1. THE CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS
It is often said that the apostles attached a greater significance to the death of Christ than the Lord himself. Yet we find that he speaks of it from the beginning of his ministry and in a way that gives it unique significance. “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). “Verily, verily I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die it beareth much fruit” (John 12:24). “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Indeed this is the only event in his life that he commanded us to commemorate (Lk. 22:19). Whenever he spoke about it then it was an unpopular message. His disciples hated those times when he raised the subject. They brought their own pressures against him to be silent. They thought that it was so morbid. “Far be it for you to die such a death.” For them it was incredible that the One who spoke and the winds and waves obeyed, the one who could raise the dead, should ever submit to being crucified. For them such an end would mark the complete failure of Jesus’ life. But he would not be intimidated by their frowns and he returned to this theme relentlessly. He must go to Jerusalem; he must be betrayed; he must die and rise again.
We know of 15 other messianic movements in Judea in the two centuries surrounding Jesus’ days on earth, from 50 BC to 150 AD. All fifteen were popular nationalist political movements which created excitement and expectation. Not a single one of those would-be messiahs had any thought that his cause would be advanced by dying, especially being crucified. Not one of them considered his martyrdom would have significance for the whole wide world. But the Lord Jesus, every month or so, would sit those boys down and tell them that he was called to lay down his life and that he would rise again and that through his death life would come to the world.
When we consider the comparative fulness of the apostolic testimony concerning his death compared to Christ’s briefer references to the event it must be borne in mind that the full significance of the cross could not be set forth until after that death had been accomplished. Certainly in all four Gospels their climax is the death and resurrection of Christ. Compare the number of pages that describe that one final week in the life of our Lord. Our Lord lived for about 33 years. Now we know that in 30 years there are more than 1500 weeks, and for most of those weeks we know nothing at all, while 40% of the four gospels deals with the last week in the life of the Saviour.
Again, consider the apostolic preaching recorded by Luke in the book of Acts. He tells us that the climax of their message was that the Messiah had died and risen again. How strange a message for any group of followers to declare, that they went round and round the Mediterranean basin celebrating the humiliation of their Lord. “Men spat in the face of God the Son, whipped the skin off his back, and tortured him to death.” There must be some striking reason for this emphasis.
Or again when you read the epistles of Paul, Peter, John and the letter to the Hebrews how few are the references to the life of Christ – to his miracles, to incidents during his ministry, to his parables, but how many references exist are to his death. Paul has none. Peter was Jesus’ companion and right hand man for three years. He writes two letters which include a single reference to an incident in Jesus’ life – it is the transfiguration – but a number to his death: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:18&19). The apostle Paul speaks on behalf of all of them when he says, “I was determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). You will remember the 26 year-old Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones stood up in the pulpit of Sandfields Forward Movement in Aberavon for the first time on November 28 1926 and announced that text, and over fifty years later February 6 1977 returned to that same pulpit and preached another extraordinary sermon on the same text (published by the Banner of Truth). It had been the theme of his ministry for half a century. There are clearly extraordinary implications to the event of Christ’s death. You remember how often the minds of the apostles turn to it in their writings. If they are dealing in a letter with various issues such as relationships within a congregation, or marriage, or stewardship, or evangelism, or the nature of the church their inspiration or their motive for exhorting people to a different and a distinctive life is the cross of Christ.
Or again in that great climactic book which brings the canon of Scripture to a close, the book of Revelation – in many ways so mysterious – yet one thing is clear, the one who has the sovereignty in heaven and earth is the Lamb. The praise of heaven is, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” or “Unto him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” There is one particular scene when the voice from heaven asks, “Who is worthy to open the book?” and no one is found, and John weeps bitterly. The book is the history of the church and the world; it is the book of the decrees of God. Who can be found to unfold them and take the heavens and the earth to their determined destination as written by God? “Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed” cries an elder. Then when John looks it is not a lion that he sees as the Sovereign instigator of God’s plans but in the midst of the throne stands a Lamb as it had been slain (Rev. 5:6).
Again, how fascinating the way that the death of the Lord Jesus is tied in to the other doctrines of Scripture, of sin, of grace, of justification, and sanctification, of adoption, of entry to heaven’s glory, of the work of the Holy Spirit. Turn the pages of a systematic theology yourself and think. The isthmus that links every attribute of God, all his works of grace and every divine achievement in all their fulness to ourselves is the death of the Lord Jesus.
