Written Sermons & Bible Studies

The Three Circles: Why Christ

We are continuing our series on how to share the Gospel. We are using the framework of The Good News in Three Circles. Today we are on the third circle, Why Christ. Last Sunday, we talked about receiving the grace of Jesus Christ. The way we receive the grace of Christ is through the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of our salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, I think the most compelling description of Why Christ and why we would accept the Gospel message comes from the experience of the Pharisee Saul who will become the Apostle Paul.

 

In the book of Acts, we meet Saul as a zealous Pharisee, on the way to persecute followers of Christ. Saul is a zealot because he follows the teachings of the Torah to the tee. He is perfect in his application. Saul devotes himself to the Torah. As a zealous Pharisee, Saul kills those who are not observant “enough.” His devotion to the Torah, as defined by his Pharisee teachers and Rabbis, requires absolute fidelity. To deviate from the strictest of observance would pollute the Law and thus offend God. While in this mindset, Saul encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus, and divine revelation will change Saul forever.

Acts 9:1-7

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

 

As Saul conducts his life as a Pharisee, three problems will arise for him. First, Saul knows the Jewish people have been at war with each other for centuries. There are the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots, the Essenes, the Qumran community, and others. Each new messiah garners supporters that believe they know the truth, and wars and battles flare up, one Jewish sect versus another. The Jewish people are not unified. They argue and war against each other. They kill each other over their interpretation of Scripture.

 

 

The second problem for Saul comes about because emotionally, he believes that the Torah is the path to life, yet everywhere he looks, battles over Torah lead to death. He himself kills other Jews because they believe in a peaceful messiah. They believe in a messiah that speaks about the Kingdom of God. A messiah who speaks of the heart of God to forgive humanity and to call all humanity to God’s self. This Messiah, Jesus, will call out Saul on his way to Damascus for persecuting and killing Jews.

 

Third, Saul believes the Torah to be eternal, full of wisdom and God’s will for God’s people. It is intended to unite all the Jewish people. Israel is supposed to rule the nations in peace. Yet, human execution of Torah has always led to death, persecution, poverty, and God’s wrath. Torah does not work. It has never worked. It only shows the deep flaws of humanity, and the fact that humanity cannot fulfill Torah. In the end, Saul comes to believe that the law only brings wrath.

When we read Scripture, we tend to restrict wrath to God’s wrath toward the unrighteous. However, if we expand wrath to include the death and pain caused by people, then wrath includes human wrath towards each other. It also includes God’s wrath towards the inhumanity of even those devoted to the Torah.

 

To see just how deeply flawed Torah observance was, consider the Roman wars of 68-72 AD. These were fought approximately 30 years after Paul’s conversion. Josephus, a Jewish historian, believed that 1.1 million Jews died in the war. Others say 350,000. In that war, Jewish factions fought and killed each other. One Jewish group in Jerusalem burned the food stores while Jerusalem was under siege by the Romans. These groups all followed Torah and believed that they held the right devotion to Torah. That devotion led to disunity, fighting and death. Again, human observance of God’s law brought only wrath and death. Think about the ideology driven insanity of what happened. You have hated the Romans for years and yet your hate your own people more because they hold a different opinion than you. You burn the food. Most of the Jews in Jerusalem died from disease and starvation.

 

Romans 4:13-17

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—In the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

 

There had to be a better way. That way could not rely on humanity. If people were involved in the solution, it would fail and lead to only wrath. The Torah held God’s perfect will and wisdom. It existed before the creation. It was, in a sense, perfect. Yet, it relied on human execution. People could never execute Torah. Satan corrupted Torah, and people perverted Torah. Death and wrath came from God’s perfect commands in the hands of people.

 

Only God could fix this. The solution needed to rely solely on God and never on humanity.

 

Through his encounter with Jesus, Saul recognizes Jesus is real, Jesus is God, Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the solution. Saul is transformed from a Zealot of the law to a follower of the Way of Life. After ten years of study, Saul embarks on the mission Christ gives to him, as the Apostle Paul, to share the Gospel with the nations and ultimately us.

 

Why Christ? The third circle answers this question in graphic form. Humanity could not fix the sin and death so prevalent in humanity. It would need to be God, and God would need to adopt humanity in a profound way.

