CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS
August 20, 2011
1 Corinthians 15:3; John 4:43-54; Leviticus.1:1-9
Last week we entered what I called the last lap of 1 Corinthians. Having considered such obscure issues as food offered to idols and head-coverings for women; having blushed as we listened to the sexual antics of the Corinthians condemned, and squirmed as our marriages were held up for scrutiny; we at last feel that we are on safer ground.
For in chapter 15 Paul will counter the argument that there is no resurrection of the body. This is what some of the Corinthians were saying (v.12):But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
The super-spiritual Corinthians did not like the idea of a resurrected body. In the life-to-come, they wanted to be blessed spirits, free from all the constraints that a body inflicts upon a soul. Paul’s answer is (v.13):
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
And if Christ has not been raised then the whole of apostolic Christianity come tumbling down. v.14:And if Christ has not been raised our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
Paul feels the need to take the Corinthians back to basics, back to first principles. So he says to them in v.1: Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you
Denying the resurrection of believers—with its implication of denying Christ’s resurrection too—is not one of those matters over which we can agree to disagree. It strikes at the heart of our faith.
There’s never any harm—indeed, there is often a lot of good—in returning to the basics of our faith. So that’s what we’ll be doing for the next few weeks. This week we’re going to examine the phrase Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
A gospel received
But just before we do so I want to draw your attention to the fact that Paul says to the Corinthians, For what I received I passed on to you.
There’s a bit of a fad these days among historians which is to describe the Apostle Paul as the founder of Christianity. For example, in Simon Segbag Montefiore’s most recent book “Jerusalem: the biography”, he calls the Paul the “creator of Christianity”.
It’s a very subtle way of undermining Paul’s theology and any form of Christianity which takes his teaching seriously. Their point is that it was Paul who transformed the man Jesus of Nazareth into the Son of God. Because he was more energetic and visionary than the Jerusalem-based apostles; because he was willing to break free from the constraints of Judaism and preach to the Gentiles—Paul’s version of Christianity won the day.
Without Paul, Christianity would simply have become another Jewish sect, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Essenes.
Therefore, Paul, rather than Jesus, is the true founder of Christianity; the implication being that what Paul created was a million miles from anything Jesus had envisaged. It’s a way of driving a wedge between Jesus and Paul. It’s purpose, as a I say, is to undermine Paul’s theology, especially his interpretation of Christ’s death.
Well, look at what Paul says in v.3 about the content of the gospel he preached to the Corinthians: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance
For what I received. Paul is saying that he is not the inventor of the gospel. For all his original thinking in many aspects of the faith, he does not claim the gospel as his own bright idea. That Christ died for sins and rose on the third day are truths he himself was taught.
In v.8 he talks about how the Lord Jesus appeared to him, that is, on the road to Damascus:and last of all he appeared to me as to one abnormally born.
That encounter with the Lord Jesus convinced Paul that Jesus was none other than the Messiah, the Son of God. But thereafter it was brave Christians like Ananias and others in the Damascus church who took Paul under their wing. And later it was Barnabas who persuaded the apostles to accept Paul—their former persecutor—as a brother in Christ.
They would have taught Paul the facts about Jesus. They would have recalled his teaching—the Sermon on the Mount, his parables—and particularly the teaching done in private, such as in the upper room before his arrest. And he would have heard from them about our Lord’s resurrection appearances, which he lists here in chapter 15.
Friends, let me make this one point of application. Our faith is a received faith.
Be very suspicious of anyone claiming to have discovered something new about our faith, something that the church has neglected since New Testament times. On a popular level there are the Da Vinci Code-type conspiracy theories about secret teachings and suppressed Gospels. But even among academics, there are those who want to make a name for themselves by claiming that we’ve misread the Bible, or even that those who wrote the New Testament misunderstood Jesus.
When you come across these theories either in books or on the TV, don’t panic. There’s nothing new under the sun. Just about every crazy idea has had an airing at some point or another during the last two thousand years.
Ask yourself—who gains by this? Is there a book deal behind all this? A TV series perhaps?
And more to the point, ask yourself—do I gain by this? Does this help my faith? Does this new perspective enrich me spiritually, or does it leave my soul impoverished?
One of the great comforts of our faith is that despite so many efforts to stamp it out, and despite times when the simple gospel has been suffocated by elaboration and ornamentation, the message of the apostles has been passed down to us so that we too can discover that Christ died for our sins.
