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Why Jesus had to Die
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Lent IV - 04/03/11 Ex. 16:4-15; Ps. 18:1-20; Gal: 4:21-31; Jn. 6:1-14
During this Lenten series of sermons, we have looked at the meaning of being "born again", the meaning of "justification by faith", and last week, at the significance of the theme echoing through all of Scripture, "I am with you..," a promise God made to every important leader of the Hebrews, beginning right with Abraham, right up to and including Jesus. And, indeed, that promise is made to every disciple of Jesus.
The promise is, as God clearly intended it to be, a way of encouraging us to give the whole of ourselves to the work of love to which He is calling us. God wants all of me, or none of me. He offers the whole of Himself and His almighty power for our welfare, and expects the same back from us. He will lead and push us until we commit one way or the other.
The Big Problem God faces is our Fall into the Closed Circle. (See pictures at http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/11Phl/WrldV/00Wvw.htm) We have cut ourselves off from the sustaining Hand of God and the directing Voice of God. We are on our own in a world of death.
The problem for God is how to talk to persons who are spiritually blind, ignorant, defensive, scared of Him, do not trust Him or believe that He cares for them? How is God to convince them that He loves them? How can He befriend them so that they, whom He has gifted with freewill, will obey Him -- for their own salvation's sake?
But there is also our problem. Even when we want to be with God, we have fallen into false dependencies and loyalties which steer us away from God. Just as in Romans 1:18 ff., we have subverted truth, lost touch with Him who is the truth, have thus fallen into worshipping the creature, not the Creator. And, now with a false god who cannot save us, we fall further into compulsive and self-destructive behaviors. We become hopelessly addicted to the ways of the world.
We define ourselves now, not as children of God, but by our false dependencies, children now of various facets of the world. It seems to us that we need those things to be fully ourselves. So it feels like suicide to obey God and give up our false dependencies.
How, then, can God persuade us, who do not trust Him, to freely give up what seems vital and essential to our very lives -- to trust and obey Him instead?
Solution: a new dependency and a new obedience. But those cannot be given from a distance. They must be given close up and vulnerable, where God Himself can be put to the test. So, God enters the world -- to be put to the test. He draws 12 disciples closer and closer to Himself.
The law side of things, the obedience, fathering side, must begin the process of salvation to establish an order within which open and free relationships can blossom. We cannot find our way back out to the Father, so the Father will find His way in to relationship with us. We have tunnel vision focused on the world, the flesh, and sometimes the devil -- that unholy trinity. So God says, "I'll get into their tunnel so they cannot avoid Me! I will talk with them eyeball to eyeball." He becomes incarnate into our fallen situation so as to create a new dependency and obedience relationship.
Then, after a time of ministry, as related in John 6:66-69, many of Jesusí disciples cannot stand any more of His claims, such as being the bread of life, and they leave. Jesus asks His disciples whether they want to leave also. Peter answers that, no, they have come to know Him as the Messiah, and He has the words of life. The dependency on Jesus has been established. "Come closer..." Jesus keeps saying to them. "Keep coming closer."
Jesusí task is to come into the world and draw them to outside the world to the Father in heaven for their dependency. We have only two ultimate choices: we will be dependent upon God outside the world, or we will be dependent upon something in the world itself. The illusion of autonomy is just that, an illusion. We will be "at the mercy of" either God or the world. It will be either "kyrie eleison!" "Lord, have mercy!" or it will be "Cosmos eleison!" "Universe have mercy" or "Evolution have mercy!". Fat chance! To have our lives wholly at the mercy of God is where Jesus wants to draw us -- so that we are no longer at the mercy of the world, the flesh, or the devil.
So Jesus wants to draw us back onto the Hand of God, where we are at the mercy of God (who is merciful)-- to rescue us from the mercy of the world (which is not).
But the cost of that is giving up, letting go of, all of those dependencies in the world to which we have become accustomed, and even treasure. Are we fallen humans willing? Can we be convinced?