Again, consider the nature of Christianity itself. The Christian faith is not a self-help religion. The Bible is not a manual of prayer and meditation. The Scriptures are not a rule book or a code of conduct. They are a revealed religion centring upon the mediation of the God-man Jehovah Jesus. Man is estranged from God, with a contemptuous rebel heart through his sin, but that communion is restored only one way and that is by the incarnation and righteous life and sacrificial death and resurrection of Christ alone. All by himself he has effected that. The redemptive character of Christianity is its heart. It addresses the world as a lost world. It speaks to people as men and women without God and without hope. Mankind’s greatest need it sees to be the grace of God in delivering them. That grace is displayed in redemption, and that redemption is conceived, accomplished and applied by God. It was not that a parliament of world religious leaders got together and set out a blue print which they laid on a conference table, fine tuning it and obtaining maximal agreement before presenting it to the Ancient of Days. It is not that men devised and designed the plan of salvation and then pleaded with God to accept it and implement it. No! The initiative was all divine! The plan was all his. The accomplishment also. The application is all pure vertical sovereign grace. He loved the world, not the world love him. He loved what is defined as the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life, what we are told not to love. He loved it to save men from it by the gift of his dearly beloved Son. He walked with Jesus across the clouds of heaven to its portals and waved him goodbye as alone Jesus set off to Mary and the womb and the stable and Nazareth’s carpenter’s shop and the garden and Golgotha and the dereliction and the tomb. God gave him to that, and spared him not from that. Willingly Christ came to that because he loved us with the same love wherewith he loved God.
Again, think of the greatest hymns ever written, When I survey the wondrous cross, There is a fountain filled with blood, Beneath the cross of Jesus, O sacred head sore wounded, Man of sorrows, and Rock of Ages. The inspiration to the finest expressions of Christian doxology have come from the dying of the Lord Jesus.
2. THE CONFIRMATION OF ITS CENTRALITY.
What if Jesus were mistaken? What if the whole church has been deluded? Suppose he were another confused fanatic, with his death no different from any other man’s? I suppose the disciples went through that doubting phase for a day or two after the crucifixion. Yet what transformed their assessment of his death was the Lord’s resurrection. That resurrection did not take place as a theological transaction. It did not happen in the realm of philosophy, or in the soft focus of wishful thinking, or in Narnia. The resurrection occurred in history as real as the realm in which crucifixion occurred, and that life, which for every one of us, must end in the event of death.
I said that a dozen Messiahs and messianic movements occurred around the life of the Lord Jesus. Not one claimed that the leader would be around after his death.
+ Hezekiah was the popular revolutionary killed by Herod the Great and not one of his followers claimed that he was raised from he grave.
+ Judas his son led another movement after the death of Herod. He was killed and no one said, “He’s alive again.”
+ Simon, a former slave, proclaimed king in 4 BC was killed by the Romans and no movement arose to commemorate him.
+ Athronges, a shepherd, crowned by a group of his followers at the same time, went the same way. In the next decade or two following the death of the Lord Jesus there were three or four other messianic leaders and every one of them was cut down or crucified. Nobody at all claimed that they rose from the dead three days later.
+ Simeon ben Kosiba, two generations later, was generally hailed as Israel’s Messiah, and commenced a three year movement of guerrilla resistance. He too was caught and killed by the Romans. No sect emerged claiming God had raised him up.
Within days of the death of the Lord Jesus his disciples who had been a bedraggled, scared and demoralised bunch of young men stood up in public, in the midst of a great city addressing thousands of people and declaring to that audience the living Jesus, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24). “We have seen him, and sat with him, and our hands have handled the Word of Life. We have eaten and drunk with him. We want to tell you that we know what is more powerful than death. We want to tell you that a corpse is not ultimate reality. It is the Lord Jesus. We have been born again to a living hope by his resurrection.” They had no doubt about it. Ordinary folks speak of it like women who are different but happen to share the same name, Mary, and another quite anonymous woman called Joanna, not devious scheming personalities, and plain men like John Mark and Thomas, the kind of men who today have appeared in the witness boxes in a thousand courts across the land and say under examination, “We can only tell you what we saw and heard.” Were they mean deceivers? Were they revolutionaries? Not at all. They don’t seem to have a political bone in their bodies. Plain, good-living, uncomplicated people who had been with the Lord Jesus and then after he rose stayed with him for almost six weeks. “He did rise from the dead,” they said, and they were prepared to die for a fact of history, not for an ideology. Everybody dies. A few die violently. Some may even be murdered. But no one else has claimed, “My death will be a ransom, and then it will draw the whole world to me.” That was not true for JFK, or Lady Diana, or Elvis. None of them claimed I will rise on the third day. But he did. He constantly said it. That phrase, “the third day” was often on his lips, and he did rise. So the cross of Christ is made the most significant event in the history of the world by the resurrection of the one who hung there.
