44. To Destroy the Hostility Between Races

He . . . has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16 The suspicion, prejudice, and demeaning attitudes between Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) in New Testament times was as serious as the racial, ethnic, and national hostilities in our day. One example of the antagonism is what happened in Antioch between Cephas (sometimes called Peter) and Paul. Paul recounts the story: "When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party" (Galatians 2:11-12). Peter had been living in the freedom of Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that he was a Jewish Christian, he was eating with non-Jewish Christians. The dividing wall had come down. The hostility had been overcome. This is what Christ died to achieve. But then some very conservative Jews came to Antioch. Cephas panicked. He feared their criticism. So he pulled back from his fellowship with Gentiles. The apostle Paul saw this happening. What would he do? Serve the status quo? Keep peace between the visiting conservatives and the more free Christian Jews in Antioch? The key to Paul's behav- ior is found in these words: "I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:14). This is a crucial statement. Racial and ethnic segregation is a gospel issue! Cephas' fear and withdrawal from fellowship across ethnic lines was "not in step with the truth of the gospel." Christ had died to tear down this wall. And Cephas was building it up again. So Paul did not serve the status quo, and he did not maintain a gospel-denying peace. He confronted Cephas publicly. "I said to Cephas before them all, 'If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile [non-Jew] and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?'" (Galatians 2:14). In other words, Cephas' withdrawal from fellowship with non-Jewish Christians commu- nicated a deadly message: You must become like Jews to be fully acceptable. This was the very thing that Christ died to abolish. Jesus died to create a whole new way for races to be recon- ciled. Ritual and race are not the ground of joyful togetherness. Christ is. He fulfilled the law perfectly. All the aspects of it that separated people ended in him-except one: the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is impossible to build a lasting unity among races by saying that all religions can come together as equally valid. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. God sent him into the world as the one and only means of saving sinners and reconciling races forever. If we deny this, we undermine the very foundation of eternal hope and everlasting unity among peoples. By his death on the cross, something cosmic, not parochial, was accomplished. God and man were reconciled. Only as the races find and enjoy this will they love and enjoy each other forever. In overcoming our alien- ation from God, Christ overcomes it between races.

3. To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Hebrews 5:8 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. Hebrews 2:10 The very book in the Bible that says Christ "learned obedience" through suffering, and that he was "made perfect" through suffering, also says that he was "without sin." "In every respect [Christ] has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). This is the consistent teaching of the Bible. Christ was sinless. Although he was the divine Son of God, he was really human, with all our temptations and appetites and physical weaknesses. There was hunger (Matthew 21:18) and anger and grief (Mark 3:5) and pain (Matthew 17:12). But his heart was perfectly in love with God, and he acted consistently with that love: "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). Therefore, when the Bible says that Jesus "learned obedience through what he suffered," it doesn't mean that he learned to stop disobeying. It means that with each new trial he learned in practice-and in pain-what it means to obey. When it says that he was "made perfect through suffering," it doesn't mean that he was gradually getting rid of defects. It means that he was gradually fulfilling the perfect righteousness that he had to have in order to save us. That's what he said at his baptism. He didn't need to be baptized because he was a sinner. Rather, he explained to John the Baptist, "Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). The point is this: If the Son of God had gone from incarnation to the cross without a life of temptation and pain to test his righteousness and his love, he would not be a suitable Savior for fallen man. His suffering not only absorbed the wrath of God. It also fulfilled his true humanity and made him able to call us brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:17).

