Last Friday, as I was standing in the Sistine Chapel, observing Michelangelo's Last Judgment scene, it was pointed out to me that Michelangelo's portrayal of St. Bartholomew, one of the apostles, was actually his own face. It was a self-portrait. That was something that these artists would do: Michelangelo, Rafael, and others. They would use faces of people they knew. Michelangelo even used the face of one of his enemies as the face of a devil in the same scene, no less with donkey ears. But, reportedly, Michelangelo was a deeply religious man. But his self-portrait seemed to convey uncertainty as to his own standing, and anxiousness, perhaps, in his face. While, not wanting to depreciate his religious experience, I believe it is accurate to observe how a narrow understanding of the plan of salvation causes us to lose out on much assurance and hope.
Today we reflect on the meaning of the Passover experience, on the Lord's Supper and Jesus' death. It is natural for many of us to regard the cross and Jesus' death in a rather selfish way. Let me put it this way. Does the cross have only to do with our salvation or does it also have some significance to the rest of God's universe as well? I realize that is a leading question, but I have come to see that when we read the Bible as a whole, the cross is really God's answer to what went wrong in the whole universe, and not primarily to adjust our legal standing.
I'd like you to open your Bibles to Romans which describes the meaningfulness of, the depth of the wonderful reality to the plan of salvation. Romans 1:16-17. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith. In the gospel, Paul tells us, the righteousness of God is revealed. But now, let's also look at chapter 3. Romans 3:21-25 says, But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation, [in other words, a means of atonement or reconciliation] God set forth through atonement or reconciliation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.
These passages in Romans tell us that the cross demonstrated in this cosmic conflict between God and Satan that God is righteous. It demonstrated His rightness and His truthfulness as well as His mercy and His grace. Why would that be? And why would it be necessary? In the larger backdrop of the great controversy, Genesis 3 tells us about an amazing conversation that Eve had with the serpent, whom we know was Satan. When Eve quoted God's warning about eating or even touching the fruit from the tree, Satan hissed back, "You shall not surely die . . ." Of course, the question back then was: Who was telling the truth? Who was right? God or Satan the sly serpent?
And to make matters worse nothing drastic seemed to happen right away to either Eve or Adam. There were definitely some changes, but they were still living and breathing.
If God had let them experience the full consequences of their sin, they would have died naturally and instantly, but the problem then would have been that God wouldn't have been able to win them back from their deception and distrust of Him. So out of love for us, for the time being, God took the risk of being seen in the eyes of the entire universe as an being untruthful God. Death didn't really happen as the result of sin. That's what Satan said. "God is lying to you."
And in time somehow God would have to demonstrate safely, without the misunderstanding of His creatures everywhere in the universe, the truth of what happens naturally when sin separates a person from the source of life, ultimately bringing death, the second death, we call it. Romans 6:23 tells us that For the wages of sin is death. The Good News Bible says it this way: Sin pays its wage--death." As we read the Bible as a whole, it tells us that sin so changes the sinner that the result is death. It makes us so out of harmony with our Creator that the life-giving glory of God becomes naturally destructive to the sinner.
That is why God withdrew His glory in order to protect the lives of Adam and Eve. That is why God told Moses, "No man can see my face and live." Was God threatening to arbitrarily kill someone who He caught daring to peek? N. In their sinful condition, the unveiling of God's glory would destroy them. It would destroy those He was trying to save.
So how could God show that He was really telling the truth and yet not have His entire universe misunderstand what really happened? How could a God who only desires freely-given love and cooperation show a universe that had never seen death that God didn't just zap those who had sinned? How could they see that God was telling the truth, and yet at the same time not be afraid of God? The cross is God's wonderful answer. There God humbly shows us what sin truly does. Jesus Himself shows us and the universe what sin does and that God was right. There on the cross, Jesus cried out, "My God, why have you forsaken me." It was as if to say, "Why have you let me go? Why have you given me up?"
Of course the question is not just 'Is death the result of sin', but the question is also, 'Did God kill Jesus?' Did God impose death as an arbitrary punishment upon Jesus? No, God allowed Jesus to experience the natural consequences of being treated as the worst possible sinner.
Now, what I find so beautiful in all of this is that Jesus' death shows us that God values us so much that He didn't require us to demonstrate the ultimate truthfulness of His word. He didn't require us to demonstrate the ultimate consequence of sin, the second death. Instead, Jesus came Himself to die in our place so that we could be alive and free to allow God to win us back to His love, His trust and a reverent friendship with Him. I believe the cross does so much more than communicate God's forgiveness. In fact, being forgiving was never really a problem for Him. God's task is a much larger one, a much more difficult one, and that is to win us back to a loving and trusting relationship with Himself, because that cannot be forced. Only freely given love and cooperation is what God wants.
Today, our participation in the symbols of the foot-washing and the body of Christ is not mystical or magical. Rather, it is the affirmation of our choice to trust in God and relate to Him in faith. It is our decision to accept a gracious and loving God anew into our life and be one with Him.
I praise God that the One that we worship is wonderful, truthful, gracious and merciful. Let's be thankful to Him as we participate in the Ordinance of Humility and the Lord's Supper.
Hymn of Praise: #167, Alleluia! Sing to Jesus Scripture: Romans 1:16-17 Hymn of Response: #338, Redeemed!
Return to McDonald Road Sermons Index
Return to McDonald Road SDA Church Home Page
McDonald Road Sermons converted to HTML and
last updated March 22, 2006 by Bob Beckett and Eric Koester.