3. THE GLORIOUS ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE CROSS.
Our brave young Saviour accomplished many things upon the cross. Let me remind you of one of the greatest of all scientists, the 18th century Isaac Newton, the professor of mathematics in Trinity College, Cambridge. You remember there was the famous experiment he wrought when he allowed a beam of light to shine through a shuttered window and then through a prism. It is possible to repeat the exact experiment in Newton’s old room in Trinity today and of course the same result is obtained there and everywhere else. The light is split up into its constituent colours, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The colours were always there in the white light. What the prism did was to isolate them and allow men to examine them in their relationship with the others. Now it is possible for us to do the same in examining the atonement of Christ to obtain what is called ‘a multi-perspectival viewpoint.’ I want to spend the rest of this time considering the multifariousness of our Saviour’s great achievement on Golgotha.
i] THE CROSS IS A PLACE WHERE THE DIVINE WRATH IS EXHAUSTED.
The key word is ‘propitiation.’ It means to appease or to placate the wrath of another.
The key text is Romans 3:25, “God hath set forth Christ as a propitiation through faith in his blood.”
Consider that great statement in Proverbs, “the way of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord” (Provs. 15:9). He is angry with the wicked every day. Think of the Lord Jesus unable to teach in the Temple because of the money-changers and the cheats and the sharks making a fast buck out of sinners trying to pay for lambs and doves as sacrifices in confession for their sin. It is a very tender time in their lives. You remember the wrath of the Lord Christ, how he even made a whip and strode into the Temple. They saw his face and felt his lash, for the great day of his wrath had come and who was able to stand? He turned over the tables of the money-changers saying in effect, “My house is a house of prayer and you have made it Las Vegas.” They fled from the wrath of the Lamb. He cleaned the place up, single-handed. Then his wrath was propitiated, and he could sit down, and the common people quietly peeped out from behind the columns and came to him and sat and heard him gladly as he taught them there. It is one of the great ways you show your love by encouraging and strengthening people by the truth.
His anger is first expressed and discharged, and then he affectionately brings his word to bear on their lives. The living God is not like Buddha, implacably surveying his navel – come what may. He is not like the illusive Sphinx enigmatically smiling across the desert landscape. He loves. He hates. He loves righteousness, and he hates iniquity. He loves the cup of cold water given in his name. He hates the child being abused. He shows in wrath in Sodom, and in the days of Noah, in Egypt and the Red Sea, on his own disobedient people in the desert. Most of all he shows it on Golgotha.
Between man and God there are problems, not just on man’s side, but on God’s side. Some ministers and seminary professors have absolutised man’s defiance and hostility as though there were no impediments with Jehovah. But around him are the cherubim with the flaming sword. There are great realities on God’s side, and the most splendid solemnities that stand as barriers to paradise regained. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man” and that wrath must be appeased, and it is dealt with on Golgotha. Not in the divine punishment of another, not that he exhausts his wrath on someone else, but in God punishing God, and in God himself bearing the wrath of God. God the Son has hung naked and exposed and terribly open while the strokes of a sin-hating God fall upon him, and fall upon him, and fall upon him, and fall upon him, hour after hour. And the Son never cries, “Father, please desist!” The obedient one takes the wrath of the disobedient ones until there is no more to take, and the anger of the Holy God of the universe is satisfied concerning these sinners for ever. And then the Father can teach them grace, every one of them taught of God.
ii] THE CROSS IS A PLACE WHERE FRIENDSHIP IS RESTORED.
The key word is ‘reconciliation.’
The key text is Romans 5:10, “When we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”
There are two parties who once were in harmony but who have now fallen out into a state of deep hostility. Consider the love for David that once was in Saul’s heart and the change that took place, conceived in jealousy, so that Saul wanted David dead and would have pinned him to the wall with a javelin, but David is wholly blameless in that estranged relationship. In the Bible there is alienation between God and ourselves. God is the grieved party, offended by man’s conduct, so that God drives Adam and Eve out from his presence, and refuses to let them return.
