This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Warrior". See series.
Do you ever watch wrestling? If you do, are you afraid to admit that you watch it? I recently read that you probably watch too much wrestling if:
You write on your resume, "I am the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be."
You get in fights with people who say wrestling is fake.
You find someone smaller than you, beat them up, and then spray-paint their back.
You clothesline people in the supermarket for no reason.
You elbow-smash your dog and turn him over for the three count.
Instead of reading a bedtime story to your kids, you just put them in a sleeper hold.
Your king-sized bed has ropes and turn-buckles surrounding it.
You hit your co-worker in the head with a chair while your manager is distracting him.
You carry foreign objects in your underwear.
You walk down the aisle at church giving high-fives as the people hold up signs and chant your name.
When I was a kid, I watched wrestling religiously. It was on TV every Saturday afternoon. The first wrestler I remember seeing was Dick "The Bruiser." I thought he was the ugliest, scariest man I had ever seen. He was the dirtiest wrestler on television, and he went ten years without being pinned. They called him "The Bruiser" because he made sure his opponents left the ring both bloodied and bruised.
For thousands of years, the nation of Israel looked for a bruiser. But they weren't looking for a wrestler; they were looking for a warrior. They expected him to be a bruiser because he was predicted to be one. When Satan caused the world's greatest tragedy by successfully tempting Adam and Even to sin, war broke out between good and evil, between God and Satan. The only hope for this world was that a warrior come, fight this war, and defeat this enemy. He would do it by being a bruiser, as we read in Genesis 3:15: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15, NKJV).
From that single prophecy, the picture of a warrior began to form in the minds and hearts of rabbis and Old Testament scholars throughout the ages. They expected this warrior not only to defeat Satan, but to take over this world and usher in a kingdom where Israel would be restored to its rightful place as the most dominant nation on earth. No one could touch him. No one could pin his shoulders to the mat. No one could hurt him. He was the Warrior, the bruiser.
God did send this warrior. But he didn't send just a soldier. He sent his Son. He sent him to fight a battle that he didn't invite and to finish a war he didn't start. But to Israel's surprise, this warrior would not fight and win by killing. He would fight and win by dying. When you understand why Jesus died on the cross and what happened after his death, you understand why he is the only one who could give us the ability to conquer the two greatest problems this world faces: sin and death. Jesus is the only warrior who could defeat sin and death.
It is difficult for most of us to imagine the shock, the bewilderment, and the dismay people felt when Jesus was tortured and crucified. Many people believed he was the Warrior they longer for. But how could this be? Surely this warrior did not come to die without firing a shot, without throwing a spear, without shooting an arrow, or without wielding a sword. But only Jesus could be this warrior, and you won't understand that until you understand why Jesus Christ died.
This warrior sacrificed his life for us
One reason why many people do not take Jesus Christ seriously is they either do not understand why he died, or they understand but don't believe. Most of us know where Jesus died, when he died, and how he died. But have you ever stopped to think about why he died?
The Old Testament gives us clues for why Jesus died. Any Jewish rabbi will tell you the greatest night in the history of Israel was the first Passover. Israel lived in slavery under Egypt for 400 years. God promised to free them so they could begin their journey to the Promised Land. Moses repeatedly warned Pharaoh to let God's people go. Moses warned Pharaoh about what would happen if he didn't. On the night that God was going to free Israel, God sent an angel to go into every home in Egypt and kill every firstborn child. This would force Pharaoh to let Israel go. However, each household in Israel was instructed to kill a lamb and paint the blood over the doorpost. When the angel saw the blood, he would pass over the house, and everyone in the house would be safe. From that time until this very day, Jews have celebrated the Passover in remembrance of their exodus from Egypt.
After the Passover, God instituted a system of animal sacrifices to continue the principle of blood covering sin. People could bring a lamb to a priest and have the priest slay the lamb and take its blood as a symbolic covering for the their sins. For hundreds of years, people went to the tabernacle to make sacrifices. Later, they went to the temple to sacrifice.
However, this system was never meant to be a final remedy for sin. It was a temporary arrangement. Hebrews says,
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins (10:1-3 NIV).
The author of Hebrews explains that animal sacrifices in the Old Testament basically put the debt of sin on credit. Lambs that were sacrificed acted like credit cards—the debit and the sin deficit kept piling up. Romans puts it this way:
For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past (Romans 3:25, NLT).
Last week Teresa and I went to a nice restaurant to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary. I paid for it with a credit card. We had a great meal on credit. When we walked out, the meal hadn't actually been paid for, but the credit card gave me the privilege of buying something immediately under the condition that I would pay for it later.
That is how God forgave sin for thousands of years. In effect, God opened up a spiritual charge account. People in the Old Testament would charge their sins on spiritual credit cards through animal sacrifices. They left their American Express cards at home. They used Visa. Do you know why? Visa stands for Verify Important Sacrifice of Animals. They would take their cards to the temple in Jerusalem, where the priest would sacrifice these animals on the altar, and their sins would be credited on a future bill that eventually somebody had to pay permanently.
