3/12/2000, Lent 1 Year B
Righteous for the Unrighteous
"For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit." (NRSV).
R.D. Cole was about the toughest kid in the third grade and we all admired him greatly. One day several of us were whispering during our "heads on the desk nap time," when Miss Akers (the Methodist P.K.) asked, "Who is talking?" Silence followed, and then she said, "OK raise your hand if you were talking." Nobody even raised a finger. Then she said, "Everybody will have to stay in during recess if the guilty party does not confess." Slowly, R.D. slipped his hand into the air. We were all stunned, but none of the rest of us would admit our guilt. The next day when play time came, R.D. stayed in the classroom. We all felt awful and kind of walked around the playground looking glum, then here came little R.D. running out to join us. "What happened, we all asked at once?" "She forgave me and she let me go!" R.D. responded as he wiped his crying eyes with his fists.
There's some real Gospel in that story. A sermon was preached by our preacher's kid teacher, although it took me years to catch on to what she had done. She must have known who the guilty talkers were, she knew our voices; but, she forgave us all because one was willing to take the punishment in our place.
"Christ suffered for our sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous." (v18).
Often times along the way we see folks who suffer for others: Those who bear the pain so that others might have an easier life. Any of us would do that for their wife, husband or kids.
There was an article in the newspaper many years ago that warned that if you are not such a good swimmer that you need to decide beforehand whom you would be willing to risk drowning for. Marilyn and I were sitting around the pool that afternoon discussing that article, and our lack of lifesaving training, and we decided that it would be worth risking our lives for each other. After our girls came along we included them. Our logic was that if we did not take the risk that we could never forgive ourselves for not trying. There are people that each of us would gladly give our lives for.
To suffer for someone else. To take upon yourself the pain of another human being lies at the core of the Good News. The ethical impact of Jesus' substitutionary death on the Cross lies at the very soul of our experience. It is hard to imagine someone becoming a disciple without first being grabbed by the impact of the sinless Son of God willingly giving up his life in our place. Because He bore our sin in His body on that tree, we are influenced to also give our lives for others: Maybe not always in dying for others, but in living for others.
As a teenager I was captured by the life of the Paul Decker family who sold all their possessions and boarded a ship to West Africa. They arrived on the shore with nothing but a story about Jesus who died to save all humanity. Through many hardships and trials they had a great influence on many who had never heard the story presented in an understandable manner. Paul Decker was 6'6'' tall, red headed and fair skinned. When he stood up to preach people listened, and heard, and believed, and thousands became disciples because he, his wife and children, were willing to sacrifice their comfortable life in California. Mrs. Sara Decker was a nurse who ministered in a tangible way to thousands who had never been the recipient of modern medicine. She saved many lives by sacrificing her life for her new friends. When the Deckers came to my Daddy's church to tell their story and show their color slides, we were all impacted by our need to give our lives away for others.
However, not just international missionaries give their lives. Parents willingly give their lives for their children daily. You have heard it repeated many times, "We so want our children to have a better life than we did coming up!" Sometimes, of course, they spoil their children with too much, or give them too smooth a road, and end up ruining what they so much wanted to make better. But, all of us have seen Moms and Dads work their fingers to the bones for their own.
This is something of what our Heavenly Father did for us through His Son, He died that we might live. He suffered so that we might experience the joys of knowing the assurance of becoming adopted sons and daughters of the King of Glory.
Our text not only emphasizes the vicarious death of Jesus Christ in the flesh, it also says that he was, "...made alive in the spirit." As Paul explained resurrection to the Corinthians, "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ." (I Cor. 15: 20-22, NRSV).
We all live with this awareness of immortality. Freud often commented that we can not conceive of ourselves as nonexistent. Jung believed that we are born with an awareness that we will never really die. In his book on Mirac les, my favorite author, C.S. Lewis, says,"He (Christ) tasted death on behalf of all others. He is the representative 'Die-er' of the universe: and for that very reason the Resurrection and the life... Because Vicariousness is the very idiom of the reality He has created, his death can become ours." (chap. 14, par. 32). Those of us who have read Lewis' Narnia series of books for children of all ages, recall how he turned logic around and began to refer to this present life as the Shadow-Lands, and death as the new reality. To children who had been killed in an accident, Aslan the Lion King, and the Christ figure in the Land of Narnia greeted them with, "The term is over: the holidays have begun, The dream has ended: this is the morning." (The Last Battle, chap. 16, p.183-184). In Shadowlanders terminology, "Because He lives, so shall we live; forever!"
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor