This is part 3 of a series I've been posting here that's based on some teachings I gave at a youth retreat some days ago.
To read part 1, go here.
To read part 2, go here.
And now, part 3.
Receiving the Gift
a teaching by Troy Cady
Whether we realize it or not, Jesus’ death on the cross holds a central place in history. I mean, just think about it:
What day is it today? Sunday, November 30, 2006. Where do we get that date from? From Jesus’ birth, of course, and, by implication, his death. See, it’s like I said: Jesus’ death on the cross really does hold a central place in history. It’s the event towards which everything faces.
I knew this coming into this series of teachings and, because of that I planned on centering the content of these teachings on the cross through asking and answering some questions about the cross.
In the first teaching we looked at the “Why” question. That is, “Why does Jesus’ death on the cross matter?” In that talk I said, “The cross matters because of our sin problem. We all are separated from God and we are killing our hearts because of sin, so we need something to be done about that.”
Then, in the second teaching we looked at the “What and How” questions. We looked at what the cross means and how it takes care of our sin problem. We said that the cross is the tool God used to fix our hearts and we looked at how that could be possible.
In this teaching we’re going to look at the “Now What?” question. In light of the fact that we need the cross, and in light of the fact that the cross actually solves our problem, we’re going to ask: “Now what? What does this have to do with me?”
Now, bear with me, but, in order to answer that completely, I need to give a few more “what and how” images. In other words, we need to take another look at what the cross does and how it solves our sin problem before we can fully understand the answer to the “now what” question.
You’ll recall that in the last teaching we talked about how the cross enables us to make life a do-over. It enables us to begin again. You’ll recall that we said the cross enables us to begin again because, by dying on the cross, Jesus took the penalty that rightfully should have been placed on us. He paid the debt of death on our behalf. In that way, we are able to start life again in the right way.
But, that isn’t the only way the cross tells us we are able to start again. Jesus’ death on the cross really does take us back to the beginning in some other interesting ways.
To see how the cross does this, you need to remember that Jesus was Jewish. And you need to know that the Jewish people centered themselves on an important event in their history, much the same way that our history dates itself according to Jesus’ life and death. This central event for the Jewish people was called the Exodus.
The Exodus was a time when the Jewish people were living in the land of Egypt and the king of Egypt held them in slavery. You may know that God raised up a leader named Moses to go to the king of Egypt and tell him, “Let my people go!” The Exodus is the time when God rescued the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. Because of the importance of this event, the Jewish people began to think of this time as the beginning of new things, and, over the years, they celebrated this important event. By the time Jesus appeared on the scene of world history, hundreds of years had passed from the time of the original Exodus event, but the Jewish people were still celebrating that event because of its huge significance.
Now, before Jesus died on the cross he told his followers ahead of time what his death on the cross would do for them. Generally speaking, he told them (in a way that would make sense to them) that he would take them back to their beginnings. That is, his death on the cross would sort of “reload” what happened in the Exodus hundreds of years before. He told his followers this in some really interesting ways. Specifically, he referred to three images from the Exodus, and in so doing, he referred us to three of life’s basics: blood, bread and water. Let’s take a brief look at each of these to see how Jesus brings us back to basic beginnings.
First, blood. In ancient times, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, God liberated them through sending some plagues on the Egyptians. With each plague, God punished the Egyptians but preserved the Israelites. The last plague was the most severe of all: every first-born son in Egypt would die. To protect Israel, God gave these instructions to them: “On the night that the angel of death sweeps through Egypt, take an unblemished lamb, kill it and paint the doorframes of your house with its blood. When the angel of death comes during the night, if he sees the blood on your doorframe, he will pass over your house. The blood of the lamb will be a sign. When the angel sees it, you will be spared.” This story recounts what is perhaps the most sacred of all Jewish holidays: the Passover. It was the answer to Israel’s problems. That night, the Israelites obeyed, and the next day they walked away free.
