FAQ: Why Did Jesus Have to Die for our Sins?

Last week our Gospel Community was meeting to discuss the previous week’s sermon and someone asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?” I asked what they meant, because I knew this person trusts and believes in Jesus and His sacrifice for us. They said (I’m paraphrasing), “Why couldn’t God just say, ‘All’s forgiven’ rather than have Jesus die?” This is a really good question.
I mentioned it to our staff two days later in staff meeting, and someone asked how I responded. They suggested I share my response in a blog post, because this is something that has come up in multiple Gospel Communities during Notes Night. I had no idea this was a common occurrence. If you have been wondering about this question, are a GC leader who has been asked this question, or never even thought about it until now, this post is for you.
It is hard to start answering this question in any other place than the book of Genesis. In Genesis, God creates everything, including man, and lays out what is good in front of man. The Hebrew word for good is tov (or tob); the word refers to everything good, in the broadest sense possible. God determines what is good and beneficial and He imparts that knowledge and wisdom to the man He creates. God fashions man with His hands, He makes man in His image, He breathes His very own breath into the man to make him alive, and then He instructs the man on what is good and right and places this man in the garden.
God then tells the man the consequence of sin—he will die. You sin, you die (simple, right?), and yet we have made it so much more complicated today. To make this as simplistic as possible, death is separation. Death is not the stopping of our hearts, or the blood in our veins turning from red to blue (it’s all still red anyway), and it is not the synapses in our brain no longer firing impulses to our bodies. Death is separation from life. God is life and He tells us that if and when we sin, we are/will be separated from Him. Death is separation, not just from life, but also from all that is good.
In Genesis, God separates for the man what is light and dark, truth and lies. God makes the distinction between life and death for the man. This explanation of what constitutes life and death includes the idea that man is free to live and love God and His creation in any way the man sees as most useful. The man is not part of the garden; he was fashioned and placed within the garden to nurture and take care of its beauty because beauty is good.
When man decides to go his own way in the garden, without God, and do what he feels is right, he sins. In Genesis 3 you see that as soon as the man and woman sin, they tragically died. The scriptures use words like “shame” and “exposed” to illustrate what has happened. Their sin made them lose their innocence and their connection with each other and God; they became separated, they died. They, like us, no longer know the beauty of innocence, the good that allowed them to face one another without shame was now gone. They also lost true life that came from being in connection with God, the world around them, and each other.
The saddest part of all comes in Genesis 3:8. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” They hide from God. Adam was the head of the human race and because he died, we are all born into life with a deep-rooted propensity to sin and seek our own “good.” However, man cannot know good apart from God showing us what it is—He alone makes that definition. To this day, sin runs rampant in our lives and causes us to be separated from others, our Creator, and eventually our own flesh.
How can God restore us to the place of understanding and knowing His definition of good? In the rest of Genesis 3, you see God comes walking into the garden, this place of rebellion and death, and He calls out to the man. It is not that God couldn’t see Adam hiding behind a bush trying to cover his baby-making parts; the point is that God comes looking for the man because the man could never find God on His own. God is on a rescue mission to redeem His people from death.
God then makes a promise, in His holiness, that He would provide Himself as a sacrifice to remove man’s sin and restore relationship. We see the first sacrifice when God slaughters an animal to clothe Adam and Eve’s shame. We can oftentimes gloss over this verse, but it is devastating—blood is spilled as the cost of man’s sin. The fact that God made this sacrifice Himself shows how important and necessary it was. Sinful people cannot dwell with a holy God. Eventually, this leads to the whole Old Testament sacrificial system, which ultimately points towards the final sacrifice for our sin, Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews sums up the entire Old Testament by saying in Hebrews 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” So God Himself provided Jesus, His son, at the appointed time to be the One that dies for us, in our place, as our substitution. God could not just wink at sin and say it was no big deal, like when our kids do stupid things and we act like it is okay. God is holy, just, right, and true. If He brushed sin off, He would cease to be God. Because He defined the consequence of sin as death, He had to follow through because His words are true. This is why blood, which is related to life, is required for the sin we commit.
The problem is that we could never pay for our own sin, because our own lives, our blood, are tainted because of our sin. What is taught through Scripture is clear - either you die, forever separated from God, or you trust in the provision of God through His Son, who has died for you. Your death for His life, your sin for His righteousness—Martin Luther referred to this as The Great Exchange.
I am trying to keep this blog on the shorter side, but the idea of our regaining life is rooted in the idea of sacrifice—more specifically, His sacrifice for us. Why did Jesus have to die? Because we are so evil, and the cost of sin is death. Why DID Jesus die? Because He is that good. Don’t let this get you down. There is a reason it is called “good news” or the Gospel; it is the only hope we have ever had. Our God has sought us and bought us with Himself. We don’t live in despair because of what it cost Him; we live new lives of joy because He has first loved us and given us a reason for great joy.
We are not dead. We are redeemed.

