The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, April 2, 2021

It’s Friday, April 2nd, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Delivered Up for Our Transgressions and Raised for Our Justification: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as Center of Christian Belief

Day by day, we survey the events of the age, the events of the time, trying to understand from a Christian worldview perspective, what is at stake in the headlines, in the developments, in the public conversation, in the cultural and moral, economic, political, overwhelming challenges that we now face? And yet it’s very important for Christians to understand that the central Christian truth claims absolutely reign sovereignly over all of these world events. And it’s important for Christians to take a closer look, especially at certain times of the year, as certain issues become very clear in their focus for the worshiping church. We need to take the time to understand what we’re really talking about here. Now in the very context of the year 2021 with so many issues being bandied about in the midst of what’s now described and a reality we’ve known for more than a year, as a pandemic. In the midst of matters of life and death.

And in the midst of a newly sobering moment for the world. It’s very interesting to step back and say, how would this world be different if the world itself were ordered around the understanding of Christ crucified for our sins and raised from the dead by the power of God? How would the world be different? How is our world different? How is our understanding of the entire cosmos different? Because we do know that Christ did die for our sins and that he was raised for our salvation. How is our understanding of the world completely, eternally, unchangeable different? Well, let’s look at a key biblical text. In this case, it’s from Romans 4:25. In verse 24, Jesus is mentioned, and then he’s described in verse 25 in these words, “Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Now this comes after in Romans 3, the apostle Paul has spoken so clearly about what it means to be justified by faith, what it meant for God, the Father to put Christ, the Son forward publicly as a propitiation in his blood for our salvation.

This points to the reality of the cross. And the two things we need to keep in mind is that even as we are, as Christians approaching the annual celebration of the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ from the dead, the annual commemoration on Good Friday of his death on the cross, as the substitute in our place for our sins. Even as we understand that every day is lived in the shadow and in the hope of the cross. And every single day is lived in light of the resurrection. Even as every single Lord’s day is itself a celebration of the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ from the dead. We also recognize that in this time of the year, there is a particular concentration upon, a particular joy in looking to the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But here’s where Paul tells us that the gospel itself comes down to the fact that Jesus Christ was delivered up for our trespasses. “Delivered up” means the cross.

He actually was put forth on the cross. He died on the cross as the substitute for sinners. And he paid in his blood, the due penalty for our sin. The cross is thus where we look for how God declared salvation in his son and how he accomplished that salvation in his son’s death on the cross. And how in a way that is mystery yes, but is also revealed to us in Scripture, by faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. His righteousness is imputed to us even as our sin is imputed to Christ. And all of this as the apostle Paul said in the proceeding chapter, was to show the glory of God. It was to reveal God as both just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

So there are two central historical events, the cross and the resurrection. There are two very clear symbols of the entire message of Christianity. And that is the cross and the empty tomb. And Paul says about the cross that we understand that Jesus was delivered up for our trespasses. So how does the world relate to that? We’ll understand the specificity in this verse. We’re told that Christ was delivered up for our trespasses. That is that he died for our sins. That’s exactly what the apostle Paul had said in different language, just in the preceding chapter. But here’s just the summary. Christ was delivered up for our trespasses. What does the secular world do with that?

Well, in the secular estimation, if Jesus did exist, he cannot be the second person of the Trinity. He cannot be the supernatural Lord. He cannot be the agent of creation through whom all things were made. And without whom nothing was made, that was made. He cannot be the sovereign Lord of the universe. And he cannot have died on the cross for our sins, or as the apostle Paul says here, up for our trespasses.

Now, what we’re looking at here is the fact that the cross doesn’t simply point to the love of God in the suffering, in the sacrifice, and in the death of the son, but points to the death of the son as the very ground of our salvation. Points to the death of the son as atonement accomplished for our sin. Our contemporary culture cuts God down to size by suggesting that if he does exist, he cannot be particularly holy, not holy in the sense that he cannot tolerate sin. And whoever we are as human beings, we cannot be first of all, defined by our sin. Rather, our sin is redefined in our contemporary age as something that is either a psychotherapeutic category, mostly of concern because of its inhibition of the human personality. Or it is some kind of minor moral issue that can be adjudicated by human beings.

Certainly, God cannot be separated from us by our sin, which is to say our sin cannot separate us from God. But that is exactly what the Bible teaches. That sin is an irresolvable problem, an impenetrable barrier between the sinful creature and the Holy creator. But that entire claim of reality is completely foreign to a secular age. And furthermore, it’s a message that’s foreign from what is preached in far too many churches and far too many denominations, taught in far too many colleges and theological seminaries, where the cross has been reformulated into a message merely of God’s mercy, of his suffering love.

The atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ presented as nothing more than a great moral sacrifice, which is to bring about the moral improvement of the human race and a moral response of thanksgiving in order to imitate the sacrificial love of Jesus. But it’s interesting to note now that when most people in the larger world speak of Christ, they don’t even speak of the cross, or if they speak to the cross it’s with such awkwardness, that they don’t even have a vocabulary with which to express themselves.

This comes down to the fact that by the end of the 19th century, in the beginning of the 20th century, the intellectual elites on both sides of the Atlantic increasingly spoke of Jesus just as a great moral teacher. But as any review of the actual word spoken by Jesus and the acts performed by Jesus would make clear, the one thing that he cannot be is merely a good moral teacher because he claimed to be God. And furthermore, he claimed to have risen from the dead. But this is where Christians understand that what we’re talking about, just looking at the cross first and the empty tomb second, what we are looking at is the great dividing line in all of human history. Yes, we say that about the entire incarnation. That’s what we say at Christmas too, about the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, being born there in the city of Bethlehem. Flesh and blood in a human babe. God in human flesh. “We have beheld his glory,” says John, “glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

But the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus did not merely come to humble himself taking on human flesh, he came to die on the cross, and then to be raised by God the Father on the third day, and then to ascend to the Father. He came to accomplish a mission. And that mission was absolutely accomplished. That mission was to save sinful humanity.

Part II

He Is Risen, Indeed: The Reality of the Resurrection of Christ and the Arrival of the Age of Salvation

But, then, of course, we shift from the affirmation here, of a substitutionary atonement and the focus on the cross to the focus on the resurrection on the empty tomb. The apostle Paul says in Romans 4:25 that Christ was not only delivered up for our trespasses, but that he was raised for our justification.

Now that’s actually an amazing phrase. There’s far more there than just a few words in a series. It’s not just letters in a line. We are told that Christ was raised for our justification. Now wait, just a minute. In Romans 3, we’ve been told that Christ died on the cross for our justification. Therefore, we are justified by faith in the Lord Jesus. So Christ died for our justification, but in this amazing passage in Romans 4:25, we are told also that he was raised for our justification. Now, what are we talking about when we say he was raised from the dead? We’re talking about the explicit affirmation of the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross. His body was laid in the tomb. The tomb was sealed. And then on the third day he was raised by the Father. He didn’t just get up and come out of the tomb. He was raised by the Father.

And the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead means that the Father in raising Christ from the dead was declaring that the atonement that he had accomplished on the cross meant that sin had been paid in full. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Father was the Father’s vindication of the work of the Son. When the Son said, shortly before he died and drew his last breath, it is finished. That meant the atonement, the work of his substitutionary death on the cross. But when you have the declaration that he is risen, he is risen indeed. This means the age of salvation has come. It could not come merely by the cross. It could not come by the cross without the resurrection.

The apostle Paul makes this case eloquently and comprehensively in a text like 1 Corinthians 15, where he says, “If Christ is not raised from the dead, then we are still dead in our sins and our trespasses.” Our sins are still upon us. No, our salvation depends upon Christ being raised from the dead. I’s not just the victory of Christ over death, it is that. It’s not just that. It is not merely the vindication of the son by the father, it is that. It’s not just that. Paul says here that Christ was raised for our justification. And that means that without the resurrection, the bodily physical resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ from the dead, our sins would still be upon us. We would not be justified. When Paul says, that Christ was raised for our justification, it makes very clear that the gospel is not just about the cross, it is about the cross and the resurrection together.

In the beginning of that passage of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that he delivered unto the Corinthians, he preached to the Corinthians what he also received as a first importance, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that God raised him from the dead, according to the Scriptures.

Ever since the enlightenment in Western civilization in the 18th century and forward, there’ve been claims that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ was not actually a physical resurrection from an actual death. Rather, it was an experience that took place in the heart and in the hopes of the disciples. Or it was a kind of illusion. Or it was just an appearance that people thought was the Lord, Jesus Christ in the flesh.

Now note two things. Number one, note that the Bible absolutely precludes that possibility, which takes us back to something fundamental. Those kinds of claims didn’t just emerge in the 18th century. They emerged in the very time that the disciples were alive. Christ himself knew that those claims would come. Christ confronted one of his own disciples with that reality when he knew that Thomas doubted. And Thomas put his hand in the wounds in Jesus’s side. He put his hands on the flesh of the resurrected Jesus.

