Blog of John Ortberg


February 11, 2009
Why did Jesus have to die?

I want to start by reading from a letter written by the Apostle Paul a long time ago. Paul writes:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and to the twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and the sisters at the same time most of whom are still living although some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James and then to all the apostles and last of all he appeared to me also.

-- It seems amazing to me that the cover story of Time Magazine this week has a single question on it. Some of you have seen this. "Why Did Jesus Have to Die""  Inside, there is a long article debating that question. For Paul, there`s one answer: He died for our sins. He died because our world has been messed up, and because our choices have played a role in that. For me, the irony is that there are other two headlines on the cover of that same issue of Time Magazine. One of them is "Horror in Falujah."  It`s about hostility and hatred and a brutal murder the dark stuff in human hearts that the strongest army in the world cannot erase. And the other headline is, "Confessions of a Tyco Juror." It`s about greed and corruption at high levels that the most sophisticated judicial system in the whole world cannot get out of the human heart. Why did Jesus have to die" The answer is on the cover of Time Magazine for our sins.

-- The history of the human race is people saying, "I think I can bridge that gap. If I do enough good deeds, maybe if I give enough money, maybe if I go to church often enough, maybe if I learn enough religious information, maybe if I`m involved in enough charitable activities I think I can bridge that gap. And nobody ever has. Not in the history of the human race. Not the best person who has ever lived. Nobody ever has. How would you ever know what is enough"

-- And so this is foundational to Christianity, whatever you think about it. The writers of Scripture say: God himself, Jesus Christ, came to earth, lived as you and I, and went to a cross, and on that cross he died the death that we should have died. "The result of sin, " the writers of Scripture say, "is death". It brings physical death. That wasn`t what we were made for. It brings spiritual death and relational death, and all of that is what Jesus was taking on himself. That`s why he had to die for our sins. To make a way between where we are and where God is so that anybody who wants to can now be in an intimate relationship with God, can know that things are OK with God, can be assured of being with God forever one day. But it`s not because of the "I Want to Bridge the Gap Myself " plan. It`s because of what God has already done, and can be received it as a gift. We can accept it as grace. That`s what grace is about. This is the first foundational truth of Christianity.  Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. It was God`s plan.

-- And then, Paul says, there`s a second foundational truth: Jesus didn`t just die; on the third day, he was raised again. On the third day, everything changed! Where everybody thought they were just going to see death, there was life! And that shook things up! After the third day, as a matter of historical record, his followers, who were shattered and disillusioned and heartsick following the Crucifixion, went out to face all kinds of difficulties and suffering and imprisonment and spread the word, because they believed they had seen life where they were expecting death. That shakes people up!

-- Foundational to the core of Christianity, whatever you think about it, Paul says: On the third day, Jesus woke up, opened his eyes, came out of the tomb and said, "Peter. I am alive." He told his disciples, "I`m alive." He saw hundreds of his followers and told them, "I`m alive." And people started running and telling the news. And they haven`t stopped yet. And that`s why this is a day of joy . . . because death doesn`t get the last word. That`s why Christianity is not just a set of values. It`s not an abstract religion. It is the offer of a relationship with a real person . . . with a resurrected Messiah.

-- For a lot of people in our society, if you were to ask them and they were to be honest about it, what they would say is, "I`m not real sure that the Resurrection actually happened. I understand that it`s part of our culture. I understand that Easter is observed. I`ll even observe it. I`ll listen to the music. But I think that if I were going to be honest about it, I`d say maybe it`s kind of a metaphorical way of speaking about hope. Maybe it`s kind of a symbol that spiritual writers use. I`ve never taken it real seriously as something that actually happened-as history. Maybe I`ve never really examined this for myself."

-- Now, if that`s the place where you find yourself this morning, then the next step in your spiritual journey might be to start investigating. We have a book written by Lee Strobel. It`s called The Case for Easter. If you find yourself skeptical about this whole subject, Lee Strobel is your kind of guy. Lee is a Yale-educated former investigative journalist who worked for the Chicago Tribune for many years. He was a devout atheist, who was quite certain that all Christians were fuzzy-minded, softhearted people, and he had very little time for that touchy-feely stuff.