33. To Make His Cross the Ground of All Our Boasting

Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14 This seems over the top. Boast only in the cross! Really? Literally only in the cross? Even the Bible talks about other things to boast in. Boast in the glory of God (Romans 5:2). Boast in our tribulations (Romans 5:3). Boast in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). Boast in the people of Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:19). What does "only" mean here? It means that all other boasting should still be a boasting in the cross. If we boast in the hope of glory, that very boast should be a boast in the cross of Christ. If we boast in the people of Christ, that very boasting should be a boasting in the cross. Boasting only in the cross means only the cross enables every other legitimate boast, and every legitimate boast should there- fore honor the cross. Why? Because every good thing-indeed, even every bad thing that God turns for good-was obtained for us by the cross of Christ. Apart from faith in Christ, sinners get only judgment. Yes, there are many pleasant things that come to unbelievers. But the Bible teaches that even these natural blessings of life will only increase the severity of God's judgment in the end, if they are not received with thanks on the basis of Christ's sufferings (Romans 2:4-5). Therefore, everything that we enjoy, as people who trust Christ, is owing to his death. His suffering absorbed all the judg- ment that guilty sinners deserved and purchased all the good that forgiven sinners enjoy. Therefore all our boasting in these things should be a boasting in the cross of Christ. We are not as Christ- centered and cross-cherishing as we should be, because we do not ponder the truth that everything good, and everything bad that God turns for the good, was purchased by the sufferings of Christ. And how do we become that radically cross-focused? We must awaken to the truth that when Christ died on the cross, we died (see chapter 31). When this happened to the apostle Paul, he said, "The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14). This is the key to Christ-centered boasting in the cross. When you put your trust in Christ, the overpowering attrac- tion of the world is broken. You are a corpse to the world, and the world is a corpse to you. Or to put it positively, you are a "new creation" (Galatians 6:15). The old you is dead. A new you is alive-the you of faith in Christ. And what marks this faith is that it treasures Christ above everything in the world. The power of the world to woo your love away has died. Being dead to the world means that every legitimate pleasure in the world becomes a blood-bought evidence of Christ's love and an occasion of boasting in the cross. When our hearts run back along the beam of blessing to the source in the cross, then the worldliness of the blessing is dead, and Christ crucified is everything.

1. To Absorb the Wrath of God

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree." Galatians 3:13 God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:25 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10 If God were not just, there would be no demand for his Son to suffer and die. And if God were not loving, there would be no willingness for his Son to suffer and die. But God is both just and loving. Therefore his love is willing to meet the demands of his justice. God's law demanded, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5). But we have all loved other things more. This is what sin is-dishonoring God by preferring other things over him, and acting on those preferences. Therefore, the Bible says, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We glorify what we enjoy most. And it isn't God. Therefore sin is not small, because it is not against a small Sovereign. The seriousness of an insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted. The Creator of the universe is infinitely worthy of respect and admiration and loyalty. Therefore, failure to love him is not trivial-it is treason. It defames God and destroys human happiness. Since God is just, he does not sweep these crimes under the rug of the universe. He feels a holy wrath against them. They deserve to be punished, and he has made this clear: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). There is a holy curse hanging over all sin. Not to punish would be unjust. The demeaning of God would be endorsed. A lie would reign at the core of reality. Therefore, God says, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them" (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:26). But the love of God does not rest with the curse that hangs over all sinful humanity. He is not content to show wrath, no matter how holy it is. Therefore God sends his own Son to absorb his wrath and bear the curse for all who trust him. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13). This is the meaning of the word "propitiation" in the text quoted above (Romans 3:25). It refers to the removal of God's wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath; he absorbs it and diverts it from us to himself. God's wrath is just, and it was spent, not withdrawn. Let us not trifle with God or trivialize his love. We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of his wrath against us. But when, by grace, we waken to our unworthiness, then we may look at the suffering and death of Christ and say, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the [wrath-absorbing] propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

41. To Secure Our Resurrection from the Dead

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Romans 6:5 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. Romans 8:11 If we have died with him, we will also live with him. 2 Timothy 2:11 The keys of death were hung on the inside of Christ's tomb. From the outside, Christ could do many wonderful works, including raising a twelve-year-old girl and two men from the dead-only to die again (Mark 5:41-42; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44). If any were to be raised from the dead, never to die again, Christ would have to die for them, enter the tomb, take the keys, and unlock the door of death from the inside. The resurrection of Jesus is God's gift and proof that his death was completely successful in blotting out the sins of his people and removing the wrath of God. You can see this in the word "therefore." Christ was "obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him" (Philippians 2:8-9). From the cross the Son of God cried, "It is finished" (John 19:30). And by means of the resurrection, God the Father cries, "It was finished indeed!" The great work of paying for our sin and providing our righteousness and satisfying God's justice was finished in the death of Jesus. Then, in the grave, he had the right and the power to take the keys of death and open the door for all who come to him by faith. If sin is paid for, and righteousness is provided, and justice is sat- isfied, nothing can keep Christ or his people in the grave. That's why Jesus shouts, "I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades" (Revelation 1:18). The Bible rings with the truth that belonging to Jesus means we will be raised from the dead with him. "If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his" (Romans 6:5). "Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:14). "God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power" (1 Corinthians 6:14). Here's the connection between Christ's death and our resur- rection: "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law" (1 Corinthians 15:56). Which means, we have all sinned, and the law sentences sinners to everlasting death. But the text contin- ues, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse 57). In other words, the demand of the law is met by Jesus' life and death. Therefore, sins are forgiven. Therefore, the sting of sin is removed. Therefore, those who believe in Christ will not be sentenced to everlasting death, but will "be raised imperishable . . . then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory'" (1 Corinthians 15:52, 54). Be astonished, and come to Christ. He invites you: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).

