The Easter weekend looms and with it the opportunity to reflect upon the necessity of the Cross.
I submit that there has never been a day when it was more vital that we do so.
For the typical person in the pews today - even in an “evangelical” church - has no real grasp of the necessity of the Cross. This is because he has no real grasp of the problem of sin.
And this is not his fault.
For the typical pew-filler of our day is taught by the typical preacher of our day & the typical preacher simply will not teach him about this.
Sin fell out of fashion in society long ago, and soon after it began to fall out of our sermons also.
People today will not hear such sermons, we are continually told. We must soften the message for this society; we must learn to be more “sophisticated” in our presentation if we wish to be heard today.
But it is news to me that people in any generation have ever wished to hear such sermons. For when was there ever a time when the notion of human depravity was not foolishness to the proud, carnal mind of Man?
The difference today is this: we are the first generation of preachers in the whole of Church history to actually agree with lost sinners that they ought not to have to hear about their sin.
In doing so we have made a de facto decision to abandon the power of the Gospel.
A decision to forsake the only power that the Church has ever really had - the power through the foolishness of the preaching of the Cross to change the hearts of sinful men and women.
Instead we have substituted a sort of touchy-feely “Jesus-wants-to-be-your-best-mate” kind of message that has no power to change anyone or anything.
Hence people, rarely if ever will learn of their sin even from the “evangelical” Church in our day.
And if they do not hear it from us, then from who else will they hear it?
Today, the word once used to describe the most heinous offence against the majesty of Heaven is now used to describe the allowance of chocolate cake in a weight-loss programme. “How many “sins” are you allowed on that one?”
These days we sophisticated types do not sin, we merely “make mistakes.”
The man who has slept with another man’s wife has not committed adultery –what a ludicrously old-fashioned word that is!
No, he has merely made a “mistake,” that is all. As though the act were of no more consequence than if he had accidentally put salt on his food, when he had meant to reach for the pepper pot.
And that mentality has almost wholly permeated the Church also.
To the extent that even as believers we struggle to come to terms with the Bible’s evaluation of our wretchedness before a holy God.
I am again and again forced to the conclusion that the failure to fathom the depth of human sin is the root cause of all bad gospel preaching, indeed of most flawed and inadequate theology.
It is not just that we are delivering Good News to people who do not know what the bad news is. This is true, but it is worse than this.
Our problem is that we are currently delivering Good News to people when often even we ourselves are no longer completely sure of what the bad news might actually be.
When it comes to sin, we simply do not see what all the fuss is about.
And because we no longer see the gravity of sin we no longer see the need of a Rescuer from it.
So now Jesus is no longer the the propitiation for our sins, no longer the atoning sacrifice that has satisfied the wrath of God.
For how could God ever really be angry with basically decent folks like us?
Jesus cannot be the Saviour who takes away our vile sins for we are not aware of having any particularly vile sins, thank you very much.
Instead Jesus exists only to make us happier. He is there to make us more rounded, better balanced individuals than we would otherwise have been.
He is no longer our Redeemer, He is now merely our therapist.
What a contrast to the message of the scriptures!
What a contrast to the God depicted there as an “all-consuming fire”
The God who has recorded in indelible ink in indestructible books every word, thought and deed of every person who has ever lived, and will ensure that –one way or the other- every sin they have committed will be answered for to the utmost.
So serious is that sin that even a loving and a gracious God has only two recourses open to Him in relation to it.
There are only two possible responses, two possible remedies for human sin.
One option is to send the transgressor to Hell.
(This, of course, being the other word that has almost completely dropped out of the modern sermon).
Hell. Conscious eternal torment.
To so great an extent has this idea also disappeared from modern church life that I really do wonder whether the average churchgoer today really does believe deep down that God would ever send “decent” people to such a place.
Most of us can handle the notion of a Hell for the men whom we have assessed to be adequately evil to deserve it. We can cope with a God who will send a Hitler or a Stalin to such a place. Our moral sensibilities are not offended by that.
This we will allow Him to do.
But what about His sending your neighbour to Hell? Your best friend? Yes, even sending members of your own family to a lost eternity?
The stark truth is that the sweet old lady next door - should she not benefit in this life from the grace of God - will go to the same perpetual furnace as a Hitler or a Stalin.
Moreover the testimony of the scriptures is that she will have deserved to do so.
Now do we really believe that?
For if we do not, then we do not understand the crisis of our sin.
So despicable is our fault that besides Hell, the Triune God Himself has only one other recourse; and this a resort that is actually still more profound than the other,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
This is His second option.
To pay the debt of sin Himself. The sinless Son of God becoming sin on our behalf, and dying in our stead.
Now can we begin to see just how bad my sin and your sin must really be when the only solutions to it are so shockingly extreme?
Now will we realize that the Son of God did not die to save us from our “mistakes”?
He did not go to that atrocious Cross in order that you might be delivered from the power of chocolate cake!
He died for my sins. My vile, despicable, loathsome, Heaven-sickening sins.
Offences so monstrous that even the God who is Love was left with only two choices in dealing with them.
Either an unquenchable Lake of Fire or Golgotha. Either Hell or Himself.
Nothing else sufficed. No purgatory, no absolution, no balancing on the scales, no karma, could ever meet the need.
Only Hell or Himself.
Remember that the next time that you are tempted to talk about your “mistakes.”