Now let’s suppose you have fallen out with a friend. Where, before, there was co-operation and affection there is now silence. You avoid one another so much that you might not be living on the same planet. Then, as time goes by, you are convicted at this grievous estrangement and you determine to change all this. You will do anything to restore the friendship you once had. If there is a letter to write you will write it. If there is a debt to be paid you will pay it. If foolish words were spoken you will apologise. If there is a document which needs to be sent to a number of other churches you will write it. If there is a confession to make you will make it. You will do anything to effect the reconciliation. It is only when the issue is defined and dealt with there can be reconciliation. Without that there will be a patched up truce, and no peace. The root-cause of the trouble must be dealt with, and then there can be friendship restored.
Now in the Bible God is the One who has been offended. He is utterly innocent, but he sets out on the course of reconciliation. Sinful man couldn’t care less: he is still defiant, but God keeps loving us and he sets into motion the whole machinery of reconciliation in such a way that his character is uncompromised. He cannot be anything but the everlasting Holy One, sin-hating and just. How can he reconcile rebellious man to himself? He sends his Son, Jesus Christ, to this world and the cross of Golgotha. There Jesus takes responsibility for the root-cause of the alienation. It is a huge raw offence, red and angry and pulsing with pain, like a massive unlanced boil, and he takes it to himself. Every bit of it! That is what he bears on Golgotha. The holy Jesus is made that sin. He takes it into the darkness of the anathema, into the bottomless pit and lake of fire until it annihilated. So the alienation has been totally dealt with in its every jot and tittle. It no longer exists, and God is reconciled to us. Where is the source of the alienation? It has gone completely, and we are no longer estranged. We have been brought near by Christ, so that now we can run into his presence and look up at his smiling face and cry, “Abba Father!” and sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”
iii] THE CROSS IS A LAUNDRY.
The key word is ‘cleansing.’
The key text is I John 1:7 “the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin.”
One great problem is our guilt, but the other is our defilement. Sin dirties our lives, but Golgotha addresses man’s depravity. Throughout the Bible there are references to our sins being like scarlet, and longings that men may be washed: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). You read of round-the-world sailors, or men who have walked for months across the polar ice face whose longing is for a bath, to be washed of their sweat and dirt and odour. In January 2001 the Kumbh Mela took place at Allahabad on the Ganges river in north India. It was described as the largest gathering in the history of humankind. 25 million people journeyed there from all over the world to seek Lord Vishnu’s elixir of immortality in the churning waters of the river while Jupiter was in Aries. The festival is held every 12 years. Why did they travel there? That by bathing at the junction of the Ganges and the Yamuna they hoped their inward defiling sins could be washed away.
A man rang the bell of the Manse in Aberystwyth and asked me if I would baptise him. His girlfriend had got pregnant and had had an abortion. He felt dirty. “Will you baptize me?” he asked. I told him that it was only an outward sign of the reality of a wonderful inner grace wrought by the Holy Spirit and made possible by the great achievement of the cross, and he began to attend church and hear the word. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Where can that wonder be wrought? Imagine the despair of a bride in her dress the morning of her wedding hurrying down the passage way, turning a corner and bumping into her hurrying father carrying an open bottle of ink. That indelible stain on that pristine dress, and what can make it clean? Only a miracle. No bleach of man can do it.
When Messiah comes, says Zechariah, a fountain will be opened up for sin and uncleanness. God has planted a cosmic laundry on Golgotha for deep-dyed stains. It can make the chief of sinners as clean as an angel.
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day,
And there have I as vile as he washed all my sins away,
How the Bible emphasises it. The word ‘blood’ is found 279 times in the Old Testament, but 100 times in the New Testament. It answers the question, “What can wash away my sin?” What can remove the black spot Lady Macbeth bears. Can all great Neptune’s ocean wash it away? What can wash away my sin? Nothing – but the blood of Jesus.
