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Christ Died For You
September 4, 2022

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

1 JOHN 2:1-2

First is sacrifice. Many ancient religions practiced sacrifice including the Old Testament, believing that to atone for sins, to make amends for sins, to overcome the separation between God and humans,  sacrifice was necessary. They sacrificed birds, animals, even humans. However, when Abraham was willing to take his son Isaac up the mountain to be sacrificed, as was the custom of the day, God spoke to him, interrupted the process and said, “That's not for you.” The Hebrew religion never practiced human sacrifice. They used lambs and sprinkled blood upon the altar. The blood was to atone for sins so that the people could be forgiven.

Those who accept the sacrificial theory of atonement believe that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. Jesus is the Lamb of God who willingly offered himself, lay down his life and shed his blood that we may be forgiven. 

A second popular theory of atonement is substitutionary atonement. Sin has alienated people from God and because God is just, justice demands that punishment is required. God needs to be placated. Jesus willingly took our place, took our sins upon himself and substituted himself to take the punishment. Therefore, Christ died for you means Christ died instead of you. Christ took your place.

The difficulty with these two theories—sacrificial atonement and substitutionary atonement—is the supposition that God needs to be placated, that something has to be done in order to make God more loving and forgiving. A lamb has to be slain, blood has to be sprinkled, or Jesus has to die in our place. I don't see that kind of a God in the teachings of Jesus. 

God is like the father of the prodigal son who took his inheritance, lost his fortune, squandered his father's hard work. And when he found himself in humiliation, despair and depression, he decided to go home and seek reconciliation. When he went home, he did not find a stern judge who demanded punishment. He didn't have to kill any lamb and sprinkle any blood. He didn't have to find a substitute to take his punishment. He had to come to himself, come to terms with what he had done and who he was and take responsibility for his own life. He had to humbly go back home and ask forgiveness. And when he got home, he father ran to him with wide open arms. That's the kind of God we have—a God who welcomes us with wide, open, loving arms of forgiveness.

So, why did Jesus die? What does it mean to say Christ died for you? The third theory of atonement is that Christ died on the cross to show us, to demonstrate to us, to reveal to us how God bears the cost of forgiveness. Some ask, “Why can't God just forgive? If God is loving and is willing to forgive, why can't God just forgive us? Why must there be atonement?” Jesus died because forgiveness is not easy. It's not cheap. Reconciliation is costly. If you step on someone's toe, you can say, “I'm sorry, forgive me.” They probably will and you can go on being friends. Or, you can break someone's window and say, “I'm sorry, forgive me. I'll pay for the window. I'll make restitution.” No doubt that relationship will continue. 

But, when you hurt someone you love, when you let someone down, when you disappoint someone, when you betray the relationship, forgiveness and reconciliation are costly. The prodigal son strained the relationship—he wasted, he squandered. But, when he went back home, he was greeted with open arms. Do you think it was easy for his father? In that embrace was years of agony, sorrow, hurt, anxiety—Where is he? What's happening to him? What's going to come of him? Why did he have to make such a fool of himself? In that embrace was years of suffering. The story doesn’t mention a mother, but if his mother was still living, can you imagine how she suffered? 

If you've been hurt by  someone you love, you know what suffering is. And when you watch someone you love make wrong choices and they won't listen to you, all you can do is suffer and wait.

We sang, “When I survey the wondrous cross”. Realize how God suffers over our alienation, our separation, pride, our arrogance, our sins. To build or rebuild a relationship with God means that God has to suffer, bear the cross, bear the cost. You ask why did Jesus have to die? He was innocent. Sometimes it takes the suffering of innocent people to bring us to our senses. Sometimes it's the praying, the anguish and the hurting of a mother or father or  spouse or a good friend to restore the relationship. When we survey the wondrous cross, we see an innocent person suffering on our behalf. 

There are two words used in the scripture lesson about Jesus. One word is translated “advocate”. We have an advocate with God. An advocate is one who pleads the cause,  who stands by our side. Jesus took that role upon himself willingly to stand by your side.

The other word in the passage is translated “propitiation” or “expiation”—-taking it upon himself, bearing the price himself, taking the suffering willingly on your behalf. When you survey the wondrous cross, you see the extent of Christ’s love for you to bring you back, to reconcile you with God. 

What is your response? We sang, “Love so amazing demands my soul, my life, my all.” Christ died for you. His body was broken, his blood was shed. How he suffered for you!How he loves you! He gave his life for you. Will you give him yours? 

© 2022 Douglas I. Norris