The Death of Christ
1 April 2000 Commemorative Sermon
Brethren and Sisters, I greet you in the Name of our Lord and Saviour Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ) on this the first day of the New Covenant Holy Week the beginning of the New Covenant Church of God's 14th Annual General Conference. May we, as we worship together, bring praise to the throne of Yahweh and be bonded together today in that eternal love which never dies in a new and special way.
Beginning this year we shall be deviating a little from our usual program. According to our tradition and revelation which has established that Christ died on 1 April in the year B.C.3 and rose from the dead on 3 April, we have used these days as a special meditative exercise on the last days of Christ combined with a time of covenant renewal. And then we have begun our new year on 6 April. As from last year we began following the Hebrew calendar in our observation of Yahweh's holy days which means that in about two to three weeks we shall be celebrating the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. This will once again give us opportunity to relive the central events of our faith, namely the death and resurrection of our Lord.Accordingly, since we shall be observing the fixed calendar Holy Week (1-6 April) together with the variable lunar calendar of our Hebrew forebears, it makes practical sense that instead of duplicating our meditations we instead divide them somewhat. I therefore hope this year to set a new precedent. During New Covenant Holy Week we shall essentially be looking at ourselves and our Church in the Light of the Cross and later, during Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread we shall be looking at Christ in the light of ourselves and our Church and asking ourselves some basic questions about where we stand before the Creator.
We are unique, I think, in devoting a day of worship to a subject most people find morbid - death. The death of Christ is usually studied in conjunction with His glorious resurrection, as indeed it must be, and the emphasis is placed on victory rather than apparent defeat. In New Covenant Christian practice, however, we use three days of meditation on death - not because we are morbid but because we understand that dying is such a vital part of living. Beginning today and ending on 3 April we shall be focussing on the death of our Messiah with a view to understanding what it is that must also die in us.
One of the great paradoxes for the unbeliever - and indeed a stumbling block for him - in comprehending the fact that the death of Yah'shua (Jesus) was more important than His life. We exult and glory in His marvelous teachings, knowing that these are the very doctrines of heaven from the mouth of our Heavenly Father, and we wonder at all the miracles He performed. We gaze in admiration at the pastoral care He had for people and we are propelled within our innermost being to cry to ourselves: "That is how I want to be!" And we recall His admonition to us to be perfectr even as He is perfect. Yet, having expressed that deepest desire of our souls, we are brought short by an awful realistion: the goal of perfection constantly eludes us and the harder we try the more we seem to fail. To be sure, we can chalk up some victories and can point, saying: "This is how the Lord saw me through this problem and gave me victory!" yet we continue to bewail, as did Paul, that there is a dark nature within us that seems to be utterly contrary to the spirit of light which wants to propell us heaven-ward. We want to do one thing and end up doing another. Old sins constantly beset us, since we think we have decapitated but which constantly resurface like the Lernean Hydra of ancient Greek myth - no sooner have you chopped off one head than two grow in its place.
And this is the problem - when we try to do things in our own strength we inevitably end up making things worse. And what is perhaps even more frustrating is that we think we have been fighting in the strength of Christ. All too easily we may find ourselves waging a carnal warfare in the Name of Christ because we have not properly understood the weapons of our warfare. And we see as a phenomenon in the churches today this kind of unprincipled, undisciplined and carnal warfare being promoted in the Saviour's Name.
The Scriptures have much to say about the Names of Deity. We are saved through His Name, we are to pray in His Name, and we are to call upon His Name. Sadly, na´ve and improperly schooled Christians often use the Name as a kind of mantra just as once the Philsitines thought they could defeat the Israelites by using the captured Ark of the Covenant as a good luck talisman. The result was disasterous for them - plague and death. It is no less disasterous for the Christians to attempt to use God's Name as a magical talisman as it was for those heathen Philistines to use the Ark of the Covenant as a magic box to promote their military machine. Magic is not God's way - it is the way of the flesh.
