The Meaning of His Death
(Matthew 16, Romans 3, 5 & 6)
Introduction: If you read these lessons regularly, you know that I always consider the logic of the Bible text. If I were in the sandals of those listening to Jesus, how would I react? What is logically the message from God? One message which I have historically had a very difficult time with is the logic of salvation. Why does the death of my God give me eternal life? Why does it satisfy the death penalty imposed on me for my sin? The logic of American justice is completely contrary. When I was in law school, I was taught the old saying "It is better to let 1,000 guilty people go free than to execute one innocent person." Why would God have a plan in which the Innocent One is tortured and killed? How does this logically "add up" as payment for my guilt? Let's dive in and see what we can find in the Bible!
- The Ransom
- Read Matthew 16:21-22. Why did Peter so strongly dispute Jesus? (Read Acts 1:6. Jesus is about to return to heaven and His disciples still think that Jesus' immediate goal is to set up a kingdom on earth! Peter obviously had "kingdom" thoughts when he corrected Jesus. How can Jesus die if He is going to rule?)
- Read Matthew 16:23. What "things of men" did Peter have in mind? (Ruling with Jesus. Peter wanted to be an earthly ruler too. How can Peter rule if his Master is not ruling?)
- Read Matthew 16:24-26. What, exactly, is Jesus telling us is God's plan for our life? (To follow Jesus by denying ourselves.)
- Denying what? Remember that the context is the dispute over Jesus' coming death versus ruling. (Denying our goal to gain the world. This was precisely the plan of Peter - to rule with Jesus. This is a clash of world views. Peter wanted to rule, in which case others would serve him. Jesus wanted Peter to serve others.)
- What does it mean to take up Jesus' cross. Don't give any "automatic" answers. What would you do this Monday to take up Jesus' cross?
- What do you say about the fact that when Jesus picked up His cross He was on the path to death?
- Just after another conversation with the disciples about them becoming rulers, Jesus spoke again about His death. Read Mark 10:42-45. What does this suggest that we should do to deny ourselves and take up our cross? (To serve others.)
- Jesus uses a very odd term. He says that His life is a "ransom for many." To whom is the ransom being paid? For whom is it being paid?
- Does this make logical sense to you? (In the introduction I wrote how the state never seeks to execute an innocent person. However, I understand the logic of thieves and kidnappers who demand ransom money to release someone.)
- Jesus compared being a servant with paying a ransom. Can you see any logic in this? (When I serve another person, I give up something to make that person's life better. That is one way to look at a ransom. You give up something to help someone else. For some time now I have been mowing the yard of my elderly neighbors. It uses my time (which is at a premium) and my money (gas). I clearly give up something to benefit this couple. A mowed lawn improves their life - and mine, since they are my immediate neighbor.)
- Since ransoms are demanded by evil people, is it wrong for God to require us to be servants to others?
- Will we no longer be servants to others in a perfect world? (In our evil world, only evil people demand ransoms. Imagine a world in which we all voluntarily served each other. I think that is God's goal for His people. God illustrated this by dying for us.)
- I understand the logic of the ransom to some degree. I understand the "world view" of serving others. The problem with paying a ransom is that it encourages evil people to do more evil to more people. And, I still have logical problems with the "math" of how Jesus' death pays for my sin. Let's explore that next.
- The Death of Self
- Read Romans 6:8 and 2 Timothy 2:11. Do you think we died when Jesus died? No one reading this lesson was even born when Jesus died. How can the Bible say that we "died" with Jesus?
- Read Hebrews 7:1-9. How can it be said that Levi paid a tithe to Melchizedek? Levi was not yet born.
- Read Romans 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 15:22. How could I die when Adam died? I had not yet been born?(One of my father's old friends, Patrick Stevenson, recently contacted me and explained the theory that arises from these texts. When Jesus died for our sins, we died with Him. Stevenson calls this the "corporate identity" theory. This makes perfect logical sense to me. Why? Because this has me - the guilty one - dying for my sins "corporately" through Jesus. (If there are any errors in my recitation of Stevenson's explanation, they are no doubt my fault and not his.))
- One of my concerns about this corporate identity explanation is that it means that everyone is saved - an idea which is at odds with many other Bible texts. If not everyone is saved, how do we get included in the "corporate" death for sin? How do we get our "sin bill" marked "paid?" (Read Romans 6:3-4. The Bible tells us that when we are baptized we are "baptized into His death." When we accept Jesus as our Savior and are baptized, we accept His death as our death.)
- What does this death mean for the rest of your life on earth? What should be different after you found that you died with Jesus - other than giving out a great sigh of relief? (Read Romans 6:1-2. In baptism we die with Jesus and we are raised to new life with Jesus. We died to the old life. Our goal should be holiness. Let's explore that a little more.)
- The Holy Life
- Read Romans 3:10-12. Well, my idea of living a holy life was certainly short-lived. Are we destined to be "worthless" even though we died to sin?
- Read Romans 3:20. What good is it for me to live with the fact that I am worthless? How does it improve me to be conscious of my guilt? (The law of God shows the vast gulf between my life and His perfect law.)
- But, is that good for me - to realize how worthless I am? When I was growing up, I read the writings of Ellen White. She believes in holiness. When I looked at the standard she held up for me, it just made me want to give up. There was no way I could meet the standard. No way.
- Read Romans 3:21-23 and Romans 3:27-28. Can you meet God's standard? (Praise, God, yes! Just like we died corporately with Jesus, so we are corporately made perfect with Jesus. Faith is what saves us and makes us perfect.)
- So, how should I live? Is Ellen White right with her emphasis on holy living? (Yes. Re-read Romans 6:1-2 and read Hebrews 10:26. We need to constantly work (yes, I mean work) on making the right decisions. We "uphold the law" ( Romans 3:31) by our determination to live a holy life. When I was so discouraged by Ellen White, I thought the perfect life was essential to salvation. Now I realize that my salvation is by faith in Christ. Slipping on the path to holiness does not take me out of God's grace. What does take me out of His grace is the time when I stop caring about the journey to holiness. When I keep deliberately sinning, I start to wriggle out of God's grasp.)
- Friend, how about you? You deserve to die for what you have done. But, you can die for your sins by confessing them to God, and accepting Jesus and His death for your sins through your baptism. You can be justified and raised to eternal life by accepting Jesus' resurrection into new life on your behalf. With the assurance of salvation, you can begin the journey to holy living. What do you say? Will you accept Jesus now?
- Next week: The Power of His Resurrection.