Now then, let’s focus on this phrase, which Paul says is of first importance:Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
1. Christ died for our sins
The first point we need to note is that there is a connection between Christ’s death and our sins.
Sin is a problem. Your sin is a problem. Your sin is so serious that the Lord Jesus recommends that you cut off your hand or gouge out your eye rather than go to hell with them intact. (Mt.5:29,30)
Your sin has stirred up the wrath of Almighty God. Just as we have taken his beautiful creation and trashed it with our polluting gases and chemicals; we have polluted the climax of his creation, ourselves, with our greed and lies and pride and selfishness.
How did you feel when you saw pictures of those muggers pretending to help that Malaysian student who’d been hurt, while they were actually stealing from him? Or watching the furniture store going up in flames—a beautiful Victorian building which had been in the family for over a hundred years? Or listening to Tariq Jahan, father of one of the young men run over and killed as they tried to defend their property?
Who could remain unmoved? Who could remain impassive? Were you not enraged? Just as we are enraged when we hear of millions starving because of corrupt governments; or of children suffering because of abusive adults; or of the innocent being jailed while the guilty walk free?
What kind of God, then, would the Living God be, if he remained indifferent to the cruelty that human beings inflict on one another; or the vindictiveness that we spit at one another; or the malice towards others that swirls around our minds? It makes God angry that we fail to love our neighbour as ourselves.
And it makes God angry that we do not love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Our sin is a personal affront to our Maker.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Ps.51:4)
Sin is a problem. It separates us from God, and will continue to do so through all of eternity unless something is done about it.
The marvellous truth is that something has been done. The Living God, the one we have offended, has acted in grace and mercy.
A couple of years ago we did a short series of sermons on the book of Leviticus. It’s one of the most neglected books in the Bible, regarded as unintelligible and irrelevant. After all, in the light of the cross isn’t it redundant, with all its rules and regulations about rituals and sacrifices?
True, it is redundant in the sense that because of Jesus we no longer need to put into practice its stipulations about sacrificing bulls and goats and lambs.
But if you want to understand the connection between Christ’s death and our sins, it is essential that you get to grips with Leviticus. For it is in Leviticus that the concept of substitution is explained. The animal dies as the worshipper’s substitute.
Leviticus 1 contains the basic rules for making a burnt offering, which was offered in order to obtain forgiveness of sins. v.3 says that the offering must come from the herd (that is, it must cost the worshipper something, it can’t be road kill) and it must be a male without defect (the most valuable in the herd). Look at v.4:He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
By laying his hand upon the animal’s head, the worshipper was doing two things. First, it was an act of connection. He was identifying the animal with himself. He was saying, “This animal is me. What happens to this animal is done to me.” Second, he was symbolically transferring his sins to the animal. It would die as his substitute. It was dying for his sins.
He had to slit its throat, collect the blood in a basin, and then the priest would sprinkle the blood on the sides of the altar.
Paul makes the connection between our Lord’s death and the concept of substitution by using that little word “for”—Christ died for our sins.
When you do something for someone you are doing it because they can’t do it for themselves. A child can’t cut up their food; you do it for them.
The Apostle Peter does the same in 1Pet. 3:18:
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God
The interesting question is, how did the apostles come to make the connection between our Lord’s death and the sacrificial system of the Old Testament? After all, there was nothing intrinsic in the crucifixion to link Jesus’ death to sacrifice and atonement.
The only plausible answer is that it was Jesus himself who made the connection. As he celebrated the Passover with them, Jesus said to his disciples, (Mt.26:28): This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins.
Christ Jesus gave his life, poured out his blood, so that the “many” (those who trust in him) need not. He died as their substitute. The same idea lies behind our Lord’s statement in Mk.10:45 when he says:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
What is a ransom? It’s money paid so that a prisoner can go free. The money takes the place of, is the substitute for, the prisoner.
Theologians refer to this teaching as the doctrine of penal substitution. Substitution speaks of someone taking someone else’s place. That’s what happens in sport, when a player is injured or isn’t playing well. The Lord Jesus Christ is our substitute, he takes our place. In truth, it should have been me on that cross.
The word penal refers to the fact that in becoming our substitute our Lord was punished for our sin. We talk about the penal system, that is, the system by which criminals are punished for their crimes. Again, in sport, when someone breaks the rules a penalty is awarded. The Lord Jesus bore, endured, suffered the penalty that we deserve.
This is what the Bible teaches and this is how the Church has always understood Christ’s death.
