This past week, through no planning on our part, Memorial sent a mission team to Cuba. What made the news was President Obama’s speech and the Rolling Stones, but the real story is the spiritual awakening of the Cuban people.
Last Thursday we visited a town called Cruces, a town of about 30,000 in west central Cuba. We were there to visit Hector who is a bi-vocational lay pastor. Hector is a gifted artist who carves and paints beautiful figures out of wood. He also leads a small Presbyterian house church in his home. Hector was one of the 20 Cuban leaders who attended the intensive training workshop I lead earlier in the week so it was a joy to visit him in his home. Our team gathered inside their tiny house. Hector and his wife have transformed what would be their living room into a tiny sanctuary with 4 or 5 rickety wooden benches. After some introductions and greetings we gathered with the members of this little church and prayed for them. All during the time we were in this house we heard the clucking sound of chickens next door, roosters crowing. I hardly noticed because everywhere you go in Cuba there are chickens, even in urban neighborhoods. But after we prayed, a couple of us wandered outside and we saw a man emerge from the house next door with a rooster. But this was no ordinary rooster, our host explained. It was a fighting cock. We asked if we could see inside the gate of this house and the man proudly welcomed us in. Inside were dozens of roosters. We had stumbled into the headquarters of the cock-fighting ring in Cruces. I wish I could project the pictures for you my friend John took of these two houses side by side. One house, in a town called Cruces, which means in English, crosses, is a holy place filled with the glory of God, a place where Easter is being celebrated and the risen Christ is being worshiped at this very moment. The other, a place where roosters are being bred to kill each other.
One house is enslaved to sin, the other house is a living demonstration that it is possible to be free from sin. One house is full of people presenting their members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, the other is full of people presenting their members to God as instruments for righteousness.
I can’t think of a better illustration of our text from Romans this morning.
You see part of the reason and purpose of the resurrection is that our lives should be renewed here and now. Our sinful, old selves were buried with him even as we were joined with him in our baptisms. And the power, the force, the strength, the reality, the drive, and the initiative behind this accomplishment is none other than the glory of God, his Father. Glory is what is behind the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Glory causes it to happen, makes it real. Of course God is spirit, and is therefore invisible. But don’t be lured into believing that since God has no visible manifestation, God has no glory. On Easter, in the resurrection of Jesus, that glory has shone forth as never before.
You see what happens on Easter morning? God is in his heaven above us, but God dares to enter this world with us, not only observing humanity from outside but also risking entering the lives of actual human beings! God entered that tiny humble house church in Cruces, Cuba. God has entered into every nook and cranny of our sinful broken world. God is here in this sanctuary by His Spirit right now. Romans 6 proclaims the gospel that Jesus Christ, who was fully human, refused to participate in human sin. He refused to join in the rebellion against God which the rest of humanity gladly embraces and takes up. He refused to place himself at the center of his universe and continued to honor God as the center of the universe. In fact, Jesus persisted in this faithfulness under the most difficult of circumstances. Even under the pain of false accusation, wrongful conviction, and a horrible execution, he refused to disobey God. Jesus chose to continue to obey God, even when it cost him his life. He died rather than commit sin, so he was dead to sin. Sin had no power over him. Sin was defeated in him. Sin died in Jesus, because Jesus remained faithful to the end.
The glory of God was hidden when we looked for it in Hector’s tiny house in Cruces. But that shouldn’t surprise us. Because the glory of God was also hidden on Golgotha. Golgotha, the place of execution was outside the city of Jerusalem. Every Jew knew that the Glory of God dwelt in the Temple inside the walls of Jerusalem. In the innermost part of the Temple, the holy of Holies, that’s where the glory of God dwelt. But today, on Easter Sunday, we see the glory of God outside the temple, outside the city in a place of utter desolation. In Jesus’ sacrifice, in his faith, in his obedience, and in his love for us, we see glory. But it was after the crucifixion that the glory of God was even more fully revealed. Christ died to sin, but that was not the end of the story. God honored his obedience. God rewarded his faithfulness. God vindicated his sacrifice. And so God raised him back to life. The glory of God came upon that empty tomb to show us not only that the power of sin had been broken but also that the power of death had been broken. Both were allowed to do their worst to Christ but neither was allowed to claim victory over Christ. That’s how great the glory of God is! God does not abandon us to sin and death. He does not allow our rebellion to stand. He raised Jesus Christ from the dead. He made a new beginning in the world. Nothing has been the same ever since.
