you try to be or how many times you go to church, you will never be able to get the filth of sin out of your soul.  Only the blood of Christ Jesus shed on the cross does that. The Bible says your will is sinfully twisted to live for yourself and not God.  Whether you know it or not, God sees you as rebelliously shaking your fist at Him, the Judge of the universe.  Finally, you are at this very moment sitting on spiritual death row awaiting your execution.  God will MUCH MORE than pardon you if you come to him, confess that you are a dirty, twisted and condemned sinner.  Come to Christ today and by his grace live as his child for His glory.

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