This is part 2 of a series of posts pertaining to some teachings I gave last weekend at a Young Life retreat. Taken together, the three parts correspond roughly with a traditional evangelical presentation of the gospel: sin, cross and faith.
To read part 1, on the problem of sin, go here.
And now, part 2.
I hope this helps you in some way.
Fixing the Problem
a teaching by Troy Cady
Naturally, in the aftermath of the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center on 9/11, government officials scrambled to make sense of the situation. What went wrong? How could something like this have happened? How could they prevent it from happening again?
As people looked for answers, some blamed lax enforcement of already loose laws governing airport security. In one instance, an official for the Federal Aviation Administration was being asked about the measures that they were going to take to help solve the problem. But in an interview, he seemed reluctant to make any promises.
Finally, he was asked, “What if you had unlimited authority and resources to do whatever needed to be done to make sure this sort of thing never happened again…Would you be able to put a stop to this?”
He responded: “Sure. I’d make sure all the planes never flew again.”
In other words: “The problem can’t be solved.”
But what if Jesus were asked this same question? Imagine the interviewer asking Jesus, “What if you had unlimited authority and resources to do whatever needed to be done to make sure this sort of thing never happened again…Would you be able to put a stop to this?”
He would respond: “Sure. Change the human heart. You see: you can’t legislate morality. You can make all the laws you want, but until the human heart is changed, nothing is going to happen. You can ban guns, you can break drug-rings, you can burn pornography, you can bury terrorists, you can bar racism, and you can banish criminals to a deserted island but none of that is going to make a difference in the long run. You’ve got to change the heart.”
In our previous teaching we looked at a big problem that plagues us all. And we noted that the problem is a heart problem. The Bible calls it sin. Since we don’t use that word nowadays, we saw that we could also call it “rebellion” or “perversion” or simply “missing the mark.”
We noted that none of us are immune to this disease. We have all sinned at one time or another. And, we noted that this condition is terminal. It results in death. Sin kills our souls. So, we left off in our last teaching with an understanding that: “Oh my gosh, we’d better do something about this or we’re all dead men.”
This is to say: “You’re in luck. I’ve got just the cure for our problem.”
One night, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council snuck out of his house to see Jesus. He was seeking guidance and wisdom that would help him with Israel’s problems. Jesus responded by basically saying, “What’s needed is a change of heart. What’s needed is a personal revolution.” In vivid language, Jesus said to him, “You must be born again…” In other words, “Let’s start this from the very beginning again, and do it right, by having a new heart. Let’s make life a do-over.”
When I was a kid, I used to play a game called “Hockey Showdown.” One person was the goalie and the other was the shooter. The shooter had ten shots. We would count how many times the shooter could score with ten shots. Often we used a pair of old shoes to mark the boundaries of the goal. But problems would come up when I would shoot and the puck would zoom past the goalie somewhere near the goal markers. Was the shot in or out? We would argue about it for some minutes, but invariably, we would say to each other: ‘That’s a do-over. Take the shot again.’
When Jesus said, ‘You must be born again’ he was basically saying, ‘Life can be a do-over. Let’s rewind to the beginning and live another life in the right way.’ What’s gone wrong? Jesus says, ‘The human heart.’ How can it be fixed? Jesus says, ‘With a heart transplant. A new heart. A changed heart.’
Sounds good. But how do we get this new heart? Jesus also answers this question.
Jesus made clear the primary means by which we could have a change of heart. Jesus made it clear that the way to change the heart was through his death on the cross for us. If the problem is a sick heart, and the solution is a heart transplant, the tool to remove the old heart and put in the new heart is the cross. The cross, Jesus said, is the mechanism that he would use to change the heart.
Now, I must admit, it’s a mystery how Jesus’ death on the cross could be the solution to the problem. That’s why the Bible (and Jesus) used stories and pictures to explain things. Through story and picture, God knows that we can come to understand what He wants us to know much better, on a heart level, not just a head level.
I’ll mention one of them in this teaching, and a few more in the teaching to follow, to explain how the cross takes care of our sin problem.
For starters, the prophet Isaiah looked ahead to the time of Jesus, and, centuries before, gave us this picture of what Jesus would do. He writes:
“All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way. And the Lord has laid on Him the sin of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
Let’s unpack this to see just what Isaiah is talking about.