Q&A: Mark 4:5-41

I am reading in Mark chapter 4:35-41.  This is the story of the big storm on the lake with Jesus sleeping and the disciples freaking out, then Jesus calms the storm.  Jesus is upset with them "Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?" Mark 4:40   I am a little confused with this. I understand we are not to worry because He is in control, but I thought we were to cast our cares upon Him (and the disciples did go to Jesus with their problems). It is just a question that has bothered me and when I read it again I decided I'd ask. 

There are a couple of things going on here.

Mark’s Gospel moves very fast, so at this point they had been with Jesus for a while, but the reality of who Jesus really was had not sunk in. The word for "afraid" from Mark 4:40 is a word that describes timidity or dread. In Revelation 21 it is used of Christians who give up under pressure (essentially they are considered cowards). It is when something so terrifying happens that you want to wet your pants and run away.
In Mark 4:41 when it says they were filled with "fear" it is the where we get our word "phobia" from.
Essentially, there is a great storm that is tossing their boat around like it is nothing and Jesus stands up with great authority and tells the storm to be quiet. There was something about how Jesus revealed Himself to them in this moment that they had not experienced before. They raise the question, "Who is this? That even the wind and the seas obey Him?" The implied answer is "He is the God who made it all."
Think about these people who had been taught about God their entire life, and now Jesus is standing in front of them revealing Himself by quelling a storm, that could wreck ocean liners, with a mere word. To have that type of power displayed makes you realize how powerful God actually is and it freaked them out, just like it would us. There is a natural awe and dread that comes along with actually seeing the power of God. Jesus' rebuke of them was more of a "don't you run away and hide, don't cower when I reveal myself." It gave them a stronger and healthier understanding of Him.
Secondly, Mark was writing his gospel to Romans, it is very action oriented, and Romans want to know "did Jesus get the job done." This story would have a huge impact on those facing persecution in the Roman church. As Walter Wessel noted, "It assured them that the strong Son of God would go with them into the storm of opposition and trial." Essentially, there was nothing to cower from because it all rests in Christ's capable hands.

Is God a Community?

Is God a community? I've really been struggling with this idea lately. I looked up the definition of community in the dictionary and it defines community as:

 1: a unified body of individuals: as
a: state, commonwealth
b: the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly: the area itself <the problems of a large community>
c: an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location
d: a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a community of retired persons>
e: a group linked by a common policy
f: a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community

The definition of community as defined in Merriam Webster's dictionary doesn't seem to actually apply to God. Can you help me here? Because nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that God is a Community, and just because God is a Trinity doesn't mean you equate that with "community," because when you look up the definition of community, it doesn't fit. When you say this, do you have a different meaning of community in mind then what the dictionary defines it?

