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Dead in Christ

by Pastor Douglas Shearer

Preached as an Easter Message

 

What is Easter all about? That’s a fair question, isn’t it? What is Easter really meant to celebrate? Easter is so much a part of American life that we tend to pass over it without much thought. But what is it actually all about?

We know that bunnies and colored eggs – however harmless and benign they might be – don’t reflect Easter’s real meaning. Even non-Christians are likely to acknowledge that much.

Most of us know – however vaguely – that Easter celebrates the life and death of Jesus Christ. But what exactly is it about Jesus that Easter celebrates?

  • The life and death of a man who reflects humanity’s full potential for good? Is that what Easter celebrates?
  • The life and death of a man whose personal integrity establishes a standard we should all strive to emulate? Is that what Easter celebrates? A standard of righteousness?

Certainly, Jesus was an exemplary figure – a heroic figure – whose life was beyond reproach. But is that what Easter is all about? I certainly hope not. Does that surprise you? Why don’t I want Easter to be merely about the life of another heroic figure whose life I should strive to emulate? Because I don’t need another standard thrown up in my face to remind me of just how far short I fall. If that’s what Easter’s all about, it’s certainly not a cause for celebration – at least not for me.

Throwing Jesus up in my face and telling me to emulate his example is not a very happy thought.

  • It’s like trotting out Arnold Schwartsnager and telling me I need to develop a physique that measures up to his.
  • item4It’s like trotting out Michael Jordan and telling me to play basketball at his level.
  • It’s like telling me to solve a calculus problem when I’m having trouble solving simple quadratic equations – or, even worse, when long division boggles my mind.
  • It’s like telling me to build a four bedroom house when building a single dog kennel is beyond my skill level.

I’m reminded of the bracelets so many teens are wearing – WWJD – meaning “What would Jesus do?” I don’t mean to be a kill-joy, but telling me what Jesus would do doesn’t help me much. Most of us know what Jesus would do –

  • whatever the circumstances –
  • whatever the trial –
  • whatever the temptation.

But it’s not the knowing I struggle with; it’s the doing. That’s what I struggle with – the doing! Isn’t that what you struggle with as well – the doing?

If knowing, rather than doing, were the hurdle I need to clear – the conundrum I need to unravel – I could manage that.

  • Gee, smoking dope is a sin; I’m glad I know that; now, at last, I can stop smoking dope.
  • Gee, getting drunk is a sin; I’m glad I know that; now, at last, I can sober up.
  • Gee, lying is a sin; I’m glad I know that; now, at last, I can stop lying.
  • Gee, losing my temper is a sin; I’m glad I know that; now, at last, I can stop losing my temper.
  • Gee, being a jerk is a sin; I’m glad I know that; now, at last, I can stop being a jerk.

item5Again, it’s not the knowing, it’s the doing. That’s the hurdle I can’t seem to get over – it’s the doing, not the knowing, I struggle with.

  • Once again, I don’t need one more standard thrown up in my face – a standard which serves only to remind me that I don’t measure up – that I fall hopelessly short.
  • Once again, I don’t need one more standard that serves only to beat me down with guilt.

And that’s what I’m left with if all Easter amounts to is a celebration of the life and death of Jesus Christ – of a standard of goodness and holiness I should strive to emulate.

But that’s not what Easter’s all about.

  • Easter isn’t about measuring up to Jesus Christ.
  • Easter isn’t about a moral code that’s beyond my reach.
  • Easter isn’t about rules.
  • Easter isn’t about a long list of do’s and don’ts.

Trying to measure up to Jesus Christ will only, in the end, serve to condemn me. Why? Because measuring up to Jesus Christ is a hopeless task! That’s why! And Jesus didn’t come to condemn me, but to save me. That’s what the Bible teaches. And that’s what Easter celebrates.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

John 3:17

Jesus didn’t come to condemn us for our failures, but to save us from the condemnation those failures produce – and the death that follows in the wake of that condemnation. That’s what the Bible tells us.

Let me say that again: Jesus didn’t come to condemn us for our failures, but to save us from the condemnation those failures produce – and the death that follows in the wake of that condemnation.

That’s what Easter celebrates. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15:54-57.

… Death is swallowed up in victory.

O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Cor. 15:54-57

Here we have four verses that tell the Easter story better than any other four verses in the Bible. Verse 54 is an ecstatic shout of triumph. “Death is swallowed up in Victory.” And verse 55 mocks both death and the grave. “Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?” But verse 56 is the key. Verse 56 tells us that the sting of death is sin. And what is sin? Sin is falling short of the glory of God. That’s what Romans 3:23 tells us.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God…

Romans 3:23

“Coming up short” – that’s what sin is – coming up short. That’s the simplest explanation of sin the Bible provides.

Coming up short of what? The glory of God. That’s what!

A sinner is anyone who doesn’t measure up to the glory of God.

And what is the glory of God? It’s God’s very nature – his very being – in all its perfect goodness, its perfect majesty, its untainted splendor, its moral perfection, its perfect beauty, its perfect magnificence, and its perfect brilliance.

  • item8It’s not merely that my physique doesn’t measure up to the standard of an Arnold Schwartsnager.
  • It’s not merely that my basketball skills don’t measure up to the standard of a Michael Jordan.
  • It’s not merely that my brain power doesn’t measure up to the standard of an Albert Einstein.

It’s that I don’t measure up to God – to the glory of God. Anyone falling short of that standard – the glory of God – is a sinner – meaning he’s defective. A sinner is a defective product! That’s the Bible’s simplest definition of a sinner. A sinner is a defective product. He falls short – short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23.