Dr Lloyd Jones was preaching in Ton Pentre in the Rhondda Valley with Huw Morgan taking the devotions, and a local clergyman in the chair. It was the Free Church Federal Council’s Annual Meetings with a real mixed bag of men present. The only man to attract a congregation in Wales in the latter half of the 20th century was Dr Lloyd-Jones. After the Doctor had finished magisterially preaching the clergyman got up to announce the final hymn. “Yes, it’s true,” he said with a tired voice, “we do need a curative.” The Doctor rose to his feet. “Sit down,” he said to him. “We don’t need a curative. We have one,” and proceeded to preach for another ten minutes on the great cure for man’s defilement. Remember Joshua the High Priest, dressed in filthy clothes standing before the angel. “Take off his filthy clothes,” he says and everything that defiles is removed by God. So it was with the great sinners of Corinth who had looked to Jesus Christ and in his name and by the Spirit of God had become washed and sanctified. The guilt and shame and defilement are all removed. He has de-sinned us and we are clean in his sight. “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from? … These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:13&14). We have the authority to go to every man we meet and say to him, “I have something that will wash your life from the stain of every sin. I know a laundry where you may be made clean. The blood of Christ is for you.”
iv] THE CROSS IS AN EXECUTION BLOCK
The key phrase is ‘penal substitution.’
The key text is Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
‘Penal’ is history. ‘Substitution’ is theology. ‘Penal’ is fact. ‘Substitution’ is the interpretation of the fact. There is no known fact without some theory and no theory worth our attention without some corresponding fact. What do facts do? They appeal to the intelligence, and to the affections, and to the conscience. It is inconceivable to have a fact of which there is no theory.
The cross is penal. That is history. Christ was executed as a condemned criminal in the midst of condemned criminals. He had been on trial. He was deemed worthy of death. He was paying the penalty. He was paying the wages of sin. He was enduring the punishment of sin. This Jesus who took his first breath in a stable as a beautiful baby – that son took his last breath on Golgotha. Mary’s boy-child died where no mother’s son should ever die. It is not theology that says his death is penal, it is history. It is not evangelical theology that makes Golgotha a cruel ugly shambles with darkness and gambling and taunts and cries for a drink. History makes Golgotha ugly. Evangelical theology is simply an attempt to explain the anomaly of it all.
How could the wages of sin be paid by him who knew no son, of whom his Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”? Where is the logic of it all? How can you justify this juxtaposition of Christ’s innocence and the wages of sin? What right does God have to lift up his sword and smite his faithful servant? The answer is in the word ‘substitution.’
The cross is ‘penal substitution.’ The Bible’s theology lies in a very simple word, ‘for.’ We meet it in the Scriptures again and again. “He died for our sins … He died for us … He died for all … He loved me and gave himself for me … Christ loved the church and gave himself for it … and gave his life a ransom for many… was made a curse for us…” That ‘for’ is the ‘for’ of substitution. Sin occurs when we substitute our will for God’s will – we take the forbidden fruit. Salvation is when God substitutes his Son for us. A substitute is someone who stands in the place of another. In sport a player will be substituted for another. One man comes off and another goes on. That is what happens on Calvary. “In my place condemned He stood. Sealed my pardon with his blood.” There is the change of places. There is the transference of guilt. There is the removal of responsibility from the sinner to the Saviour.
Think of the great concept of Christ married to the church, taking as a bride one who has the most enormous liabilities. Christ will have her and all her debts. He takes responsibility for them all. He stands in her reputation and answers for everything for which she is responsible. It is not that the Son is kicked out of heaven and driven reluctantly or perplexedly to the cross. It is the great Lover utterly captivated in his affection for his people, coming, seeking, saving them and uniting them in all their guilt to himself. The substitution is loving. The relationship is one of affection and particularity. He does not love some uniform lump! It is individuals he loves. It is essentially a personal substitution: “He loved me and gave himself for me. I was on his heart on Golgotha. My name from the palms of his hands eternity will not erase. He whispers my worthless name in the ears of his Father in heaven. He ever lives to intercede for me.” Christ condemned in my place that I might be made the righteousness of God in him. The cross was an execution block where he died so that I shall never die.
v] THE CROSS IS A SLAVE MARKET.
The key word is ‘redemption.’
The key text is I Peter 1:18 “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ ,a lamb without blemish or defect.”
The language of the cross in the New Testament is the language of ransom, of payment made for the deliverance of the captive. We have heard of the activities of an organisation called Christian Solidarity and its spokesperson the doughty Baroness Cox. They have been visiting the Sudan with what money they could get and have been purchasing the freedom of slaves. They have paid for the liberty of these people a ransom or a redemption price. Now there is no doubt that their activities have been abused in a number of ways, yet we know that slavery thrives in many parts of the world today. We even hear of so-called ‘sex slaves’ in the brothels of many countries and grieve for girls trapped in such horror.