Now: hundreds of years after this event, John the Baptist, a cousin to Jesus, called Jesus the “Lamb of God.” In saying this, he referred to what happened in the Exodus and he made clear: “Here comes the one who will take us back to the beginning again. Just like in the Exodus, here comes the perfect one who will spill his blood. If you apply this blood to your life, you will live. If you believe in the power of His blood, the angel of death will pass over you. You will walk away free.”
Now: why was blood so important? Why did God do it this way in the first place? Why blood? Why not something else?
Because blood equals life. It’s like a blood transfusion. If the problem is unhealthy blood, and thus, unhealthy hearts (like we said in the first teaching on sin), the solution is healthy blood, and thus, a healthy heart.
As a symbol of this, Jesus declared Himself to be the giver of innocent, good blood when, during His last supper with His closest followers, He likened himself to the innocent, perfect lambs that were killed at the first Passover. So, hundreds of years after the first Passover (while celebrating that holiday), Jesus took wine, the symbol of lamb’s blood in the Passover meal, and said, “This wine represents my blood, the innocent Lamb of God, perfect, spilled out for you. Drink it.” In other words, “I am your new deliverer. By taking my blood inside you, you are swallowing health and the result will be a new heart.” See: by Jesus’ blood spilled out on the cross, wrong is made right, and we can have a new beginning.
Second, bread. On another occasion, Jesus showed that His death on the cross was central to the solution to our problems when He referred to Himself as the bread of life. In doing so, He was reminding the Israelites of the time when they were in the desert after leaving Egypt, and they didn’t have anything to eat. Miraculously, God provided a kind of bread-like substance called manna. This bread came from heaven and, when eaten, it sustained them. Hundreds of years after this incident, Jesus referred to himself as the “bread of life”, bread from heaven. He also referred to this during His last Passover supper with His followers. He took a piece of bread and said, “This bread is my body, given for you.” Jesus gave us his body by dying on the cross. Jesus is the Bread from heaven. If we eat, if we believe in Jesus’ death on our behalf, we will live. By Jesus’ body offered on the cross wrong is made right, and we can have a new beginning.
A third picture Jesus used to show how the cross solves our core problem was water. He declared, “I am the living water.” When He said this, Jesus brought the Israelites back to the beginning by referring to the time after the Exodus when the Israelites were in the desert and didn’t have anything to drink. God told Moses at that time to strike a rock, and water would gush out. Hundreds of years later, in Jesus’ day, one of Jesus’ closest followers named John reported an interesting parallel when Jesus died: while Jesus was hanging on the cross, a soldier stabbed Jesus with a spear. At that moment, John reports that blood and water flowed from Jesus’ side. Like water gushing from the rock that was struck by a wooden rod to give us life, Jesus was struck with a spear to quench our thirst.
To summarize these new ideas: if the problem is the human heart, and the solution is a new heart (a fresh start at life), the cross fixes the problem by bringing us back to basics: blood, bread and water. When Jesus died on the cross all three elements were given. Blood from the innocent lamb, bread from heaven, water from the rock. The cross solves it all, gives us a new heart, brings us back to the beginning. Blood, bread and water.
Okay, that said: here comes the “Now What” part. Remember: None of these things do us any good unless we apply them to ourselves personally.
Just look at what we talked about in the previous teaching: Yes, Jesus offers us this check, this payment of death on our behalf through his death on the cross. But, you should know that he doesn’t force his generosity on us. He leaves it up to us if we want to accept that gift. It’s not enough to know in your head that Jesus offers to pay the penalty for you. You’ve got to receive it, by stretching out your arm, and grabbing hold of the check with your hand. That’s what the Bible is talking about when it says that we need to believe in Jesus.