Furthermore, in the very passages we have read from Paul, the apostle Paul is at great pains to make very clear that just as Christ died a bodily death, he also experienced a bodily resurrection from the dead. The apostle Paul points not only to Thomas and to the other disciples, he points to himself. But he points to many, he says, who were even still alive today as he was writing to the Corinthians, who were eye witnesses to the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. They saw him in the flesh after his resurrection from the dead. But going back to the enlightenment of the 18th century, going to the development of liberal theology in the 19th and 20th centuries, the claim was made that Jesus’s resurrection was that experience in the life of the disciples individually and corporately. And furthermore, that it was mythologized, which is to say that when we read the Bible, what we’re reading is an account that is filled with meaning that wasn’t there at the time.

Rudolf Bultmann, one of the most influential liberal New Testament scholars of the 20th century famously said that the way to read the Bible was to demythologize it, to understand the necessity of a mythological worldview in the first century. But to understand that 20th century human beings do not live any longer in a world filled with myth and this kind of mythopoetic meaning. Rather we are historical literalists and we’re historical literalists who need existential meaning. And so Rudolf Bultmann said we need to read the Bible in order to demythologize it. His point was rather straight forward in the technological age of the early 20th century. He said that people who use electric appliances, who turn on electric lights don’t believe in heaven and hell. They don’t believe in saviors dying for our sins. They don’t believe in redeemers being raised from the dead. They do not believe, Bultmann would say, that what human beings need is justification. Rather what we need is existential meaning.

But of course, the apostle Paul’s response to that is to say, “But Christ has been raised from the dead.” And not only has he been raised from the dead. He’s been raised from the dead as the first fruits of those who are united with him, those are belonging to him, those who have come to faith in him, who shall also be raised with him.

Part III

What Is the Cost of Not Believing the Gospel Truth Claims of the Christian Worldview?

So how does all of this come together? Well, it just reminds us that the Christian worldview is not simply a structure of doctrines. It’s not just a set of truth claims. It is the living faith of Christians who know the Lord Jesus Christ as savior and Lord, and who understand that the most important event in all of cosmic history is the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the culminating events of the incarnation, where the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. He was delivered up for our trespasses and his resurrection from the dead. He was raised for our justification.

And that then turned to the issues of our day or the issue of any day until Jesus comes means that Christians looking at the world around us can never look at the world with any other worldview than that which starts with the cross and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And here’s where we understand that if those events are true, they are the most important events in all of human history. And indeed, if the cross and resurrection are true, then all of history has to be read as the anticipation of God’s saving act in Christ, the revelation of God’s saving act in Christ, and the celebration and the witnessing to God’s saving act in Christ.

Thus, we come to understand that when the church comes together to commemorate the death of Christ on the cross, on that day we call Good Friday. When the church comes together to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, not only on resurrection Sunday, but every Sunday, every Lord’s day, we’re declaring that the truest truth of all is that Jesus Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. But this also means that as we’re looking at the world around us, we have to understand that even as we know, everyone operates out of a worldview, let’s just count the cost of not knowing Christ at the center of that worldview.

Let’s just count the cost of not knowing that worldview to be built around the truths of the cross and the empty tomb. And that’s where we come to understand that the distinction between the Christian worldview and every other worldview is not just a distinction of degree, it’s a distinction of kind, which is to say the Christian worldview then stands over apart from every other worldview that humanity has ever known or will ever know. The pre-modern worldview, yes. The Buddhist worldview, yes. A Confucian worldview, yes. The Islamic worldview, the secular worldview, the technological worldview. Yes. Every other worldview is on one side of the ledger. The Christian worldview based in Scripture is on the other side alone.

Now this could put Christians in a very interesting predicament. And a lot of what we discussed on The Briefing day by day, month by month, year by year, is the challenge represented by that predicament. But it comes down to this. If Jesus Christ is Lord, if he died on the cross for our sins and he was raised for our salvation, we cannot know any other thing. We can come to terms with no other truth. We can know no other reality than that which begins and ends with the simple declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We say this out of no arrogance. We say this out of no pride. Because there is no part of Christianity that is our contribution. Rather, it is all what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. But the great dividing line is between those who know Christ and those who do not. And those who know Christ are obligated to live as Christians and to think as Christians. To obey and to live as Christians.

And thus, we say to ourselves, and we say to the world, no matter what the day, no matter what the season, Jesus Christ is Lord. And that is all that matters.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Lord willing, I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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