-- As a skeptic, one of the biggest problems that Lee faced was this: If Jesus really did come and spend three years with his disciples, and when he was crucified those disciples all ran away and hid, how were they transformed into martyrs by the rotting carcass of a deluded madman if Jesus stayed dead" How did that happen" How is it that the disciples were all of a sudden willing to face imprisonment and suffering and death as they were as a matter of historical record for what they knew to be a lie" Nobody goes to the gas chamber for a metaphor. And twenty-one months later, Lee Strobel ended up with a very full legal pad, on a bended knee, before a bloodstained cross and an empty tomb.

-- Third category, some people may say, "I believe that Jesus died on a cross and was resurrected. I`d stake my life on that. I`ve committed myself to be his follower." Maybe what God is inviting you to do today is to say to Him, "God, I want the power of the Resurrection to be released in some area of my life. I want to be alive in the way that Jesus was alive."

-- We`re moved by power. For example, last week we took friends from out of town to Muir Woods to look at the redwood trees. What kind of power is required in the creation of one of those trees" There were a lot of people there, and it was kind of quiet, because there`s a sense of power. Or a much more mundane example: You wouldn`t watch this, but you might have seen it for a moment when you were flipping around with your remote. Have you ever seen something called "The World`s Strongest Man Competition"" These guys do all kinds of incredible things. There are three- or four-hundred pound men trying to demonstrate that they are the world`s strongest man. I was in one of those contests one time and it`s a very rigorous competition! Or think about the awe that falls when people see a home run hit by the world`s greatest baseball player . . . Sammy Sosa. But the world has never seen power like it saw in this man Jesus. People would flock to him, because they saw him heal with a touch. They saw blind people who could see again, lame people who could walk again and lepers who were cleansed. They saw him defy authority, and they had never seen raw power like this. And when he stretched out his arms and hung on a cross, a lot of people thought they were seeing weakness, but they weren`t. They were seeing the power of God like it has never ever been displayed. And on the third day . . . on the third day . . . that was POWER! "

By: John Ortberg - February 11, 2009 - Public
Category: Why did Jesus have to die on a cross?
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June 06, 2007
Not so with you
There's always a Pecking Order in the Kingdom of this Earth. You can tell it, in subtle ways. Who gives way when two people are talking at the same time" Whose jokes are laughed at, even when they're not funny" You see this going on in offices. Who is allowed to ramble and pontificate in conversation, and who isn't" Who has to say, "I'm sorry, " and who doesn't have to say "I'm sorry"" Go to a high school cafeteria. You will find a table where the jocks and cheerleaders sit together, and no geeky guy would ever try to go sit there. Why not" There are no rules against it. It's the Law of the Pecking Order.

It is stronger by far than any law that any government will ever pass. Nobody will violate it, because everybody knows how a human being can be crushed by it. It just crushes the spirit. This is the way things are in the Kingdom of this Earth. And Jesus says,

  • "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them." ''vs. 25''

    Of course. That's the way things go. Then He says these four words that change everything: Not so with you.

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    By: John Ortberg - June 06, 2007 - Public
    Category: A Mother`s Request
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    April 16, 2007
    Love Each Other

    "Jesus when he summed up the whole law said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and strength and then love your neighbor, even real little ones. Love them the way you love yourself. And he says, I`ll help you do that all the time, my love is always available to you. The Psalmist says: The earth is filled with your love, O LORD; teach me your decrees. ''Psalm 119:64'' Everywhere I go, everywhere I turn, every room, every created piece of the universe, is an expression of God`s love; and it`s always there, it`s always available to me. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. ''Romans 13:8'' Paul, here, is using kind of a financial metaphor to talk about love. He says to let every interaction in your life be governed by the law of love. It`s kind of an odd thing about us, we get very good at tracking finances in our life. In the newspaper everyday I read about how financial stuff is going. How your portfolio is doing. We`re not so good at tracking love.

    There is not a section in the newspaper that tells how love is going. When you go to an automated teller machine and insert a card you always have two basic options, and they are that you can make a deposit or make a withdrawal. How important is it to know the difference between a deposit and a withdrawal" Very important because when I make a deposit I am adding value. I`m building up reserves. Relationally and spiritually in God`s eyes, when I make a deposit in a life of a person then I am honoring love. In God`s eyes, a deposit is always honoring love. Might feel pleasant and joyful to that person, it might not. There might be a sting to it, but I am honoring the law of love. Withdrawal, on the other hand, is when I take away value - when I take value out, when the reserves go down. A withdrawal is always the violation of love. Withdrawal is always a violation of love. It might feel good to the other person.

