Back in August 2011, The Wall Street Journal carried an article, ‘Reversing the Decay of London Undone’ by Dr. Jonathan Sacks, then chief rabbi in Britain.
Dr. Sacks stated, ‘In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint. All you need, sang the Beatles, is love. The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned. In its place came: whatever works for you…’
He further observed, ‘The collapse of families and communities leaves in its wake unsocialized young people, deprived of parental care, who on average—and yes, there are exceptions—do worse than their peers at school, are more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, less likely to find stable employment and more likely to land up in jail…
‘Much can and must be done by governments, but they cannot of themselves change lives,’ he went on. ‘Governments cannot make marriages or turn feckless individuals into responsible citizens. That needs another kind of change agent…’
Gospel Centered Re-fresh. Let me suggest that more than ever we need a re-fresh moment of God’s good news. True and lasting changes in society occur when individual lives are transformed from the inside out through God’s mercy.
Consider Paul’s words in Colossians 2:13-15: And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.
Paul is writing of the condition of the Jewish and the non-Jewish peoples. The Jewish people could not keep God’s written law, and the world that doesn’t know God fails to keep even the law of their own conscience. All men and women are morally bankrupt.
This biblical teaching is central to a Reformational understanding of humanity. Dr Ashley Null, a leading authority on Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Henry VIII, summarizes Cranmer’s anthropology this way: ‘What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.’ Cranmer understood that ‘the trouble with human nature is that we are born with a heart that loves ourselves over and above everything else in this world, including God. We are born slaves to the lust for self-gratification,….’
Captives. Furthermore, we are captive to spiritual forces we cannot defeat. Satan, holding himself out as a chief prosecutor, presents the catalogue of our failures to God. Being the demanding prosecutor he is, Satan insists that the penalty must be paid – something that God, in his justice, cannot refuse. And because sin is a capital offence we are all en route to a death we cannot avoid.
C.S. Lewis brilliantly captures these elements in the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund has betrayed Peter, Susan and Lucy, and Aslan himself. The Witch demands Edmunds’ life. “He has broken the laws of the deep,” she insists. “He is mine,” she shrieks. “His life is forfeit.”
God’s Intervention. In the busyness of life it is easy to forget the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion. Let’s pause and consider Paul’s words. He tells us that through Jesus’ death God has smashed the bars of our spiritual prison of self-interest and has cancelled the debt we owe. The charge sheet against us has been wiped clean. And in the same way that the indictments against Jesus were nailed to his cross, he has taken the indictments against us and nailed them to his cross as well.
Furthermore, Paul tells us that Jesus through his death has disarmed the demonic powers that we couldn’t overcome. Had those powers known the mighty power Jesus wielded through his voluntary sacrifice, they would have dismissed any thought of putting the Lord of glory to death (1 Corinthians 2:8). St. Augustine spoke of Jesus’ crucifixion as the devil’s mousetrap.
And so it is, supremely, that Jesus Christ once and for all abolished death for us. As John 11 records, Jesus says to all men and women, “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, though they die, shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25f). No longer should we fear death’s inexorable approach: God made you alive with Christ, Paul says in Colossians 2:13.
The cross is where Jesus turned our captivity into the glorious liberty of the children of God. The hymn-writers, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend wrote: This the power of the cross: Christ became sin for us. Took the blame, bore the wrath; we stand forgiven at the cross.
Transformation. Jesus’ death provides a fresh start in life for everyone who turns to him in repentance and faith.
FF Bruce in his commentary on Colossians (p.112) writes: ‘The message proclaimed by Paul to the Colossians remains the one message of hope to men and women in their frustration and despair. Christ crucified and risen is Lord of all.’
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, like lost sheep we have gone our own way, not loving you as we ought, nor loving our neighbors as ourselves.
We have done what we ought not to have done, and we have not done what we ought to have done. We justly deserve your condemnation.
Father, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, forgive us all that is past, and grant that from this time forward, we may serve and please you in newness of life, to the honor and glory of your name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The good news is, God has promised in his Word that when we confess our sins, he forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Thanks be to God.