For this reason the Lord instituted the Commemoration of the Death of the Messiah amongst us many years ago for this special time of sober meditation is to remind us that just as Christ had to die in order to enable us to be saved from our sins, so must we die to our carnal nature to allow that resurrection power to have place within our souls. Yah'shua (Jesus) taught this principle over and over again, as did His apostles afterwards. The Kingdom, He said, was like a seed that had to first die in the darkness of the earth before it could spring to life as a seedling and eventually mature into a tree. If the seed does not die, it cannot be reborn as a sprout. Paul took this golden nugget of truth and reminded us that to be Christians that we too must be crucified with our Lord - not literally on an execution stake, but spiritually to our fallen Adamic nature. He knew all to well the opposition that the carnal nature gives a man and understood even better that the only solution to its guerilla-like activity on our spiritual growth was to literally put it to death. The message of 1 April, then, is simply this: if we want to enjoy the fruits of the resurrection power of our Master, we must first be willing to put to death the nature which gives birth to the infestation of sin. It's really common sense yet we do all in our power to circumvent this obvious need.
Some years ago I had a very nasty fall, the whole weight of my body falling on my left leg which got crushed on the edge of a concrete platform. Though I did not mercifully break any bones, the muscles on my upper leg were badly damaged. The result was that my leg swelled up to almost twice its size at it filled with fluid making any sort of movement unbearably painful. It was, moreover, like carrying a sack of water around - it literally gurgled as I moved. It that wasn't bad enough, it was not long before I got an infection because of all the stress which eventually turned into a very nasty bout of pneumonia. On top of all the problems with my leg I was faced with my lungs filling with fluid. To counter that I had to take strong antibiotics which left me feeling even worse than I was before. I did NOT want to take them. I could not stand up even without passing out but in order to recover I had to take them. I went through a fortnight of hell and on one day saw a vision of a skull which was a warning to me that if I was not very careful I would die. I have had such warnings several times and have learned to heed them.
Well, I recovered, but not without learning some important lessons. The most important one, which has application today for our theme, is that had a failed to take the antibiotics I might not only have failed to get better but also have died. And it is a sad but vitally important truism to understand that unless a soul puts to death his carnal nature with all its lusts and cravings which war against the Holy Spirit he will never allow the seed to eternal life to become firmly planted within him.
Now in my experience very few people are able to put their carnal nature to death in a single blow. Rather, we tend to work with sins one at a time as we become made aware of them through the Holy Spirit's prompting. Each time we become conscious of a sin, the Spirit of God condemning us, we are challenged to get to the root of that problem, renounce the sin, and call upon the atoning blood of Christ to cover us and blot that sin out so that we are no longer troubled by its impulses. There would also seem to be times and seaons that enable us to deal with these matters and it therefore behoves us to be unusually attentive to what Yahweh is trying to show us so that we can knuckle down and get to work in putting them to death. Yes, morbit though it may seem, we are in the business of running a spiritual slaughter-house, and woe unto us if we shy away from it. For if we do, we place a barrier to that resurrection life, closing the door to it and denying us redemption in another part of our soul.
I said at the beginning that Yah'shua (Jesus) came to this world not so much to teach, heal and set an example we could follow, but to die. That was His primary mission, and when the apostle Peter tried to stop Him, the presumptous and hot-headed fisherman from Galillee got a stern bebuking, the worst he could possible get: he was told that the very devil was in him using him as a mouthpiece. Now in case you think that was a once-off affair of Satan taking possession of an apostle's thoughts and words, let me remind you that every time we work against the Spirit of God we are giving Satan free entry to our souls. The father of all lies would have you ignorant of the truth. He would bind your thoughts and feelings up so much that you would come to sincerely believe that they were from God Himself. Peter thought He was doing Christ a favour in prventing Him from going up to Jerusalem to die - He though He was loving his master, and for his effrots receivced the stinging words: "Get behind me, Satan!" "Me, Satan???!" he thought in utter disbelief. "How could I possibly be a devil when I want to save my Master's life!"
No, Peter did not understand.And what didn't he understand? He didn't understand that that Christ's dying meant not only life to Christ but to the whole of a creation condemned to death and destruction, for Christ's death was not as a mortal man's but a death which contained within it eternal life. He didn't understand that by trying to prevent Yah'shua (Jesus) from going up to Golgotha that he was preventing Himself from drinking at that fountain of eternal living. Satan blinded Him with something that sounded like the truth - something that sounded loviong - something thay sounded good - and used it to try and condemn billions of souls to an eternity without God.