    It might involve flattery or something, but really what is happening is I`m violating the law of love. There is a third thing you can do. You can ask to check your balance. That is a good thing to do. Smart people do that because you might think you have a pretty good guess as to what your balance is, but if there is a difference between what you think your balance is and what the bank thinks your balance is, who wins" Bank always wins. Every relationship has kind of a running balance. Good or bad, big or small, red ink of black ink. Just as surely as you have a balance in your financial accounts, it is true in your relational life spiritually. That is why Paul writes: Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. ''Romans 12:10'' In other words, don`t try to get more out of a relationship than what it is that you are putting into it because if the balance is high - good things happen in a relationship and if the balance is high, you can confront somebody when they need it and they will probably trust you.

    If the balance is high you can express affection to somebody and they will probably receive those words because they believe it`s true. If the balance is high, when there is conflict it will probably get resolved because the other person will give you the benefit of the doubt. If the balance is low, all those dynamics run the other way. So wise people know what the balance is in our relationship. It is remarkable to me how often people, who are really smart in other areas of their lives, are not so smart in this one. There was an article awhile ago about people in the workplace. It said there is a very consistent finding. Do you think bosses, people with power, do you think bosses tend to overestimate or underestimate how happy the people are who work underneath them" Overestimate, very consistently. This is a constant danger in relationships. Paul writes, and this is a text usually taught on Father`s Day, Paul writes: Fathers, do not exasperate your children... ''Ephesians 6:4'' Now, why does Paul address this to fathers but not to mothers" Is it because men are more exasperating and irritating and have a bigger jerk factor than women do" No, I thought this would be a rather simple question. The correct answer would be No.

    It is because in that culture men were basically the ones who hold the power and Paul knows how relationships work. He knows that people who have power in relationships will often be quite clueless about what the balance is. This is why when you go through the New Testament, when Jesus is teaching on relationships, consistently he teaches that those who have the greatest power must be the greatest servants. Wherever power is in operation, love has to be stronger than power or else power will do damage. This is why anytime you make your heart Christ`s home, He will always lead you or me into servanthood. He always does. When I don`t know what the balance is then the relationship is at risk.

    We`ve all heard stories about this. One spouse comes home and says to the other one, "I`m done, I`ve had it, I`m finished, I`m through." The other spouse didn`t have a clue. They didn`t even see it coming. They had no idea. So I want to do an exercise for a moment right now. I would like to invite you to take out a pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Real quick. We track how things are going in a lot of other areas of our lives including finances. A lot of times people never do it in their relational lives. I want to give you an opportunity to do that right now. I would like to invite you to think about a couple of key relationships in your life. If you have children, you might want to write down just your kids` names on the side of this paper. Or, maybe it`s your mom. Or, maybe a couple of friends. Or, maybe a spouse. Then, next to their name or just their initial, if you want to keep it private or a number or something, next to that, on a scale of 0 to 100, just write down what do you think that person would say is the balance in your relational account these days" Zero to a hundred. Zero being real low, a hundred being real high.

    Think about how much joy is there in our relationship. How much time do we spend together. How does affection get expressed" Are there any resentments or dings that have not been resolved" We do this financially, we get statements all the time. We expect it. It is amazing to me how often people don`t do this in relationships. So, right now, just next to the key relationships in your life, just write down, scale of 0 to 100, where do things stand" Maybe you`ll look at the number and say, God, thanks for giving me such a life giving relationship. Maybe you`ll look at it and say, Jesus, I need you to come into this relationship with me, into this room with me. Because, every interaction you have with another person, part of what`s going on is you`re making a little deposit or you`re making a little withdrawal. It goes on in our world all the time. That is why Paul writes words like these: This is from his letter to the church at Colossi. These words are so rich, let`s read them out loud together. Therefore, . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other . . . ''Colossians 3:12''

    There are no neutral interactions between people. In any encounter with human beings, including our children, we are never just exchanging information. Something is always going on spiritually. I am always either honoring love, making a deposit in you, or violating love. We all know this and this is why if you know there is somebody you are going to be with at a party or in their office, there are some people you think, I can`t wait to be with this person. I look forward to that. Then there are other people where you start planning your exit strategy even before you go into their office. This is going on in relationships all the time. Let`s talk about what this looks like for a moment. When you make a deposit into somebody`s heart and soul or somebody does that to you, what kind of actions, what kind of words of behavior does that involve" I am just going to ask you to just shout a few things out and I`ll write a few things down. What are things that count as a deposit in your relationship with other people" Time Affirmation Words of Encouragement ''somebody said'' A smile Serving somebody ''probably a Mom who said that'' Listen is huge Trust Those are all deposits.

