“Christ Died for the Ungodly”
This morning, we come to focus on the cross where Jesus died. I mentioned last Sunday that many church attendees at this time of year often jump from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of the resurrection without seriously contemplating the cross on Good Friday. The account of Jesus’ death on the cross is familiar to many. The story has been told and retold in churches and even movie theatres.
So we will not spend our time investigating the specifics of the narrative, but I would like to offer some brief remarks where we will be reminded of the theological reasons for the cross. And then we will celebrate Communion in remembrance of the cross. Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 5.6-11. READ.
The theological investigation of the cross is important. There are some who profess to be Christian that do not prioritize or even acknowledge substitutionary atonement in the cross – that Jesus died in our place, for our sins, and took the penalty for us. This is much more than a neat story. It is the focus of Scripture. And it is the way of salvation. Rather than taking my word for it, let’s look again at the words of the Apostle Paul.
The first point is “We are the Problem.” If we do a quick perusal of what a person is apart from Christ, the outlook is not very promising. Verse six says that a person is weak (or helpless or powerless) and ungodly. Verse eight says we are sinners. And verse 10 says that we are actually enemies of God. They seem to escalate in severity.
In verse 6, Paul indicates that all are morally weak and incapable of attaining the righteousness that God requires. This is a summary of what Paul has been writing. In chapter 3, he writes that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” This isn’t a popular understanding though, is it?
We just saw in Mark 10 a couple of weeks ago where an upstanding young man (in fact, he was a wealthy ruler) approached Jesus asking about eternal life. Rather than a simple prayer or invitation, Jesus challenged the man using the Law so that his sin would be exposed. The man thought he was worthy of eternal life and did not see his desperate condition. He thought he could do something that would allow him into the kingdom. So the man went away sorrowful… and unbelieving. To break the Law at any point is to break all of it. There is nothing that man can do to earn his salvation. For we are weak.
And we are ungodly. We are undeserving of salvation and eternal life. We live in an age where we think that God owes us. The world owes us. When truly, the only thing that is owed us is judgment and condemnation for our sin. We are ungodly. We are sinners. And we are enemies of God apart from Jesus Christ.
Paul writes in Ephesians 2.1-3, “1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Paul writes in Romans 8.7 that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Colossians 1.21 says that we are alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.
Now if you ask your unbelieving neighbor, family member, or co-worker, this is not how they might identify themselves. People often view themselves as pretty good people because we all have some sort of artificial standard we compare ourselves to. In fact, Paul did the same in Romans 7. And then he met God’s standard, the Law. He indicates that he thought he was fine and then when he was confronted with the Law, he saw his sinfulness and his desperate condition before God. Paul writes, “7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
This doesn’t sound like a very hope-filled message. It seems that all is lost. After all, we are weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God. And indeed, apart from any intervention this is where we would remain.
Two of my favorite words in the Bible are “But God.” Looking back to the Ephesians 2 passage where Paul indicates that we are spiritually dead children of wrath. And then verse 4 begins with “but God.” But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive. So, we are not left hopeless.
The next point is “God Provides a Solution.” In verse 8, we have a “but God.” But God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, or weak, or enemies, he intervened. God sent his Son Jesus to die in our place – “for us.” Some will question why, if God is love and a forgiving God, why he does not just forgive and forget all sin. The answer to this is that, not only is God a God of love and mercy and forgiveness, He is a just God. In the same way that a good judge will not let a crime go unpunished, so God cannot just overlook our sin. A price must be paid. And the tremendous thing here is that the Judge pays the price for our crimes!
And the price for our sin is the death of the Son of God. This is how much God loves us! This is what verse 8 is saying. You want to know how much God loves you?? Look at the cross! Consider that Jesus, the King of Kings left his abode in heaven to become a human baby, experience all the temptations and struggles of a sin-laden world, and then to be betrayed, mocked, spit upon, beaten and nailed to a tree for you, for me!
Paul contrasts God’s love versus human love here. He indicates that even the best of people will scarcely die for a righteous person. But Jesus lays his life on the cross for enemies. You’ve all seen images of a beaten and bloody Jesus hanging on a cross. That is where we should be because of our hostility toward God.
When Paul indicates that it was at the right time, I believe he is talking about everything coming together according to plan. We’ve recently talked about the Son of Man being handed over to the authorities, and Jesus’ specific details about riding into Jerusalem on a colt. We determined that this was confirmation that what God had planned was coming to pass. And so it is with his death on a cross. This plan has been in place since eternity past. It has taken thousands of years for all of this anticipation to come to this point. And it was all at the right time.
Jesus Christ died for the ungodly. He died for sinners. This is us. This is the hope of the Gospel. We needed God’s intervention for reconciliation. We cannot enter eternity being enemies of God. Jesus took our punishment and gave us his righteousness so that we could be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:14–15 “14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:21 “21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 1 John 3:16 “16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”1 Peter 3:18 “18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”
Lastly, there is “The Result.” By repenting of our sin and believing in Jesus we are reconciled to God for eternity. Can you get your mind around the fact that because of what Jesus did, we have gone from eternal death to eternal life? We have been justified by his blood, verse 9 says. This means that our sins no longer condemn us. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
And this salvation is not only temporal. Keep reading. Paul continues, in verse 9, that not only are we justified in the moment, but much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath to come. Presently, God views the believer in Jesus as clothed in Him, viewed as righteous. One day the Lord Jesus will return and will judge the world. In that day, we will not face the wrath of God, but will be delivered.
And finally, look at verse 11. What is the highest ultimate good of the Gospel? We’ve been talking about this in recent weeks in Sunday School. The highest and ultimate good of the Gospel is that it brings us to God. Isn’t that what verse 11 is saying? We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because we have now received reconciliation. As important and noteworthy it is to escape the wrath of God, to be forgiven of sin, to anticipate no sickness and sorrow in heaven, the best thing that happens is that we are reconciled to God. We are no longer his enemies, but his friend and his child and we call him Father.
This is why the cross is so important. Think of where we would be if Jesus did not obey completely the will of the Father.
It is also important to recognize that just because these events happened, does not mean that all experience salvation and reconciliation. You need to appropriate this great sacrifice by acknowledging your sin before God, repenting of your sin, and trusting fully in Jesus Christ for your salvation. If you have not done so, this would be the perfect weekend to consider these events and your standing with God. Let’s Pray.