There is that striking phrase in Galatians 3:22 “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.” Philadelphia a city of prisoners. Pennsylvania a state of slaves. The United States not the home of the free but a nation of captives. North America a continent of those who are fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Every man and woman a slave of sin. So Boss Sin says to them, “Don’t read the Bible. Don’t think about your soul. When the conversation turns to Christ turn it another way. Don’t go to church. Don’t pray. Don’t think about death. Don’t think about God and eternity.” And everybody without exception obeys. There is that solemn phrase running through Romans 6, “slaves to sin.”
What price their redemption? Silver and gold? Not all the wealth of the nations would be enough. If a man should gain the whole world he could not pay the price for his soul’s freedom. But he comes, Jehovah Jesus, the eternal and ever blessed Lord, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, now veiled in flesh.
He comes the prisoners to release,
In Satan’s bondage held:
The gates of brass before Him burst,
The iron fetters yield.
The price he pays is himself. He lays down his life a ransom for many. What a price! It is immeasurable! It could ransom a number as great as the sands on the ocean’s shores and there still be an infinite price left. It is difficult to illustrate the substitutionary work of Christ at a legal level. No court in the world will put an innocent man in prison for year and release the guilty The law will not substitute a husband for a wife or a father for a son and or friend for a friend. “No way”, the judge says. Each must bear his own burden. There is no substitutionary model in creation to which we can turn. As the angels look askance at their Lord ascending the hill of calvary they had no model to help them understand what he was doing in heaven or on earth. They waited for permission to cry, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad!” as they had cried once before. But no permission was given. It was for others this price is being paid. We can illustrate that. We know what it is to help out our children when they run into debt. When they call home from college and tell us they are behind with their rental. The landlord has no objection about another paying the price as long as the debt is cleared. But would we help out an unknown prodigal to our own great cost?
Here is an innumerable company of sinners. The multitudes disappear into the distant haze as far as the distant horizon in every direction, millions upon millions of them, and all are enslaved to sin. What price can effect their freedom? He comes who is God the Son incarnate. There is no measure to the merit of his righteousness. Could I speak the matchless worth which in my Saviour shines? No, but
I’d sing the precious blood He spilt,
My ransom from the dreadful guilt
Of sin and wrath divine.
I’d sing his glorious righteousness,
In which all-perfect heavenly dress
My soul shall ever shine.
Thus he has made me free to serve and love God in this world and the next, free to say No to sin and yes to righteousness.
vi] THE CROSS IS A COMMANDO RAID
The key word is ‘rescue.’ >br> The key text is Colossians 1:13 “For Christ has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”
When Israeli citizens were hijacked by Colonel Amin in 1976 and their plane kept on Entebbe Airport in Uganda Israel launched an astonishing rescue flying some crack troops from the Mediterranean to the Equator and they rescued the whole lot. The Lord delivers his captive people many times in the Bible. To Egypt he send Moses when they are enslaved to Pharaoh. In the days of the Judges he raises up a leader to deliver them from the Philistines. In Babylon he raises Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah and ends the captivity of his people. But these men were all mere adumbrations of the Captain of our Salvation. He goes to the place where the God of this world blinds the minds of them who do not believe. He comes where men would stone a women to death for adultery. He comes where the blasphemies are. He pitches his tent in the darkness of our valley. He lives where men crucify other men. That’s where he comes, right into the territory of the god of this world, and there he begins his work behind enemy lines. He enters his very fortress in whose grounds the captive masses wander about boasting of their freedom. He comes into the dominion of darkness and there this Beacon begins to shine. “I am the light of the world,” he says, and he illuminates many a life – a woman at a well in Samaria, a publican perched on the branches of a tree, parents whose son throws himself into the fire. He lives in their midst, and he goes to their weddings, and he attends their special meals. 500 become his special people. He weeps with them and endures their captivity, the darkness pressurising him and Satan tempting him. All the time he resists Satan. He is made in all points as we are. They are continually seeking to kill him: as a child King Herod wants him dead and as a man Israel’s own Chief Priest want to destroy him. But he works away in their midst.
