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God's Search & Rescue

Rev Steve - 05 Apr 2015

Hebrews 9: 1- 14; vs14 ‘how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God’

Four bullets hit Pope John Paul II – two of them lodging in his lower intestine, the others hitting his left hand and right arm. This assassination attempt on the Pope in May 1981 left him severely wounded and with considerable blood loss – his health was never the same again. In July 1981 the perpetrator, Ali Ağca, was sentenced to life imprisonment. Pope John Paul II asked people to pray ‘for my brother Ağca, whom I have sincerely forgiven’.

Two years later, he was to take the hand of Ali Ağca, then in prison, and quietly tell him that he had forgiven him for what he had done (even though his would-be killer had not asked for forgiveness). He developed a friendship over the years, meeting Ağca’s mother in 1987 and his brother a decade later. In June 2000 Ağca was pardoned by President Carlo Ciampi at the Pope’s request. In February 2005 Ağca sent a letter to the Pope wishing him well. When the Pope died on 2 April 2005, Ağca’s brother, Adrian, gave an interview saying that Ağca and his entire family were grieving and that the Pope had been a great friend to them.

Pope John Paul II’s response of love and mercy is exemplary. But, on Good Friday God’s love and forgiveness was beyond exemplary, it was down right cosmically colossal, for at the cross of Christ, Jesus didn’t seek to kill but be killed, the innocent exchanged for the guilty, here God’s love and mercy is even more extraordinary than Pope John Paul 11, because, in the words of the hymn written by Matt Redman

Jesus Christ, I think upon Your sacrifice

You became nothing, poured out to death

Many times I've wondered at Your gift of life

And I'm in that place once again

I'm in that place once again

For most Christians, Easter Sunday is as familiar as the wall paper in their homes. So, here’s the question, what is easter?

Easter is the work of Substitution.
A minister one Sunday was about to preach his sermon, when he invited an old friend to come and briefly share his story to the congregation. The minister welcomed his dearest childhood friend, with that an elderly man walked to the pulpit and told his story. “A father, his son and a friend of his son were sailing off the pacific coast when a fierce storm hit them and the three were swept into the sea as the boat capsized. Grabbing a rescue line, the father had to make the most painful decision of his life, who was he to throw the lifeline to? The father knew his own son was a christian and his son’s friend wasn’t, the father yelled ‘I love you’ to his son as he threw the line to his son’s friend, pulling him to safety, while his son disappeared forever beneath the waves. Concluding, the visitor said, “how great is God’s love for us that he gave his only son that we should be rescued. So take hold of the lifeline that the father is throwing you in this service this morning”. With that the old man finished and the minister took his place in the pulpit and preached his message. 

At the end of the meeting, some teenagers came up to the visitor, they had been looking very skeptical throughout the old man’s story and hadn’t responded to the appeal. “That wasn’t a very realistic story”, they said mockingly. “No dad would do that”.You’ve got a point” said the visitor, “but I’m here today to tell you that this story gives me a great glimpse into God’s heart for us, you see, I was that father who threw the line line, and your minister here was my son’s best friend”.

Jesus was that willing substitute, God was that giving father, Jesus stepped into the ocean of sin and took our place to save our lives by giving up his. Jesus had no sins of His own for which to make sacrifice, the blood he shed was not of goats and calves, but his own; he had no need to offer the same sacrifices repeatedly, which could never take away sins, because he made ‘one sacrifice for sins for all time, one oblation made once for all’ and so has obtained eternal redemption and established an eternal covenant which contains the promise “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb 8:-10)

This means that human sin and human suffering matter to God, he does not abandon us in trouble, he came and placed himself in the midst of trouble for our sake, his heart is expressed on the cross, as he entered into pain, suffering, and judgement, no one can say of God, ‘you don’t know what its like’, on the contrary, he knows full well what its like. 

But that wasn’t it was it, had Jesus not conquered death, all he would have been was just another 1st Century spiritual guru murdered by the Romans, a forgotten rebel, but the glorious truth of Easter is that the resurrection turned everything upside down.

And so, Easter is the work of Reconciliation.
Mankind was alienated from God by sin and God was alienated from mankind by His wrath. It is in the substitutionary death of Christ that sin was overcome and wrath averted, so that God can look on mankind without displeasure and mankind can look on God without fear. Sin is expiated (atoned for) and God is propitiated (appeased). All is of God, the only thing that we bring of our own is our sin from which we need His redemption.

Father Maximilian Kolbe, was a polish Franciscan in Auschwitz concentration camp, when a number of prisoners were selected for execution, one of them shouted that he was married with children, father Kolbe stepped forward and asked if he could take the condemned man’s place. His offer was accepted by the authorities, and he was placed in an underground cell, where he was left to die of starvation.

The essence of sin is mankind substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for mankind. 

God through Jesus Christ substituted himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self sacrifice in order for divine reconciliation. The cross was an act of simultaneous punishment and amnesty, substitution and reconciliation, severity and grace, justice and mercy.

What we learn from this act is that it is the work of Christ’s blood that cleanses our conscience, not our ‘dead works’ (our efforts - the productivity of a poor conscience) which is replaced with ‘service to the living God’

Once a year, if you go down to the River Lee by Springfield you will witness an amazing sight where Orthodox Jews stand by the river bank and shake off their sin into the water! They no longer have the temple to make atoned sacrifices for their sins, so how can they gain forgiveness? And so to no avail can their actions (works) bring cleansing. No animal blood could cleanse the conscious or water shaking (Isa 53, Ps 51) And so a new high priest of a new high covenant had to come Jesus Christ the Son of God - a better sacrifice of Himself.

vs14 ‘how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God’

So here in the present post-modern age - the age of reason, science, internet, organ transplants, instant messaging, mobiles - our problem is fundamentally the same as always: our conscious condemns us. Pleb gate. Cash for access, MP’s expenses and so it goes on. Abortion. Adultery. Theft. Murder.

We are defiled by pride, self-pity, bitterness, lust, un-forgiveness, envy, jealousy, covetousness, apathy, lack of faith and fear. The Bible calls these “dead works”, they have no spiritual life in them. They don’t come from new life, from the resurrected life - Romans 6, they come from death and they produce death. That is why they make us feel hopeless in our conscious. 

But here’s the Easter good news, - when Jesus walked out of that tomb, He walked out as mediator of the new covenant and so all those who place their faith in Him walk out with Him and walk away from everything that captivates, encloses, engulfs, encages, enchains and enslaves us. His freedom is our freedom. His release is our release.

The only answer in these modern times, as in all other times, is to receive the all conquering, all precious, all cleansing, all redeeming, all justifying, all accepting, all covering, all protecting, life giving, peace reaching, joy possessing, sanctifying unique blood of the risen and ascended Holy Lord Jesus Christ. 

That’s why the Gospel is called the good news,

‘No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness Divine, Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own. 

When our conscious rises up and condemns us, where will we turn? We turn to the risen Christ.’ We turn to the suffering servant Jesus Christ who’s death and blood cleanses us from all condemnation This is the ONLY cleansing agent in the universe that can give the conscious relief in life and peace in death.

Romans 8:1 ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, …’

From His throne, to the temple, from the temple to the tree, from the tree to the tomb and from the tomb to his throne, Christ’s resurrection is the only key to new life, to a clear conscious, to a relationship with the one who placed the stars in the sky.


 

How’s your conscious today, is it clean, is it free, today of all days, let us lay aside our burdens and receive the greatest gift to mankind, that being, the forgiveness of our sins and peace with ourselves, others and God. 

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