Here is love vast as the ocean, loving-kindness like the flood
When the Prince of life, our ransom, shed for us his precious blood.
2. according to the Scriptures
Let’s move on the second phrase; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. Why does Paul feel the need to add that phrase, according to the Scriptures? We can identify various reasons, but the most important is to demonstrate that Christianity, far from being a new religion, is in direct continuity with Old Testament religion.
For Christians to say that Jesus was the promised Messiah was ludicrous to Jewish minds. At first they had wondered. He seemed to act like the Messiah—giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, even the way he had stormed through the temple. Hosanna to the Son of David, they cried.
But then he had categorically proved that he could not be the Messiah—he got himself crucified. As Paul says in 1Cor.1:23: but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews
Yet the first Christians insisted that this Jesus, this crucified Jesus, was indeed the Messiah. Again, we have to ask, Where did they get this idea from? 1st century Palestine was a hot-bed of Messianic expectation and there were no shortages of claimants for the title. But as each pretender was dispatched by the Romans, their followers evaporated. Not so with Jesus. Why were his disciples so dogged?
One answer is his resurrection.
Another, is the Scriptures. And it was the Lord Jesus himself who taught them this. Lets walk behind those two distressed disciples hurrying back to Emmaus, and eavesdrop on their conversation with that stranger who had joined them. We know it’s Jesus, but they don’t.
He said to them, How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning him. (Lk. 24:25)
I’ve often wondered what specific Scriptures the Lord spoke about. Let me suggest that he probably talked about how the whole sacrificial system, with its insistence on the shedding of blood, pointed forward to him.
Then there’s Exodus 12, the Passover story. The lamb was to be without defect and it’s blood was to be smeared on the lintels of the door-posts. That lamb died so that the eldest son within the household would live—substitution. Remember that the Passover was the backdrop to our Lord’s death. While the bleating lambs were being slaughtered in the temple, the bleeding Lamb of God was dying on the cross.
And surely Isaiah 53. The language of penal substitution runs through the chapter like a motto through a stick of rock:
he took up our infirmities
he carried our sorrows
he was pierced for our transgressions
he was crushed for our iniquities
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him
and by his wounds we are healed
For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for transgressions (last sentence)
The cross was not a tragic mistake. It was the culmination of God’s plan of salvation. The Apostle Peter leaves us in no doubt when he says in Acts 2:23:
This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
If the doctrine of penal substitution demonstrates how a holy God can forgive unholy sinners, how does the individual appropriate Christ’s sacrifice for him/herself? Does it happen automatically; or is there something we must do?
Lets return to the opening verses of 1Cor.15. Paul says:
Now brothers I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
The Corinthians received this gospel and if they now reject it, they would have believed in vain.
The benefits of Christ’s death are not applied universally and automatically to everyone. The gospel is to be received, it is to be believed. We are to have faith in or on or even into the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sounds simple, but what exactly do we mean? Let me refer you to John 4 and the story we read earlier of the royal official who asks the Lord to heal his son. The man pleads with Jesus (v.49) Sir, come down before my child dies.
But Jesus has no intention of going, and in v.50 the Lord tells the official: You may go. Your son will live. Then John tells us: The man took Jesus at his word and departed.
The man took Jesus at his word and departed. That is the essence of faith. He believed that Jesus didn’t need to lay hands on the boy for him to be healed; he believed that when he returned home the boy would be well. And he demonstrated the reality of his faith the moment he turned away from Jesus and took his first step homeward.
Faith is taking Jesus at his word: that he poured out his life, his blood, for the forgiveness of sins; that he gave his life as a ransom for many; that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep; that he is the bread of life and the living water. With all the consequent humiliating implications: that we are sinners in need of a saviour.
Sirs, what must I do to be saved, says the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30,31)
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, is Paul’s answer.
Christian faith is not faith in faith; that as long as I believe something, anything, I’ll be ok. Nor is it a passive admiration of Jesus. It is not about turning over a new leaf. It is not about undergoing certain initiation rites. It is about taking Jesus at his word about who he is and what he has done; and staking your life on it.
Have you taken Jesus at his word? Do you believe him; believe in him?
At the close of the service we’ll be singing that magnificent hymn “Man of Sorrows”. The second verse says:
Bearing shame and scoffing rude/In my place condemned he stood
Can you say that, that Jesus Christ died in your place, as your substitute?
If you’ve never done it before, do it now, do it today; tell the Lord that you believe this.
Christ died for our sins…By this gospel you are saved…