Sunday 31 March 2013

He cannot die again (Romans 6:9-14)

For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God.
Romans 6:9-10

The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us three things: (1) Jesus died, (2) Jesus is alive, (3) what that means for us.

Jesus died

The first thing the resurrection points to is the fact that Jesus really died.

“But, of course he did,” you might think. Or, “Why bother with his death? Let’s move on to his life. That was Good Friday, today is Easter Sunday!”

Look again at verse 9. “For since we know that Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again.” Why does it say that?

Does it mean that he will live forever and ever? Well, yes, it does. But it’s more than that. The resurrection points back to the cross to say to us, “Something happened at his death.”

We don’t like talking about death, because death is horrible and quite depressing. It seems more encouraging to talk about life, which is why turning to your friend in school or in the office and asking, “Have you thought about how you are going to die?” is rarely a great way to start a conversation. Instead, asking something like, “What is heaven going to be like?” generates more interest, more curiosity.

The resurrection is about life, and we will get there in a moment, but here, the bible is saying to us, “Hang on. You need to first understand something.” You need to realise that Jesus died a kind of death that shows us the reason we die. His death shows us the reason why we are so afraid of death.

And that reason is verse 10. “The death he died, he died to sin once for all.” The reason for death is sin. When we reject God and we say to him, “Stay out of my life,” the result is God’s judgement over our sin. The result is death.

That is one reason we are afraid of death. We know we have sinned but we don’t want to die. Maybe we hear the word “resurrection,” and think, “Here is a way of avoiding that kind of death.”

It’s not. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is actually saying: here’s a way to dying such that you won’t ever have to be afraid of that death again.

“Huh? What does that mean?”

Notice how it says, Jesus cannot die again (verse 9) and that the death he died, he died once for all (verse 10). It’s redundant. Of course, he won’t die again. He’s God. He’s risen from the dead. He is in heaven. Who is going to kill him?

No, the reason why the bible emphasises he cannot die again - it underlines it, italicises it, puts it in bold letters - he can never, ever die again is because worse than coming to the end of your life, breathing your last breath and being laid in a coffin and lowered into the ground - worse than all that is dying only to wake up to face God judgement after death.

That is the death that Jesus died on the cross.

Now when Jesus died on Good Friday, he died bodily, physically - he died because he was killed. He died because his heart stopped, his body shut down. He really died.

But at the same time, he died to sin once for all. God was laying on him the full judgement of the world when he cried out, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”

On the cross, Jesus is offers us a way to die, not just in the first sense, but to die in the fullest sense possible. The resurrection is saying to us, “Have you died on the cross with Jesus?” Because Jesus gives us a way to die such that we don’t die for our sins. He does that on our behalf. He takes that second death.

For Christians, death is still painful. Death is still real. But death is not the end because Jesus has taken our judgement of death, such that the life we have now now leading up to our death has zero guilt. Our life now has zero condemnation. Why? Because the cross offers us a way to die without dying. It's not a way to avoid death. It's actually a way of facing our death by looking to Jesus on the cross.

Jesus is alive

So that’s the first thing we see from the resurrection: the reality of Jesus’ death.

The second thing the resurrection points to is Jesus’ life. The end of verse 10: “The life he lives, he lives to God.”

Some of us read that and think it means living a godly life. Some of us think it means Jesus is living with God in heaven.

What it’s actually talking about is direction and purpose. The life he lives, he lives to God.

And if you look down to verse 11, notice that the bible says to Christians that is our direction in life as well.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6:11

It is saying that your life has two possible masters. You either live to God or you live to sin. Either you are serving God or you are serving sin. Meaning: You are not the boss of your own life.

What the resurrection does is free us from one master to serve a new master.

The resurrection frees us from the power of sin. Earlier on, we looked at the penalty of sin: death. But this is different, this is the power and influence of sin. Look on to verse 12.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
Romans 6:12

The bible is saying to the Christian, “You have a new boss now. But your old boss is still sending you emails trying to get you to do stuff for him. Don’t open those emails. Don’t take those phone calls.”

Get this: Sin isn’t just something that you do. Sin is something that gives you orders to do something. Now, if you are not a Christian, the reality is: You have no choice but to obey sin. You work for him. Sin is your boss.

But for the Christian, sin is your former employer. That’s pretty important because sin doesn’t go away. It still calls out to you. That last bit in verse 12 where it says, “evil desires,” I know most of think it’s temptation. Ooooh, I am so tempted to sin. Or we think of sexual sin. Or we think of something we can’t control and are ashamed of. And all this is true of sin and our struggle to sin.

But it’s actually talking about your former boss, sin, calling you up constantly and saying, “Come back. I’ll double your pay.” It desires to have you. God said that same thing to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have but you must master it.”