Finally on Golgotha he takes on Satan and all his hosts, in the final great decisive battle. He is at his weakest. He hangs on the cross, and it is Satan’s hour, and he comes with all his hosts. They pour out of the canyons of hell and gather around our young Saviour on Golgotha in its darkness. You see the demons in the pit beckoning to one another, “Come. It is our time. We’ve got him now. No escape now,” and every demon leaves the pit and pits himself without mercy at Christ. And he takes everything they can throw at him. He absorbs it all. You remember the great fight in the Congo of Ali and Foreman in the midst of that intense humidity – ‘the Rumble in the Jungle’ Ali called it. Ali did nothing for round after round, just absorbing all Foreman’s energy and strength, soaking up all the punishment lying back on the ropes defending himself as best he could suffering so much pain and permanent injury until Foreman could do no more. He had nothing more to throw at him. He had exhausted himself and was as weak as a kitten and without any resistance to the superior strength of Ali. So on Golgotha the created strength of all the powers of darkness matched itself again the uncreated might of the God-man. And he “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Cols. 2:15). The stronger than the strong man came and destroyed that one, and opened the gates and set the captives at liberty. Satan is powerless to prevent them all walking out to freedom in the kingdom of light. The cross is a commando raid.
vii] THE CROSS IS A HOSPITAL
The key word is ‘healing.’
The key text is Isaiah 52:7, ‘by his stripes we are healed.”
Men go into a hospital in great physical need. They are facing life-threatening dilemmas, but there all the skill of the surgeon and modern medicine and the care of dedicated nurses are focused on them and they are restored. When Christ walked this earth he dealt with all the consequences of sin. Disease and death had come into the world, not one person was not a dying man. They came to him, some in the last stages of terminal cancer with days to live, some blind from birth, some whose limbs were twisted and immovably locked into grotesque positions – they all came to him. Roman generals, synagogue leaders came, Jews and Gentiles. Not one was turned away because he did not have a mite. Our Lord didn’t have to touch them. He didn’t have to see them. He didn’t have to be there at all. Just a flicker of the will that can and the lame run! It took your breath away to observe his healing power over this consequence of the fall of my father Adam. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says. He is the dawn of a new day. He is the pledge and earnest of the coming age. “He shall raise me from the dust. Jesus is my hope and trust.” One day he will remove the curse from the earth in the regeneration of all things, when the sons of God will be revealed without spot or blemish or any such thing.
On what grounds does the Lord promise to do this? Hasn’t death passed upon all men because all have sinned? Doesn’t God say, “The soul that sinneth shall surely die” and “The wages of sin is death”? Is that not a just and fair judgment? How can God reverse that verdict? Capricious sovereignty does not work the righteousness of God. On what basis does the Immutable One change his mind? How can he take a sinful beggar, whose sores were licked by dogs, into his presence in heaven, to be glorified for ever? How can the just and holy one take a decision like that?
It is, of course, because of the cross. There the Prince of life bore sin and its every consequence, not only the fact that sin plunges us into defilement, and makes us guilty, and makes us aliens and strangers from God but that it brings us to the grave. This body that I care for, and wash, and perfume, and deodorise, and carefully observe – this body on which, if I see some lump or some change in a mole, I go to the doctor and say – “I have found a symptom. Is there something wrong?” This body I love will one day be laid in a grave. Worms will eat these hands and this face. I shall become so hideous that the toughest professional post-mortem doctor will take a deep breath before he can look at my rotting corpse. That is my unavoidable prospect today. No! Not unavoidable. He may pierce the skies and come before that! We will not all die but we shall all be changed. Certainly he is mortal man’s only hope.
On Golgotha he has dealt with death. The death of death in the death of sin when he tasted death for me! Once on this planet, on a green hill far away, God set up Calvary Hospital. There a great Physician set to work to attack not disease but death itself, not the symptoms but the very cause of every disease. He de-deathed death by displaying superior power. He submitted to it himself and the living Lord was dead and buried. But he opened its jaws on the third day and walked forth leading forth all who had died in him. He overcame death so that no disease could possibly permanently triumph over his people. “I shall not die but live and tell Jehovah’s power to save.” To die is gain.
The river of the waters of life have begun to flow from Calvary and they now run from that fountainhead throughout the whole world, and they run here today. To drink of their springs is never to thirst again. To plunge beneath their crystal waters is to be healed of the leprosy of sin. What a spa! The words above its entrance say this: “I shall give unto them eternal life and they shall never perish…I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 10:28, 11:25&26). The Cross is a hospital.
viii] THE CROSS ESTABLISHES A NEW COVENANT.
The key word is ‘covenant’.