28. To Free Us from the Futility of Our Ancestry

You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 1 Peter 1:18-19 Secular people in the West, and more primitive people in animistic tribes, have this in common: They believe in the power of ancestral bondage. They call it by different names. Animistic people may speak in terms of ancestral spirits and the transmission of curses. Secular people may speak of genetic influence or the wounding of abusive, codependent, emotionally distant parents. In both cases there is a sense of fatalism that we are bound to live with the curse or the wounds from our ancestry. The future seems futile and void of happiness. When the Bible says, "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers," it is referring to an empty, meaningless, unprofitable way of living that ends with destruction. It says that these "futile ways" are connected with our ancestors. It doesn't say how. The crucial thing is to notice how we are freed from the bondage of this futility. The power of the liberator defines the extent of the liberation. The liberation from ancestral bondage happens "not with perishable things such as silver or gold." Silver and gold represent the most valuable things that could be paid for our ransom. But we all know they are useless. The richest people are often the most enslaved to the futility. A wealthy tribal chief may be tormented by the fear of an ancestral hex on his life. A secular president of a successful company may be driven by unconscious forces from his background that ruin his marriage and children. Silver and gold are powerless to help. The suffering and death of Jesus provide what is needed: not gold or silver but "the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." When Christ died, God had a view to the relationship between us and our ancestors. He meant to set us free from the futility we inherited from them. That is one of the great reasons Christ died. No hex can hold against you, if your sins are all forgiven, and you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and you are ransomed and loved by the Creator of the universe. The suffering and death of Jesus is the final reason why the Bible says of God's people, "There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel" (Numbers 23:23). When Jesus died, all the blessings of heaven were purchased for those who trust him. And when God blesses, none can curse. Nor is any wound that was inflicted by a parent beyond the healing of Jesus. The healing ransom is called "the precious blood of Christ." The word "precious" conveys infinite value. Therefore the ransom is infinitely liberating. No bondage can stand against it. Therefore, let us turn from silver and gold and embrace the gift of God.

23. So That We Might Belong to Him

You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead. Romans 7:4 You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Acts 20:28The ultimate question is not who you are but whose you are. Of course, many people think they are nobody's slave. They dream of total independence. Like a jellyfish carried by the tides feels free because it isn't fastened down with the bondage of barnacles. But Jesus had a word for people who thought that way. He said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." But they responded, "We . . . have never been enslaved to any- one. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?" So Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin" (John 8:32-34). The Bible gives no reality to fallen humans who are ultimately self-determining. There is no autonomy in the fallen world. We are governed by sin or governed by God. "You are slaves of the one whom you obey. . . . When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. . . . But now . . . you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God" (Romans 6:16, 20, 22). Most of the time we are free to do what we want. But we are not free to want what we ought. For that we need a new power based on a divine purchase. The power is God's. Which is why the Bible says, "Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart" (Romans 6:17). God is the one who may "grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will" (2 Timothy 2:25-26). And the purchase that unleashes this power is the death of Christ. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And what price did Christ pay for those who trust him? "He obtained [them] with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). Now we are free indeed. Not to be autonomous, but to want what is good. A whole new way of life opens to us when the death of Christ becomes the death of our old self. Relationship with the living Christ replaces rules. And the freedom of fruit-bearing replaces the bondage of law. "You also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God" (Romans 7:4). Christ suffered and died that we might be set free from law and sin and belong to him. Here is where obedience ceases to be a burden and becomes the freedom of fruit-bearing. Remember, you are not your own. Whose will you be? If Christ's, then come and belong.