First of all, Isaiah is telling us that we are like a bunch of dumb sheep. You know, sheep really are among the dumbest animals on the face of the earth. If they don’t stick together, they’ll fall off a cliff or drown in a river or get eaten by wolves. And, sheep tend to go off on their own when they get the chance, in spite of the danger that poses. So, Isaiah is saying here: “We’re like a bunch of dumb sheep. We go off on our own, when we shouldn’t. We’ve turned to our own way. We’ve gone astray. Because of that, we’re in seriously deep doo doo. We’re in trouble. And the nature of this trouble is nothing less than separation from God, which results in death, since God is life and life without God is death.”
Now, Isaiah tells us what God does about this: “And the Lord has laid on Him the sin of us all.”
Think of it this way: Imagine that I’m holding a book right now. And imagine that this book represents everything that I’ve ever done wrong. Every sin I’ve ever committed. Now, imagine that I’m holding my right hand out, palm up. And imagine that my right hand represents me. And imagine that I’m also holding my left hand out, palm down, about half a meter directly above my right hand. And imagine that my left hand represents God. Now imagine that the goal of our spiritual life is to make the right hand connect with the left hand. You can see that, if I were to place this sin-book on me, I would be unable to reach God completely. That’s what sin does. It separates us from having the fullest possible relationship with God.
Now let’s say that I want to reach God very badly, so I decide to do a bunch of good stuff, knowing that will make God happy. Let’s say, for example, that I stop cussing and help old ladies across the street, and read my Bible every day and go to church every Sunday and give to the poor.
Question: do those things take away the fact that I’ve done bad stuff? No!
And since all those good deeds don’t do that, I’m still separated from God. So, I can’t get to God by doing a bunch of good stuff. That stinks. Hm. What can I do now?
Well, let’s see…it sure seems as though I’ve got to get rid of this sin that’s getting in the way of knowing God. But, how can that be done?
That’s what Isaiah tells us Jesus did! “And the Lord…” (that is God the Father) “…laid on Him…” (that is God the Son or Jesus) “…the sin of us all.”
So here’s how it looks: Imagine I have a “third hand” (sounds far-fetched, I know, but just bear with me!). And imagine that this extra hand represents Jesus. What Isaiah is telling us is that God takes this sin-book that’s on me (and gets in the way of knowing God) and puts it on Jesus, His Son. That’s what happened when Jesus died on the cross.
Someone else in the Bible puts it this way: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) In other words, Jesus—the perfect one, the one who had never sinned—took our sin upon Himself (“he who had no sin, became sin”), so that we could have a right relationship with God once again. Because Jesus takes our sin away from us and onto Himself, we can be rid of sin and know God, the source of life. We can actually escape death now!
But, you may ask, why did Jesus have to die on the cross for Him to take our sin? Couldn’t He have done it a different way?
Let me give you another scenario that will answer that.
Imagine that you are cruising along the road, speeding. And you get caught. And you’re given a fine.
You think the fine is too stiff (and you can’t afford to pay it) so you decide to go to court to contest it. But when you do so you discover that the judge isn’t going to budge an inch on this fine. In fact, even though he would like to, he can’t. See: it’s the law and he has to uphold the law, even if he doesn’t like it. You break the law, you pay the penalty. There’s nothing anyone can do about that.
So, the judge pronounces you guilty and orders the whole amount paid.
And, just as you’re getting worried about how you’re going to pay this fine, the judge stands up, takes off his robe, comes out from behind his judges’ bench, walks over to your table, reaches in his pocket, pulls out a checkbook and starts to write a check out. He tears out the check and you look at it and you discover that the check he’s made out is the exact amount that needs to be paid and it’s made out to you. In other words, he’s offering to pay the fine for you.
At this point, you jump up and down and hug and kiss the judge for sheer happiness. And realize the judge is actually your aunt Mabel who has the thickest moustache you’ve ever seen. Just kidding.
But seriously, getting back to the story, and, more specifically, to you: the fine must be paid. And it’s a pretty hefty fine, I must say: the penalty of sin is death.
But, the good news is, Jesus pays the fine for you. He dies instead of you.
And that’s why Jesus had to die. Because the fine is death. And it must be paid.
But it doesn’t have to be paid by you. It can be paid by someone else.
Now, let me say that again, because it’s really important: someone must die. The fine must be paid. The question is: will it be paid by you? or will you accept Jesus’ death on your behalf?
That’s what we’ll talk about in the next teaching: What you need to do to accept Jesus’ payment personally.
To read the final part of this series, go here.