Death That Frees Us To Die

Selected Scriptures

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

Remembrance Day is a day to remember those who died to make us free. My knowledge of the World Wars, of course, is second hand. My knowledge of the World Wars is second hand, yet I am thankful--so very thankful for all those who died for us.

Thanks to those who were willing to die, we are free to live. Now, if the death of Canadian soldiers in the World Wars frees us to live , you may be wondering why this sermon is entitled, 'Death That Frees Us To Die '.

Whenever I find myself reflecting on the sacrifices Canadian soldiers made on my behalf, I cannot help but to also reflect on the great sacrifice made by Jesus Christ. The former obtained for me temporal freedom, the latter, eternal freedom.

There is another significant difference between the freedom gained for me by Canadian soldiers and the freedom gained for me by Christ. Whether I acknowledge the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers or not, I am still free. It is possible for us to be ungrateful and ambivalent towards the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers, and yet, the status of our freedom remains unaffected.

This is not the case with the death of Jesus Christ. In Mark, chapter 16, the resurrected Jesus tells His disciples, "He who has believed (in Me) . . . will be saved; but he who has disbelieved will be condemned "(Mk. 16:16). The atoning death of Christ does not bring eternal life to everyone, but only to those who believe in Him(Jn. 3:16-18). This is a sobering reality. This is one of those truth's that I wish would go away. On more than one occasion, I have said to myself, 'I do not want to believe in a place called hell'.

Perhaps you have had the same conversation with yourself. Perhaps there are even some among us today who do not even believe in the existence of hell. Let me share with you what always brings me back--whether I believe in hell or not, reality is not changed(repeat). Your beliefs do not magically shape reality. Let me give you an example: I could conceivably believe with all my heart that every dog has 3 noses, but my belief does not change the truth that dogs only have one nose.

Jesus, more than anyone else in Scripture, preached about hell. Part of me does not want to believe in hell, but I am constrained to. If I believe that Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so, it follows that I should also believe in hell because the Bible tells me so. It is illogical and hypocritical for me to glean from Scripture what I like and to leave behind that which I do not like.

You may be wondering, 'Why all this talk about hell? Why is the doctrine of hell an important subject to include in preaching?'. It is important to reflect on the reality of hell because this is what Christians are saved from(repeat).

Veterans from the war probably shake their heads with disappointment at people who pay no attention to Remembrance Day. I suspect the reason why so many neglect this important national day is that many people, especially young people, can't comprehend what we were saved from . Many can't comprehend living in a country governed by a dictatorship(i.e. Hitler or Stalin); we can't comprehend living in a country stricken by poverty. And because we can't fully comprehend what we were saved from , we struggle to appreciate what Canadian soldiers did for us.

This is a problem for the Christian Church as well. Rarely do preachers describe for us to terrible consequences of sin. Rarely do Christian ministers preach on the reality of hell. We are too scared you will get rid of us. As a result, most church folks live off a steady diet of 'How to' sermons--sermons that merely give advice for practical living. We are told every Sunday that Jesus died to save us, but what is tragic is that we often fail to comprehend what it is we have been saved from.

The Scriptures teach that the death of Christ saves us from sin- sin that would have ultimately led to condemnation(Rom. 6:11). Not only have we been saved from sin, but Luke writes in Acts 20:28 that we are "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood ". Every Christian has been purchased by God's blood and now belongs, in a special way, to Him.

What does all of this mean? The apostle Paul gives us the answer in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus ". We are saved from condemnation. We are saved from the punishment that our sins require. This is good news! This is good news because the Bible teaches that we all deserve condemnation-- "the wages of sin is death "--but instead of getting what our sins deserve, those who commit their life to Christ receive "the free gift " of "eternal life "(Rom. 6:23).

Now, some would like to believe that there is no condemnation--period. But the Bible teaches that there is no condemnation for those who have committed their life to knowing and following Jesus Christ . This is why we must never take the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ for granted. This is why we must live for Him.

The apostle Peter exhorts us this way in his first epistle, chapter 2, verses 21 through 25. Peter writes that "(Christ) who committed no sin . . . bore our sins in His body on the cross "(v.22, 24). 'That's fine', you say, 'Christ bore my sins. But what is required of me? '. Peter gives us the answer in verse 24, "(Christ) bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed ".