22. To Bring Us to God

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. 1 Peter 3:18. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:13. When all is said and done, God is the gospel. Gospel means "good news." Christianity is not first theology, but news. It is like prisoners of war hearing by hidden radio that the allies have landed and rescue is only a matter of time. The guards wonder why all the rejoicing. But what is the ultimate good in the good news? It all ends in one thing: God himself. All the words of the gospel lead to him, or they are not gospel. For example, salvation is not good news if it only saves from hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt and doesn't open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God but doesn't bring fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage but doesn't bring us to God. Adoption is not good news if it only puts us in the Father's family but not in his arms. This is crucial. Many people seem to embrace the good news without embracing God. There is no sure evidence that we have a new heart just because we want to escape hell. That's a perfectly natural desire, not a supernatural one. It doesn't take a new heart to want the psychological relief of forgiveness, or the removal of God's wrath, or the inheritance of God's world. All these things are understandable without any spiritual change. You don't need to be born again to want these things. The devils want them. It is not wrong to want them. Indeed it is folly not to. But the evidence that we have been changed is that we want these things because they bring us to the enjoyment of God. This is the greatest thing Christ died for. "Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). Why is this the essence of the good news? Because we were made to experience full and lasting happiness from seeing and savoring the glory of God. If our best joy comes from something less, we are idolaters and God is dishonored. He created us in such a way that his glory is displayed through our joy in it. The gospel of Christ is the good news that at the cost of his Son's life, God has done everything necessary to enthrall us with what will make us eternally and ever-increasingly happy, namely, himself. Long before Christ came, God revealed himself as the source of full and lasting pleasure. "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11). Then he sent Christ to suf- fer "that he might bring us to God." This means he sent Christ to bring us to the deepest, longest joy a human can have. Hear then the invitation: Turn from "the fleeting pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25) and come to "pleasures forevermore."

12. To Take Away Our Condemnation

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who diedmore than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34 The great conclusion to the suffering and death of Christ is this: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). To be "in Christ" means to be in relationship to him by faith. Faith in Christ unites us to Christ so that his death becomes our death and his perfection becomes our perfection. Christ becomes our punishment (which we don't have to bear) and our perfection (which we cannot perform). Faith is not the ground of our acceptance with God. Christ alone is. Faith unites us to Christ so that his righteousness is counted as ours. "We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified" (Galatians 2:16). Being "justified by faith" and being "justified . . . in Christ" (Galatians 2:17) are parallel terms. We are in Christ by faith, and therefore justified. When the question is asked, "Who is to condemn?" the answer is assumed. No one! Then the basis is declared: "Christ Jesus is the one who died!" The death of Christ secures our freedom from condemnation. It is as sure that we cannot be condemned as it is sure that Christ died. There is no double jeopardy in God's court. We will not be condemned twice for the same offenses. Christ has died once for our sins. We will not be condemned for them. Condemnation is gone not because there isn't any, but because it has already happened. But what about condemnation by the world? Is that not an answer to the question, "Who is to condemn?" Aren't Christians condemned by the world? There have been many martyrs. The answer is that no one can condemn us successfully. Charges can be brought, but none will stick in the end. "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies" (Romans 8:33). It's the same as when the Bible asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" (Romans 8:35). The answer is not that these things don't happen to Christians. The answer is: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:37). The world will bring its condemnation. They may even put their sword behind it. But we know that the highest court has already ruled in our favor. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). No one successfully. If they reject us, he accepts us. If they hate us, he loves us. If they imprison us, he sets our spirits free. If they afflict us, he refines us by the fire. If they kill us, he makes it a passage to paradise. They cannot defeat us. Christ has died. Christ is risen. We are alive in him. And in him there is no condemnation. We are forgiven, and we are righteous. "And the righteous are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1).

18. To Heal Us from Moral and Physical Sickness

Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 [He] healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "He took our illnesses and bore our diseases." Matthew 8:16-17 Christ suffered and died so that disease would one day be utterly destroyed. Disease and death were not part of God's original way with the world. They came in with sin as part of God's judgment on creation. The Bible says, "The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who sub- jected it, in hope" (Romans 8:20). God subjected the world to the futility of physical pain to show the horror of moral evil. This futility included death. "Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin" (Romans 5:12). It included all the groaning of disease. And Christians are not excluded: "Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit [that is, those who trust Christ], groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23). But all this misery of disease is temporary. We look forward to a time when bodily pain will be no more. The subjection of creation to futility was not permanent. From the very beginning of his judgment, the Bible says God aimed at hope. His final purpose was this: "that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). When Christ came into the world, he was on a mission to accomplish this global redemption. He signaled his purposes by healing many people during his lifetime. There were occasions when the crowds gathered and he "healed all who were sick" (Matthew 8:16; Luke 6:19). This was a preview of what was coming at the end of history when "he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore" (Revelation 21:4). The way Christ defeated death and disease was by taking them on himself and carrying them with him to the grave. God's judgment on the sin that brought disease was endured by Jesus when he suffered and died. The prophet Isaiah explained the death of Christ with these words: "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). The horrible blows to the back of Jesus bought a world without disease. One day all disease will be banished from God's redeemed creation. There will be a new earth. We will have new bodies. Death will be swallowed up by everlasting life (1 Corinthians 15:54; 2 Corinthians 5:4). "The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox" (Isaiah 65:25). And all who love Christ will sing songs of thanks to the Lamb who was slain to redeem us from sin and death and disease.

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