For the Christian, the penalty of sin was paid on the cross. But the power of sin or the employment contract of sin, that too, has been destroyed on the cross. Having said that, as Christians, we will still be tempted to sin. Our bodies will still be susceptible to sin - a part of us will still say, “Maybe I could work part time for sin.”

For those of us struggle with ongoing sin, this means that there are two levels you need to be aware of, of what’s really going on when you sin - the immediate and the long-term.

The immediate level is radical: you need to cut it out. Be serious. Deal with it ruthlessly. Tear out your right eye, cut off your right hand that causes you to sin, that sort of thing, rather than having your whole body thrown into hell, Jesus says in Matthew 5. Meaning, put a stop to it. Immediately, radically.

But there is a deeper long-term level, as well. Sin is offering you something in exchange for your employment. If you are struggling with something that’s been there long term, you need to figure out what that is. It might be pleasure. It might be significance. It might be identity.

And what sin does is offer you a way to justify that sin. Look with me to verse 14.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Romans 6:14

Sin is the kind of employer who entices you with the law. “If you work for me, you will get this.” The law is a one-to-one relationship of cause and effect. Do this and you get this. Of course, sin doesn’t actually have anything to pay you with, except death. But still, the promise of being able to work for something - that’s powerful and enticing.

But God is a completely different kind of master. If you are living for God, you are living under grace. “You are not under law, but under grace.” Grace means we get what we don’t deserve. Grace means everything is a gift.

So friends, if you are struggling with sin - especially with ongoing sin - you need to think hard about that driving force to sin. That desire to prove yourself or justify yourself. “I deserve this.”

And the antidote to that is, having identified what it is you really longed for - self-worth, joy, pleasure, identity, purpose - the antidote is to see how only God can give you this. Sin might promise to you and say here’s the way to earn it, but only God can give you anything that is value. And moreover, how he gives it to you by grace. He is a loving master. He gives us what we do not deserve. On the cross, he gave us Jesus while we were still rebels.

Now, we’ve been talking a lot about us. But what does it mean for Jesus to live to God. Well, the resurrection means this: This rule of God that overcomes the old rule of sin has now begun. Do you see? The kingdom of God, whereby God is the true gracious, loving master has now begun because of the resurrection.

The resurrection means: You don’t have to work for sin anymore. Jesus comes and he headhunts you. He pays off all your debts to your old employer and says to you, “You work for me now.”

From death to life

This brings us to our final point: The resurrection means we have been raised from death to life. Look at verse 13.

Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
Romans 6:13

The interesting thing is how the bible doesn’t just say: Because Jesus was raised from the dead, one day we will be raised. That’s true of course, when Jesus returns he will raise us to be like him, to have resurrection bodies like his. One day.

But the emphasis of the bible, again and again, here and in places like Ephesians 2, is today. We have already been raised. Or as it says here in verse 13, “We have been brought from death to life.”

And that’s saying to the Christian: You are a new creation. You are now holy. You are now light in the Lord. The bible tells us who we are now, then says to us, “Be who you are.”

That’s a very powerful motivation for us as Christians. If you are tempted by sin, it’s more powerful than a set of rules, which say, “Do this in order to become this.” No, the bible says, “You are already this. Now live your life accordingly.”

Augustine was one of the early Church Fathers who struggled with sin in his young age. He had a real problem especially with sex. It’s amazing how open and honest he is about it in his writings. And he tells of how, one day, after becoming a Christian, his mistress sees Augustine walking down the streets and calls out to him. She’s surprised because Augustine doesn’t acknowledge her.

“Augustine, it is I,” she says to him. “Ah,” he replies, “But it is not I.”

In Jesus, you can look at the things that used to have a hold on you and say, “It is not I.” You have new desires. You offer the parts of your body to God. It’s still a conscious choice and the temptation will still be there to offer it back to your old boss, sin. But the greatest motivation is: It is not I. In Jesus, I am a new creation.

If we died with him

The resurrection reveals three things about Jesus and even about us today as Christians.

Firstly, it reveals that Jesus really died on the cross. He died to sin once for all, and in doing so, shows us how we can truly die. How we can die with Jesus, completely to the judgement of sin and the penalty of sin, so that we can be freed from sin.

Secondly, it reveals that Jesus really lives through his resurrection from the dead. He can never die again, though, the life he lives now, he lives to God. Meaning that this is life in the kingdom of God. This is life with God as our master. He pays off our debt to our old master sin and puts us under new management so that we, too, can live under God who is a loving master and a gracious lord.

Finally, it reveals that Jesus makes us into a new creation in his image. It is not I who live, but Christ living in me. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

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