Summary: God decrees the death of his Son for the death his people deserve to die.
One way to get at the significance of the story of redemption is to observe the contrasts which God builds into Bible events. For example, as the hours wind down to the crucifixion, we see the bent of the human heart: face-to-face with an innocent man, men plot his death and betray his trust. Such treachery deserves punishment. But in a shocking reversal, he who knew no sin is the convicted criminal. Mankind, created for life, acts out the death which infests his heart; and Jesus, the only person who deserves to live forever, is revealed as the one who must die. Thus, Christ pays a debt he does not owe, because we owe a debt we cannot pay. These absurd paradoxes pierce our hearts with the heart of the Gospel.
The Scripture which God places before us this morning is bracketed by “impossible” prophecies of the death of the one who alone is so full of life that it overflows from him to others. As we consider the disease of death which infects humanity, may God give us grace to believe the great paradox and place our faith in the death of the one gives life to the world.
[Read John 18.12-32. Pray.]
Last week on NPR, Patti Neighmond reported on a study of AARP members which suggests that eating a lot of red meat may actually shorten your life. I was driving and not giving it my full attention, when I heard her say: “They found that people who ate the most red meat (that’s beef, lamb, or pork) were 30% more likely to die.”
I laughed as thought, “How could some be more likely to die?” Doesn’t everyone die? Those who gorge on double whoppers with cheese and those who nibble on broccoli are both 100% likely to die.
For the sake of accuracy, I did listen again to that All Things Considered segment on the NPR internet site. Ms. Neighmond actually said, “This was a large study – over half a million men and women over the age of 50. They answered questions about specifics of their diet, and then researchers documented who died over the next 10 years. They found that people who ate the most red meat (that’s beef, lamb, or pork) were 30% more likely to die.” The 30% more likely to die referenced the 10 years from the preceding sentence.
Even so, it is still true that 100% of the vegetarians in the world die. 100% of the carnivores die. 100% of the vegans die. Everyone dies. Why is that?
We need a biblical answer because this question influences many ethical debates swirling around in our politics and culture. The answers affect views on stem-cell research and abortion and end-of-life issues like removing life-support. We should understand why death is inevitable. It was not always so.
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created to live! Death was not part of their genes; it was not their certain end. God made humans, “male and female, with rational and immortal souls, endowed with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image…. [And] they were happy in their communion with God (Westminster Confession, 4.2).
But, “seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan,” these first humans rebelled against their Maker, falling from their original righteousness and happiness into a condition of sin and misery. Nor did they sin for themselves alone. Adam and Eve were our federal representatives (which means they were placed in Eden (as it were) to take the test for us all). So when they sinned, because they acted for us also, the “guilt of this sin was imputed to (all their children) – and the same death in sin and corrupted nature also were conveyed to all their children.” Thus in Adam all die – because we are all guilty of our representative’s rebellion. This is called original sin. But there is more: we are also guilty before the law because we actually sin. And every sin deserves death – death, that wretched condition of separation from the God in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore!
At the moment they rejected God’s goodness and ways, Adam and Eve died – they were separated from God. Eventually, they also died physically – their bodies returned to the dust from which they were made. This bodily death is proof of our guilt before the Holy God.
There are other proofs of the sinfulness of mankind, some of which we will see today. Before we do, however, let me remind you of what we read from Hebrews earlier in the service: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9.27).
In the days of the American Wild West, a horse bolted and ran away with a wagon in which a little boy was trapped alone. Seeing the child in danger, a young man risked his life to catch the horse and stop the wagon. He saved that young boy. Unfortunately, the child grew up to be a lawless man, and years later he was arrested for murder. At his sentencing, the prisoner recognized the judge as the very same man who, years before, had saved his life. He pleaded for mercy on that basis, asking the man to “save him” again.