Good morning! Today we complete our sermon series “What’s so special about the cross”. The first cross word we looked at was substitution. We saw how God told Abraham to go the very mountain on which Jesus would be crucified 2000 years later and sacrifice his son. As they climbed the mountain, Isaac asked his dad, “Father, here is the wood and the fire, but where is the lamb.” Abraham said, “Son, God himself we provide the lamb.” And God did provide the substitute sacrifice, not just a lamb to save Isaac but his One and Only Son to save you and me.
Then we looked at the word satisfaction. We examined the holy wrath of God. We learned that anger is God-given power to change what needs to be changed. Jesus came to drink the cup of God’s holy wrath against sin. In doing so he fulfilled the righteous requirement for justice. He drained the cup of God’s righteous wrath against sin for you and me.
The third word was redemption, meaning to buy back. The blood of Jesus shed on the cross paid the debt of our sin. Jesus’ final word on the cross“tetellistai” “It is finished”, “paid in full”.
The fourth word was expiation which means to cleanse, purify, wash. Jesus blood, shed on the cross, is the only detergent with the power to cleanse the stain of sin from our hearts and make us as clean as a freshly bathed baby swaddled in the righteousness of Jesus.
Today we look at the final word, identification. No matter who you are, no matter what your story is, Jesus came to identify with you. He came to befriend us, live among us, be fully identified with us. He was no less than God with skin on. Here’s what it says in Hebrews.
“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people …. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Hebrews 2 and 4
In Jesus, we see how God really feels about us. How much he loves us. He stepped over every barrier that sin has erected between us and God and between us and others. Human beings have this horrible habit of drawing lines to separate ourselves from others.
Instead of identifying with one another in our failures and pain, like a bunch of chickens in the barnyard, we tend to attack the one that’s hurt or wounded. Jesus infuriated those on top of the social totem pole because he refused to play by their rules. He identified with and befriended those who were rejected, shunned, cut off by the culture around them.
I remember my daughter coming home from junior high filled with confusion. Some of her friends had told her, “If you want to be friends with that girl, you can’t be friends with us.” Maybe you’ve been there or … maybe you’ve participated. Jesus refused to play that wicked game.
The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus day criticized him for being a ‘friend of sinners’. They saw his behavior as bad, evil. But for the people they shunned, the fact that Jesus identified with them was great news. It was evidence of how gracious God really is.
Every time the Pharisees labeled someone or drew a line to exclude them, Jesus stepped over the line. If you’ve been excluded, labeled, marginalized, you have a friend in Jesus. He stepped over the line between the holiness of heaven and the depravity of earth to identify with you. He stepped over the lines people erect to identify with you.
So let’s talk about identity. There’s a lot of talk about identity today. Who am I? Is my identity determined by what others say about me? Is my identity determined by the labels people including my family, my teachers, my peers try to stick on me?
One of the latest fads in smart phone gadgets are these little labels you use to stick on people and what they say. Do these labels have power to shape my identity? Maybe more than we care to admit! Have I put labels on others? Yes. Is there a way out of this trap?
It’s popular today to say that your identity is something you create for yourself. They say your true identity is found by looking inside yourself, searching your feelings. But what happens when our feelings change or when they’re in conflict with physical reality? How much credibility will I place in what the world is telling me about who I am or who I should be? How far will I compromise my true identity in order to be accepted?
Romans 12 says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold” (don’t let the world determine your identity) Rom 12:2 That’s tough to do! We care about what others think about us.
The truth is, your true identity is not fabricated out of the opinions of the people around you. Nor does it come from the feelings within you. Your true identity comes from God, who created you. Jesus came, lived among us, identified with us, and then went to the cross to restore our true identity. Let’s look at some examples of how he did that.
In Luke 5:1-7, Jesus went down to the lake where he saw a group of fishermen. Their identity was their occupation. They knew how to catch fish. They had callouses on their hands, they smelled like sweat and fish. For some people, that’s all they were. That’s not all they were to Jesus. He identified with them, befriended them, restored their true identity.
In verses 17-26 Some men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus. His identity was crippled, dependent. Many labeled him a sinner because of his disability. But Jesus identified with him, befriended him and healed him. He restored his true identity as a child of God.
In Luke 5:27-32 Jesus has dinner with a tax collector and his “notoriously sinful friends”. He identified with them, befriended them and as a result he restored their identity. Though they didn’t understand it all at the time, these sinners became friends of God.
Skip over to chapter 7:1-10. A Roman centurion’s servant is dying. The Roman goes to Jesus and asks for help. Jesus identified with him, befriended him and healed his servant. The Roman’s identity, his understanding of himself and God is transformed.
7:36-48. A Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner. He has no interest in identifying with Jesus. In fact, his purpose is just the opposite. He wants to reinforce the barrier between himself and Jesus. A prostitute comes and anoints Jesus. She washes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. The Pharisee is scandalized that Jesus identifies with her and befriends her. Jesus crosses the boundary and gives her a new identity that changes her life forever.
8:26-37 Jesus crosses line to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to the land of the pagans. There he drives a legion of demons out of a man and restores him to sanity. He identifies himself with and befriends a man who has been completely isolated. He restores his identity as child of God.
18:15-17 People are bringing children to Jesus for him to touch them. The disciples tried to stop them. They are unable to identify babies as people. Jesus identifies with and befriends the babies. He said, “Unless you become like these little children you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
19:1-10 The cross is just days away. Jesus goes to a man name Zacchaeus. He was short, he was a tax collector, and he was rich. For many in his town this meant 3 barriers they were unwilling to cross. But Jesus identifies with this man. He steps across the line and befriends him and this man’s identity was changed forever. We still sing about him today!
23:32-43 Finally, Jesus is on the cross, crucified between two thieves, identified by all who pass by as a criminal. Some of the spectators weep, some taunt, some are simply curious. Jesus looks down on them. He identifies with each one and he prays, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
One of the crucified men dying beside him recognizes Jesus’ identification with him. He says “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus restores his identity as a child of God. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus came to identify with us in his death on the cross so that we might be identified with him in his resurrection.
The Roman centurion, the commanding officer of the crucifixion, responded to Jesus’ death with these words, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” God found a way through the cross of Jesus to identify with this Roman military officer and it changed his life.
On the surface, these people were all very different. If you asked them before they knew Jesus, “Who are you?” they would have given very different answers. But coming to know Jesus, they would have answered this question of identity in the same way. “Who am I? I am loved by Jesus. He has forgiven me through his blood shed on the cross. I am a child of God.”
The apostle John wrote “See what love that Father has given us that we should be called the children of God, for that is what we are.” 1 John 3:1
Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come.” 2 Cor 5:17
Peter, the old fisherman wrote that because of the cross, we have a new identity, a true identity that the world can never take away. “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10