As I prayerfully prepared a sermon a few years ago, a random thought came to my mind about Easter, which was over a month away. That week’s sermon had nothing to do with Easter.
Sacrifices, though bloody, were relatively clean and simple, consisting of plunging a sharp object into the heart or slitting the throat with a sharp instrument…. Death came quickly, lasting only a few seconds, if that long. (If you’ve ever witnessed the slaughter of a goat, chicken, or some other animal, you know that there’s no suffering.)
The ultimate sacrifice, Jesus Christ, however, was different. Very different.
Hours passed from his arrest until he breathed his last breath on a Roman cross.
He was beaten with sticks.
His beard was plucked out.
He endured scourging with innumerable lashes, His skin shredded with each blow.
A crown of long thorns was pressed into his scalp.
He carried a very heavy cross.
He stumbled under its weight.
Nails were driven into His wrists.
A nail was driven into His feet.
His cross was dropped into a hole with a sudden jolt at the bottom; He was already mounted on the cross at the time.
He hung there for hours in the blazing sun. Naked. Humiliated.
A disgustingly nasty sponge with vinegar touched His dry, parched lips.
All the while, bleeding.
Pushing against the nail in His feet, struggling for breath.
All the while, His lungs slowly filled with fluid. He was drowning.
It was an extended death. And it was ugly. Very ugly.
Perhaps the best depiction of the brutality of His torture was in Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. And perhaps even this portrayal was sanitized for movie audiences.
To ultimately atone for sin required the ultimate sacrifice. Contrasting with a simple slash of a knife in a ceremonial fashion, Jesus’ death was carried out brutally by the forces of hell itself through a perfected brutal torture, designed to inflict the most pain for the longest period of time. Sadism at its worst — glaringly on display. As he hung there, He barely looked like a human being.
I confess that I rarely consider the immensity of that sacrifice. But for that sin, His death also atones.
Thank God for Easter: an annual opportunity to remember!
[Note: This is a revised reposting of a blog entry I wrote in 2010]
Oftentimes, spiritual growth and sharing the Gospel are not seen as being related. Well, of course you have to have embraced the Gospel message to be born spiritually in order to grow spiritually. However, I’m talking about once you’re saved, there’s not a lot of emphasis on witnessing. At least for many church-goers.
Last week, we looked at the issue of spiritual growth and sharing the Gospel. We looked at the context of Jesus’ comments about “the fields are white for harvest” from John 4: the Samaritan “woman at the well” went to invite the townspeople to come meet Jesus who knew all sorts of things about her (as well as her friends and lovers). As they were coming to Jesus, He told His disciples that, “the fields are white for harvest”. (John 4:35)
Our job is to pray to the Lord of the Harvest, asking Him to send His workers into the harvest (Luke 10:2). By the way, that doesn’t mean that we pray for somebody else to come along and do the work for us. The idea is that we ask God to send others to help us bring in the harvest. So how do we do that?
One plan is called 4xFour and it was developed by Greg Wallace of Woodridge Baptist Church of Kingwood, Texas. He suggests the first step is to Identify four “unchurched” (i.e., lost) people within your circle of influence, whom God wants you to share your faith. To do that, we have to realize that there is a harvest, we are called to be involved in bringing in the harvest, and that now is the time to be about the Lord’s business of bringing in the harvest. And that requires that we pray, asking God to lead us to our “four” (we don’t just pick out four random people).
This is just the first step of one plan, which I suggested for Fellowship Baptist Church. You may not like this plan. That’s ok. So what is your plan? How is your plan working for you? (I assume you have a plan)
God hasn’t called anybody to win the entire world to Christ. But God intends all of us to witness to some (1Cor 9:22). We can start by Identifying your “Four”.
So have you identified your “Four”?
One of my concerns over the years is the popular idea of encouraging people to “pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts”. According the new International Mission Board President, David Platt, doing this is superstitious and dangerous.
I took a class on World Religions when I was at UNC-Chapel Hill. Obviously, this class was not taught from a “Christian perspective”. And that was a good thing. It was good to hear an academic description of the major world religions because it gave me an idea as to how lost people look at the world.
One day, our professor began to explain Pure Land Buddhism. As he described the concept of “salvation”/”achieving enlightenment”, I began to feel chills creep up my spine. According to that religion, all you need to ensure your “salvation” was to speak a particular phrase. You could live your life however you wanted before and after speaking these words and you were still guaranteed “salvation”.
So why did I get chills? Because there’s not much difference between that religion’s concept of “salvation” and much of our evangelistic training and mindset!
Let me ask… When you think about when you became a Christian, do you believe it happened because you prayed a prayer, or walked down an aisle? If one must do any or all of these things, then why don’t we see either of those things mentioned in the entire New Testament? Or in the writings of the Church Fathers? Or in the writings of the Reformers? Even baptism — as important as it is — isn’t given as being essential to salvation. In fact, such easy believe-ism is completely counter to everything we read in the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers and the Reformers.
The concept of praying a sinner’s prayer is a modern convention, perhaps shaped by the Western mindset of “being a soul-winner”, similar to being a successful salesman who always presses for the decision and closes the deal. I even remember some of my evangelism training including asking the prospective convert if he/she could think of any reason why they shouldn’t pray the prayer and if not, they should bow and pray.
As Dr. Pratt says in the video above, doing this is dangerous, and even damning.
How many people will stand before God on Judgment Day, claiming that they should be granted access to eternity in heaven because they prayed a prayer, walked down an aisle, shook a pastor’s hand or were baptized?
The prospect of that Day scares me! And it should scare you, too! Jesus took it a step farther, saying that on that Day, many will claim that they had done some pretty spectacular things, but would still wouldn’t enter heaven because He never knew them. (Matthew 7:21-23)
Biblical salvation is more than just praying a prayer, walking an aisle, and being baptized. Salvation is receiving eternal life and eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). Salvation begins when we exchange our life (all of our sin) for Jesus’ life (all of His righteousness) in order to be put in a right relationship with our Creator and King, against Whom we have all committed High Treason. Without accepting that free exchange, we are all worthy of nothing better than an eternity in hell and separation from God. Salvation continues as we live according to that new standing as adopted children. And salvation is fully realized when we cross over to the other side of eternity.
Does praying a prayer save you? No. Prayer is a natural response to receiving the New Life in exchange for our Old life and being accepted into a new family by a loving Father. And prayer can express our repentance as we turn from our sin and toward God.
What are your thoughts?