As I write this we have just celebrated Palm Sunday when we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and cheered on by a vast crowd who threw their garments on the road in front of him and waved palm branches in the air and shouted God’s praises. And yet barely five days later the crowd on what we call “Good Friday” were shouting “Crucify him!” Such is the fickleness of the crowd and our sinful human nature.
The following sermon was preached at Wood Lane Baptist Church in Dagenham on Sunday 25th March 2007 and deals with our need for a Saviour, someone who could and would pay the price for our sins. The Bible indeed tells us plainly that Jesus did that for us on the cross that first Good Friday.
As an illustration of the fact we can’t save ourselves, I had some of the young people of the church help out by playing a highly modified version of monopoly in which the cost of landing on any of the squares was well beyond the assets any of the players possessed. It became obvious as the game progressed that the players needed someone to rescue them and settle their debts.
As usual we start with the Bible reading:
Colossians 2 v 13 – 15
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
We saw from the game of monopoly we just played with our young folk how it was impossible for them to get themselves out of jail. They couldn’t pay the price to buy their freedom. Neither could they play the perfect game to avoid getting into trouble.
I don’t know if anyone here has been in financial difficulties when you owe so much money there is just no way you will ever repay the debt. This can happen through all sorts of reasons including unemployment, redundancy, illness, death of spouse let alone through our own stupidity, ignorance and dishonesty.
In years gone by people used to be put in jail till they could pay. The debtors’ prison was well known right up to Victorian times. The father of the famous author Charles Dickens spent time in Marshelsea Prison in Southwark. Indeed one of Dicken’s more famous characters Mr Micawber from the novel David Copperfield was imprisoned in the Kings Bench Prison. If you were in the infamous Fleet Prison, you had to pay for your keep and to have the warders remove your leg irons.
How could you ever hope to pay off your debts if you are locked up in prison?
The Bible tells us how God regards sin and how we are enslaved to sin. On our own we cannot rescue ourselves from the consequences of our sin. We can’t repay the debt and buy our freedom. In reality on our own we are in that debtors’ prison. How can we ever pay the price of our sins and free ourselves? And we know the ultimate fate for those enslaved to sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin are death” and that is a spiritual death for ever separated from God after our physical death.
Some people think that if you live a good life and are nice to everyone then you’ll make it into God’s good books! You may be amazed at the number of people who tell that their loved one is bound to be in heaven as he/she was such a good person!
Maybe you think you can earn heavenly brownie point by going to church or taking part in religious activities. Amos 5:21 tells us what God things about religious people. This is from the Message translation: “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? “
You cannot earn you way into heaven. Even our best efforts are futile. Isaiah the prophet puts it this way: “ all our righteous acts are like filthy rags”.
Back in the 1980’s the singer Kate Bush had a song about making a bargain with God. The trouble is you can’t. What have you got that you can use as a bargaining chip with God? Romans 11:35 says: “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
Some people think they can hood wink God and get away with it. I spent many years working for a major bank and indeed my last years with them were in Debt Recovery. We had this lady who owed a considerable amount of money and she had lied and twisted all along. However the bank got serious with her and sent an enquiry agent to find out what assets she possessed so it could be established if she really was unable to repay the debt. The agent arrived on the appointed day to find the house freezing cold and furnished with old worn out furniture and thread bare rugs. The lady herself was dressed in clothes that most jumble sales would reject. The problem was that the agent being an ex Marine Commando had done a recce the previous day and seen the lady and her husband stripping the house of all the good furniture and carpets as well as opening all the doors and windows to cool the house. She was dressed in expensive designer clothes that day.
In case you are tempted to wriggle out of things, the Bible warns us in Hebrews 4:13 “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
So if we can’t save ourselves, we need someone to do it for us. We need someone to rescue us, someone to pay our debts and set us free. We need a redeemer.
Years ago, people were used to the idea of redeeming property and possessions. Anyone here have relatives or neighbours who used to “go and see uncle?” ie the local pawnbroker? Many hard up family would pawn the family silver or even the old man’s Sunday suit on a Monday and redeem it on a Friday evening or Saturday morning once they had been paid. The word “pawn” is descended from the Latin word for pledge. To get back the pledged item you had to pay back the loan and the interest due. If you couldn’t within the allotted time the item was forfeited.
How many have literally sold their souls in to slavery through sin? If you don’t do something about it before you die, its too late.
The Bible tells us that there will be a day when everyone has to give an account of their lives: Revelations 20:12 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”
And of course all our sins will be recorded there like a bank statement that is horribly overdrawn. How are we going to clear our debts?
If you can’t redeem yourself, you need someone to redeem you.
We know that we cannot save ourselves so who will redeem us? Clearly no man or woman is good enough. But God in his foreknowledge knew this and all through the Old Testament are prophecies of the coming redeemer often referred to as the Messiah. The events of Good Friday and Easter Day exactly fit with the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus.
Yet when Jesus came the very people who should have known about him and recognised him failed to do so. God also told us through the prophets that this would happen and what fate would meet the redeemer.
The hymn writer Mrs CF Alexander got it right when she wrote in the hymn “There is a green hill far away”:
“There was no other good enough To pay the price of sin;“
Or as it is written in 1 Peter 1:18 “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
So Jesus paid the price for our sins by his sacrificial death on the cross at Calvary 2000 years ago. But Jesus did much more than that through his death. He not only redeemed us from the power of sin – our debt he also broke the power of the evil one and destroyed for ever the power of death over us who believe and trust in him.
So to our reading which talks about a written code. “He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross”
This in fact refers to a statement of account or indebtedness. But on the cross Jesus in dying for us has not only paid our debts but in evidence of this he has written “paid in full” on that statement so it longer has any hold over us.
Many of us are familiar with the gospel accounts of the crucifixion especially John’s gospel. In John 19: 30 we read “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” A more literal translation would be that Jesus said or indeed shouted “Everything is done!” or “Paid in full” again referring to the payment of our sins and our redemption.
So if you have come to Jesus and acknowledged him as your redeemer, the one who died for your sins, are you telling others about the good news that they too can be free of the burden of sin?
But if you have not yet accepted Jesus as the only one who can set you free, why not come to him today? Tomorrow may be too late. If that’s you come and speak to me at the end of the service or if not me than there are others here who would be delighted to talk with you and help you.
Lord Jesus thank you that you have redeemed us and set us free from the debt of our sins. Help us Lord to remember just how wonderful that is and to share this good news with those who do not yet know you and who need you to set them free. This we ask in your wonderful name. Amen.