We must, that is to say, be willing to go through the death to our false self, our false dependency relationship by which we seek to establish our selves. I must find my true self in God. So Jesus commands, "Pick up your cross daily and follow Me..."
The issue is not the death of Jesus, but rather the death-to-self of the disciples. Are we disciples willing to give up the life we receive from the world to obtain a life from a God we hardly know or trust? We will go through that death only if we are following someone we have come to trust absolutely, someone who knows the way, who loves us, even at the risk of his own life, even when we rebel, reject, and betray him. Only if we have that kind of leader will we make it to the far shore. Our very being and identity is too entrenched in the world to make it any other way.
So, the Son of God enters the world, gets into our tunnel, draws us to Himself, "Keep coming closer...." and slowly creates a Godly dependency and obedience relationship with us.
And then He sets His face toward Jerusalem --- and death.
On Palm Sunday, He enters, triumphant.
But He knows what is ahead. He knows the cowardice, the fear, and ignorance of the people, and the hold which the unholy trinity has on them. "Keep coming closer..."
He confronts the power structure head on -- the "world rulers of this present darkness..." He has a last meal with the disciples, a new blood covenant -- "Keep coming closer..." Just a few quick days, and it is all over. It was hardly a contest -- an itinerant Jewish rabbi against the Jewish hierarch and the mighty Roman empire -- sheer brute power, the mightiest ever 'til then to see the sun rise. Jesus is beaten mercilessly, vividly described in reports on the Shroud of Turin.
What could the disciples think? How could they not run away? All that they trusted and had come to depend upon had been crucified.
When the person you most love and trust and need in the whole world dies, something in you dies. When Jesus died, the disciples too went through a dying. It was all gone now. That was exactly what they had to traverse.
When the disciples became dependent upon Jesus, they brought with them all of their insecurities, faults, sins, dark closets, painful memories, all of their immaturities and idolatries. Jesus knew that they would come to Him in a faulty way.
But because Jesus had indeed drawn them so close -- so that they would die with Him -- as they died, all that was of the world, the flesh, and the devil would also die with them.
Peter said that he would be willing to die with Jesus, he would never desert or betray Him. But when Peter denied Jesus those three times, that was Peter's crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus knew that he would, and that each of the other disciples likewise would in some way desert, crucify Him.
The difference between Peter and Judas was that Judas refused the dependency. He never bonded with Jesus, and so he could not be drawn through the death experience with Jesus. He tried to justify himself by committing suicide because he could not let Jesus justify him. He could not let Jesus give him, restore to him, his reason for existence. He did not want what Jesus was offering.
But the dependency of the disciples on Jesus ran deeper than their worldly side, so that when Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, that which was of the Spirit in them, that which was truly of the Son of God -- rose with Jesus. Just as Jesus' death became theirs, so also did His resurrection become their resurrection. Their dependency on Him was deeper than their dependency on the world.
Jesus said, "I have lost none but the son of perdition..." Judas was still a child of the world. He had rejected dependency upon Jesus and obedience to Him, and therefore could not follow Jesus through death to resurrection.
All of our Christian discipleship, but especially our Lenten disciplines, are about coming into a relationship with Jesus, the Son of God, such that you face your hardships, pain, and loneliness as you follow Jesus through the crucifixions of your worldly dependencies. Your dependency upon Him will grow to be deeper than your dependency on the world. And that which is of the unholy trinity, the world, the flesh, and the devil will die. That which is of the Son of God will be resurrected to eternal life.
In this way, we go through our dark nights of the soul where we may feel like giving up and going back to the world. But as Jesus says in the Book of Revelation, those who endure will be saved. And in John 8:31 ff., "If you continue in my word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
Jesus said that "no man comes to the Father but by me..." (John 14) That is, no one but Jesus, the Son of the Father, the Self-Expression of the Father from outside the closed circle, is able to take us by the hand and lead us through the death we must die. Only He is able to lead us through the passage to the Father, out of our worldly dependencies, idolatries, and eternal death into the resurrection and the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. If God Himself does not come into our closed circle, the God-man, to lead us out, then we are forever locked in. There is no way out. The world is a labyrinth of death. But if the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed.