1) The dictionary is not a theology book.
2) If a dictionary doesn't define it correctly, that doesn't make our statements untrue because we explain our definition on a regular basis.
3) If we took the definition for community from the dictionary then Gospel communities wouldn't be Gospel communities because that definition doesn't fit.
4) You even said "nowhere in the Bible does it actually say that God is a Community, and just because God is a Trinity doesn't mean you equate that with "community." Well, the word TRINITY isn't in the bible so does that mean God cannot exist as one?
5) Deuteronomy 6:4, the Shema "the Lord your God is ONE" is a term of a cluster of grapes. One cluster, many grapes. It is a nourishing, life giving RELATIONSHIP of community. Just as a man and a woman become ONE (same word) Flesh, God is ONE.
Rest assured God, in Himself is a community. For a greater understanding of this, I would recommend Tim Chester's Book A Meal With Jesus.

Becoming Anglican?

Question: Have you ever considered becoming Anglican? Are you familiar with the books by Robert E Webber? It raises some interesting church history/theology questions for churches.

What an odd question. Will we become Anglican? The short answer is no.
My long answer about becoming Anglican and Robert Webber is as follows (it's kind of long):
The Anglican Church traditionally venerates tradition over scripture; this is actually seen very clearly in Webber's writings. He writes romantically (I say that because I can't think of a better metaphor) about tradition, liturgy, and philosophy while seeming to neglect the weight and authority of the scriptures.
Don't misunderstand me, I believe Webber has many valid points. He writes that "Seeker-oriented contemporary churches argue that worship does not need to present the whole gospel. The purpose of worship, they say, is to get people in the door. Then, after they have gained a hearing, they present the gospel in small-group settings. This argument may be good marketing but it fails to understand the biblical purpose of worship." Again, this point is valid, but I do not think it applies to Element as we present the gospel every week, and many times more than that.
Webber is typical of most post-modern writers today, he criticizes Christianity's emphasis on "creation--sin--redemption" and replaces it with "creation--incarnation--recreation" - He seems to think that the two are mutually exclusive (where I think they go hand in hand). He thinks Christianity also concentrates too much on the sacrificial view of the atonement…he thinks this excludes seeing Jesus as Christus Victor (Jesus as the victor triumphing over sin, death and the powers of evil). In Webber's mind this has led to an individualistic form of Christianity in which people are concerned too much about redemption from sin and not enough about the rescue of fallen creation in the new heaven and earth (the new creation).

I hope you can see my dilemma. Just as Webber accuses the church today of not understanding the fullness of the gospel, he doesn't either because he neglects part of it as well. This is why I have issues with him, because he is so right and so wrong. Webber talks about the "redemption of the whole world," and while I know what that means to me; what does he mean when he says it? In his book Ancient - Future Worship he says:
  • It "has to do with God's rescue of the entire created order and the establishment of his rule over all heaven and earth" (pp. 57-58).
  • "Deliverance is for the sake of the world" (p. 59).
  • He complains that "worship now places greater attention on the individual's condition before God. The vision of God to reclaim the whole world and redeem all flesh and matter through the victory of Christ over sin and death scarcely appears" (p. 77, cf. pp. 90, 94, 96-97, 121).
These statements sound great, I might even make them on a Sunday morning or in a blog, but the issue is Webber never clearly defines the gospel. Is he saying that all mankind, along with all matter, will be redeemed and re-created? If so, then the message of personal redemption is indeed an over-emphasis, in fact it wouldn't be the point of the cross at all. However, if it is believers in Christ that Jesus paid for at the Cross, because of the sacrificial death of Christ, then we ARE saved individually (though our salvation is not meant to be lived in isolation).
My largest problem with Webber is that he makes statements like this, "I affirm the Bible as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice...However I draw on the foundational interpretation of the Church Fathers and the creeds and practices of the ancient church." (p. 19, cf. p. 68). In other words, final authority in reality does not rest in Scriptures, but in the church…that is a huge issue because it's wrong.
Webber also calls for us to resist intellectual analysis that he believes stems from the Enlightenment and read the Bible as true but "not for truths." In communion he encourages us to free our thinking from reason and science and embrace "mystery." We are to read the Bible "holistically, relationally, and passionately" (p. 125), rather than intelligently and rationally, for, "the intellect always dissects, makes judgments, analyzes, and sifts, but the heart listens, sees, feels, loves, fears, and believes" (p. 127). This is a false dichotomy between head and heart and an overreaction to those who think too much. Even the profit Jeremiah reminds us in 17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