The key text is Luke 22:20 “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
Throughout the Old Testament, from the beginning of his dealings with men, God has operated in terms of a covenant. A covenant is a commercial contract between two business partners. It is a treaty between two separate nations, a kind of binding agreement which they solemnly ratify. It is a marriage commitment between a man and a woman, “until death us do part.” So that today in my relationship with God there is a contract between God and my soul; a treaty joining the Lord to myself; a marriage bond between the Christian and Jesus Christ. God has established this covenant. He has made solemn promises to become my eternal prophet, priest and king. He has pledged his steadfast determination to do for me all that he has promised. He will never revoke what he was sworn. As Toplady says,
The work which he goodness began, The arm of his strength will complete,
His promise is yea and Amen, And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, not things that are now, Nor all things below or above
Can make Him His purpose forego, Or sever my soul from his love.
Nothing will fail us of all that God has said. There is nothing more fundamental to the whole structure of biblical religion. In these last days God has established a new covenant and it is one of pure grace wrought by Christ. He is the very enfleshment of the covenant of grace. The Mosaic covenant declared, “Thou shalt.” But in the new covenant the Lord says “I shall.” In this covenant the burden is borne by God. He takes the initiative. He provides everything that the covenant demands. He erects an altar on Golgotha. He finds the Lamb in his own bosom and binds him to the cross. He directs the condemnation of covenant breakers to his own blessed Son who lovingly receives it. It is a sovereignly conceived and executed covenant of divine gift and divine initiation and divine accomplishment. Its concept and its achievement in every detail are all God’s work.
“I take the death that covenant-breakers deserve. I bear the Lord’s anathema. I suffer the judgment of the covenant, and I bestow its promised blessings. All that the covenant requires of us to become its beneficiaries he obtains. He sees the whole process through to its glorious completion. The old covenant was a marvellous ethical and ritual system, of great beauty and force, yet it was weak. Why? Because our flesh is weak. The Mosaic economy foundered on the rock of human depravity and the alienation of man’s heart from God. Man could no more change than the Ethiopian change the colour of his skin. The law could define man’s duties with the most precise accuracy and profundity. It could point out all the terrible consequences of disobeying and the wonderful rewards of obedience. It could plead with men to comply, and it was nursed in the bosom of the divine longsuffering. But it foundered on the obstinacy and resistance of the sinful human heart, alienated against God.
The one who instigated the new covenant now sits on the throne of heaven and does whatsoever he pleases. Having fulfilled all that the new covenant requires he is able to give to all his covenant people new hearts, whose instinct is to delight in and obey their Lord. In other words, under the outworking of the new covenant God donates the moral and spiritual energy to do what God himself requires. So whatever the Lord demands, even if it is to pluck out the right eye, or to love one’s enemies, or to forgive seventy times seven, or to love God with all one’s heart and soul and mind and strength, Christ the covenant Lord enables us to do.
Great Britain and the allies in 1919 and 1920 at the end of the first World War made a covenant with conquered Germany at Versailles. They sought to impose upon that proud nation an extraordinarily heavy body of conditions. That covenant went on to produce the absolutely opposite effect, because the German nation didn’t have the heart to meet those harsh terms, and that covenant foundered upon the national character of Germany. Let us imagine if the allied powers had been able to work within the hearts of the German people and could have imposed upon them the necessary motivation and good will and compliance, then the 1920 Versailles covenant would have been kept.
This is exactly what has happened in the new covenant of grace. The Lord has fulfilled all the terms of obedience required of being in a covenantal relationship with himself. All the penalties of failure he has fulfilled. All the demands of obedience he has fulfilled. All the enablings of covenant keeping he has bestowed. He has made infallibly sure that the inferior partner, we believing sinners – will comply with his terms. He gives all those in Christ the energy of the obedience that he demands. He can justly bestow it because of the fulfilment of the life and death of the blessed mediator of the new covenant, Jesus Christ.
All this, then, and much more, has been effected for us by the glorious death of Christ – the wrath of a sin-hating God propitiated, his smile of friendship regained, the defilement of all our sins removed, the punishment of our guilt dealt with totally, our deliverance from the slavery of sin effected, the release from the kingdom of darkness accomplished, the healing of our terminal sickness obtained and applied, the establishment of a new eternal covenantal relationship secured. All this our brave young Saviour achieved for us by himself.
“Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in this apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me” (Isa. 63:1-3).
Who is He who on yonder tree
Dies in shame and agony?
‘Tis the Lord! O, wondrous story!
‘Tis the Lord, the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall –
Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!
God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Jesus Christ. I was determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.