Modern folks are not pleased with the notion of dependency, but we must come to experience dependency as a good thing, not to be avoided. But only in God. It is only when we are "at the mercy of" God, totally dependent upon Him, our life in His Hand (Kurie eleison...) that our egotism, pride, self-sufficiency will die enough for us to receive His overflowing mercy, goodness, freedom, the power of His resurrection.
The closed circle is a kingdom of death, so that the only way out is death to that world, and resurrection into the real world. Eastern religions do not lead there. They do indeed try to leave this world, but they leave this world for nothingness, Nirvana, the place of no wind. The absolute denial of all relationship. Christians leave this world of unreality and death for the real world of Godly relationships of trust and obedience, of grace, love, and righteousness.
Jesus invites you to accept His call, "Come, follow Me!" Make it a first priority of your life. Let nothing at all, family, job, money, anxieties.... stop you from being in the presence of Him who will always be with you. You will know why Jesus said, "Some standing here will not die until they have seen the Kingdom come with power." Until you can say in your heart with St. Peter, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God...!" you will never risk that journey-perilous with Him along the Way of the Cross, through death into life. And you will never know Him that way unless you spend time with Him.
In Romans 6:1-11, Paul talks of being buried with Christ so that we can be resurrected with Him. How do we do that? How do we get buried with Him? By becoming dependent upon Him, trusting Him, so that as we face the crucifixions of life, the old self dies so that the new self can rise.
Why did Jesus have to die? The issue is not the death of Jesus. He had no need to die. The issue is our death, because that is the only way, in our dependency upon Him in His death, that we will go through our necessary death. We ride through death on His coattails into the Kingdom, the family of God.
Salvation is about gracious relationship, not about a ledger book transaction in heaven concerning our sin and righteousness. Salvation is as much about healing our brokenness as it is about forgiving our sins. We are enabled by the grace of God to repent and to change our behavior -- as much as we are forgiven our trespasses by God. Salvation substantially changes the lives of our fallen race, materially reversing the effects of the Fall.
The more we discover how salvation is about personal relationship with the living God, not about gaining entry into some heavenly place, the more clear it becomes that there can be only one savior. If heaven is a relationship of this sort with a personal God, whom we have offended but is reaching out to us, then clearly there can be only one way to that relationship, the way which He Himself has offered. You cannot have a relationship with someone unless that someone is involved with you. You have to be involved with that person, that Creator God, not some other. That is why there is no other name than Jesus given by which we can be saved.
That is not a statement of narrow mindedness, it is a statement of practical and realistic fact. Pagan gods do not love their underlings. They might occasionally be nice to them, but there is no commitment of integrity, compassion, or demonstrated love at great cost to themselves. There is not a single pagan religion in which the kind of love demonstrated by Jesus is shown by any deity. The Suffering Servant poem of Isaiah does not fit any deity in all of history other than Jesus Christ.
But that is as one would expect of deities within a closed-circle cosmos. Only a creator God who exists independently of the cosmos as its intelligent designer, can show the kind of love and devotion which the one, holy, and undivided Trinity shows to us -- a commitment to come and die for us so that we might successfully die to rise restored to relationship with God Himself.
Next week, we continue our Lenten series with the question: What was the price Jesus paid? To whom did He pay it? And why was the price demanded? There was a price, it was demanded, and it was paid.
Then comes Palm Sunday and Holy Week when all this comes to a head. In order to live well, you have to know how to die well. Walk with Jesus these weeks of Lent (and always), as did the original disciples, so that you also can die with Him as He leads you through your death to self, and resurrection to new life in Him.
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