3/9/03, Lent 1B
For The Unjust
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 (a 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 realized 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. Unknowingly, he vicariously substituted for our guilt and our deserved punishment because none of us are righteous.
Sometimes we are confused by our dictionary definition of the word "righteous." It speaks of the "morally upright" as being righteous; or, "those who live a virtuous life." Yet, our theology defines righteousness as perfect sunlessness; thus no human beings can measure up, even though we might be morally virtuous and upright; however, none of us are righteous. Therefore, salvation is "JUST FOR THE UNJUST." Through our faith in Christ's atonement we can be looked upon by God just as if we were righteous: We are Justified as God forgives our sin through the sacrifice of Christ.
"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." (KJV)
Often times 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 our family. However, there is something miraculous about being grabbed by Christ's vicarious atonement that plants in us a new focus on others. Indeed, no matter what our station is in life, we feel drawn by the Spirit toward serving our fellow human beings. The ethical impact of Jesus' sacrificial death on the Cross lies at the very core of our faith. It is hard to imagine someone becoming a disciple without first being grasped 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 sacred souls 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 giving her life. 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 ourselves away, as imitators of the Christ in the Deckers.
Not just international missionaries give their lives. Parents willingly give their lives for their children daily. We have heard it repeated many times, "We so want our children to have a better life than we did coming up!" We 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.
We all live with this awareness of immortality. Freud often commented that we cannot conceive of ourselves as nonexistent. Jung believed that we are born with an awareness that we will never really die. In his book on Miracles, the influential 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 Shadowlands, and death as the future 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!"
On this first Sunday in Lent, let us begin to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter, just six weeks away. We will have special events at our church, but none of us will be ready unless we focus on a renewal of the basic means of continuing spiritual enhancement: Prayer, Bible Study, Worship, Sunday School, Fellowship, Service and volunteerism, and also, random acts of kindness toward unsuspecting recipients. We want to come to Easter with a renewed clarity of purpose and an operational sense of inner peace. We need a refreshed comfort level in a time of international turmoil and uncertainty. We want to know that our life matters and that our participation in our church and community makes a difference. We want to come to Easter with a deeper awareness that our lives are on the track that God wants them to be on. And we want to begin this process today.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor