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Why I Believe In The Atonement

Galatians 6:11-18

The motion picture “Academy Awards” will be announced in a telecast one week from today and the Oscars will be presented to the winners. Now usually at this point in time, everybody is talking about the movies and the actors, who have been nominated. Not this year. You see one movie—a movie which has not even been released yet—has taken center stage in the public’s attention. The movie is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” a cinematic treatment of the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life culminating in Jesus’ death on the cross. While most movies are promoted months in advance, here just days before the release of this movie, not a single promotional TV ad has been aired. Nevertheless advanced ticket sales to the movie have reached record levels, and the content of the movie has spurred controversy and debate in the media. All of which leads me to ask, “Why is the crucifixion of Jesus such an important and even controversial event today? And how does the crucifixion relate to your life and mine in 2004?”

Well, if the writers of the New Testament are unanimous about anything, they are unanimous about the fact that the cross is the place where, by virtue of the sacrificial death of Jesus, the power of sin and evil was struck down and sinful people were saved for eternal life with God in Heaven. That is what we call the Doctrine of the Atonement. The meaning of the Doctrine is contained in the word itself “at-one-ment.” By the power and grace of Christ’s cross, we are lifted to a place where we are “at one” with God. I believe that. Why? Well, Paul says it more succinctly and more powerfully than I ever could. Galatians 6:14—listen, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Did you hear that? Paul is speaking not of one crucifixion but three. Let me break the verse down and show you what I mean…

Paul writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Obviously Paul is referring to the crucifixion of Jesus, that event which happened on Calvary’s hill outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem—that event when Jesus took upon Himself the responsibility for and the consequences of the sin of every human being who has ever lived or ever will live. And because Jesus died for your sin and mine we are reconciled to God and have the promise of eternal life. It is because Jesus was the only one in all the world who did not cause sin that He could be the only one in all the world to cure sin. By His death on the cross, He purchased for us the gift of life with God here and now and hereafter.

A beautiful illustration of that truth is found in a moving scene in the play “Les Miserables.” Jean Valjean is a convict let out on parole. As he passes through a town, he is welcomed by a bishop who feeds him and offers him a place to stay. Valjean returns this act of kindness with a crime. He knocks the Bishop unconsciousness and steals the bishop’s silverware. The next day Valjean is apprehended and brought back to face the bishop. The arresting officers say to the bishop, “This criminal claims he was your guest last night and out of Christian love you gave him the silver.” Without missing a beat the bishop replies, “But, of course, he was my guest.” Then turning quickly to Valjean, “My friend, you left in such a hurry that you forgot to take the candlesticks.” He then hands the candlesticks to the surprised Valjean. As soon as the officers leave, the bishop grabs Valjean, looks him straight in the eye, and sings these powerful words:

“But remember this, my brother
See in this some higher plan.
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs
By the Passion and the Blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have bought your soul for God!”

The bishop was declaring that Valjean’s sin was covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and Valjean went on to live a life worthy of that redemption. Knowing that Christ had died for him changed his life. And in fact, from then on, every act in Valjean’s life reflected the grace he had received.

Dear friends, you and I have been redeemed through the cross of Jesus Christ. By His passion and His blood, we no longer belong to evil but we belong to God. We can say, with Paul, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But there is more. Paul writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”

That’s the second crucifixion. Paul is saying, “Because Christ has been crucified for me, I have been crucified to the world.” In other words, when we see the cross in all of its truth and power, the values of our lives are changed. We no longer bow down before the authority of the world but instead we yield only to the authority of Jesus Christ. That’s what happens when you see the cross of Jesus Christ for what it really is.

I recall the story of two atheists traveling together on a train in England. They were discussing the foolishness of the Christian faith. One, a man named Robert, said to the other whose name was Lew, “Someone ought to write a book and tear away all this sentimental religious stuff about Jesus and show that he was just an ordinary man,” and “Lew, you ought to write that book.” Lew responded, “Alright, I will write that book.” Well, the full names of those two men were Colonel Robert Ingersoll and General Lew Wallace. The book General Wallace eventually wrote is entitled “Ben Hur.” What’s interesting to note is that Lew Wallace poured himself into extraordinary research about Jesus in order to write a book proving that Jesus was just an ordinary man. Funny thing! In the process of that research, Lew Wallace was converted and came to believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He came with all kinds of intellectual and academic hostility, but when he confronted the reality of the cross and saw the love and power there, it changed him. That’s what happened to Paul on the Damascus road. That is what’s happened to so many others. When they encounter Christ in His crucified and risen glory, they die to the world. They obey the world no more. Instead they yield their lives to the power of Jesus Christ.