God set up this system so that people would know the severity of sin. Every time an animal was offered on the altar, people were reminded how serious their sin was.
We are in a war. We fight against sin and death. Even though millions of animals were sacrificed over the centuries, not one drop of the millions of gallons of spilt blood was able to cleanse anyone of their sin. Hebrews says, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4, NIV).
Over the centuries, the credit card bill continued to grow. Inestimable sins, transgressions, and crimes were committed, and countless animals were sacrificed. The sin deficit was absolutely staggering.
Sin was an enemy too big for anybody to fight. This war was too great for anybody to win—that is, until the Warrior came. This warrior used the only weapon that could defeat sin and death and bruise the devil who caused it all. His weapon was not a sword or a spear or an arrow; it was a cross. This warrior did the greatest thing any soldier can ever do in a war—he gave his life for the spiritual freedom of others.
This warrior substituted his death for us
The reason why Jesus was crucified, legally, is because another man's life was spared. That man was Barabbas. Matthew says,
Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matthew 27:15-17)
If anyone ever truly understood why Jesus died and what the Cross really meant, it was Barabbas. If it had been any other day, or if there had been someone else to choose from other than Jesus, Barabbas would have been the one on that cross. He would have been the one to die.
Do you know who Barabbas was? He was like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein combined. He was public enemy number one. He was supposed to die on the middle cross, between the two thieves who were probably his buddies. He was a murderer, a robber, a rebel, and a thief. He had been condemned to death, and he probably thought this would be his last day to live. After he was freed, he probably wandered over to the place where he was supposed to be crucified. He might have even stood at the foot of the Cross. He may have even said to Jesus: "I don't know who you are, but I know you are dying in my place."
You may be thinking, So what does that have to do with me? The answer: You are Barabbas. I am Barabbas. We are all Barabbas. Jesus Christ was not only his substitute; he was our substitute. He not only died in Barabbas's place; he died in our place. The Bible says, "He died for us" (1 Thessalonians 5:10). But why did he die for us? The answer is simple: He is the only warrior that had the power to win the battle.
Jesus died for sin. That is why the Warrior had to be a sacrifice. But Jesus died in place of sinners, and that is why the Warrior had to be a substitute. Galatians puts it this way: "Jesus … changed places with us and put himself under that curse" (Galatians 3:13, NCV).
I want you to remember this: The fact that God allowed his own Son to be the Warrior, the one who would lay down his life for you, should tell you that you are in a war you cannot win. You are in a battle against sin, and you will only lose. You face an enemy called death that will kill you for all eternity if you do not put your faith and trust in the Warrior. But there is something else this Warrior did.
The Warrior satisfied God's justice for us
I want to repeat a verse I read a moment ago, and I want you to hear it again: [In these verses, Paul is writing about Jesus Christ], "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed" (Romans 3:25, NASB).
Paul is referring to the time when animals were sacrificed as a credit payment for sins. It wasn't actual payment; it symbolized real payment was on the way. Then we read that Jesus was specifically crucified to demonstrate the justice of God.
The word propitiation literally means "an atonement" or "a sacrifice that satisfies." When something is atoned for, it simply means that payment is made, a debt is cancelled. Something had to be satisfied. But the question is this: "What had to be satisfied?" The answer is the justice of God.
We all know debts have to be permanently paid off. There is a due date on all debt, and the sin debt had finally come due. Final payment had to be made. The justice of God demanded that sin had to be fully and finally paid for. To make sure that no one would question his justice, God sent his son to be the Warrior who would make that final and full payment for sin.
Concerning sin, the justice of God says someone has to pay. God can't just let bygones be bygones. Before you and I were born—in fact, before this world was created—God the Son agreed to become the Warrior that would take the sin of the human race upon himself. He agreed to take our punishment. He agreed to pay the bill. He agreed to fight the battle. He determined to win the war so that God could forgive us and so that God would be justified.
All of the wrath, punishment, and judgment that our sin deserves and demands, God put on this Warrior, who came not to kill, but to die. He did not come with a sword in one hand and a spear in the other; he came with love and grace.
Three words define the Warrior and his weapon, the Cross: mercy, justice, and grace. God's mercy deferred payment for our sin. God's justice demanded payment for our sin. God's grace delivered the payment for our sin.
But how do we know Jesus was the Warrior promised in Genesis? How do we know Christ's death was victorious? After all, everyone dies. There is one sure-fire proof: the Warrior rises! Listen as I put several verses together. "I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen" (Matthew 28:5-6, NIV). "He was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4).
Many warriors have fought, bled, and died. But this is the Warrior who rises.
All of this tells us why you cannot go to heaven simply by being a good person. The truth is, you will never be good enough. You can't earn your way to heaven by being religious. You can't pay your way to heaven; there is not enough money in the world to pay the debt of sin. God doesn't grade on a curve. He grades by the standard of the Cross. It is not just any cross. It is the Cross of the Warrior who rises.
James Merritt is the Senior Pastor of Cross Pointe Church. His media teaching ministry, Touchinglives, is broadcast around the country and throughout the world. Dr. Merritt is also the author of numerous books, including How to Impact and Influence Others.