By Rev. Glenn Martin
Editor’s note: Third in a series
The most important thing I can ever know is that Jesus Christ , the only begotten Son of God, came into this world, lived, suffered and died to forgive my sins and give me a blessed and eternal life. Everything else is secondary to that divine sacrifice and proclamation; therefore, that is my good news and yours.
I do believe in all kinds of help ministries to all people. I have been much involved in world hunger, Habitat for Humanity, Volunteers in Mission, recreational and other human care ministries. These are effective and a part of our Christian faith and service, but apart from the first statement above, these ministries can be helpful but may produce no fruit for God’s kingdom and no life changing event in the recipient.
When sharing your faith with individuals, small groups or preaching, you will observe a rather ho-hum response to the “God loves you” approach. I know that I have clearly seen and felt the deeper response in individuals, small groups and congregations when they hear what Jesus suffered and sacrificed for our souls. The atonement must be personalized for the hearer.
Isaiah said it before it happened: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have every one turned to his own way, and the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Chapter 53)
Persons are deeply moved and intensely thankful to another person who saves their life, especially if there is great risk or pain involved. The atonement is God’s way of telling us of our worth in His heart and of His supreme sacrifice to save us. Teaching, witnessing or preaching that does not include the sacrificial life and death of Jesus as essential to our salvation is a form without power and ignores the bottom line of the good news.
From Herod’s efforts to kill him as a baby to his cries of “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” Jesus suffered every abuse sinners could impose. With his final breath, he said, “It is finished.” He had achieved the means of salvation for everyone who will believe and receive him. It means “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.” It means Isaiah 53:5 and multiple other scriptures had been fulfilled.
St. Paul said, “Christ sent me to preach the gospel, not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:17,18)
Charles Wesley wrote, “O Love divine! What hast thou done! The immortal God hath died for me! The Father’s co-eternal son bore all my sins upon the tree. The immortal God for me hath died; my Lord, my love is crucified.”
He also wrote, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin; he sets the prisoner free; his blood can make the foulest clean. His blood availed for me.”
John Wesley said, “There for me the Savior stands, shows his wounds and spreads his hands! God is love! I know, I feel; Jesus weeps and loves me still.” John Wesley’s transformation from academics to spiritual power came when he realized that Jesus had forgiven his sins in their entirety by His full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world.
John Wesley’s preaching was powerless as long as it focused on rules, self-discipline and works. His heart warming of May 24, 1738, did not negate these but enabled him to know that life in the spirit begins with a heart-felt discovery of what has already been done by a savior on a cross. That Aldersgate event was the closest date there is to the birthday of Methodism.
Jesus offers that forgiveness to every repentant soul by way of divine atonement. For Jesus and Wesley this is the heart of the gospel. Forward to the basics leads straight to the cross.
Martin is a retired clergy member of the Mississippi Conference.