This is where Romans 6 hits home. The renewal of our lives here, in this life, is accomplished by this mighty act of God in the resurrection. When we are joined to Christ in his death, we are dead to sin now, and we shall be raised to eternal life in the future. Paul explains as we were baptized into Christ, we were baptized into his death, so that we are dead to sin now. This renewal of life now, in this world, is all about overcoming the original sin of Adam, the human state of rebellion against God. The power of that sin over us has been broken! That is done. It cannot be undone. There is no going back. The cross of Christ has closed that door. Believe this good news! This is not to say that we do not, from time to time, continue to commit actual sins. But it does mean that we have the capacity to avoid them. We no longer commit them as slaves to sin.
We commit them out of free disobedience. That does not make the sins better. But it does mean that we are in a new and different place. In Genesis we read about Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. Jacob wrestled with God and he had to limp into the new life. But Jesus Christ has already borne the pain of our entry into new life and we receive that gracious gift when we are baptized into his death. Centuries ago St. Augustine, who little Rush Augustine Carlson is named after, explained the human condition. First, we were created able to sin. We had the capacity to sin. We were free to sin. Given that freedom, we sinned, every one of us. Second, having sinned and rebelled against God, we fell into a state of sin that was so powerful we were not able not to sin. We were still free, but we were free only to sin. We were not free not to sin. We could do a lot of things, but they all reflected our rebellion against God. Third, once Christ broke the reigning power of sin, he set the prisoner free, so that, being saved, we are able not to sin. That is the power of the cross and resurrection. It broke the power of cancelled sin and once the power of original sin over us has been broken, it is possible for us not to commit actual sin.
What does that mean? If you have embraced this gospel by faith, on a good day, for a brief moment, in a fleeting way you cannot commit sin. Of course, should you ever avoid an actual sin, you will immediately become so proud of yourself that the pride might be a worse sin than the one you avoided. But as you mature in Christ, what dawns on you is the fact that there is now no basis for pride; only for gratitude. So, thank God, it is possible that we can avoid sin. This is the renewal of life here and now which Christ has won for us by his death and resurrection. But the promise of Easter is that someday there will be a fourth stage, where we are not able to sin. This we call heaven. What glorious freedom that will be!
Many years ago, a pastor named Donald Barnhouse lost his wife. Their little girl, Margaret was only ten years old. Barnhouse yearned to help his little girl cope with this huge loss. One day, as they were getting ready to cross the street, a truck speeding by startled her, even scared her a bit. As he comforted her, Barnhouse had an idea. He said “You know Margaret how sad we are about mommy? And she said. ”Yes, we’re sad.” But let me ask you. “Did the truck hit you?” No. What hit you was just the shadow of the truck, and it scared you, but you’re ok. Well, death didn’t hit your mom. Only the shadow of death hit your mother. But death hit Jesus. And because death hit Jesus, and we believe in him, now the only thing that can ever hit us is the shadow of death, and the shadow of death is but our entrance into glory.
Knowing this truth, in the words of Psalm 23 that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but we fear no evil. That’s perhaps the greatest gift to us from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But there are so many more. Why? Because the power of sin over us has been broken. But there is more. You see we have not yet received all of the benefits of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But those who remain faithful, who endure by grace, will receive this promise. There will come a day when we shall be raised like him and shall enjoy eternal life with him and with all the saints who have died before us. “We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Christ is risen, and he invites you to choose Him, to choose freedom, you can even do that right now as I pray.
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