    Now, the withdrawal side. What are things that when someone does them to you that you can feel you`re losing a little life" It`s a withdrawal in a relationship. What constitutes a withdrawal" Critical or critical spirit - you can watch a kid wilt under that. Impatience Argument Unforgiving, an unforgiving spirit Anger It`s interesting that on the Sermon on the Mount, how quickly Jesus gets to anger when he is talking about life in the kingdom because when it is mismanaged it is so lethal. Anything else" Gossip Lack of compassion I`m going to stop there because I`m running out of room. But, again, this is going on all the time. A lot of times we don`t think about this. A lot of times all we think about is the content of whatever it is that we`re expressing. But, always, in every encounter between two human beings it is a spiritual encounter. And God wants to be making deposits in your heart and in your soul all the time because you and I cannot give what we don`t have. And where the whole love thing starts and every human relationship where it really always starts is in the God relationship. So much of what the Bible is about is God`s trying to convince the human race the kind of love that he wants to give it, how much God loves you and me. A lot of the pictures are pictures of the love a mom has for her child. Jesus says, you know, the way a mother hen longs to gather her chicks in, I`m going to gather you that way.

    God says in the Old Testament, you know a mother always remembers her children. It`s the way a mother is. The way she is wired up. But even if she were to forget, I could never forget you my people. The LORD your God . . . will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. ''Zephaniah 3:17'' If a little kid gets cranky or anxious, and a mom can quiet the child with love. "He will rejoice over you with singing." Have you ever had anybody rejoice over you with singing lately" Have somebody just walk up to you and be so happy to see you they`d just burst into song" The Bible says God loves you so much he will rejoice over you with singing in the way that a mom does to a little child. Of course, the ultimate expression of this love was that when we had a moral debt to God that we could never pay, Jesus came to this earth and went to the cross to pay the debt that we could never pay. There`s an old song, some of you will know it. Oh, to grace how great a debtor Daily I`m constrained to be Everyday, everyday, everyday this debt of love So, God asks us to repay that debt of love that, in a sense we owe him, by loving the people that he loves so much."

    By: John Ortberg - April 16, 2007 - Public
    Category: Love One Another - Jesus
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    December 22, 2006
    Spread of Christianity

    Rodney Starr, a professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, has written a book called The Rise of Christianity. He calculated how it is that Christianity spread in the Roman Empire at the rate of about 40% per decade. In the year 40 AD, a few years after Jesus died, there were roughly 5,000 Christians in the world.

    That looks pretty insignificant and negligible. That was .0075% of the population of the Roman Empire. Then it starts to spread and keeps going until by 350 AD there are about 33,000,000, or 56% of the Roman Empire, who named the name of Jesus. How did that happen" The Roman Empire was collapsing, yet this movement of Jesus just kept spreading.

    Partly it happened because people throughout that part of the world had never heard a message like this one before. One of our problems today is that the Gospel has been a part of our world and our culture. Even in people who donþt believe it, it colors everything. It has been woven into our lives for so long that we take it for granted, and we forget what a world apart from that message would look like.

    By: John Ortberg - December 22, 2006 - Public
    Category: Life of Jesus - First Century Context of Palestine (Israel)
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    December 22, 2006
    Life in God`s power and presence
    What is the Gospel" It's that the Kingdomlife in God's power and in God's presenceis now available to anybody who wants it. Jesus taught about this all the time, and He said it was the most important thing in all of the world:
  • Don't worry about what you will eat and drink and wear, for people who don't know God run after these things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousnessHis way of life. ''Matthew 6:31-33''

    Let everything else be second place. Everything else will fall into place. Everything else follows after this.

  • By: John Ortberg - December 22, 2006 - Public
    Category: Do Not Worry
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