Now, it’s important to note that when we say that we will no longer obey the world, the world hits back. It is no coincidence that just three verses after Paul wrote the words we are focusing on now, he added this line, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” I remember passing a jewelry store in North Carolina that had a display of golden crosses in the window. Beside each cross was a price tag. Over the whole display was a big sign that read, “On easy terms.” Well, crosses in jewelry stores may be bought on easy terms, but when you accept the cross of Jesus Christ in your life—when you say yes to Jesus and no to the world—the world hits back. Look at what has happened with regard to Mel Gibson’s movie. Both Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel, the actor who plays Jesus in the movie, both of them are deeply devoted Christians, and both have had death threats leveled against them. Organized efforts have arisen to stop the spread and the impact of the movie. Mel Gibson was asked about the fact that he was no longer considered one of the “A” list actors in Hollywood because of his faith. He replied, “In the bigger scheme of things, that doesn’t really matter.” My point is that when you stand under the cross of Jesus Christ, when you crucify yourself to the world, when you refuse to yield to the world’s ways, the world hits back and hard. That’s the second crucifixion of which Paul speaks. When we accept the crucified Christ as our Lord, then we ourselves are crucified to the world.

Something else Paul writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”

Now there’s the third crucifixion. The world is crucified to us. What Paul wants us to understand is that when we take our stand with Jesus Christ, we join Jesus Christ in crucifying and conquering the evil power that seeks to rule the world. Dear friends, let us never minimize the trouble in the world or in our lives, but at the same time let us never forget that because Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again He has overcome once and for all the power of evil in this world. When Jesus died, the earth quaked, the sun refused to shine, and cemeteries were disturbed. In these events, God was giving notice to Satan and his kin that their lease on planet earth was about to run out. The devil and his work are doomed. Jesus is “Christos Pantokrator”—Christ the all powerful—“Christos Victor”—Christ the Triumphant. Because we belong to Jesus Christ through His cross, we are fighting on the winning side. Therefore, we shall resist any effort on the part of the world to occupy His throne. We shall seek with all we have and all we are to drive the world to His feet. That’s what it means to crucify the world.

No doubt, you remember the movie of a few years ago called “Chariots of Fire.” You know it was the story of Eric Liddell, the brilliant young sprinter who represented Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics. You know it was the story of how because his event the 100-meter dash was scheduled to be run on a Sunday and because he was a deeply committed Christian, he refused to run—not wishing to dishonor his Lord in any way. You know it was the story of how terrible and unrelenting pressure was brought to bear upon him by the people who were powerful in the world and how he refused to yield to that pressure. You know it was the story of how he was vindicated later by winning the gold medal in an event for which he had not even trained. That much of the story you know, but you may not know the rest of the story. You see after those Olympics, Eric Liddell rejected offers of fame and fortune and instead became a missionary to China. He was there during the years of conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists. He was still there in the 1940’s when the Japanese invaded and conquered China. At that point, Eric Liddell sent his wife and children to Canada for their safety, and he never saw them again. Because of his work in the name of Jesus Christ, he was imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp. Still, he continued his work for Jesus. On February 21, 1945, he wrote a letter to his wife saying that he had been suffering terrible headaches and his captors refused to help. He could find no relief. Later that day, he collapsed and died. His last words were, “Complete surrender.” Many tributes have since been paid to him, not because he was a great athlete—there have been greater ones, not because he brought home the Olympic gold medal—others have done that. No, the tributes came because here was a man who claimed the cross of Jesus Christ as the center of his life. Here was a man who believed in Jesus Christ and the cross so much that he crucified himself to the world and, by so doing, crucified the world’s power over him. Another man, who was a prisoner along with Eric Liddell, wrote these words in his diary, “February 24, 1945—Eric’s funeral was today. He was not particularly clever or conspicuously able, but he was awfully good. He was quiet and reserved but he gave of himself unstintingly. He wasn’t a great leader or an inspired thinker, but he knew what he ought to do and he did it. He was a true disciple of Jesus Christ, and he is worthy of the highest places among the saints.” Now you know the rest of the story.

Dear friends… when we see the cross of Jesus Christ and understand that on that cross God, in Christ, claims us as His very own, then we are overcome by His love, and the greatest glory of our life then becomes the living of the life He has called us to live. When we do that, we can know that there will come a day when we shall hear Jesus say of us, “You have been My true disciple. You are worthy of the highest place among the saints.”

So may it be for all of us.

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