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The Substitute

Listen to this Sermon!Last week we began a new Easter sermon series entitled “No Pain – No Gain: Why Easter Matters”. And we started off illustrating the principle of no pain – no gain as we talked about how our muscles grow. We had Morgan up here straining his muscles as we talked about how it takes the pain of tearing the muscle fibers in our bodies order for our bodies to repair the damage and make the even muscles stronger than they were before.

In fact I was reading last week that when you are born, you already have all the muscles that you will ever have. The big bulging biceps you have now are a result of that little baby’s muscle being damaged and repaired, damaged and repaired, time and time again. Without the pain of damaging those muscles, you would have no gain in strength. You’d still be as weak as you were when you were a baby. No pain – no gain.

But our purpose wasn’t to talk about body-building. There is a spiritual truth that we wanted to discover. The gain that we are after is not muscles, but rather that inner satisfaction in life that seems so elusive for so many of us.

We talked about how Solomon tried to find satisfaction in all kinds of ways. He looked for satisfaction in wealth, power, hard work, women, pleasure – but it found it all to be meaningless. Nothing gave him true satisfaction.

And we discovered that the reason for this is that God has created each of us with a deep inner longing to be connected with our Creator. Every person on earth has this inner feeling that something is missing in their life. And all of us try to find that missing thing just like Solomon did. But, like the Rolling Stones lament, we can’t get no satisfaction. Because true satisfaction is only found when we are connected with our Creator – when we have a genuine relationship with Him. That’s when we find satisfaction.

Unfortunately, this one thing that is worth gaining is effectively keep from us by sin. We talked about how Adam & Eve – though they were once fully satisfied in their connection with each other and with God – they sinned. And the immediate consequences of their sin was separation. Separation from God and and from each other. Because that’s the nature of sin. It separates. It creates distance between. It severs our relationships.

And because all of us have sin in our life – we are all missing the one thing that we were created for – we’re missing that connection, that relationship, with our Creator. We’re missing the one thing that can bring us true satisfaction.

So what do we do? Is there any way to gain that connection, that relationship, that satisfaction that we so desperately long for? There is, and that’s what we’re going to look at today.

If you have your Bible’s with you, head on over to Genesis chapter 2. Last week we read about the very first consequences of sin when Adam & Eve disobeyed God. (That that separation that I talked about.) I want to back up just a little bit from there to refresh our memories of what God said would happen if they were to sin. So in Genesis chapter 2, verse 15 we read.

The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Now God had said that if Adam & Eve ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – There were sure to die.

But they didn’t die. At least, not like you would expect. When I read that verse, I would have expected that when they took that first bite of fruit, they would keel over and die. That would be the end of them. Back to dust they go. But it didn’t happen like that. So what’s the deal here?

Perhaps God meant they would die spiritually – which was certainly true. We talked last week about how there was an immediate separation between them and God. Separation is probably the best definition of death. Physical death is when our souls are separated from our bodies and spiritual death is when our souls are separated from God. So perhaps that’s what God meant when He said that they would surely die. That they would be eternally separated from Him.

But I don’t think God was talking ONLY about spiritual death. Perhaps God also meant that they would die physically, perhaps not today, but eventually. We can read at the end of chapter 3 how God banished them from the Garden of Eden so that they couldn’t eat from the Tree of Life. Without that tree of life, they would die eventually – and they did. The Bible tells us that Adam died when he was 930 years old. So he did physically die eventually. Perhaps that’s what God meant.

Or perhaps there’s also a third meaning. Perhaps God literally meant that at the moment they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God’s justice and His Holiness demanded that the immediate consequences would be immediate death. However, because of his incredible love for them, out of His grace, God allowed a substitute to die in their place.

Look at Genesis 3 verse 21. After God hands out the punishments to the serpent, to the woman, and to Adam – the Bible says…

“And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.” Genesis 3:21

I find that to be a curious statement. Why did God do that? Weren’t their fig leaves sufficient? And why animal skins? Couldn’t God have picked some cotton and woven together some nice clothes for them?

Could it be that God allowed those animals to be substitutes for Adam & Eve? Did He allow those animals to die in the place of Adam and Eve? And those skins that they wore from that time on, would be constant reminders for them that another took their punishment?

Now the Bible doesn’t specifically say that that’s the case. It simply says God made clothes out of animal skins for them. But the reason I wonder this, is because, as I look through the rest of Scripture, I see a pattern of God providing substitutes for people facing death.

Let me show you what I mean:

In Genesis 22 we read the story of Abraham & Isaac. God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Now we know that God was only testing Abraham, but Abraham didn’t know that. And neither did Isaac! But watch how this plays out – look for how God provides a substitute… Verse 10:

 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”
13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”).
Genesis 22:10-14

Isaac was facing immediate death. He was on that altar, ready to be killed – but God provided a substitute. There was a ram caught in the bushes who would take Isaac’s place. The ram would die and Issac would live.

And this is certainly not the only instance of substitution. Jump ahead in your Bibles to Exodus chapter 12.

This is the grand finale in the ten plagues that God sent against Egypt in order that Pharaoh would allow the Israelites to leave Egypt and be freed from their slavery.

God was going to send the angel of death to pass through the land of Egypt with instructions to kill every first born man and animal. But God provided a means of escape from that destruction for the Israelites. Exodus 12 – verse 21.

