Question Night (Cross; Contribution)Series: Question Night
1. Why did Jesus die on the cross?
One of our little ones asked this question. When she asked me if I saw her question, I told her I had seen it and I repeated it back to her: “Why did Jesus have to die?” But, she corrected me. “No, why did Jesus die on the cross?” It suddenly hit me that, though she may not have realized it, her distinction would completely change how I would answer this question. So, why did Jesus die on the cross?
If it were not for Galatians 3, I would probably say that there is not much importance to whether Jesus was stoned or burned or hung on the cross. However, Galatians 3 changes that. We do not want to be guilty before God. Much of the New Testament regarding Jesus’ death focuses on how his death was a sacrifice which takes away our sins. In Galatians 3 however, Paul focuses on a related, but slightly different problem. In the Law of Moses, God gave the Israelites many laws to show them their sin and help them obey God. But here is the important thing: Paul says in Galatians that we are cursed (i.e., God will condemn and punish us) since we cannot perfectly keep the Law of Moses. We have all disobeyed it.
So, what can be done? The Law is so important since it shows us the wrong things we do, but it also brings us punishment from God. How can God liberate us from the curse and punishment of the Law? Notice what the Law says in Deuteronomy 21:22-23. “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” When someone committed a crime worthy of death and he was executed, sometimes the worse offenders would be hung on a tree to be seen by everyone. As God says here, when you see someone hung on a tree, it is a sign to everyone that this person is cursed by God.
Notice how Paul uses this in Galatians 3:13. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’ ” In Galatians, Paul shows us how God did something you would never expect God to do - he sent his Son to become a curse for us. Jesus Christ did not die of old age. He did not die of sickness. He did not die because of an accident. He died the death of a sinner. We deserve the shame of dying publicly for our sins to show the whole world that we are rebels, but Jesus took on our curse by being hung on a tree as a consequence of our sins.
Why did Jesus die on the cross? Because we have not perfectly obeyed the Law, we deserve to be cursed and punished by God. Therefore, Jesus became a curse for us. He endured the shame of dying the death of a sinner so we would not have to. What a great Savior we serve!
2. Giving on Sunday morning is often taught as a command to us from Paul. Wasn’t it a time-limited command for a specific group for one specific purpose/need?
Let’s look at the source-text for this question - 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. Apparently there was some situation in Jerusalem affecting the saints there. I have often said that it was due to a famine. I do not know that we can know this for sure. Regardless, there was some need there. So, just as Paul had instructed the churches of Galatia, he instructs the Corinthians to set aside something on the first day of every week. The reason he gives for the weekly contribution is because this will prevent the [probably hurried] collection of funds when he arrived. When we read 2 Corinthians 8-9, which addresses the same collection and need, it is apparent that Paul not only gave these instructions to the churches of Achaia (including Corinth) and Galatia, but also to the churches of Macedonia.
Let’s deal with the second question before the first statement. “Wasn’t it a time-limited command for a specific group for one specific purpose/need?” Yes. The only thing I would differ with is the phraseology of “one specific purpose/need.” If I understand the context correctly, we don’t know what the need or needs were for the saints in Jerusalem. But, regardless, yes. It was a limited-time command. There was a need which, according to the instruction of the Lord, was to be met by the saints. One day, Paul and his companions would come and collect their gift and bring it to Jerusalem. One day, the need in Jerusalem would hopefully diminish or cease to exist. One day, they would not need to set something aside on the first day of the week in order to send it to Jerusalem.
First statement. Since these are limited-time instructions for a specific group and known need, is should we teach that giving on Sunday morning is a command to us from Paul? I would say “probably not.” We should be careful in how we state any application from this text. The bottom line is that this Scripture is not a blanket command to simply give on the first day of the week because that’s what we are supposed to do. “Repent and be baptized” is a blanket command that applies to all who want to be in a relationship with God because all have sinned and this is how to put your faith in him. 1 Corinthians 16 is not a blanket command like that. These are time-limited instructions for to meet a specific purpose and need.
However, I love this question because we are not done answering it and by the time we finish answering it I hope it will give us a great example of how to read and apply Scripture like the first Christians did. I will tell you where I am going in advance: just because 1 Corinthians 16 is a limited time command for a specific need does not mean it is inappropriate for us to teach and apply the precedent and principle set by this text directly to us today. Why?
We do this with other Scriptures. In fact, the entire reason we are meeting here today has nothing to do with a blanket command given directly to us. We did not meet this morning, study, pray, sing, and take the Lord’s Supper because God said, “Thou shalt meet every first day of the week and do these things.” Rather, we do this because, as we read Scripture, it seems to be apparent that this has been the practice of Christians since Christ’s resurrection. Now the question is whether or not we should take their example as authoritative to us today. Just because we already apply this logic does not make it right.
I believe it is correct to take examples and limited-time instructions to the first Christians as an appropriate precedent to us today because this is precisely how the first Christians read the Scriptures. This is something I hope to begin sharing with the eschatology class soon. When Christians read the Scriptures in the first century, they certainly read it within its context, but I believe they also read it as something that applied for all time beyond the original context. They often saw Scriptures as applying to their current circumstances in a very direct way.
Let me give an example. In Acts 1 when the apostles had been sized down to 11 due to Judas’ betrayal and suicide, where did the apostles go to figure out what they should do? Notice what Peter says in Acts 1:16-22. Peter here quotes Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8 which says, “Let another take his office” and he says that this was the Holy Spirit speaking beforehand concerning Judas. I have often joked that Peter ripped these Psalms out of context to make his point more powerful. Joking aside, Peter’s quotation of Psalm 109:8 is no gimmick. Psalm 109 is a Psalm written by David as a cry to God to bring about the end of his enemy and he specifically asks in verse 8 he wanted another person to take his enemy’s place. Peter quotes Psalm 109:8 because he recognized that Scripture was preserved, not so we can simply marvel at what happened in the past, but because these God-breathed words apply to us and find fulfillments in our experiences as God’s children today. So, Peter quoted Psalm 109:8 and concluded that they needed to appoint another apostle in the place of Christ’s (the Son of David) enemy.
So, is it appropriate to see a limited time command to give on the first day of the week in order to meet a specific need as directly applying to us? Maybe. We learn from this account that when there is a need that falls under the goals and responsibilities of Christians to meet, because of the precedent set by this passage, it is appropriate to set something aside on the first day of the week to collect enough funds to meet that need. The book of Acts gives another example as well - the first Christians would sell their possessions and property, give it to the apostles, and it was given to the saints as they had need. The question that has to be asked is whether or not we have needs that fall under our goals and responsibilities. Are their needy saints here or in other places? Are there those who are currently given to shepherding, teaching, and preaching in a full-time or part-time way? Are there financial needs that the church here is responsible for meeting? If yes, then I believe it is appropriate to say that, based on president set by Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians preserved for us today, God would want us to set aside something on the first day of the week to meet those needs. It might be the case that those financial needs do not always exist or that they rise and fall - our giving can grow, diminish, start, or cease based on these circumstances.
As a side note, I recognize that this logic can be misused to apply texts well-beyond the Holy Spirit’s intended application. Sometimes people make applications the Holy Spirit never intended because they do not consider the context. Sometimes people do not make applications the Holy Spirit intended because we obsess over the original context and forget that maybe Scripture has more universal and eternal applications and fulfillments today. I hope one day to do a sermon or workshop focused on helping us interpret Scripture in a way that seeks to find the appropriate balance used by the first Christians.