Now, today, we use that word “believe” in a different way than it was used in Jesus’ day. Today, the word “believe” has more to do with your head. But, in Jesus’ day, to believe in something meant to really believe in it with your heart, with your whole life, with all your strength. In fact, it meant that you believed in it so much, you’d be willing to die for it. It could also be called faith or trust. Accepting the gift Jesus offers to us means we believe in Jesus in that sense. We trust our whole life in his hands. We give him everything, our whole heart. That’s what it means to accept that “check” he writes for us: we give him everything. That’s because, with his payment, he’s buying your soul. That sounds like a lot to give in exchange, but believe me: it’s worth it when you consider the alternative.
And, in this teaching, we looked at the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross provides us with fresh blood, bread from heaven and living water. But, notice: it’s not enough to know that the blood, bread and water are “out there”. They’ve got to be “in here” in order to affect you. I mean: if you don’t eat and drink, you die. If you don’t get that blood transfusion, you’ll die. All three things have to be taken inside.
And this is to say again: we take them inside by believing in Jesus, by asking Him to live inside us, by asking him to give us a new heart. And when we believe, when we say “I want to follow you, Jesus”, the Bible says everything is made new: “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!” (II Corinthians 5:17) Listen to that: Life is fixed. A new life has begun. A new life has begun.
I want to close now with one final image.
In the third movie of The Lord of the Rings trilogy there’s a great scene towards the end. You may know that the trilogy is about a hobbit named Frodo who is traveling to Mount Doom to destroy a ring that was forged by the evil lord Sauron. Sauron forged this ring as a “lord” or “ruler” of other rings that had been forged in order to control others. The ring in question, the ring that had fallen “by chance” into Frodo’s possession, is thus tied to Sauron’s evil will. It is a ring of power, but it is also a ring of unspeakable evil. Therefore, the ring must be destroyed. But the only way it can be destroyed is by casting the ring into the fires from which it was created: the fire of Mount Doom. And this task has fallen to a young hobbit.
Fortunately, Frodo is accompanied by a friend named Sam. And, at the end of their long journey they find themselves standing in the belly of Mount Doom, above the flowing lava far below. The time has come for Frodo to cast the ring into the fire. Will he do it?
Unfortunately, Frodo has also carried with him a desire, ever increasing, to wield the ring’s evil power. He decides, at the crucial moment, to keep the ring.
Just then, his foe Gollum appears and attacks Frodo, taking the ring from him. A fight ensues, and the ring is now out of both Frodo’s and Gollum’s hands. The ring plunges over the edge and so does Gollum, anxious to touch the ring for what would prove to be one last time. He perishes in the fire with it.
In this series of teachings we have noted that we all have a ring in our possession. To be sure, it’s a ring of power, but we also need to keep in mind: it is, in fact, a ring of evil and destruction.
Often, we live our lives fooling around, playing games with this ring. The tricks it helps us do seem fun and harmless, but, if we continue to persist putting on the ring, we will die. What’s wanted is the destruction of the ring. But, we can’t do that, if we don’t let go of the ring.
You know: You’ve got to let go of one thing in order to grab hold of another. You can’t grab hold of Jesus’ offer (that is, his blood, bread and water) if you don’t let go of your sin. To say hello to life, you’ve got to say goodbye to death. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t keep death in your hand and expect to live.
You have two choices now.
Choice one: Hold on to death. Hold on to evil. Hold on to that ring. And perish with it.
Choice two: Let go and walk away, alive. Then, grab hold of Jesus’ blood and bread. Take it inside. Believe. Put your trust in him.
If you’d like to do that, here’s a prayer you can say, indicating your desire to forsake sin and trust Jesus.
I know that I’ve done wrong. I’ve sinned. I’ve rebelled against you and because of that I’ve walked away from life. I know that my sin is killing me and I want to be rid of it. Thank you for dying on my behalf. Thanks for that gift. I receive that gift of forgiveness, your gift of new life. Please forgive me, Lord Jesus. Come into my heart. Live inside me. I trust you with my life. I want to live for you now. Change me, and make me a new person. Amen.”