We have all been there. Standing in the customer service line at TJ MAXX or Marshalls (or worst of all, Wall-Mart!), rummaging for a long-lost receipt. The customer service representative who has a facial expression somewhere between a TSA agent and an SS officer of the Wehrmacht is beginning to lose patience. They clearly aren’t impressed. Perhaps you are a shoplifter trying to cash in on freshly pilfered items; so they want some evidence that you actually paid for the goods you are trying to return. At such moments, I always remember to return thanks that I am a male member of the species. As such, my search options are limited to a small bill fold. If the receipt isn’t in my wallet, it is gone! I can only imagine the difficulty facing the fairer sex. The very thought conjures up visions of me hoking around aimlessly in the cavernous recesses of some handbag. In my mind’s eye, I see myself turn the whole thing upside-down and emptying it’s apparently limitless contents onto the shop floor – at which time the Customer service representative calls for security. But I digress. All that to say, receipts matter. We need some legal proof that we own the item, we paid for it, and that any warranty associated with it is still valid.
If this is true for a throwaway trinket of our consumer culture, how much more does the principle not hold true for our never-dying souls and the salvation we desperately hope to inherit in glory. As the ancients have said: you only die once, but it is for a very long time. When I die, what assurance can I have that I will enter the realm of the blessed? In our verse this morning, Paul tells us: the risen Christ is the only receipt you have, and He is the only receipt you need.
Follow Paul’s logic with me: “(Jesus Christ) was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Notice the parallel thought here. Jesus died because of our transgressions, because God counted us guilty, because the wages of sin demanded death (Romans 6:23), and because this debt had to be paid. As our representative, Jesus assumed the legal responsibility for this debt. He died our death because He took responsibility for our sins. By virtue of our union with Him, these sins became His very own. It’s a little bit like my becoming a US citizen. By becoming a US citizen, I lumped myself (gladly) with this country. Like the ticket holders who elected to sail with the Titanic, I rise with America’s success, and I sink with her failure. So it was with Jesus. He took His elect people as His people (Matt 1:21). These are the ones given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3; John 6:39-40). He is their leader. They are His responsibility.
But Paul’s logic does not stop there, notice how he brings the same principle into Easter morning. “He was raised because of our justification.” Why did Jesus die? He died because of our debts. Why was He raised? He was raised because God no longer considers us debtors. Jesus left the debtors prison of the grave because it no longer had any just reason to incarcerate Him. And it no longer had any just reason to incarcerate Him, because it no longer had any just reason to incarcerate us. What is true for Jesus is true for the people He represents. The brightness of Easter morning is the mirror image of the darkness of Golgotha’s night.
So, dear Christian, do you see what this means? When you die, and you pass beyond the grave into the presence of God, and you find yourself standing before the judgment seat of Christ, there will be no rummaging around in some celestial handbag looking for the receipt of your redemption, for the evidence that your sins have actually been paid for. The receipt you need, the only receipt God desires, will be sitting on the Throne of Judgment before you. Christ’s very presence in heaven is a witness to everyone everywhere that your redemption price has been paid fully, finally, and forever. To put it bluntly: if Christ still owed so much as a penny to God for your sins, He would still be in the grave and your redemption would still be in jeopardy. But He is not in the grave, He is alive in the power of an endless life. And because He lives you can face not only tomorrow, you can face God, the Judge of all the earth, and call Him Abba, Father without shame or need to fear His frowning judgment.