Webber prefers Eastern over Roman liturgy that is centered not around Scripture, but around the Lord's Table; he writes much on this subject. He rejects all the major positions on the purpose and nature of the communion  and claims that the "ancient" view is, "When bread and wine are received in faith, we are transformed. Bread and wine nourish our union with Jesus. It transforms us into his image and likeness" (p. 140). This is not what communion is, it is a remembrance of what Jesus had done. Our redemption and hope…Jesus even said (Luke 22:19) "Do this in remembrance of me."

I do agree that there are so many things we will never totally comprehend about our God and His ways (mystery), but Webber's approach abandons the clear approach of Scripture itself and leaves far too much to our own imagination and to what others call "subjective mysticism." Webber is asking us to accept a form of Christianity not emerging from Scriptures but from the practices of men years after God had spoken His final word in the New Testament. This is the same approach that led to corruption in the "ancient" church and ultimately necessitated the Reformation.
I hope this makes sense. I personally call myself a believer, a follower, a Christian, rather than taking a label of a particular mode of church called "Anglican." I don't want to limit what God calls me to be and follow just one portion of the gospel, I want to follow all of it.  

The Same Old Way

In your THIS IS ELEMENT video you state, "we have a huge influx and convergence of social groups that has not been met by the local church just doing the same old thing in the same old way." What is the same old thing and the same old way?

Glad you asked, and I would recommend at some point you listen through our Gospel Class as the weeks on Missional Church cover this very idea. I reiterate, listen to the WHOLE Gospel Class as it all fits together, bits and pieces won't help.
Most people are indoctrinated into church culture before they understand the truth of the freedom of the gospel (we are taught the correct jokes, dress, views on alcohol, and political affiliation before we truly understand the gospel). This causes such a rift in people's views of God as they grow because they find it hard to differentiate between the legalism they have been taught, and the grace that comes from the gospel.
For the last couple hundred years people have been taught that you bring someone to church, a revival, a bible study…then they hear the "gospel"…then you ask "do you believe in Jesus, do you know where you will go when you die," as if the point of Jesus is about our death and not our life (Luke 20:38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.) Don't get me wrong, I love Billy Graham and plenty of churches are still working with this model, but it is becoming less effective.
If people believe and confess they are then welcomed into the community, if not we keep "working" on them until they do believe. This is what is called "Roman Evangelism" and it looks like this: Believe, Behave, Belong. That is how most churches do it, and it worked for a really long time, but I think that will be less and less effective as time moves on because our society is becoming increasingly pagan in its cultural values (it is why we hear statements like: "there is no absolute truth, everything is relative," and, "it just 'works' for me.")
What Element believes a church in America must do is follow a Celtic type of model that looks like this: Belong, Believe, Behave. George Hunter in The Celtic Way of Evangelism lays this out really well. Today we should invite people to belong to our community, love them, take care of their needs and invite them to participate in the life of the church as we give and serve each other and the community. If we are truly living missionally, most people will see a difference in how we worship and begin to understand Jesus by not just our words, but by what we do, and they in turn would believe as well. Once they believe they continue on with what they already are doing, living the life of gospel, but now with the strength of God's Spirit living in and through them. Their lives and attitudes change because it is Christ who is changing them.
There are all kinds of ways to better understand the individual sub-cultures we live in as well (I would also recommend Center Church by Tim Keller, but also the Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler about keeping the gospel as it is while living on Mission). You can click here: http://audio.ourelement.org/gospelclass/pdf/000.Gospel_Class.pdf and get our gospel class booklet, on page 39 is a chart of how Belong, Believe, Behave is lived out.  

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