The glory of God – his perfect moral purity, his perfect beauty, his perfect majesty, his perfect splendor – is reflected in the law. And probably the law’s best summary description is the Ten Commandments – every one of which most of us have violated not just once, but many times – some, countless times.

God’s law measures me against God’s standard – and, finding that I fall short, it then convicts me of sin and authorizes sin to turn me over to death - which is exactly what 1 Corinthians 15:56 tells us - the very point it’s making.

The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

1 Cor. 15:56

  • The phrase “the sting of death is sin” simply means that sin produces death. Sin leads to death. That’s all it means.
  • And the phrase “the strength of sin is the law” means that the law authorizes or empowers sin to hand me over to death.

Death is God’s vacuum cleaner. It sweeps the universe clean of sinners – and then deposits them in hell.

Once again, what gives sin the power – or the authority – to turn sinners over to death? It’s the law. Do you see that there in verse 56 – “The strength (the power) of sin is the law.”

Now at last we’re ready to grasp the meaning of Easter – what Easter really means. Turn with me to Romans 6:3item2

… as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

Romans 6:3

The word “baptize” means to “put into” or “to immerse.” So, what Romans 6:3 is telling us is that all believers – when they put their trust in Christ – are “immersed” or “put into” Christ’s death.

What’s the significance of that? Christ’s death becomes my death. When Christ died, I died in Christ. God put me into Christ’s death. That means sin can no longer turn me over to death. Why? Because I’m already dead – dead in Christ.

Call to mind 1 Corinthians 15:56 – “the strength of sin is the Law” – meaning it’s the law that authorizes sin to turn me over to death; but if I have already died in Christ – if Christ’s death has been made my death – the law has fully discharged its obligation and is finished with me.

Put slightly differently: the law is no longer looking for me. It’s no longer concerned about me. When my sins try to point me out to the law, the law looks into its accounts – into its records – and finds that I have already been executed for my sins – in Christ. And that does it!

My sins can rant and rave – and dance all around me, but it does no good. I’m dead in Christ. The Law, therefore, no longer condemns me. The law only condemns the living. It doesn’t condemn the dead. And Romans 6:3 tells me that I’m dead in Christ.

Let’s look at Romans 7:4.

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ…

Romans 7:4

Dead to the law in what sense? Dead to the law’s condemnation. That’s what it means to be dead to the law. It means that I’m dead to the law’s condemnation – meaning sin is powerless to turn me over to death - because the law is no longer “empowering” it.

That’s also the meaning of Romans 7:6

But now we have been delivered from the law…

Romans 7:6

Delivered from the law in what sense? Delivered from the law’s condemnation.

Think carefully now: Most Christians believe that Christ’s death on the Cross paid the price for our redemption; that redemption is essentially a ransom - paid to redeem me. And, yes, that’s certainly true. But that’s hardly the whole story. It only tells a part of the story. However, now you know the rest of the story.

And once again, what is the rest of the story? Anyone who puts his trust in Christ is put into Christ’s death – he’s immersed into Christ’s death. Christ’s death becomes his death. That means that his sins can no longer turn him over to the law’s condemnation. He is freed from the law – meaning he’s freed from its condemnation.

Does that mean my sins no longer matter? Does that mean that my sins no longer matter to God? No, not at all. It’s true that my sins no longer turn me over to the law’s condemnation; but my sins do turn me over to God – who, because I’m in Christ – is now my father.

Put slightly differently:

  • My sins no longer turn me over to a wrathful judge – which is what the law is - a pitiless, unsympathetic judge;
  • they turn me over instead to a loving father – who, because he loves me, will indeed chasten me – sometimes even scourge me, but always in love - and always for the purpose of delivering me from the grip of sin and directing me into the paths of righteousness.

Hebrews 12:6-7 tells us that…

For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?

Heb. 12:6-7

Our sins now turn us over to a loving father – who will faithfully correct us – because he wants to see us not only delivered from the penalty of our sins – death, but the power of our sins as well. That’s why God chastens us.

  • Once our sins turned us over to the law – which pitilessly condemned us and turned us over to death.
  • But now our sins turn us over to a loving father – who remembers, however, that we’re frail and who will, accordingly, always temper his chastening with abundant mercy.

It’s our choice. We will all answer for our sins. The only question is:

  • Will we answer to the law - unmoved by any pleas for mercy? or
  • Will we answer to a loving God, who, when we trust in Christ, becomes our father?

Put into Christ’s Resurrection

But there’s more. It’s not just that God, as a loving Father, corrects us when we sin; he also strengthens us to overcome that very sin. And that’s because we have not only been put into Christ’s death, we have also been put into Christ’s resurrection. That’s what Romans 6:5 tells us.

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…

Romans 6:5

When Christ rose from the dead, we rose with him. That means we now possess, as believers, the power of the Resurrection. That power is given to everyone who believes. It belongs to anyone who puts his trust in Jesus Christ.

It’s not just that man can now be freed from the penalty of sin; that’s just part of the Easter message. It’s that he has also been freed from the power of sin. The sin that at one time I couldn’t possibly overcome, I can now overcome. That’s because I have been put into Christ’s Resurrection – and all the power that God used to raise Christ from the dead is now at my disposal. More power than I’ll ever need. That’s what the Bible tells us.

…the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power

which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead...

Eph. 1:19-20

That phrase “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe...” - do you see it? That phrase should fill us all with hope. It means...

  • that I’m empowered to live a righteous life;
  • that I’m empowered to break free of whatever compuslsions and addictions plague my life and destroy my relationships with others.
  • that I’m empowered to break all the fetters that bind me and hold me captive.

That’s the Easter message. That’s what Christ’s death and Resurrection offer to us – to anyone who puts his trust in Christ.

That’s the whole Easter message. That’s the good news.

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