Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sin & Salvation # 3 - The Cross

In October of 2015, a 31-year-old father named Justin McCary took his 10-year-old daughter Haley and his niece rock collecting on a piece of rail road track near Chattanooga, Tennessee. They were having a good day until they heard a CSX train approaching. McCary’s niece was able to make it to safety, but Haley’s foot got stuck in the train track. Her father scrambled to her as quickly as he could, working frantically to free his daughter before the train bore down on them. He was able to rescue her, pushing her fifteen feet into the creek below—but not before the train struck him and killed him. Justin’s cousin Pamela said of him, ““He died a hero today, saving his daughter from being hit by a train in a terrifying tragedy. He was a good man with an enormous personality. We will never get over this.”[i]

Stories like this one both inspire and sadden us as we think about a father’s love for his child, and the lengths a parent will go to rescue a child in danger. There is no distance a good parent will not go, no sacrifice a good parent will not make, to rescue a beloved child. All four Gospels record the story of what God the Perfect Parent did to rescue humanity from the scourge of sin. Upon the cross, Jesus bore full impact of sin, so that we could be set free.

For the past two weeks, we’ve been talking about sin and salvation. We saw how sins (with a lower case S) are individual rebellious actions that are symptoms of the greater disease of Sin (with an upper case S). Sin is humanity’s voluntary estrangement from God, as well as our separation from people and creation that are created in God’s image. We learned that, “in Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”[ii] But we also learned that our rescuing God provides a way of salvation. Though some believe God gave the Law as a means of salvation, what it really did was make humanity more aware of its own trespass. In fact, it created more lawbreakers, because without law there can be no trespass. The Law cannot save—but it does point to our need for a Savior.

How does Jesus’ death on the cross heal us of the disease of Sin—estrangement from God? The cross itself represents the worst evil that human Sin could invent—and Jesus willingly embraced that humiliation and suffering. He didn’t need to lay his flayed back on the wooden beam, yet he stretched out his arms to embrace us all the same. Jesus positioned himself between two thieves, identifying with the worst of humanity. Georgia Harkness said, “The cross [is] God's way of uniting suffering with love.”[iii] When one of those fallen souls scorned Him, Jesus took it, along with the derision of the whole crowd. Yet when one of those same sinners turned to him in faith, Jesus offered salvation. So the Savior still embraces all who turn to him. This means that when people voluntarily separate themselves from God, God chooses to embrace them. Jesus’ identification with fallen humanity on the cross bridges the gap and reconciles the world to God.

Jesus not only healed us of the disease of Sin—Jesus also forgave us of our sins. He canceled the power of the disease, but He also eradicated our sense of guilt for having the disease (if we allow that forgiveness to flow). As He looked down from the cross, his body broken from the scourge of Sin, He saw the faces of those who had done this to him. Beneath the cross stood the soldiers who had abused his body, and the religious leaders who had set the whole thing up. The crowd that had shouted “Hosanna!” condemned and now mocked him. Those closest to him were his mortal enemies, while he saw at a distance those friends who should have been nearest to his side. One had betrayed Him, one had denied him, and all had abandoned him. Yet, as much as all of them had wounded Him, Jesus pardoned them all. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”[iv] But Jesus didn’t simply forgive all the people standing on that hillside. He pronounced forgiveness for all humaniy. 1 Peter 3:18a (NASB) says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.” Jesus died once for all people, for all sins, and for all time. As the old song goes, “When He was on the cross, you were on His mind.” No person is beyond redemption; no sin is unforgiven in the past, present, or future. All you must do is receive that grace.

The story of the cross doesn’t end with Jesus giving grace. It continues with believers receiving grace that is freely given. Jesus’ cross that saves us becomes the cross we carry to draw others to His salvation. In Matthew 16:24 (NASB), Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Some may think this a hardship, but Samuel Rutherford says, “Christ's cross is such a burden as sails are to a ship or wings to a bird.”[v] Taking up our cross means taking up His mission, being bearers of grace to a wounded world.

Just as Jesus paid for grace with his life, sometimes cross-carrying can be costly. Today in the Word gives a perfect example of believers living out Christlike love:
Boarding the SS Dorchester on a dreary winter day in 1943 were 903 troops and four chaplains, including Moody alumnus Lt. George Fox. World War II was in full swing, and the ship was headed across the icy North Atlantic where German U-boats lurked. At 12:00 on the morning of February 3, a German torpedo ripped into the ship. "She's going down!" the men cried, scrambling for lifeboats.
A young GI crept up to one of the chaplains. "I've lost my life jacket," he said. "Take this," the chaplain said, handing the soldier his jacket. Before the ship sank, each chaplain gave his life jacket to another man. The heroic chaplains then linked arms and lifted their voices in prayer as the Dorchester went down. Lt. Fox and his fellow pastors were awarded posthumously the Distinguished Service Cross.[vi]

Carrying the cross means being like Jesus. It means being like Lt. Fox and the other chaplains, like Justin McCary. It means putting yourself last for the sake of God’s people. It means receiving the grace of God and sharing with the greatest and the least. Today as we talk about the cross, let’s not leave it on Calvary. Let’s take it to the streets—let’s carry the cross, and follow Him.

[i] “Father sacrifices himself to save daughter from getting hit by train.”   John Hadden.   http://globalnews.ca/news/2271891/father-sacrifices-himself-to-save-daughter-from-getting-hit-by-train/.  August 2, 2016.
[ii] 1777 New England Primer
[iv] Luke 23:33 NASB
[vi] Today in the Word, April 1, 1992.  http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/s/sacrifice.htm.  August 2, 2016.

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