 

God adopted us by first becoming one of us. Jesus, the Son of God, became a person. Jesus took on our flesh and our life to join God to humanity. To join God to every one of us sitting here today. We call it the incarnation. It is God becoming human. Why is this so important? Because if Jesus isn’t human, he can’t fix what’s wrong with humanity. Jesus enters a broken world to mend it.

 

And whatever God fixes has nothing to do with us. If God fixes humanity, that fix is permanent. That fix is real, and it overcomes our brokenness, sin, and death. Most importantly, that fix is not dependent on us. It is pure gift and pure grace. It is pure love. If we are fixed, we no longer need Torah to guide us. We no longer need to obey some external code, no matter how good. What we need to do is accept the fix offered by God and live into our repaired humanity.

 

Christ, being God and human, fixes humanity, but how?  Through the cross. The cross holds a lot of meaning. It is the place where Jesus paid for our sins. Jesus took the wrath we deserve upon himself. All that pain and suffering generated by humans – whether they were trying to follow the Law or rejecting the law altogether – the inhumanity and unrighteousness of everyone was shouldered by Jesus. God redeemed us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Jesus paid the debt for our sins. Jesus accepted the righteous wrath of God upon himself as our substitute. Jesus took upon himself all that we fear at the deepest level. He took on pain, he took on shame and humiliation, he took on retribution, he took on isolation and abandonment and he took on death. All those fears of ours destroyed Jesus on the cross. In doing so, Jesus reconciled us to God. However, the cross was not the end.

 

In three days, Jesus rose from the dead and defeated all our greatest fears. Pain and shame did not have the final word. Sin could not hold Jesus in the grave.

 

Finally, death was defeated. The greatest tool of Satan, death, was defeated in the resurrection. God had the final word over all our fears and our wrath. God chose grace and love and used it to defeat sin and death. We are saved by grace through faith, and that is the Gospel, the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

After the resurrection, Jesus as the Son of Man, more plainly as a human, rose to heaven to be with God. Now a human being sits with God in heaven. Because Jesus as a person became eternal and with God, we have a future, a heavenly home beyond death. Paul will say that Jesus is the firstborn of many in a large family.

Romans 8:29  

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” 

 

God’s adoption of us was made official when Jesus ascended into heaven.

 

Now through the grace of God and the love of God, we belong to God’s family. We can follow Jesus to life eternal with God. We belong to the body of Christ. We have the Holy Spirit with us always and within us to help us live the life and mission that Christ gives to us.

 

Back to Saul. The Gospel solves Saul’s three problems.

  • For Saul, the Torah only brought wrath. No human could be righteous. Our salvation does not depend on us. We only need to accept Jesus Christ by faith as our Lord and Savior. None of our salvation depends on our performance of anything. The grace and love we receive is pure grace.
  • For Saul, the Torah was supposed to be the path to life, but it only led to death. In Christ, there is a path to life. We are not humans that God accepts because of anything we do. We are accepted and adopted by God because Jesus Christ gave us a new humanity. We are no longer bound to sin; we are free in Christ.
  • For Saul, even amongst Jews, the law led to disunity and war. In Christ, we are unified. We are members of the body of Christ. Our unity is not our doing. Christ joined us with God and each other. We all belong to the family of God.

 

Paul lived with amazing peace and joy. He did so because he fully accepted the grace of Christ. He was comfortable in all settings because he believed the Gospel. He was also at peace because Christ freed him from a life of endless compliance to a law that only offered wrath and death. Paul, who lived shrouded in death and disunity found in the Gospel a life freed from death and connected to all of those whom Christ gave salvation. Even in the early church, there were arguments. However, Paul always argued for a bigger family, greater acceptance and an inviting Gospel for everyone. Paul understood how Christ united us together with God and brought us together as one family. Paul found in the Gospel the answers to the questions he sought but never found even in small amounts in perfect Torah adherence. Paul got it and found peace and joy to some extend because he lived so completely the opposite as he sought God in the Torah.

 

The Gospel is amazing. Every aspect of our salvation God gave us for free. We have grace, peace and joy without doing a thing. We are not judged, we are encouraged, empowered, saved, and cherished. Our Gospel is amazing. Can we live like we believe that?

 

Romans 1:16-17

 

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” Amen

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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