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel together and said to them, “Go, pick out a lamb or young goat for each of your families, and slaughter the Passover animal. 22 Drain the blood into a basin. Then take a bundle of hyssop branches and dip it into the blood. Brush the hyssop across the top and sides of the doorframes of your houses. And no one may go out through the door until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through the land to strike down the Egyptians. But when he sees the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe, the Lord will pass over your home. He will not permit his death angel to enter your house and strike you down.
Exodus 12:21-23

God allowed that passover lamb or goat to take the place of the first born child in each family. The lamb would die – and it’s blood would be brushed onto the doorframes of the house – and the firstborn would live. Again, God allowed a substitute to take the place of the one facing death.

Do you see a pattern here? If you still don’t see it, let’s look at another example.

When God is setting up the terms of his covenant with Israel – the agreement for what God expected of them if they were to be his chosen people and He was to be their God – God sets up this system of sacrifices for them, so that if they sin and break their agreement, they still have a way to make things right with God. Look at Leviticus chapter 1 – verse 2.

When you present an animal as an offering to the Lord, you may take it from your herd of cattle or your flock of sheep and goats.
3 “If the animal you present as a burnt offering is from the herd, it must be a male with no defects. Bring it to the entrance of the Tabernacle so you may be accepted by the Lord. 4 Lay your hand on the animal’s head, and the Lord will accept its death in your place to purify you, making you right with him.
Leviticus 1:2-4

Again, God allowed substitutes. God’s agreement with the Israelites was that if they sinned, one of their animals could die in their place so they they could be right with God.

So from looking at all these stories in the Old Testament, it sure seems to be a pretty establish pattern that God provides substitutes for those who would otherwise die.

And if that’s the case, then perhaps there is hope for us. Last Sunday we talked about how our sin keeps us from being connected with God. It separates us from him. Not only does it keep us from gaining that inner satisfaction that all of us crave, but it leads to death – being permanently separated from God for eternity.

But perhaps, with this pattern of substitutions we see in the Old Testament, perhaps there is a substitute for us as well. Perhaps another can take our place and spare us from the death that all of us are headed towards.

Thankfully, there is a Substitute. But our Substitute is not a bull or a goat or a sheep. Actually the Bible tells us that those substitutes were only a shadow – a preview – of our true substitute. Look at Hebrews 10:1.

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. 2 If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
3 But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Hebrews 10:1-4

It’s like all those substitutions that we read about were temporary coverings for sin – they didn’t take sin away – they just dealt with it temporarily until God would eventually deal with it once for all.

The Good News is that now, God has dealt with it once for all. God has provided the Ultimate substitute – the Substitute that will not just cover sin, but will take it completely away. John the Baptist makes this announcement in John 1:29.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

Jesus Christ is our Substitute. Some 2000 years ago God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to live on the earth and die on the cross in our place. Jesus substituted His life for yours. He died so that you can live. Isaiah 53 – verse 5 tells us…

He was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.
Isaiah 53:5-6

God’s justice and his holiness demanded that our sin be paid for by death – but God’s incredible love for us allowed Jesus to take our place – and God paid Jesus for our sins.

This upcoming Friday is called Good Friday. Its when we remember how Jesus Christ – who was God in human form – was crucified. You can read in your Bible – starting in Luke 22 how he was betrayed, abandoned, and denied by his friends. He was arrested, falsely accused, put on trial – even though He had never sinned even once. He was whipped, beaten, and nailed to a cross. He was mocked, insulted, and left to die. At first glance, it’s hard to imagine why we call this “Good Friday” – but it is good, because He willingly did all that for you and for me. His pain brought us great gain.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Friends, Jesus Christ is our Substitute. He died, so that we wouldn’t have to.

But it’s still our choice. God gives us the freedom to reject Him if we so choose. He allows us to remain separated from Him – even though He has done everything possible to draw us back to Himself.

So what will you choose?

Are you ready to accept Jesus Christ as your Substitute? Are you ready to have your sins – though they may be many – completely taken away – completely forgiven? Are you ready to reconnect with your Creator? Are you ready to start a relationship with the One who made you, who loves you like crazy – and who died in your place?

If you are, why don’t you pray with me this morning. Just talk to God in the quietness of your own heart – say something like this:

God, I thank you so much for being my Substitute. I recognize that I am sinner and that my sin keeps me separated from you. But because of Jesus Christ dying on the cross in my place, I can be forgiven. And I humbly accept that forgiveness today. I want to begin a new relationship with you, my Creator, starting right now. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer (or one like it) for the first time today, I encourage you to come and tell me or some of these other friends around you. We’d love to celebrate with you and help you get started in this new relationship with God.

This morning we’re going to celebrate communion together. Every time we share communion, we remember all the things that we just talked about.

The very first communion happened just shortly before Jesus was crucified. Jesus was actually celebrating the passover meal with his disciples, and I’m sure that was no coincidence. As they were remembering how God provided a substitute for the Israelites back in Egypt so that the angel of death would see the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and pass over them – In a very similar way, Jesus was about to become the ultimate substitute and his blood on the cross would provide a way for each of us to escape death. We read in Matthew 26:26…

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”

27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”
Matthew 26:26-28

This week leading up to Easter, I want to encourage you, particularly on Good Friday, to take a moment just to stop and thank God for being your substitute. Maybe together with your spouse, or with your family, or perhaps just by yourself, take some time to consider the significance of what Jesus did for you on the cross.

And then on Sunday, we’re going to gather here again and we’re going to celebrate that Jesus didn’t just die on the cross, but three days later He rose to life again.

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