What does that mean, "by His wounds you were healed "? The context gives us a clear answer--through the death of Christ, we are healed of our sins . The penalty of sin, eternal condemnation, has been lifted. Christ "bore our sins " in order that "we might die to sin ".

There are 2 intended meanings by the sermon title, 'Death That Frees Us To Die', and this is the first meaning--the death of Christ empowers us to die to sin . This is what Peter tells us, and this is also what Paul tells us in Romans 6:6, "our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin ".

We hear the phrase 'Christ died for us' so often that I fear we take for granted what that means. I fear we take for granted the tremendous price God paid to redeem us. I am thankful for Luke's explicit description, that "(God) purchased (the Church) with His own blood "(Acts 20:28) because I am convinced that if we reflected on the pain and agony our sins brought Jesus two thousand years ago, our lives would be completely different.

I am reminded of a true account from Vietnam that I read about recently. A young graduate of West Point Academy was sent to Vietnam to lead a group of new recruits into battle. The young lieutenant did all he could to keep his men from ambush and death. However, one night he and his men were overtaken by a battalion of the Viet Cong. The lieutenant was able to get all but one of his men to safety.

The soldier who had been left behind had been severely wounded, and from the trenches, the young lieutenant and his men could hear their wounded comrade moaning and crying for help. They all knew venturing out into the vicious cross-fire of the enemy would mean almost certain death. But the groanings of the wounded soldier continued on through the night. Eventually the endurance of the young lieutenant came to an end, and he crawled out of his place of safety toward the cries of the dying man. He got to him safely and was able to drag him back. But just as the lieutenant pushed the wounded man into the safety of the trench, he himself caught a bullet in the back and was killed instantly.

Several months later, the rescued man returned to the United States and was invited to dinner at the parents of the dead hero. They wanted to know this young man whose life was spared at such a great cost to them.

On the night of the dinner, their guest arrived drunk. He was loud and boisterous. He told off-colour jokes and showed no concern for his suffering hosts. The parents of the dead hero did their best to make it a worthwhile evening, but their efforts were unrewarded.

At the end of the torturous visit, the obscene guest left. As her husband closed the door, the mother collapsed in tears and cried, 'To think that our precious son had to die for somebody like that'.

The rescued soldier owed those parents the best that was in him. It was evil for him to give so little thought to what they had lost because of him(Campolo, Who Switched The Price Tags? , 33, 34).

Now, before we go too far in our criticism of that ungrateful soldier, shouldn't we consider how much like him most of us are? Jesus died for us, yet we continue to sin. Jesus died for us, yet we continue to behave selfishly and obscenely. Our problem is that we fail to reflect upon the cost of our salvation. Surely, if we reflected more often and more seriously on the pain we caused Christ, our lives would be radically different.

The first part of the Good News then, is that through the death of Christ, we die to sin and become alive to God (Rom. 6:11; 1Pet. 2:24). There is also a second part to the Good News of the gospel. The death of Christ, on our behalf, frees us to die in the literal sense . The apostle Paul tells the Philippians that "to die is gain "(Phil. 1:21). Paul even goes so far as to say that his dying is "very much better "(Phil. 1:23) than remaining alive.

What is Paul saying? How can Paul say that "to die is gain "? Paul is not saying that death itself is a pleasant thing. Human death is always portrayed in Scripture as a negative thing. Even Jesus wept when Lazarus died, knowing full well that He would raise him in a matter of moments(Jn. 11:35). The reason Paul can say that "to die is gain " is because he knows that death, for the Christian, does not get the last word.

For the Christian, physical death is not the end. Rather, it marks the beginning of eternal life. When we commit our lives to Jesus Christ, when we resolve to live for Him above all else, at that very moment His death frees us to die. I recognize that this message is counter-cultural. Society's message is 'Look out for number one', while Jesus insists that the way to abundant life begins with denying one self(Mt. 16:24, 25).

The death of Jesus truly does free us to die. When we engage, daily, in the practice of dying to sin we gain abundant life, here and now. And when the day comes for us to physically die, we who have trusted in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ will receive eternal life.

It is difficult to describe the indescribable, yet I am thankful for the last verse of John Newton's hymn which provides us with a glimpse of eternal glory: 'When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we'd first begun'. While we remain on earth, with each passing day, the stark reality is that we have one less day to live. But in heaven, there is no end--no end to our joy, no end to God's glory.

It is for this that Jesus died, and unless we die to sin and live for Him we will never, ever, be satisfied. Amen.