Well, friend, if you are avoiding putting your carnal nature to death you are condemning your own soul to eternal death too. For though the word "death" carried with it a negative connotation thanks to Satan's successfully destroying our language, behind it lies life. There is no life without death, and no eternal life without eternal death. To become the possessor of eternal life by faith in the finished work of Calvary means to disinherit by an act of moral will - of free choice - the death which is the carnal nature. This means, in effect, that you must cut its baneful influence off so that it no longer has a claim on your interest. You will, incidentally, be troubled by it even if you have crucified it in Christ because it is in your physical body, but that does not mean it has to play a r˘le in your spiritual life. We are not promised to have all temptation removed from us but are assured that by being in Christ we will not be "led" into temptation as a donkey is led by its master by its bridle. It means that we can walk through temptation and watch it roll off like water on a duck's back. Thus while the carnal nature will always be resident in the flesh, perhaps even acting as a thorn as it did for Paul, it need have no power over us so long as we have moved out of its sphere completely and into the Christ-life.
I like to look at the carnal nature as a kind of basement or cellar where noone lives. It's cold and maybe damp. It's not a place where people thrive. The spiritual man is the upper rooms where we live - the living, dining, and bedrooms. A person who has crucified his lower nature has padlocked his basement and lives above in the sunlight. A person who has partially put his carnal nature to death goes down into the basement from time to time to enjoy, as he supposes, its darkness and coldness. And one who is utterly carnal, sensual and devilish spends practically all his life down there until it becomes the only reality he knows. He thinks that darkness is light because he is no longer in the light. It is not until he cries out, "Enough!" and repents of his stupidity, and finally climbs out of the dungeon and into the beckoning light of Christ, that he suddenly realises how AWFUL that darkness was! He kicks himself for being so stupid.
Brethren and sisters, we are so easily fooled! It is a simple matter to reject God's love which is contained in His commandments and find ourselves in a twilight zone, get accustomed to it, and think it is the brightest place in the world. And yet Yahweh never allows us to live that illusion fully - He will, every now and then, bring back to our memory a brighter world which we may long for.Sometimes it's a long journey because living in darkness causes us to forget what the light actually is, robbing us of the desire that moves us to reach for the things of value. But we are never left entirely helpless even though we may have consciously thrown the torch away in disdain. There's a rescuer called Yah'shua (Jesus) who can get you in any kind of darkness and gently lead you to the surface again.
Death, then, is not such a bad thing, so long as it is the darkness you are putting to death and not the light. And sadly, people often confuse the two, just as Peter did. Are you in your life perhaps unknowingly following your feelings, thinking you are doing the right, when in fact you are just listening to Satan's voice? And if you are, how are you going to ensure that you don't make such mistakes again? The only way you will ever be able to avoid such a tragedy -. and cutrting yourself off from God is a tragedy of cosmic proportions - is by makijng sure you know what the TRUTH is. It is the truth, Yah'shua (Jesus) says, that will make us free. Not our feelings, but the truth. And that truth is plainly stated in God's Word, the Bible. If thereŠ's something there that you don't like and feel disposed to reject because it "feels" wrong or because it goes contrary to your thinking, beware, for it means that Satan is in control of some part you - the lord of Darkness has you in his power. At such a thought you should flee to the Word and cry: "Give me the truth! I do not trust my carnal thoughs and feelings, teach me Your ways, O lord!" That is repentance, friends, and it leads to eternal life. Do not suppose that this scenario is just for a few Peters her and there - no, it is for EVERYONE - you and I. So long as you have a fallen, Adamic nature, you are in peril of losing your soul if you do not actively seek to know what the truth is. For the carnal nature is like a pit - once you have fallen into it, you keep falling until you het the bottom UNLESS you grab the rope of truth and pull yourself out. It is like the force of gravity - unless you use some effort to flex those muscles and stand up yiou're going to remain lying on that bed or seated on that chair. Faith requires effort - God will not do your walking for you.
It boils down to choice - to choose light or darkness, the truth or a lie, life or death. To have spiritual life you must declare the Adam-nature death. "I will not follow you." And it is a choosing that you make not only once buy EVERY day, hour by hour. As I said, that flesh-nature remains with you until you physically die - you cannot flee it, nor should you try to, because it will follow you. And even were you me stupid enough to mortiy the flesh or commit the ultimate folly of committing suicide, you would still not be free - for your spirit - the real you - would not possess resurrection life, the life you refused to let in because you would not renounce the death that is in that fallen nature.
Let us choose spiritual life, brethren and sister, and in choosing life choose death to the carnal nature. Next time we shall see how this is to be done in practice and what it is to walk in eternal life.
May Yahweh bless you all through His incomparible Son Yah'shua (Jesus). Amen.
This page was created on 1 April 2000
Last updated on 1 April 2000
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